As Interstate 44 runs through the heart of Pulaski County in central Missouri, many motorists travel to our area. Pulaski County is I-44’s midway point between the Illinois State Line and the Oklahoma State Line. Many travelers look forward to seeing the Pulaski County signs on the roadway because they know when they need to top off their tank, grab a bite, are in need of a “sit down” meal or a clean, comfortable bed, that Pulaski County has plenty of options to meet their needs.
Pulaski County has so much to offer to the traveler who departs from the Interstate; the traveler who has a case of wanderlust; the traveler who knows that the best parts of America are not found on the bland ribbons of pavement that crisscross the country. Put some color in your travels by taking Pulaski County’s “back roads”- they will take you to some of our hidden gems.
Ironically, Pulaski County’s most famous back road was once the crown jewel of the transportation system in the United States. Entrepreneurs from the past called it the “Main Street of America”, the highway departments called it Route 66, and those who seek it out today lovingly call it the “Mother Road”. Pulaski County has 33 original miles of the Mother Road that roughly parallels today’s Interstate. Travelers from all over the world seek out Devils Elbow. Devils Elbow, once a popular fishing and resort community, is a throwback to a simpler time. Tip- Stop in at the Elbow Inn & BBQ and have an ice cold beer and a fiery Tater Burger in an original Route 66 Missouri roadhouse. The nearby bluffs overlooking the gentle (and very floatable!) Big Piney River were once listed as one of Missouri’s Eight Scenic Wonders.
A quick two mile hop on a spur of Route 66, Missouri Avenue in Saint Robert, will lead you to Fort Leonard Wood. Fort Leonard Wood is one of the largest military training installations in the United States and millions of Army careers have started here. All branches of the United States military are represented here- Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, even Coast Guard. One of Fort Leonard Wood’s hidden gems, actually in plain sight, is the Mahaffey Museum Complex. This is the only location in the country where you can visit three U.S. Army Branch (Military Police, Engineer, Chemical Corps) museums in a single location. Tip- The museum complex is open to the public and there is no charge for admission. Leaving Fort Leonard Wood to the west, via Polla Road, you can pay your respects to our nation’s veterans at the Missouri Veterans Cemetery- Fort Leonard Wood. The cemetery is home to the newly dedicated Korean War Memorial monument. Pulaski County is very appreciative and supportive of our military and those who have served and you will see examples of our patriotism in many places throughout the county.
When exiting Missouri Veterans Cemetery, motor west on Route 66 to Missouri Route 7. This two lane highway heads northwest to the Frisco Railroad town of Richland. The road itself has been referred to as one of the best drives in the United States by driving enthusiasts. This road snakes its way through the Ozark hills and bluffs that were cut by the meandering (and very floatable!) Gasconade River. Once in Richland, make sure to visit H.E. Warren Store. This family owned department store first opened its doors to the public in 1869 and has been serving the public ever since. Tip- Folks travel from many miles away to purchase Levi’s jeans and quilting supplies at H.E. Warren.
As you head back down Highway 7 toward Interstate 44, follow one last back road. Take a left on Rochester Road, cross the Gasconade River on Steckel’s Bridge and pull into the entrance to The Cave Restaurant & Resort. On the site of the former Ozark Spring Resort, this is the nation’s only restaurant inside a cave! A real cave! With waterfalls, fish ponds, a beautiful view of the Gasconade River, and yummy food! Tip- Take on their Stalagmite Burger Challenge or do steak a little differently, with a side of Linguini Alfredo. Delicious! The Cave Restaurant is handicap accessible, group friendly, and hosts an annual holiday celebration, “Enchanted Cave Christmas”, each December.
For more information about Pulaski County USA, including more unique things to see and do (including our Antique & Sweet Treat Trail, Veterans Memorial Tour, & an audio tour of Route 66), outdoor activities, lodging and dining options call 573.336.6355 to order your complimentary Visitors Guide, log on to www.PulaskiCountyUSA.com, or visit our Facebook page. Our Visitors Center is located at 137 St. Robert Boulevard, Suite A in Saint Robert, Missouri and can easily be reached from Interstate 44 Exit 161. Ask us about our Veteran Thanks program!
Written by Laura Huffman with the Pulaski County Tourism Bureau.