Joplin isn’t a popular travel destination, but plenty of people, both travelers and locals, look for fun ways to spend a day in the area. Typical stops are the museums in Joplin, the civil war sites in Carthage, or the casinos a few miles across the border in Oklahoma, but after living in Joplin for 5 years , I’ve located a lot of off-the-beaten track gems that will make your visit to the Joplin or Carthage area one of a kind! When I have visitors stay with me for a day, this is my go-to itinerary and it’s always a hit- providing lots of entertainment while also allowing space and time to chat and enjoy the day together.
1 day Itinerary for a Funky, Off-the-beaten-path Adventure in Joplin, MO
9:00 am Breakfast in Joplin
For breakfast, check out local favorite the Brucheonette or hidden gem ME’S Place. Hit the former if you are a fan of experimentally delicious breakfast food, and the latter if you a prefer the classics.
10:00 A Morning in Joplin
Options for outdoorsy and not-so-outdoorsy:
OUTDOORSY: head to Carthage MO for a short hike through Walnut Bottoms, a wooded and somewhat rough trail that runs along the spring river and a tributary. Bring a camera because the backdrops are gorgeous and there are lots of opportunities to spot native wildlife.
RESTFUL ALTERNATIVE: Since Joplin’s tornado, the downtown has become home to many beautiful murals. A drive down Main street reveals the murals, which are mostly on side streets, and view-able from Main. Cunningham Park, on the south end of Main features a memorial to tornado victims.
Head into Carthage’s historic downtown square and check out the building they are proud to claim as the “2nd most photographed building in Missouri.” Even if you aren’t a fan of architecture, this castle-style courthouse and a ride on the old-fashioned elevator inside are worth a quick stop
Lunch in Carthage, MO
Just west of the courthouse, on the square, is my favorite local coffee shop. With a small town vibe and a look straight out of the 40’s, Mother Road coffee is a route 66 treasure without the typical overdone Route 66 kitsch. If it’s cold, settle into an armchair near the fire and warm up with a signature hot chocolate, or grab a lunch to go- the next spot on my itinerary is a perfect picnic spot!
(Alternative lunch option: Whistler’s Hamburgers is a local favorite, and has a unique and memorable charm!)
1:00 PM Red Oak Village / Art Walk
Red Oak 2 – Once upon a time an artist decided to stop time by transporting the town where he grew up into his back pasture and transforming it with whimsical details; this small community is open and operated like a park. Visitors are free to wander and explore (but respect that the homes are occupied and thus do not have interiors open.)
1:45 Carterville, MO (Between Joplin & Carthage) Superman Ice Cream Parlor:
2:00 PM Joplin’s World’s Largest Small Appliance Museum
After 2 outdoor adventures, you might be ready for something indoors- so head over to Diamond, MO to the World’s Largest Small Appliance Museum. This obscure roadside attraction is loaded with charm, and is free to the public. Enter through JR’s Western Store and ask the sales clerk for access to the museum. She’ll whisk you back into room after room after room of a fascinating collection of unique and obscure toasters, waffle irons, blenders, and many of other appliances you never dreamed were ever patented. This might sound like a boring stop, but the sheer volume of the collection combined with the curator’s passion for such oddities makes it more than worth a stop. (If you’re lucky, the owner will stop in and show you a few of his favorite pieces himself!)
2:45 PM Giant Dog Statue
After the museum, head back to Joplin- but if you are a fan of photo ops, be sure to take my route. 32nd street will take you right past Heartland Pet Food factory on the way back to Joplin from the small Appliance Museum. What’s the big deal about a dog food factory? Blue. Blue the Airedale, that is. In front of Heartland, on the west side of the parking lot stands an 8 foot tall bronze Airedale Terrier poised perfectly for group photos.
3:00 Joplin’s Conservation Center & Glades
Hop on I-44 and head to Wildcat Glades, a portion of Joplin where City Park, State Conservation Land, and Audubon Society Property merge to create an impressive system of trails including a very rare type of glade and several waterfalls. If it’s approaching 5pm, start at the Nature Center. (The building is designed to be state of the art eco-friendly so don’t be put off, like I was on my first visit, by an unmowed exterior and weeds growing from the sod roof.) Inside the nature center is a small interactive display area with rotating interactive nature exhibits and tanks of live specimen of fish and reptiles native to the area. Admission is free and the Nature Center staff will be happy to help you navigate the park.
The nature center is located a short (about 200 yards) walk from a 4 mile trail that loops around the park area and, if you’ve got the energy, will guide you through woods, glades, past smaller rapids and waterfalls, and up and over huge bluffs on the south side of the river. (The bluff trail, it’s worth noting, is not recommended for children and is a hike-at-your-own-risk area- though I will say, even though I am terrified of heights I enjoy hiking this trail regularly.)
If, by this point in the day you are low on steam, opt to drive to to the highlights of the park. First to the old bridge and small series of waterfalls just off Main Street. An old highway bridge has been opened for pedestrian traffic and features a great spot to sit (on provided park benches) and enjoy the view. The bridge also has a great history (it was once part of Route 66- and the location of a Bonnie and Clyde police chase!)
4:00 Hiking & Waterfall Spotting in Joplin
The trails system at the time of this writing (And update Summer 2016) does not include Grand Falls, which is a MUST see in Joplin. Grand Falls is Missouri’s largest natural waterfall, and it’s well worth the detour to see it. Bring a blanket or windbreaker and plan to take a seat on the natural rock outcroppings and enjoy this soothing natural space. (A particularly romantic spot at sunset!)
GRAND FALLS HINT: At first glance, it looks like approaching the falls requires scrambling down a few low rock ledges- which most tourists do. If you take a moment to look closely on the south side of this rocky approach, however, you’ll see trail(s) in the trees that lead directly down to the water via a gentle descent with good footing.
Dinner in Joplin, MO
I have several suggestions for a unique and interesting dinner in Joplin, MO
Eagle Drive In – if you are headed back into town from Grand Falls are are starving, the Eagle Drive In is a great, nearby choice. Despite the name, the Eagle is actually a sit down restaurant with options including basic burgers, gourmet elk, lamb, or vegetarian burgers, prime rib, or other premium specials and has a full bar.
Roswithas – A secret among locals, Roswithas is a tiny, unassuming restaurant tucked into the corner of a horse stable just North of Joplin. If the character of the owner and the novelty of the location don’t thrill you, the food will! Menu is classic German dishes with Rose’s flare. Note: this is one place you simply should not skip coffee and desert- both the coffee and chocolate cake are deliciously, and perfectly European. Roswitha’s is only open on Friday and Saturday and due to the small size, you’ll want to call ahead and make a reservation (which, for this small venue means leaving a voicemail message indicating the date and party size for which you need a reservation.)
Lucky J – Check their website at LuckyJArena.com and if you are in town on a day that a rodeo event is scheduled for the evening, it’s well worth heading back to Carthage for dinner at this unique restaurant. A decent restaurant on it’s own, this joint’s claim to fame is a thick glass wall separating this steakhouse from a rodeo arena. Call ahead to reserve seating at the bar directly in front of the windows, for a dinner that includes free western entertainment most evenings.