Highway 36 Road Trip: The Way of American Genius

Missouri Highway 36 is a four-lane highway from Hannibal to Saint Joseph, Missouri, about an hour north of Highway 70. The land along this highway is home to many of the country’s great innovations and innovators, as well as people and ideas that continue to make their mark.  

Highway 36 Road Trip: The Way of American Genius
Courtesy of Visit MO

What could be more fun than roadtripping through history? Here’s the itinerary we recommend!

From Atlanta, you’ll take Hwy 24 up to Hannibal, MO as your starting place. This is about a 10hr drive, so if you prefer to fly and then rent a car for your roadtrip you’ll want to fly into Quincy, IL which is about a half-hour from Hannibal.

Once in Hannibal, you have two great historic overnight options:

  • Reagan’s Queen Anne Bed and Breakfast, a 1889 Victorian home built for a lumber baron. Relax in one of two twin parlors with ornate cherry and walnut fireplace mantles and antique furnishings. A candlelit breakfast is served in the dining room, near a wall of 19th century stained-glass windows.
  • Garth Woodside Mansion is outside of Hannibal with more room to spread out. The mansion, built in 1871, sits on 36 acres with a gazebo, meadows, ponds, walking trails, llamas and wildlife.
Highway 36 Road Trip: The Way of American Genius
Courtesy of Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum

Hannibal is home to two notable figures from history: It’s where Mark Twain grew up. Additionally, the Titanic survivor Unsinkable Molly Brown was on her way back to her hometown of Hannibal when the iconic ship sank.

  • Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum allows you to learn more about Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain, who spent much of his boyhood in Hannibal. This Mississippi River town inspired many of his greatest works including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
  • Molly Brown Birthplace & Museum is where you’ll learn the true-life rags-to-riches tale of Margaret Tobin Brown, heroine of Titanic, American patriot, and one of the most important voices throughout the Progressive Era.

Finally, don’t miss dining at La Binnah restaurant (That’s Hannibal, spelled backward.) It’s known for delicious International dishes and adorable patio. It sits in an historic building dating back to 1870 that feels quite cozy.

Time to head west.

South of Hwy 36, as you head westward, you’ll find Mark Twain State Park. You’ll find bluffs covered by oak, hickory and maple, filled with deer, turkey and other wildlife on a beautiful, clear lake. The park has campgrounds, picnic areas, boat ramps and hiking trails.

Next, grab a bite to eat at The Pear Tree in Macon, MO. Try the succulent batter-dipped lobster bites as a stand-alone or atop a mouthwatering Black Angus beef steak with a side of their hand-breaded golden onion rings.

Also in Macon, be sure to visit Long Branch State Park. There’s a sweet little lake here with a swimming beach where you can stretch your legs and take in a little vitamin D.

From here you can take Hwy 63 north a bit to Kirksville, where you can visit the Museum of Osteopathic Medicine. In 1892, Dr. Andrew Taylor Still established the country’s first school of osteopathic medicine, A.T. Still University, boasting over 100K graduates since then. The museum holds more than 100,000 objects, photographs, documents, and books dating from the early 1800s to the present.

Highway 36 Road Trip: The Way of American Genius
Courtesy of Walt Disney Hometown Museum

West of Macon, in Marceline, you’ll find the Walt Disney Hometown Museum! As a boy, Walt Disney spent several memorable years in Marceline, a place that nurtured his vivid imagination. He modeled Main Street USA at his Disney theme parks after Marceline’s downtown. At the museum you can to explore the early life of the world-famous animator, writer and entrepreneur.

Heading west you’ll pass Locust Creek Covered Bridge State Historic Site. At 151 feet in length this bridge is the longest of the four surviving covered bridges in Missouri. Built in 1868, the bridge once carried travelers across Route 8, the nation’s first transcontinental highway.

You can also head south a bit to Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge. It is a popular birding spot with more than 241 species of birds spotted there. It’s also one of the best places in Missouri to see bald eagles, especially during the winter months.

Next up: the Home of Sliced Bread Welcome Center in Chillicothe. In 1928, the Chillicothe Bakery Company was the first company in the world to sell commercially sliced loaves of bread. See the first bread slicing machine – on loan from the Smithsonian Museum. Don’t forget to snap a selfie with a “slice bread” mural.

While in Chillicothe, grab a bite at Boji Stone Cafe – part coffee house, part cafe and part bookstore. Of course you have to get a sandwich on sliced bread!

Westward again.

We’re heading to the home of J.C. Penny in Hamilton. Penney trained a young Sam Walton (yes, that Sam Walton of Walmart fame) on the ins and outs of the world of retail. Crazy right?

In Hamilton, stop at the JC Penney Museum for a step back in time. The JCP boyhood home is also nearby.

Walking distance from here is the Missouri Star Quilt Company – known as the “Disneyland of Quilting.” A legend in the making, Jenny Doan is the brainchild of the company. Today, Missouri Star is the biggest quilting channel on YouTube, offering free sewing tutorials to all! 

Your roadtrip ends on the Missouri/Kansas border.

Highway 36 Road Trip: The Way of American Genius
Courtesy of Shakespeare Chateau Inn & Gardens B&B

Where to overnight:

  • Vineyard Mansion & Carriage House Bed & Breakfast is a Romanesque Revival style home built in 1890 for a prominent attorney in St. Joseph. The property is located in the Museum Hill Historic District, an area known for its stunning, Victorian-era homes.
  • Shakespeare Chateau Inn Bed & Breakfast was built in 1885 when the city was known as “The Queen of the River Cities.” The home is one of several mansions in the Hall Street Historic District, known locally as “Millionaires’ Row.” The interior features 47 (!) original stained glass windows and of a bust of the Bard himself above the grand fireplace in the front foyer.
    • Can’t overnight? You still will not want to miss the interior of this mansion. It’s unbelievable. Private tours are available for groups of 5 or more people, priced at just $10 per person. Enhanced private tours are also offered that include food and beverage options.

While you’re in town, be sure to visit the Pony Express National Museum. The revolutionary idea designed to deliver mail in the fastest way possible to developing territories began in Saint Joseph. Housed in the stables where the horses were once kept, the Pony Express National Museum features interactive exhibits about the riders’ adventures as they made their way through the untamed wilderness.

Highway 36 Road Trip: The Way of American Genius
Courtesy of Jesse James Home

Only a few blocks from here you’ll also find The Patee House and Jesse James Home. The Patee House Built was originally a luxury hotel built in 1858. It was meant to serve as the last stop of refinement and civility as travelers made their way farther into newly settled western territories. The hotel was a modern marvel, with amenities such as hot and cold running water in the bathrooms and a cupola that allowed for better air circulation, like a natural cooling system.

On Christmas Eve of 1881, Jesse James, under the name of Thomas Howard, moved his wife Zerelda and their two small children into this small four-bedroom home in St Joseph. Jesse would occasionally visit under his assumed name.

Jesse tried to lead a quiet life in St. Joseph, but on April 3, 1882, he and his partners, Robert and Charles Ford, made plans to rob the Platte City bank the following day. Before that could happen, in this home, Robert shot Jesse in the back.

To complete your roadtrip, head south just a little to Lewis and Clark State Park. In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark noted large quantities of fish and geese at what is now Lewis and Clark State Park near Rushville. Bordering Lewis and Clark Lake, the park is still a great place for bird watching as well as camping, picnicking, boating and fishing.

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Highway 36 Road Trip: The Way of American Genius