A family trip to Hannibal, Missouri, inspired by Tom Sawyer

Inspired by reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to our children, we packed the van and headed to Hannibal, Mo., the childhood home of Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain). After spending two days and one night in Hannibal, we came home knowing we had discovered something special.

If you go

Hannibal, Mo.

Learn about Mark Twain

Cave tours

Food and fun

Dubbed America’s Hometown, Hannibal is warm, charming and full of unexpected pleasures. It won’t stress the piggy bank and, located only five hours from Chicago, it’s possible to do an overnight and still see a lot.

These attractions were some of our favorites and fit comfortably into our time there:

The Interpretive Center at The Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum served as a helpful starting point, giving an introduction to Twain’s life and the real people who appear in his stories. The Museum Gallery houses paintings by Norman Rockwell and treasured artifacts that once belonged to Samuel Clemens. It also offers many unique, interactive exhibits, including an authentic pilot house with a steam boat whistle.

A bronze statue of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn stands at the base of Cardiff Hill. We enjoyed the challenge of climbing the 244 steps that lead up to the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse there, and stood in awe of the panoramic view of Hannibal and the Mississippi River.

The Mark Twain Cave is a Registered National Natural Landmark. It was in five of Twain’s books and is a treat not to be missed. The local guides are knowledgeable and friendly, recounting passages from Tom Sawyer and pointing out particular areas of interest. The well-lit passages are level and smooth, so walking is easy. Be sure to wear a jacket because the temperature averages 52 degrees year round.

Afterward we took a 80-minute tour of nearby Cameron Cave. Since it’s lit much like it was when discovered in 1925, several members of our tour group carried lanterns. Those who don’t wish to venture into such a rustic cave might enjoy panning for semi-precious stones at the nearby Sticks and Stones.

An hour-long afternoon cruise on the Mark Twain Riverboat was a nice way to relax after a full morning at the caves. The triple deck riverboat afforded good views of the town and surrounding countryside as the guide shared comments about river history, legends and sights.

The Mark Twain Family Restaurant has been making homemade root beer on the premises since 1942. We decided to enjoy a frosty mug along with its signature Maid Rite sandwiches. The restaurant is family-friendly with basic diner food served in a homey atmosphere.

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