Blake Walsh

20 Best Things to Do in Poplar Bluff, MO

  • Published 2022/12/06

Popularly known as the “Gateway to the Ozarks,” Poplar Bluff is the county seat of Butler County, southeast of Missouri.

It took its name from a bluff overlooking the Black River, where it was covered with tulip poplar trees during the first settlement of the city.

Poplar Bluff is easily accessible from major highways and is conveniently located near international airports in St. Louis, Little Rock, and Memphis.

Due to its vicinity from a number of natural wonders, this small city boasts sparkling springs and rivers, a national forest, state parks, and agritourism, making it an excellent outdoor destination.

It is home to historical museums, a famous theater, parks, concerts, and festivals for the whole family to enjoy.

It is also a food crawl hub for some delicious barbecue, locally crafted beers, and many other cuisines.

Enjoy the city center and its great outdoors with a list of things to do in Poplar Bluff, Missouri:

Catch an Event at the Rodgers Theatre

Colorful exterior of the Rodgers Theatre

© Michael Gäbler / Wikimedia Commons

This is not your average cinema, as the Rodgers Theatre brings forth a cultural history to millions of Americans.

Situated at the corner of Pine and Broadway Street, the Rodgers Theatre still stands today as a tribute to the early days of the entertainment industry.

Before 1914, it had no less than three theaters when I.W. Rodgers bought them to build the famous Rodgers Theatre, which his family furnished for several years.

The theater opened in 1949 with the showing of the movie “Red Canyon,” where 1800 people attended the opening fair.

It was the finest theater by the time it opened between St. Louis and Memphis.

It featured 1160 red luxury seats, fully air-conditioned interiors, solid walnut doors, and a brightly lit marquee still with red letters spelling the name of the theater.

Today, residents of the boomer generation and their families visit for live performances, concerts, movies, plays, and community events, with nostalgia and memories of the past that lingers on forever.

Learn the City’s History at the Poplar Bluff History Museum

Located along North Main Street, Poplar Bluff History Museum was the previous Mark Twain School closed in 1988.

The building was converted into a museum and was named after Mark Twain, who passed away the same year as the building’s construction began.

It is the oldest school structure in Poplar Bluff.

This museum displays The Poplar Bluff Sports Hall of Fame, The Scout Room, Bowling Hall of Fame, Butler County Historical Society, US Forest Service and Missouri Conservation Commission, and many others featuring the history of Poplar Bluff and Butler County.

In 1998, the building was included on the list of the National Register of Historic Places.

Explore Nature at the Mark Twain National Forest

A land encompassing 1.5 million acres, Mark Twain National Forest covers 29 counties in Missouri, including Poplar Bluff.

Mark Twain National Forest was established in 1939 and was named after author Mark Twain, popularly known as “The Father of American Literature,” a native of Missouri.

The Poplar Bluff Ranger District of the Mark Twain National Forest, located along Maud Street, provides rehabilitation to its natural communities and develops recreational areas for visitors to enjoy.

This vast land area has over 750 miles of forest trails open to the public for hiking, biking, and horseback riding.

Its streams of 350 miles are suitable for kayaking, rafting, canoeing, and tubing.

There are more than 35 campgrounds and picnic areas, with some located near attractions such as a lake, a stream, a spring, or other scenic areas.

Whether you’re looking for peace and solitude or thrill and adventure, Mark Twain National Forest has the best of both worlds.

Visit the Mo-Ark Regional Railroad Museum

Poplar Bluff credits its early development to the railroading industry.

During the early days, the city linked its way to other major cities such as Dallas, Memphis, St. Louis, Chicago, Little Rock, Springfield, and Kansas through railroads.

The Mo-Ark Regional Railroad Museum, located at Moran Street, was founded in 1994 to preserve the railroad history of southeastern Missouri and northeastern Arkansas.

It housed the old 1928 Frisco Line train depot.

The museum features the history of seven railroads, photos of early railroads and a steam engine, a 30-foot layout of a train model, and more train memorabilia.

Hang Out at the Poplar Bluff Skate Park

Do you want to learn skateboarding?

How about hanging out with skateboarders in the local community if you’re already into the sport?

Either way, head down to Morgan Street, where the Poplar Bluff Skate Park is located.

The Poplar Bluff Skate Park was once a parking lot in the downtown area.

This 19,000-square-foot park was funded by the MO Foundation of Health and was part of a renovation project in the city to bring forth recreation and a healthier environment to its residents.

The project began in 2012 after a number of skateboarders were looking for a safer and legal place to skate in the city.

The park has a strong urban design and bold colors to reflect the existing attributes of the city, including features such as flat ledges, down ledges, rails, stairs, quarter pipes, hips, and banks.

The skate park is enjoyed by both amateur and professional skateboarders, as well as spectators.

Pay Respect at the Veterans Memorial Wall

The Veterans Memorial Wall is a monumental landmark in remembrance of the veterans who served the country in the military.

Located at the Black River Coliseum on Fifth Street, The Veterans Memorial Wall has solid concrete with dark granite panels mounted and with names of the veterans inscribed on them.

The pathway toward the wall is made of bricks, while the center part of the Memorial is made of base concrete with four flagpoles — the National, the State, the City, and the POW-MIA.

The wall length is 100 feet, with two tapered sides pointing towards Fifth Street at 32 feet each.

Black granite panels come in different sizes, of which spaces and bricks for inscribing names are open for purchase.

Take a Tour of the Claudia House

This Queen Anne-style house located along Cynthia Street was built around 1910 and was the home of the Bloodworth family for years.

The Claudia House is the headquarters of the Claudia Foundation, funded by Linda Bloodworth Thomason, a writer, producer, director, and a Poplar Bluff native.

The house was named after her late mother, Claudia Bloodworth.

The Claudia Foundation aims to promote positive changes in the lives of people, especially women, and strives to increase social, cultural, and educational programs in the community.

The Claudia House, with its surrounding European-style gardens and interiors, offers tours upon request and is open for weddings, birthdays, and other events where memories are built to be made.

Explore Art at the Margaret Harwell Art Museum

The Margaret Harwell Art Museum is one of the only five city art museums in Missouri.

Named after its benefactor, the late Margaret Harwell, this museum was established as a center for exhibits and art classes.

When Mrs. Harwell, a businesswoman, civic leader, and amateur artist, died in 1977, she left a part of her estate to the City of Poplar Bluff.

The city bought the J.L Dalton home at North Main Street to house the museum in 1981.

The Margaret Harwell Art Museum was opened to the public a year later.

Today, it features not just exhibits and art classes but a collection of artworks by contemporary artists in Missouri.

Set Up a Picnic at McLane Park

Poplar Bluff has many parks where you can keep yourself active while hanging out with family or friends over picnics.

The McLane Park, one of Poplar Bluff’s parks, has a paved walking trail of 1.33 miles, loop included.

Here you can go walking, running, and biking.

Find a good spot and set up a picnic afterward, a nice way to end a good workout.

The park has great amenities to suit your needs, such as gazebos, benches, picnic tables, and water fountains.

It also has five baseball fields and bathrooms.

You can bring your furry friends too, so no one gets left behind!

Spend Fall Memories at the Dunlap Pumpkin Farm

Create a memorable fall experience at the Dunlap Pumpkin Farm.

Located at the intersection of Highway 60 and AA, the Dunlap Pumpkin Farm is a family-operated farm.

They have a huge selection of pumpkins, gourds, squash, corn stalks, straws, mums, and other forage.

Kids can enjoy the “Barnyard Friends” area with turkeys, goats, pigs, bottle calves, donkeys, corn pits, a hay maze, and pedal tractors.

With its relaxed ambiance, the Dunlap Pumpkin Farm offers fun learning activities not just for the kids but for the adults as well.

They open annually from September to October.

Go Off-Roading at Brick’s Off-Road Park

Get a muddy experience at the Brick’s Off-Road Park with family or friends.

Brick’s Off-Road Park is located along County Road and is open to any types of off-road vehicles such as 4-wheeler trucks, ATVs, dirt bikes, and dune buggies.

A family-owned farm for four generations, the Brickell family switched gears and turned it into off-road recreational park heaven in 2006.

The farm’s terrains make it the perfect location for this recreational activity, where rolling hills and creeks, miles of trails, and wavy fields provide a good challenge and scenic views.

One of the highlights is the mud Slough which it gives off-roaders a good run for their money with their biggest 4-wheeler trucks.

They also offer primitive camping experience for up to eight people per group.

Get pumped up with adrenaline at Brick’s Off-Road Park, one of the country’s best off-road parks, definitely a bang for your buck.

Catch Events and Shows at the Black River Coliseum

If you’re looking for live shows to watch with the family, you can catch entertaining shows at the Black River Coliseum.

The 115,000-square-foot arena is located at South 5th Street and regularly hosts concerts, family shows, sporting events, trade shows, and more.

Enjoy events at this state-of-the-art multi-purpose facility with comfortable and intimate seating.

The venue is also a frequent location for seminars, meetings, and gatherings.

In case you get hungry during the event, two concession stands offer an array of menu snack items like pizza, hotdogs, burgers, nachos, and others; they also serve sodas and coffee beverages.

Watch awesome shows at Black River Coliseum.

Spend a Day at Hendrickson Park

Hendrickson Park is one of the public parks you can relax and slow down for a day.

You’ll find this city park on West Davis Street and also enjoy some activities you can do with the family.

Stroll the 1.22-mile walking trail which starts at the back of First Midwest Bank that leads to Bacon Park.

Play at the 18-hole disc golf, jog on the paved way, or simply enjoy the fresh air while walking around the park with your leashed pet.

Set up a picnic and grill hotdogs and burgers while the little ones are having a fun time at the two playground areas.

The Hendrickson Park pavilion is also available for rent if you’re coming as a big group.

Treat Yourself at The Wine Rack & The Java Stop Cafe

For fantastic food, good wine, and an inviting funky ambiance, The Wine Rack & The Java Stop Cafe is a good choice to dine with family and friends.

The restaurant is located on North Westwood Boulevard and welcomes patrons to its main dining floor, loft, and deck areas.

They serve an array of creative and delicious fare from snacks, lunch, and dinner, all freshly prepared and served.

You’ll also enjoy the special chef’s menu on a weekend and for Saturday Brunch.

Entrees on the menu are inspired by Asian, Italian, and Mediterranean influences.

Begin your meal with an awesome salad like the Tuscan Herb Chicken, or try the shrimp and grits followed by a plate of juicy and tender ribeye steak; for dessert, the homemade cheesecake is a real winner.

There are also vegetable and seafood dishes on their menu, along with pizza flavors and meals for kiddos.

Enjoy the full-service cafe and order your cup of coffee, frappes, teas, and smoothies.

The Wine Rack & The Java Stop Cafe also has a full-stock bar with a wide selection of craft beers and concoctions you’ll enjoy.

Buy Fresh Goods at the Farmers’ Market

From May to September, you’ll get to catch the city’s open-air Farmers’ Market.

Market day is every Saturday from morning until noon at downtown South 5th Street.

Come and buy local goods directly from local growers, producers, and crafters.

Find an array of freshly picked vegetables, local fruits, berries, dairy products, and honey; then, take your pick of homemade breads and jellies.

Likewise, check out some art pieces, handcrafted jewelry, herbs, plants, and colorful bouquet blooms.

Enjoy shopping at the Poplar Bluff’s Farmers’ Market.

Join the City’s Annual Iron Horse Festival

The annual Iron Horse Festival is an exciting downtown celebration you can catch every September.

The celebration aims to highlight the city’s rich heritage, promote local historic sites and bring together the local community.

The proceeds of the event support downtown city projects like street improvements and local events.

Bring your family and enjoy a day of live music and entertainment with rows of food specialties and drinks served by local restaurants.

Check out an array of products, arts, and crafts from vendors selling their wares and offering demos.

Watch the amusing pet shows and let your little ones also enjoy the activities, games, and attractions.

Enjoy the celebrations at the Iron Horse Festival.

Other Things to Do Nearby

Observe Wildlife at the Mingo National Wildlife Refuge

A great heron at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge

Kyle Spradley Photography /

About a 30-minute drive and 25 miles northeast of Poplar Bluff is a refuge providing food and shelter for migratory birds, waterfowls, and other bird species.

The Mingo National Wildlife Refuge, located in Puxico, is a 21,000-acre area that lies in a basin along the Mississippi River.

Flock of birds flying over Mingo National Wildlife Refuge

Brandon B /

It was established in 1944 and was recognized as an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society.

They are open for hiking, canoeing, fishing, hunting, wildlife observation, and photography in designated areas.

The Mingo National Wildlife Refuge can be a great educational experience for visitors who want to learn and enjoy wildlife through its swamps, wetlands and bottomland forests, the largest remaining bottomland forest track in Missouri.

Ducks swimming on a body of water at Mingo National Wildlife Refuge

Brandon B /

Recharge at Keener Springs

Keener Springs is one of the largest privately-owned springs in the country, producing 28,000,000 gallons of water per day.

Located 15 minutes from Poplar Bluff, Keener Springs is another recreational area in Williamsville.

It lies on the banks of the Black River, with the spring and its water-filled cave as the area’s main attractions.

Guests can go swimming, boating, and lodging with cozy cabins open for rentals on this 65-acre property.

Keener Springs can hold private events such as birthday parties, weddings, and reunions.

With its tranquil and serene ambiance, Keener Springs can also be a great location for a nice retreat with family or friends.

Camp at Lake Wappapello State Park

View of Lake Wappapello from Lake Wappapello State Park

Mitchazenia, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Another taste of nature you can visit nearby is Lake Wappapello State Park, located at Williamsville, a 30-minute drive from Poplar Bluff.

Lake Wappapello is about 20 miles from Poplar Bluff, making it a great location for a day trip.

It is a reservoir from the Wappapello Dam on the St. Francis River and was created in 1941 with flood control as its primary purpose but was then opened for recreational activities.

Lake Wappapello State Park is one of the popular spots for boating, swimming, fishing, jet skiing, canoeing, kayaking, as well as camping, hiking, and horseback riding.

Camping becomes extra fun during the night, especially in summers when local talents hold concerts with food, drinks, and bar stations in the area to keep everyone entertained all day and night long.

Take the Kids to the Bootheel Youth Museum

Something for the kids aside from nature parks is the Bootheel Youth Museum, about a 40-min drive from Poplar Bluff.

Located in Malden, the Bootheel Youth Museum offers fun, interactive learning for kids.

Opened to the public in 1996, the museum was established by a group of school teachers, civic leaders, and citizens in the Southeast Missouri area.

The museum has attracted more than 450,000 visitors with over 50,000 children since it opened.

They have over 50 interactive exhibits ranging from science, history, medicine, food, and more.

Bring your kids as they explore and discover things, an awesome way to spark their interests and curiosity.

Final Thoughts

Poplar Bluff’s unmatched beauty and diverse activities have a lot to do with its geographical location, centrally nestled near outdoor attractions in the Southeast Missouri area.

Being at the foothills of the Ozarks with stunning rivers and foliage, Poplar Bluff is heaven for those seeking time to experience the great outdoors.

You can never go wrong with nature, and Poplar Bluff can offer just that, perfect for all ages to enjoy.

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