Explore Washington County

Council Bluff Lake in Belgrade, Mo. (Photo by Melissa Gilliam)

Tucked away in south-central Missouri are nearly a half a million acres of quiet Ozarks hills, beautiful lakes, charming businesses and great destinations for day trips and overnight getaways. Whether you’re looking for camping, hunting or shopping, Washington County is worth exploring.

Washington County boasts beautiful landscapes and outstanding opportunities for enjoying the outdoors. Mark Twain National Forest covers much of the county, and the county seat of Potosi is home to both a Forest Service office and the headquarters office of the Ozark Trail Association.

Mountain bikers frequent the Berryman Trail and the trail at Council Bluff, while fishermen have no shortage of great spots to cast their rods. The Courtois Section of the Ozark Trail is one of many places in the county that offers great hiking, but it’s certainly not the only one. Hughes Mountain and Washington State Park have hiking trails as well.

For families looking for a weekend getaway or kids who want to attend an overnight summer camp, YMCA Trout Lodge and Camp Lakewood are open to the public year-round. Nearby Sayersbook Bison Ranch offers bison herd tours and hosts off-road events in partnership with Jeep clubs, Hummer rallies and other off-road organizations. Washington County is even home to an old-fashioned drive-in movie theater, open in the summer months in Cadet, Missouri, adjacent to State Highway 21.

Bellevue Presbyterian Church in Caledonia. (Photo by Melissa Gilliam)

Caledonia is one of the area’s most quaint historic towns. Grab some lunch at the Caledonia BBQ Co. before heading to the Old Village Mercantile for some old-time treats. If history is of interest to you, take a walk through the town and read the many National Register of Historic Places plaques on buildings in the town. Don’t miss Bellevue Presbyterian Church while you’re there. Established in 1816, locals say that this church is the oldest Presbyterian church west of the Mississippi River.

One of the quirkiest things about Washington County is its collection of antique fire engines in the tiny community of Richwoods.  A drive through the town takes only a minute or two, but during that time, you’ll see a dozen or so retired fire engines.  An old Cadillac ambulance rests near the town’s tiny general store, and fire engines of every era have been laid to rest in fields throughout the town.

A great way to explore Washington County for the first time is to visit during the county’s annual Home Grown Farm Tour , a free, self-guided tour featuring 18 local farms, businesses and historical sites.  The Home Grown Farm Tour Field Dinner is a unique, ticketed-admission outdoor supper that highlights food produced by local chefs.

For more information about Washington County, contact the Washington County Industrial Development Authority at 573-438-6196 or visit them online.

Melissa Gilliam is a marketing and communications professional who freelances as a writer and photographer. Melissa’s blog, A Small Town Girl’s Guide is an exploration of her life in small town Missouri after moving back to the state from New York City. Melissa is also the Marketing Director for YMCA Trout Lodge & Camp Lakewood in Potosi, Missouri.

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