In Montgomery County, Missouri, you can find the 386-acre Graham Cave State Park, which has 52 RV and tent campsites, several miles of shoreline along the Loutre River, and five different trails that attract over 87,000 visitors per year. But the main attraction here is Graham Cave, which is approximately 10,000 years old and has interpretive exhibits along the trail up to the entrance of the cave. The park and cave were named after Robert Graham, who was a settler in the area in 1816 that bought the land from Daniel Boone’s son.
The cave ended up being the first archaeological site in the United States after the Missouri Archaeological Society and the University of Missouri excavated the site in the 1950s. They found evidence of the Archaic and Dalton Native Americans inside, and the cave is now protected as a National Historical Landmark. Such a great natural area so close to the city, just one hour from St. Louis that can make you feel like you are in a wilderness retreat. With the modern updates in the visitor center, picnic shelters, and even a boat ramp, you can enjoy the park for the day or for a week and not run out of fun things to do.
An hour from St. Louis and about two hours from Kansas City, you will find the beautiful and historic Graham Cave State Park. Just take Interstate 70 to Highway TT and you are there. The road leading up to the park is quite curvy and steep in some places, so you need to be careful, especially if you are driving a big motorhome or pulling a trailer. Take it slow because there is always some kind of wild critters wandering onto the road such as whitetail deer and squirrels.
Once you get into the park itself, the roads are pretty well maintained but there are some gravel and dirt roads by the campground that may be difficult if you have a large RV. Watch out for low hanging branches and potholes and take it slow and you will be fine. Most of the overnight visitors leave their campers or trailers at the campsite and walk or bike to wherever they want to go. Since the park is relatively small, you should have no trouble getting around on foot.
Each of the campsites are a good size and have plenty of room for up to six people easily. There are a few extra parking lots for visitors but if you want to have a whole bunch of people over to visit during your stay, it is a good idea to use the picnic area or somewhere along the riverbank where there is more room.
The Graham Cave Campground has 34 basic campsites and 18 sites with electric that are available all year. The pads range from 33 to 62 feet so you should be able to fit your RV or motorhome if you reserve a site ahead of time. However, reservations are only available from April through October. You can find drinkable water access at sites 29 and 36. There is also a shower with hot water, flush toilets, RV dump stations, and laundry facilities by the host campsite, which is number 35. Showers and water are unavailable from November through March, so you need to bring your own water if you camp in the off season. The kids won’t get bored because there is a playground right there in the camp by the shower house. In addition, there is a woodlot where you can chop your own wood for the fire. All campsites have a fire ring, picnic table, and lantern hanger. Dogs are welcome but they need to be restrained or on a leash at all times.
First-come, first-served sites are available all year long on a day by day basis if they are not reserved already. This is at the camp host’s discretion but if you cannot find the host or another park employee, follow the instructions on the vacancy card. From November through March, all sites are first-come, first-served.
Even when it gets cooler outside, a picnic at Graham Cave State Park is always fun. Pack the family into the RV and head to the park where you can picnic in one of the picnic areas around the park or use the covered shelter that holds up to 80 people. There is no water or electric there, but it is ADA-accessible and there is a vault toilet and playground nearby. There are also picnic tables and BBQ pits. From April until November you can reserve the shelter but during the off-season, it is first come, first served.
If you like wildlife, you can see a plethora of different critters in the park and the Graham Cave Glades Natural Area. The 82-acre natural space at the east end of the park has a large variety of glade species such as the prairie lizard, coyotes, beavers, opossum, raccoons, deer, and more. There are also a large number of bird species such as the Kingfisher, Bald Eagle, Red-Tailed Hawks, Ruby Hummingbirds, and hundreds more. Don’t forget to pack the camera in the RV before you leave for the park so you can get some pictures to share on Facebook.
Don’t just sit by the camper the whole time you are here. You cannot come to the Graham Cave State Park without taking a hike. The Fern Ridge Trail is a short half-mile trek through the Graham Cave Glades Natural Area where you can see the prairie lizard, glass lizard, and lichen grasshopper as well as other critters. Another awesome trail is the half-mile Graham Cave Trail, which is a paved path that leads to the cave. There are plenty of critters on this trail too and at the cave you can see exhibits that explain some of the cave’s history.
The Loutre River is a fantastic place to catch some whoppers. Whether you are looking for catfish, which range from five to 40 pounds, bluegill, crappie, or bass, you should be able to catch something you can cook up for dinner. Or just let them go and catch some more. Be sure you pack your net in the motorhome before you head out to the park so you can get that whopper in the boat or onto the bank.
Whether you have a big party boat or just a kayak or raft packed inside the RV, you should enjoy the river while you are here. There is a paved boat ramp at the southern end of the park, and you can get out and fish or just float down the river from sunup to sundown from mid-March until December. If you just want to float on a raft, canoe, kayak, or tube, you can do that anytime from anywhere in the river. Start upstream and float down to your campground then start over again.
From Memorial Day until October, the park hosts a variety of different programs for both kids and adults. Some of these are done at the visitor center by the park entrance and others are held in various areas around the park. Programs include Archaeology Day, World Atlatl Day, First Day Hikes, storytelling, animal shows, and nature walks. The program schedules are posted on the campground bulletin board and last about one hour each. Get out of the camper and go learn something fun and interesting with the kids.