Back in February when Keaton and I started planning vacation for the year, we decided to take a little trip after his graduation before he started studying hard for boards. We knew we needed some time away to relax and unwind, and this trip ended up being perfect for that! We had zero cell service at the state park, beautiful weather, and lots of time to reconnect and relax. I don’t have all the marriage experience in the world, but having some one on one time with your significant other for a whole week and realizing just how much you love spending time alone with them at the end of it is both amazing and reassuring to say the least 😉
After some good friends got married the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, we hit the road for hiking, camping, and wine tasting. If you are from Missouri or traveling in the area, be sure to check out the Missouri Wine MVP Program that allows you to earn points for visiting wineries!
We started out our trip at Les Bourgeois Winery in Rocheport, Missouri. We did the regular tasting, and got a few bonus tastes because it was slow that day. Their wine is pretty good, and they have a long list, so there is something for everyone! Also check out the A Frame for lunch if it’s nice out, the views of the river are incredible.
Next we headed to Serenity Valley Winery. This was a much smaller winery, basically built in a family’s backyard. We were literally the only customers and got to chat a lot with the owner, which is one of the things I love about visiting these tiny Missouri wineries.
I booked a hotel in Columbia that night so we could relax and hang out without having to get on the road immediately after drinking wine. We hit up ABC Chinese Cuisine, which we also ate on our way to Nashville, and it was as delicious as ever. The night ended with some Harry Potter in bed and a trip to Sparky’s Homemade Ice Cream in downtown Columbia, which is known for crazy flavors. We kept it simple but the ice cream was a perfect night-cap.
Sunday we woke up and got on the road to drive the rest of the way to the park. We ended up stopping in Augusta, Missouri to check out Kate’s Coffee House. We walked down to check out the Katy Trail info, and the whole town was really cute. The coffee was delicious, and they even offer free mini muffins to any bikers who brave the hill from the trail up to the coffee shop! (Side note: Has anyone biked the Katy Trail? We are super interested in doing it and would love to hear experiences!)
We also stopped in Washington, MO to try out a burger place that ended up being recently closed. The town itself is really cute though, and we took a walk along the river to stretch our legs.
After that, we decided to get to the park and get camp set up. We decided to stay at Meramec State Park because it was only an hour to several other places we wanted to see, there are several longer trails, and the river was available for swimming if we wanted.
Although we only brought a tent, we chose an electric site so we could charge our phones and have a fan at night. Our Blazer was great for loading everything in, but the charger ports have stopped working, so we don’t have a way to charge electronics in the car. Needless to say, we were the poor folk among all the fancy RVs in the electric area.
The park itself was very well-kept. There were lots of bathrooms and shower houses, and the river runs the length of the camping areas. There is a camp store open till 8 most nights, and it was only a 10 minute drive to WalMart in Sullivan if you needed anything. The first night we just walked around the park, picked up some beer in Sullivan, made dinner, and hung out.
Our first full day we spent hiking the smaller trails around the park. The state park website has a listing of all the trails that I had checked out ahead of time. We covered the Walking Fern, Deer Hollow, Bluff View, and River Trails on the first day. Then we headed down to the river to cool off. There is a sandy area with a strip of sandbar a short walk across the river, so we laid out and relaxed after getting sweaty. The river was COLD so we didn’t do much actual swimming, but I practiced skipping rocks and was quickly shown up by Keaton.
In the evenings we pretty much played cards, enjoyed the fire, and talked a LOT. This game is great for two people and kept us entertained for hours. Seriously, if you are married or in a long-term relationship, I think it is imperative you take a completely unplugged vacation once per year. We didn’t use our phones when we went overseas last year either, and it is refreshing and wonderful.
The next day was probably my favorite day of the trip. We drove a little ways from the park to check out two other Missouri State Parks: Elephant Rocks and Johnson’s Shut Ins. There is some great history behind both parks if you follow the links.
Elephant Rocks is mainly for hiking, but there is also a well-paved path that is marked for blind visitors or would be great for strollers, wheel chairs, etc. It was very accessible and as two health care professionals we were impressed.
The rocks are made up of granite and the whole area was once a quarry. Now you can hike all over the big rocks, check out the ponds created as a result of mining, and in general feel like a cool kid as you climb huge boulders and look out over the whole area. It was so beautiful.
Next we drove about 15 minutes to Johnson’s Shut Ins State Park. These two parks are a great pairing because once you get hot and sweaty from hiking, you can go over to the Shut Ins and swim. We actually skipped swimming because it was a little cold, but the kids playing in the river sure looked like they were having fun. Both parks are FREE for day visits so if you’re looking for a vacation on a budget, these parks are perfect.
We also accidentally ended up on a two mile hike while at Johson’s Shut Ins, which took us all along the Black River then looped back around. We weren’t expecting to go on said hike, but it led us to some beautiful views and also intersected with the Ozark Trail at one point, so that was pretty cool.
I did make Keaton drive through the Shut Ins campground as well and I have to say, this park was NICE. Maybe not as rustic as some, but all of the buildings looked almost brand new. I was very impressed with how clean and kept up everything was here.
On our way back to Meramec that afternoon, we randomly decided to stop at a mercantile in Caledonia, Missouri. They had signs painted on the side of the building that offered ice cream and coffee, and we were pretty warm and tired so both of those things sounded wonderful. Best. Decision. Ever.
This little mercantile–The Old Village Mercantile–was so neat. It was built in a building from around the late 1800s, and was a mash-up of a coffee shop, ice cream shop, candy store, and antique store. Neither of us are crazy into antiques but we still thought the place was really interesting. We ended up opting for some iced coffee and some chocolate, and it was all delicious. If you’re ever passing through, you cannot miss this stop. I have never seen another store like it!
After all that it was time for a shower, dinner, and rest by the fire. I taught Keaton how to build a proper A-frame fire, and he got it started with one match. (Our first night fire attempts were rough thanks to all the rain the park had Saturday.)
The next day we planned to hit up Hermann, Missouri to check out wineries and be inside a little more, so we got some good rest to get up early and head out. Check out which wineries we visited and the trails we hiked here.
With love and getting away from it all,
*I will also link some of our camping must haves for you guys to check out. We slept on our air mattress for 5 nights and seriously had awesome sleep. This mattress coupled with our pillows we got for our wedding (thanks Linds and TJ) made us feel as refreshed as if we had slept at home.
- Intex Air Mattress
- Built in pump inflates AND deflates your mattress for you.
- Coleman Lantern
- Takes DD Batteries and I haven’t had to change them once in 3 years. Great little lantern.
- Do not doubt them. Wet, dry, hiking, walking around town. These are the best shoes I have for anything on my feet or in the water.
- Therapedic Memory Foam Pillow
- I know this seems outrageous, but this pillow changed my life! It keeps your face cool, and I don’t have neck or back problems even on hotel beds or air mattresses.
- Coleman Grill Stove
- This was a Christmas gift and so handy to have. It would be great for tailgates as well, and it is easy to clean and set up which is a must for me!