Head West to Hannibal Missouri for a Great American Road Trip!

March 30th, 2012

Last week, my blog featured heading east from Harpole’s Heartland Lodge to Springfield, Illinois and touring many of the sites that told the history of Abraham Lincoln.  This week, we’re headed northwest across the Mississippi River to Hannibal, Missouri for our history lesson on Sam Clemens a.k.a. Mark Twain.

As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in Schuyler County, Illinois so visiting Hannibal as a child on family vacations or school field trips was quite common.  And now that Dan and I live only an hour south of Hannibal, we still frequent the quaint river town – even including it on our annual trip to the lodge.  As a matter of fact, I drove through Hannibal just this past Tuesday – I was headed to Quincy, IL to take some pictures of my great nieces.  On my way through town, I stopped at the Welcome Center off Highway 61 – it’s located on the south edge of town – to pick up some information on the many attractions, restaurants and festivals that Hannibal has to offer.  Be sure to pay them a visit – the staff was very friendly and helpful!

Of course, Hannibal is probably best known for being the childhood home of Mark Twain.  Sam Clemens (1835-1910) lived there from the age of 4 to 17.  At this time, he left Hannibal and worked as a steamboat pilot, silver miner (I did not know this), journalist and finally, an author.  By visiting Hannibal, you can discover and explore the many places that Mark Twain made famous in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

One of the first stops you will want to make is The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum (www.marktwainmuseum.org).  Admission is required but your ticket includes the Interpretive Center, Huckleberry Finn House, Mark Twain Boyhood Home, J.M. Clemens Justice of the Peace Office, and the Mark Twain Museum Gallery – featuring 15 original Norman Rockwell oil paintings of Tom and Huck!  Grant’s Drug Store and The Becky Thatcher House – not included in the ticket price – are currently being restored but you can still peek in the windows (and plan a return trip once they are fully restored!)  The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum is also celebrating its 100th anniversary on May 15, 2012.

Cardiff Hill Park is located at the north end of Main Street.  The Tom & Huck statue is located at the foot of the hill.  The lighthouse is at the top of the hill and after climbing the 244 steps to the top, you will have a great view of the river.  It’s always fun to stay at the bottom of the hill and watch everyone else go to the top!

Speaking of the river, the Mark Twain Riverboat (www.marktwainriverboat.com) offers both a one-hour sightseeing cruise (no reservations required) and a two-hour evening dinner cruise.  You will enjoy the river history commentary, legends and sights while cruising the Mighty Mississippi on this triple-deck riverboat.

Even though I’ve never been there, I want to check out the Molly Brown Birthplace & Museum.  Molly Brown was on her way to Hannibal when the Titanic sank.  Did you know that?  You can visit her birthplace and see the restored cottage where her story began.  April 14, 2012 also marks the 100th Anniversary of the Unsinkable Molly Brown so check out www.VisitMollyBrown.com for information on a Celebration Cruise.

Just a mile south of Hannibal on scenic Highway 79 sits the Mark Twain Cave Complex and Cameron Cave (www.marktwaincave.com) featuring both Missouri’s Oldest & Newest Show Caves.  Mark Twain Cave is open year round while Cameron Cave is open Memorial Day through Labor Day (off season by advance reservation.)  Experience Mark Twain Cave just as Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher did so many years ago – except you will have an experienced guide to escort you on a 55-minute tour.  This tour is completely lighted but for a different experience by lantern only (there is no electricity at Cameron Cave), check out the 1 hour and 20 minute tour at Cameron Cave.  This cave is a maze-type cave with 460 passages – the third most complex in the Northern Hemisphere – we’ve never been but I can hear it calling our names!

Just across the road from the cave complex is Sawyer’s Creek – a great place for some good, clean family fun.  Situated on the banks of the Mississippi River, the facility is open daily March through December.  You can feed the fish, go on a train ride, play bumper boats or miniature golf, or shop at the Sweet Shop or the Christmas and Specialty Shops.  And they’ve added something new – the laser based adventure called Tom Sawyer’s Wild Adventures.  This is a laser maze attraction while walking you through Tom Sawyer’s adventures.

If you’ve never been to Hannibal before, one of the easiest ways to explore Hannibal is take a sightseeing tour on an old-fashioned trolley.  The 14-mile, one-hour narrated tour, given by the Hannibal Trolley Company, includes several stops while providing you a historical overview of the town.  You will also want to check out the Historic District with all the shops and art galleries – we always do!

But if you visit Hannibal often, you might be looking for a little something extra on your next visit.  There are many special event and festivals scheduled for 2012 but a couple that stand out are “Twain on Main Festival”, scheduled for May 26 and 27 and the Downtown Hannibal Art Fair (www.hannibalartfair.com), scheduled for June 9 & 10, 2012.

After all this sightseeing, I’m sure you will have worked up an appetite.  One of our favorite places is Fiddlestiks Food & Spirits Co., located west on Hwy. 36.  We always go there for lunch on Mother’s Day and then usually end up at Becky’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream Parlor & Emporium downtown for our afternoon snack.

So whether you make Hannibal a great day-trip while visiting the lodge, or visit Hannibal on your way to or from the lodge, you won’t be sorry.  These are just a few of the highlights of this Mississippi River town – check out www.visithannibal.com for more information!  And as always, don’t forget to take your camera – there will be plenty of photo opportunities that you won’t want to miss.

Lori Biehl

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