The Great 417-Land Scavenger Hunt
Lace up your shoes, gather your crew and check out all of the stops along The Great 417-Land Scavenger Hunt. You love this place, we love this place—let’s get out there and live it!
By Haley Darnell, Katie Pollock Estes, Claire Porter, Jamie Thomas
Whether you’ve been a lifelong 417-lander or you’re new to the area, you know there’s plenty to explore in our corner of the world. To help you discover them all, we’ve created our first-ever Great 417-Land Scavenger Hunt: 38 adventures to get you out of the house and discovering our region’s quirky offerings with tasks ranging from offbeat finds to quintessential 417-land activities. You love this place, we love this place—let’s get out there and live it!
CHECK OFF THE STOPS
Peer into one of 417-land's caves
One of our region’s defining features is its karst topography. What does that mean? Well, to put it extra-simply we have loads of caves, sinkholes and springs. There are some serious spelunkers out there who explore those caves, but you don’t have to go crazy. You can find lots of opportunities for guided tours through caves that require no expert caving experience. A few caves you might want to explore are Fantastic Caverns, Smallin Cave, Talking Rocks Cavern, Lost Canyon Cave at Top of the Rock and Marvel Cave inside Silver Dollar City. You can even peek into the opening of the caves at Sequiota Park, but don’t go inside; they’re off limits.
Pet a stingray at Wonders of Wildlife
If you have a healthy obsession with sea life and want to make friends with all the creatures at Wonders of Wildlife, then the stingray tank inside Shipwreck Reef is probably your dream come true. There you plunge a flat palm beneath the surface of the water and wait for playful rays to swim by and give you a little nudge or splash you with their wings. Pay a few bucks at just the right time of day, and you can even feed them gross little fish parts. The stingrays are surprisingly soft, friendly and playful. In other words, they are totally worth enduring those gross little fish bits.
Do the hula with Lulu outside Pineapple Whip
For this stop on our scavenger hunt list, it’s not enough just to grab a cup or cone of sweet-and-tasty Pineapple Whip. It’s not enough just to get a picture of that Instagram-perfect melty drip. We have something else in mind. We want you to find a spot with Lulu (you know, the shimmying hula dancer on top of the truck) in the background, and then snap a picture doing your very best hip shaking dance along with her. Trust us, this little exercise injects an extra bit of fun into that dessert excursion.
Feed a giraffe at Dickerson Park Zoo
There are a couple of different animal-encounter opportunities at Dickerson Park Zoo, but the best (and most photo-worthy) is the giraffe platform. There, for just $4, an attendant can hook you up with some leafy green lettuce or some crackers to feed to the hungry giraffes. Kids (and grown-ups) love seeing these massive, majestic creatures stick out their long, black tongues to grab a snack. Sometimes they’ll hold still long enough to let you pet their noses (but not often!) and sometimes they’ll surprise you with a rogue lick on the cheek. The fact that Dickerson Park Zoo gives visitors a chance to get so close to some of nature’s coolest creatures is pretty darn fantastic.
Eat French fries at Sun Target II outside Springfield Art Museum
Perhaps the most instantly recognizable piece at Springfield Art Museum is Sun Target II by John Henry, the bright yellow sculpture at Bennett Street and National Avenue that sits just east of the museum and is affectionately referred to as “the French fries.” Let’s lean into that, shall we? Go to your favorite fast food joint, grab some fries and enjoy them as you take in the enormous glory of this sculpture. (Please, though, do not leave your trash there.) And once you’ve done that, we encourage you to walk into the museum and take a look around, especially if you’ve never been there. We think you’ll be impressed by its 10,000-piece permanent collection and thought-provoking temporary exhibitions.
Smooch your sweetie at Pecker's Beach
There’s a little river access spot in southeast Springfield along a quiet stretch of the James River that’s known as Pecker’s Beach—named for the couples who would park there for a little smooch sesh alongside the babbling waters. Today the spot is used for fishing, swimming, wading and just enjoying the view in a not-so-busy little area. But let’s go old school for this challenge. Steal a kiss while you’re there. (Find Pecker’s Beach by going east on Battlefield Road from Highway 65. From there you’ll veer right onto South Farm Road 187, left onto Kinser Road and then left onto South Farm Road 193. You’ll spot the access spot on the right side of the road.)
Jump in front of the Do Good Mural on Commercial Street
You know the jump, right? The arms in the air, feet kicked up behind you, knees impossibly high off the ground jump that everybody does at the beach, in front of recognizable tourist spots and even in their wedding gowns. Practice it, because we need you to implement it in front of the Do Good mural on Commercial Street. Its black background and pretty white lettering are the perfect backdrop for your favorite outfit, and the grass in front of it feels so fresh. And once you get that perfect shot, take the mural’s message to heart.
LEVEL UP | Find a carriage block on a Springfield street
Have you ever driven around downtown and midtown Springfield and wondered about those concrete blocks you see near the curb in front of some of the older historic homes? What the heck are they? We didn’t know until we took a history tour with John Sellars, executive director of History Museum on the Square. He clued us in: They’re carriage blocks! The handy little platforms provided a step up to assist in hopping onto a horse or into a horse-drawn carriage. And once you spot one, you’ll start to see more of them all over town! So take a stroll or a drive through the city and see if you can spy one of these relics of the past.
DOWNTOWN SPRINGFIELD STOPS
Get kitschy at Casper's
You’re a real fancypants if you think you’re too good to eat steamy, sloppy chili out of a Quonset hut. You probably iron your underpants, too, like the royalty you are. For the rest of us, there’s something delightfully pedestrian about the retro atmosphere of Casper’s, the sloping walls littered with posters and tchotchkes. So cram yourself into the space and embrace the kitsch—whatever that means to you. Ham it up next to the soulless probably-haunted dolls on the shelves. Find a poster that looks like you. Wear a retro outfit. You do you, boo! And maybe dive face-first into that famous chili while you’re there.
Root, root, root for the home team at Hammons Field
Summer baseball season draws to a close this month, but don’t let that stop you from cheering on Springfield’s redbirds. Hammons Field is our very own Minor League baseball stadium, looming tall over East Trafficway Street, and it’s home to the Springfield Cardinals, the Double-A Affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals. Don a Cardinals cap, catch a fly ball, hamfist a hot dog, practice your curveball—you get the drill. Recreate your best baseball game experience and show the Cards your redbird pride, even if the bats aren’t swinging that day.
Rev your engine at the Birthplace of Route 66 Roadside Park
Hamburgers, baseball, cowboys and Route 66—all are quintessential symbols of American culture, but only one was born here. In 1926, the highway that ran from Chicago to Los Angeles was given the designation of Route 66 in Springfield, and thus America’s “Mother Road” was born. The Birthplace of Route 66 Roadside Park (1200 W. College St.) celebrates the cultural cornerstone with tidbits of the era, including a replica of the Red’s Hamburg sign. Head to the park to get your kicks, and rev your engine or show off whatever wheels you’re cruising on that day.
Do the locomotion with me at the History Museum on the Square
Park Central Square in downtown Springfield has a storied history as the bustling center of town. Celebrate that history—and learn a little more about this place we call home—by popping into the newly re-opened History Museum on the Square. There you can learn about Wild Bill Hickok, our pioneer heritage, the birth of Route 66 and our transportation trials and tribulations. While you’re checking out the trains and trolleys, take a second to go back in time with a little locomotion dance.
Unleash your inner kid in Mother's Brewing Co.'s backyard
As a kid, few things were more enjoyable than frolicking in the yard. As an adult, we have alcohol—not that those activities aren’t fun anymore; they’re just more fun when you have an ice-cold local brew in hand. Check all those boxes and head to Mother’s Brewing Co. to lounge in a lawn chair, post up at a picnic table, flex it during a beer yoga session or try your hand at a yard game. And, of course, snap a pic of you living your best “I’m a kid at heart but I still have bills to pay” life.
Groove with the Kinetic Man at Jordan Valley Park
Lean wit it, rock wit it. You know how to drop it low, but do your moves rival the best dancer in town? Jordan Valley Park’s Kinetic Man was created by Springfield sculptor Russ RuBert, and the metal man comes to life with the spin of a wheel. K-Man’s moves are limited to the walking man and a pretty basic rendition of the Abbey Road album cover, but come on, you’re creative. Jump, jive, wiggle and walk with K-Man for a shiny pic in motion. (Pro tip: This makes an unbeatable Boomerang on Instagram.)
Monkey around on the Sculpture Walk Springfield trail
Art is all around you—and you might have noticed more and more of it emerging from sidewalks downtown. It’s part of Sculpture Walk Springfield, a nonprofit public art program encompassing 31 sculptures from artists nationwide—including several MSU sculpture students. One of the most popular pieces stuck around from last year’s collection, and it’s a barrel of fun. Find its playful subjects on Boonville Avenue, just north of the square. When you find it, pose like a primate for the perfect photo-op.
LEVEL UP | Hunt down the biggest bear on Missouri State University's campus
Missouri State University’s downtown campus is known for its striking architecture (hello, Glass Hall!), shady trees and stately academic buildings. But did you know that the university’s mascot is lurking throughout the campus, too? Whether it’s in the friendly face of the furry mascot Boomer, fiercely emblazoned on maroon school apparel or cast in metal and roaring from the sidewalks, the bear is the symbol of MSU. Your challenge is to find the biggest bear on campus. We’ll give you a hint: It’s not in the form you’d think it’s in. (Okay, that’s a terrible hint, so here’s another: Keep track of all that you see when your head’s in the clouds and you’re feeling a little crowded—just stay grounded.) Happy hunting!
STOPS AROUND THE OZARKS
Take a selfie with a sunflower
Sunflowers are everywhere in summer, but many often last into the fall. Along the roadside at Crighton Family Farms in nearby Willard, you can find the perfect spot to stop and take a selfie against the golden backdrop. Just remember not to go stomping all over someone else’s property and to be mindful of passing traffic. Oh, remember to smile, too.
Spot a sailboat at Stockton Lake
Sailboat spotting is a great way to unwind after some strenuous scavenger hunting. Or just generally. Stockton Lake is a favorite of many a 417-land resident thanks to its somewhat-secluded nature, quiet ambiance and hidden coves. Snap a selfie in one of these coves or of a boat sailing on the water. Want to really make the most of it? Umber Ridge or the Stockton Lakeview Trail can show you what nature at the park really has to offer.
Eat food on a stick at a fall festival
Fall Festivals abound in the Ozarks. Pumpkin Daze, Ozark Farm Fest at Ozark Empire Fairgrounds, Cider Days and plenty more offer opportunities for checking this one off. We want you to get creative with the kind of food you can eat with a stick. Think corndogs, but more imaginative. Finding food on a stick at a festival is easy, but if you can successfully stick something less common on one and eat it (or at least get a couple of bites before it falls off), we want to see it.
Take a dip in Althea Spring
You can find Althea Spring out in the wilds off a little path leading into the woods just past Patrick Bridge as you’re floating down the North Fork of the White River. This secluded spot is perfect for a dip and a Scavenger Hunt photo-op, so long as it’s not too cold. Even if you’re not heading into the water, the spring’s formation alone is unique enough for a great picture, which is enough for us. If you’re hungry or looking for a nearby place to stay, Dawt Mill is just 10 minutes away.
Visit Laura Ingall Wilder's historic home
The Laura Ingalls Wilder Home & Museum captures something special about 417-land. This historic site is where Laura Ingalls Wilder penned much of her Little House on the Prairie series, and you can walk the same path she did along the property. Laura’s pathway has been newly renovated to make it easier to walk. Maybe you’ll find some inspiration under the trees. Take a picture and let us know. Keep in mind that photos aren’t allowed inside the museum.
Pick apples at Murphy Orchard
Everyone has a favorite type of apple. Some people like them sweet, some people like them sour. Chances are you’ll find one that suits your taste at Murphy Orchard, so try a few and let us know. Take a bite of one of their seasonal apples but... please don’t put it back once you do. Apples in season in October include Early Fuji (sweet, honey-citrus flavor), Golden Delicious (sweet, great for cooking) and Red Delicious (sweet and mild).
Get photobombed by a big cat at the National Tiger Sanctuary
We couldn’t put together a real 417-land Scavenger Hunt without the National Tiger Sanctuary. Take one of the many tour options and get a clear shot of one of the tigers or other big cats. There are plenty of exotic cats to see: lions, pumas, panthers and tigers, oh—we’re not doing the joke. Alternatively, get a selfie prowling with the Sanctuary’s statues.
Catch a big trout at Rockbridge Ranch
The fishing at Rockbridge Trout & Game Ranch is ideal for 417-landers looking to catch something special. Like a 16-pound trout. That’s right, 16 pounds! This incredible record remains to be beaten. Think you have a shot? Even if you don’t, you could always hold the record for the smallest trout caught. Rockbridge also has plenty to offer in its food, horseback riding, historic charm and picturesque surroundings. Don’t forget to get a drink at the Grist Mill Club before it closes for winter.
Take a snap of Greer Spring
Greer Spring is the second largest spring in Missouri, bubbling up from the Mark Twain National Forest. Trails leading to the spring are easy enough for non-hikers, just make sure you plan your route and keep an eye out for signs. If you want to get close, you can shimmy along the ledge at the end of the trail, or take a photo from a less vertigo-inducing vantage point.
Make a big splash on Table Rock Lake
From boating to bow fishing, the lake life doesn’t get much better than on Table Rock Lake. Perfect for cooling off in the sweet Ozarks heat or reeling in a big bass, there’s a little something for everyone to enjoy. Make a day of it by renting a ski boat to throw the kids—um—take the kids on an inner tube or embrace your inner Tarzan on one of the rock overhangs that was practically made for cliff-jumping and rope-swinging. The possibilities are endless.
Watch the sun set behind the End of the Trail Statue at Top of the Rock
If you’ve never experienced a sun setting over the lake after a cannon has been shot and bagpipes are playing “Amazing Grace” in the background, you’ve never seen a sunset. At least not the right way. For the best seat in the house, take the stone-lined stairwell down below Osage Restaurant at Top of the Rock to find the expansive End of the Trail All-American Wine Cellar. Grab a glass of wine before heading outside to the reflecting pool where the well-known End of the Trail statue overlooks Table Rock Lake. Watch, sip, enjoy, repeat.
Shout "Fire in the hole!" at Silver Dollar City
As any 417-lander knows, Silver Dollar City is iconic to the Ozarks. Since its opening, thousands of families have flocked to the 1880s-themed park to enjoy lantern-lit tours through the Marvel Cave, go from 0 to 53 mph on PowderKeg and munch on the sticky sweetness of fresh kettle corn. Although the City is home to many coasters ranging from beginner to thrill-seeker, there’s no other ride that embodies the spirit of the park like Fire-In-The-Hole. If you haven’t ridden it before, just know it’s tradition to shout its namesake when you hear the train whistle—right before you plunge into the darkness.
Touch an iceberg at Titanic Branson
Step into the shoes of an actual passenger or crew member who was aboard the fated ship when you receive a boarding pass at Titanic Branson. From there, see real artifacts from the luxury liner, learn how to send an SOS, touch an iceberg, experience just how chilling the ocean’s 28-degree water was and even channel Jack and Rose on a replica of the ship’s bow. Shall we cue the music?
Search for the Tin Man at Branson Landing
With new eateries, stores, bowling alleys and arcades popping up along the water, there’s always something new to be discovered at Branson Landing. While getting your shop on, scour the storefronts along the promenade for the ultimate Southern comfort food, a lakefront water and fire show, myriad bottles of moonshine and the most mellow guy on the Landing. Hint: he’s a big fan of pizza.
Soar above the skyline at Branson Ferris Wheel
Few things are more breathtaking than a skyline at night, but to take in the view from the top of a Ferris wheel just adds to the magic. The Branson Ferris Wheel made its way to the Ozarks in 2016 from its former role as Chicago’s iconic Navy Pier Ferris Wheel. Standing at 150 feet tall, the attraction now towers over the city with a customized light show synchronized with music playing in the background. When perched at the top, look out for familiar sights like White Water and Ripley’s Believe It or Not in the distance.
Chase waterfalls at Dogwood Canyon
For the ultimate day outdoors, Dogwood Canyon is a must. Activities like biking, hiking, trail-riding and tram tours are part of the 10,000-acre preserve. For a leisurely afternoon of fishing, the park offers rods and tackle for rent or guided fishing tours. On the trails, expect to see all kinds of wildlife as you follow the Canyon’s paved path and stop along the way to take in the views of the park’s numerous waterfalls.
LEVEL UP | Find your favorite quirky theater façade
Let’s be honest, making a quick drive down the 76 strip in Branson can be a challenge sometimes. Why not make the wait a little more bearable by picking out your favorite exterior to one of the boulevard’s many theaters? With dozens to choose from like Ripley’s Believe It or Not’s topsy-turvy building or Grand Country Music Hall’s larger-than-life fiddle, Branson knows how to keep you entertained even before you leave your car.
Eat a hot dog topped with all the things at Instant Karma
Instant Karma (527 S. Main St., Joplin; 417-206-3647) is known for its tasty flavor combos and quirky hot dog toppings. Inside this funky little hole-in-the-wall, expect to find creative dishes like the Kitchen Sink—a hot dog topped with just about everything you could imagine—and the impossible meatloaf—a completely vegan and totally delicious alternative to the American classic—along with dozens of specials to keep things interesting. If you’re looking for something off-menu, take a note from the staff and order the Big Parm, the restaurant’s spin on a Big Mac.
Take a picture at the Route 66 Mural Park on Joplin's Main Street
From Chicago to Santa Monica, California, a trip along the famous Route 66 is sure to include a few pics of landmarks across the country. Lucky for us, 417-land boasts a landmark of its own. On Joplin’s Main Street, artists have commemorated the Mother Road through two murals showcasing the city’s marker along the iconic route. Right below the large tile murals is a red mock 1964 Chevrolet Corvette, reminiscent of the cars that followed the same path years ago. Choose a backdrop, strike a pose and become a little part of our country’s history.
Splash around at Grand Falls
As Missouri’s largest continuously running waterfall, Grand Falls is a must-see year-round, but the tiny pools of cool water that collect around the base of the falls are perfect for those hot last days of summer. Don’t forget to wear water shoes and watch out for the slick spots as you skip from rock to rock. Before you head home, stop by the west side of the creek at Inspiration Point to check out the spectacular view of Shoal Creek.
Sing "Home on the Range" with the bison at Prairie State Park
“Home, home on the range, where the deer and the antelope play…” Okay, you get it, but with the bison dotting the landscape and the tallgrass blowing in the breeze, we wouldn’t be surprised if you broke out in song, too. Open year-round from sunrise to sunset, Prairie State Park sets the perfect scene amidst the ever-changing wildflowers and the wide-open range for all your Little House on the Prairie dreams. Although we can’t promise clear skies like the song, we’re sure you’ll feel like you’re taking a step back in time as you hike along the trails.
LEVEL UP | Stand in three states at once at the Tri-State Marker
According to the plaque, this spot at the intersection of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma took an 800-member expedition almost six months to map out its exact location in 1857. Today, the marker has moved about 50 feet east of the original to reside in the correct location and is only a quick drive down a dead-end road, just past the field of bison. To find the marker, visitors suggest taking directions to Downstream Casino then following the signs down the gravel road. And in case you were wondering, the view’s great no matter where you’re standing.
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