Driving historic Route 66 unveils many of Missouri’s picturesque locales.
Home to 53 kilometers of the iconic “Mother Road,” south-central Missouri’s Pulaski County gave me a visually stunning spread of Midwestern landscape. It isn’t surprising that people call this area “America’s Heartland;” its mix of untouched natural beauty – exemplified by steep cliffs and sparkling rivers – and neighborly cities makes this a welcoming destination.
Pulaski County Visitors Center: Meeting America’s Heartland
A large digital sign acts as a welcome beacon to travelers, so it is hard to miss the quaint and helpful Pulaski County Visitors Center. When I arrived, I followed the projection of running water, which leads from the front door to the main desk, where I was greeted by the friendly staff. Each room has Missouri-inspired decor as well as information about various areas in Pulaski County. There were more than 800 brochures to get me started, making this a convenient and worthwhile first stop.
Pulaski County sign in downtown Waynesville, Missouri
Waynesville: A Historic Town Along the ‘Mother Road’
Nearby is Waynesville, a classic small town that is also the oldest community in Pulaski County. Route 66 runs through the town square and brings hustle and bustle to the local businesses and museums.
I started my visit with a guided tour through the Old Stagecoach Stop and learned how it went from log cabin to hotel to Civil War hospital to museum. Each room of the museum now represents a period of the Stagecoach Stop’s timeline. Around the corner, the Route 66 Courthouse features an original 1903 courtroom on its second floor. See artifacts and a diorama of Old Waynesville in the rest of the museum.
Mere steps from the museums, both on the National Register of Historic Places, I stopped into Hoppers Pub, which features a great bar menu and an astounding 66 beers on tap, including one of its own, Frog Drool IPA. Nearby, the Cellar 66 Wine Bar in Roubidoux Plaza offers wine tastings and good food, and there’s delicious candy at the Route 66 Candy Shoppe. Adjacent to the plaza, I chose the pleasant atmosphere of Nona’s Restaurant for a quick bite to eat before browsing the local gift shops offering handcrafted collectibles and souvenirs.
Old Stagecoach Stop in downtown Waynesville, Missouri
Roy Laughlin Park: Gateway to the Outdoors
Minutes away from downtown Waynesville, Roy Laughlin Park is a welcoming outdoor experience, whether you are walking the trails with family or looking for something more adventurous. It was morning and a perfect temperature when I arrived, and even as the day warmed, huge trees provided shade along the trails.
Inside the park, I found The Trail of Tears Memorial, which pays tribute to the thousands of Native Americans who camped in this field during their forced migration to the nearby Oklahoma Territory. You can read about the Cherokees' journey at the memorial, then follow the Trail of Tears Interpretive Trail along the Roubidoux River. Walking the river bank, I could see visitors kayaking and fishing in the clear water.
Following the trail brings you to Roubidoux Spring, which flows from an underwater cave into the Roubidoux River. The length of the cave is unknown; exploration has only gone a little over three kilometers into it. When I arrived, I was lucky enough to run into a group of scuba divers about to explore it – an exciting activity for both certified divers and curious bystanders like myself. If you’re certified, visit the nearby Odyssey Scuba & Travel in Waynesville to gear up for a memorable trip with knowledgeable instructors.
With the welcoming towns, historic landmarks and surrounding landscapes of the Ozark Mountains, Pulaski County is a beautiful destination to absorb the culture of Missouri.
Kayaking on the Roubidoux River at Roy Laughlin Park in Pulaski County, Missouri