Situated right in the center of the Midwest and home to four major interstates, Kansas City is one of the easiest places to use as your home base when exploring the states of the Great Plains. Whether you're interested in driving to Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Iowa, or eastern Missouri, you can usually do some exploring with less than three hours' worth of driving.
This is the most accessible trip on the list, as Kansas City, Kansas (known locally as KCK) is only a few minutes away from Kansas City, Missouri (KCMO). You'll find plenty of action in KCK, as it's home to both Sporting Kansas City of MLS and the Kansas Speedway. The Hollywood Casino sits next door to the Speedway, and you'll also find excellent shopping at the Legends Outlets Stores, home to about 100 discount shopping destinations.
The Henry Doorly Zoo is worth the visit to Nebraska's largest city on its own, as it's one of the best and largest zoos in the nation. You'll see North America's largest indoor rainforest and the world's largest indoor desert here, and you can walk across the Missouri River on the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. Omaha is also a great city for foodies: it's the birthplace of the Reuben, and the steaks at the Drover are truly legendary.
If you're interested in exploring the great outdoors, Lake of the Ozarks is where you want to be. With more than 80 miles of shoreline on the lake, this is the perfect place to experience the best of fishing, tubing, and other exciting ways to spend a day in the great outdoors. If you're looking for a more natural experience, Bridal Cave sits just south of the lake in Camdenton and offers some of the most majestic underground views anywhere in the United States.
If you ever played the Oregon Trail while growing up, you're familiar with Independence, as it was the jumping-off point for settlers traveling west from the Midwest to a new life in Oregon. Not only can you explore the National Frontier Trails Museum, but Independence is also home to the Harry Truman presidential library. Missouri's only president made his home here, and you'll be able to explore his home as well as artifacts from the tail end of World War II. If you're into architecture, check out the unique design of the Community of Christ Temple.
If you're interested in literature and nature, Mark Twain State Park brings both together. This trip is a bit out of the way from Kansas City, as the town of Florida, Mo., is now uninhabited and difficult to reach from the western part of the state. But if you're willing to make the trip to Mark Twain Lake, you'll find some incredible views of the water, and you can explore the birthplace of Mark Twain, born Samuel Clemens. If you ever read "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" or "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," this is absolutely worth a visit.
If you're a fan of the book or the movie "The Bridges of Madison County," it's worth making a trip up Interstate 35 to see the real bridges for yourself. There are six bridges in all, two of which made it into the film and one of which you can actually drive across. The bridges are spread out across several small towns near Winterset, which sits just a half-hour south of Des Moines, so you'll be able to visit Iowa's capital city on the same trip.
If you're a lover of basketball, there's plenty for you in Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas and its championship basketball team. The Jayhawks are one of the blue bloods of college basketball, and during the winter, Allen Fieldhouse is one of the places to be in the KC area. The Bells of Mount Oread sit on Kansas' campus as a memorial to KU students lost in World War II and serves as the first American memorial that could not be used for anything but viewing. Lawrence is also well known for its music scene, and you're likely to find a few worthwhile shows here.
Near the edge of the Missouri state line with Oklahoma, you'll find Joplin, situated on historic Route 66. Joplin might be overlooked among Missouri cities, but there's plenty to do here, including a visit to Grand Falls and George Washington Carver's boyhood home, known as the Mason Carver House. Once you've had your fill of the waterfalls, you'll find some incredible fishing spots to close out your day.
How does a journey to the center of the universe sound? You'll find it in Tulsa, as there's a spot where you can hear the echoes that nobody else can when you stand there. You'll also find some of the works of Pablo Picasso and Georgia O'Keeffe in Tulsa at the Philbrook Museum, and you'll have the chance to explore Native American culture by seeing the collection of Thomas Gilcrease at the Gilcrease Museum. If you're into culture and history, Tulsa is worth the drive.
It's almost hard to believe that Kansas City and St. Louis are in the same state, given that they sit on complete opposite ends of the state of Missouri. The Gateway to the West is absolutely worth the drive across Interstate 70, as it's home to its iconic Gateway Arch as well as some incredibly fun museums. You'll love exploring the interactive City Museum, and nature lovers can enjoy the massive Forest Park, about 500 acres larger than New York City's Central Park. If you didn't get your fill of barbecue in Kansas City, you'll also find some great barbecue in St. Louis.