Van Meter State Park is a 1,104-acre wonderland with a plethora of information for the Native American Indian historian. There are 22 RV and tent campsites for those who wish to stay for the night or the week and there is enough to keep you busy while you are here. This park hosts approximately 60,000 visitors per year who come in search of solitude and nature as well as information about the Oneota and Missouria Indian villages that used to be there.
There are several burial mounds and a hand-dug earthwork called the Old Fort with information dating back to 1673 when Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette visited the area. The Utz site at the park dates back to 1450 AD, which is where Jim Utz found an engraved tablet in 1936. This is a National Historic Landmark where catlinite pipes, projectile points, scrapers, and shell-tempered pottery has been found.
Besides Indian artifacts and information, this stunning park also has the 18-acre Lake Wooldridge where you can catch crappie, bass, and catfish, several hiking trails through the Oumessourit Natural Area, and a freshwater marsh with a variety of wild critters. You can also enjoy a picnic or BBQ in one of the picnic sites or shelters.
About three hours from St. Louis or 90 minutes from Kansas City, Van Meter State Park is a fantastic place to spend the day or the week. In central Missouri, which is pretty close to the center of the United States, this fabulous wild wonderland is just hours from any place in the country. It is mostly highway driving on Interstate 70 from almost everywhere, but once you get off the highway, you should slow down and enjoy the gorgeous scenery. It is best to take it slow anyway if you are driving a large rig or pulling a trailer and you should also watch for animals that like to wander onto the road.
The park itself has some narrow roads with sharp turns so you will need to be careful here as well. Watch for low hanging branches and potholes in the gravel roads leading to the campsites. Most of the sites are large enough for even the biggest camper or RV but some may be hard to maneuver so check the descriptions on the reservation page before you choose your campsite. There are quite a few that are pull-through sites, which would be perfect for those extra-large rigs.
The 21 campsites at Van Meter State Park are open all year long and can be reserved from mid-April until November. The pads range from 37 to 60 feet long and all sites have a fire pit, lantern pole, and picnic table. Twelve of the campsites have electric while the others are basic sites. Water is available near campsites five, 13, and 20 and site number one is ADA accessible. You can also find a shower house, restrooms with flush toilets, and a vault toilet in the parking lot by campsite one. The water is shut off and the shower is closed from November through mid-April. There is a wood lot where you can chop your own wood and a trash dumpster at the entrance to the campsite. Dogs are welcome as long as they are kept on a leash or restrained at all times.
You can find some first-come, first-served campsites all year if they have not been reserved but it is at the discretion of the camp host. Also, this is on a day-to-day basis from mid-April until November. If you cannot find a camp host or park employee, follow the instructions on the vacancy card by the site you choose.
Whether you are an avid hiker or a beginner, you can find the perfect trail here at Van Meter State Park, so you do not have to just sit around by the RV. The Memorial Trail is a short half-mile loop trail that takes you to the family cemetery by the Indian burial mounds. The one-mile Earthworks Trail is a rugged hike through up and down some steep terrain to the Old Fort earthwork, the Pinnacles, and the Oumessourit Natural Area. The Loess Hills Trail meanders around Lake Wooldridge through the prairies and over bridges on a boardwalk by the dam.
This is a major Indian site with a plethora of historical areas including Indian burial mounds, the Old Fort earthwork, and archaeological sites to explore. Make sure you bring your camera or phone in your campervan to take plenty of pics to share on Facebook. The Missouri American Indian Cultural Center is a wonderful place to learn more about the various Indian tribes and the area where they lived. Some of these tribes include the Shawnee, Sac and Fox, Kickapoo, Kanza, and Osage. The staff at the park are available to answer your questions and help you discover more about this interesting historical spot.
Gather the family into the campervan and head to the park for a picnic or BBQ. If you have a large group, there are two shelters that can be reserved. Shelter 1 can hold up to 96 people while shelter 2 accommodates about 35 people. They each have a grill, two fireplaces, electric, and they are both near a water hydrant and fountain. There are also restrooms nearby with running water. If you want to work off that meal, take a hike on the Oumessourit Wetland Boardwalk Trail, Cemetery Trail, or Earthworks Trail, which are all right by the shelters.
Make sure you don’t forget to pack your fishing poles in the RV before you head to the park because Wooldridge Lake has a multitude of fish and other water creatures that are very hungry. Bring along a net in your camper or trailer in case you land one of the lunkers in the lake. You can find catfish, bass, and many varieties of crappie as well as crawfish and turtles. You will need a Missouri fishing permit and you have to follow the rules and regulations on the bulletin board.
During the summer months from mid-April until November, the park holds a variety of interpretive programs for kids as well as adults. Leave the RV at the campsite and walk to the amphitheater for a live animal show or a presentation of Indian artifacts. The park also hosts evening outdoor movies, guided hikes, scavenger hunts, and even a cemetery investigation hunt. The kids will love playing Native American bingo or join in a habitat relay. Be sure to spend some outdoor time with the kids for some interactive and informational fun.
Lake Wooldridge is a man-made 18-acre lake at the northern end of Van Meter State Park. You can find it at the end of the Missouri River Overlook Trail past the Indian Burial Mounds. There is no concrete boat ramp or dock, so you have to put your boat in on your own. According to the regulars, the best place to do this is the parking lot at the Loess Hills Trail by the Lake Wooldridge dam. You can use small boats with trolling motors or oars but no gas motors.