No one knows for sure how Missouri came to be known as the Show-Me State, but it’s a fitting nickname for a place that has so many things worth flaunting. You might say, “Hey Missouri, show me championship-winning sports franchises, Route 66, and sweet and smokey burnt ends” — and the state will deliver. But there’s a lot more to appreciate beyond Kansas City to the west and St. Louis to the east (both above and below the surface). Some of what makes Missouri great will surprise you — look a little closer, and this is what the Show-Me State will reveal.

1. Missouri is home to more than 6,000 caves…

Photo: Missouri Division of Tourism

Missouri’s natural allure is evident as soon as you get outdoors. But there’s more to the state’s geology than meets the eye — specifically, its 6,300-plus caves. The Show-Me State is known as the “Cave State” for good reason.

Marvel Cave, a National Natural Landmark, is one of Missouri’s deepest caverns, and it invites visitors to travel 300 feet below ground. You will then be wowed by America’s largest cave entrance — the Cathedral Room. At Mark Twain Cave, see where Twain found inspiration for The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and keep an eye out for the author’s signature scrawled on the wall. (Hint: His given name was Samuel Clemens.) Meanwhile, Meramec Caverns is home to a stunning collection of stalactites and stalagmites, and Fantastic Caverns (accessible to all) is the only cave in the US with a full ride-through tour.

2. …and the largest freshwater scuba site in the world.

Photo: Missouri Division of Tourism

That’s right, you can scuba dive in Missouri, too. And even more caving awaits underwater, starting with the world-renowned cave known for cave-diving, Roubidoux Spring Cave. Divers can also explore 20-plus underground passages filled with abandoned equipment at Bonne Terre Mine. Once a prolific lead ore producer, the attraction is now home to the world’s largest freshwater scuba site. For a more traditional scuba experience, Table Rock Lake is a reservoir in southwestern Missouri featuring more than 800 miles of shoreline and several dive sites.

3. You can taste the fruits of America’s original wine region here.

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Before there was Napa or Willamette Valley, there was Augusta — which was named the first American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 1980. Taste how decades of TLC have imbued flavor in the many varietals produced at Mount Pleasant Estates Winery, the oldest winery in the Augusta AVA. Continue your historical tasting tour in Hermann, a picturesque town not far from Augusta. The German influence is apparent at Stone Hill Winery, the oldest winery in Missouri. Founded in 1847 by German immigrants, Stone Hill is home to the largest collection of arched underground cellars in the US.

Hermann’s Adam Puchta Winery claims another superlative as the nation’s oldest continuously owned family farm winery. It’s remained in the Puchta family for seven generations, and guests can’t help but feel like family too when visiting.

4. Missouri’s version of swimming holes are called shut-ins…and they’re awesome.

Photo: Missouri Division of Tourism

Swimmers in Missouri get to splash in Mother Nature’s waterparks, aka shut-ins. Shut-ins form when water flows around rock formations, creating chutes and pools. Rocky Falls features a beautiful shut-in at the base of a waterfall. Millstream Gardens Conservation Area houses the Tiemann Shut-Ins, and it’s accessible via a hike along the roaring St. Francis River. For some of the best photo ops, the Castor River Shut-Ins — east of Fredericktown — snake through pretty pink granite boulders.

5. The state hosted the Olympics and the World’s Fair in the same year.

Photo: Missouri Division of Tourism

St. Louis hosted both the Olympics and the World’s Fair in 1904; this fun fact is made even more exciting by the landmarks left behind. In Forest Park, one of the country’s largest urban parks, sits the Saint Louis Art Museum — it’s the only permanent exhibition space remaining from the 1904 World’s Fair. It houses works of art that spotlight millennia of global histories and heritages. Down the hill at the Saint Louis Zoo, find the 1904 World’s Fair Flight Cage, which continues to house native Missouri birds (and, like everything at Forest Park, is free to the public).

6. You can golf like the greats here…

Photo: Missouri Division of Tourism

Curious how you’d stack up on the PGA Tour? Find out in Branson on Missouri’s finest golf courses. Big Cedar Lodge alone has five golf properties in the beautiful Ozark Mountains: Payne’s Valley, Top of the Rock, Mountain Top, Buffalo Ridge Springs, and Ozarks National. These courses sport designs from Tiger Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Bill Coore, and Tom Fazio, respectively. And if five courses isn’t enough, the Lake of the Ozarks Golf Trail has 13. Blueprinted by more of the biggest names in golf — Arnold Palmer and Robert Trent Jones Sr. among them — it’s no wonder some people consider Lake of the Ozarks the “Best Golf Trail in the Midwest.”

7. …and spot hundreds of different bird species.

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Between wetlands, prairies, forests, and the Missouri-Mississippi Confluence, Missouri flourishes with ecosystems that birds flock to — more than 400 different species, to be exact. The state also serves as a pivotal spot to observe various migration patterns and has 50 designated Important Bird Areas.

Prime birding sites include Loess Bluffs National Wildlife Refuge (home to 301 species), Swan Lake National Wildlife Refuge (a designated Important Bird Area), and Mingo National Wildlife Refuge (hosting 279 species). If you want to get up close and personal with some of these feathered friends, visit the World Bird Sanctuary outside of St. Louis. You’ll see 305 acres of forest and expansive outdoor avian exhibits.

8. Missouri river sports are super legit…

Photo: Missouri Division of Tourism

River floating is a summer staple in Missouri, whether that means a leisurely outing with friends or an adrenaline-filled excursion. To take it easy, rent boats from Big Muddy Adventures and explore the waterways in and around St. Louis. Looking for something less urban? There are an abundance of options across the state, but floating the Ozark National Scenic Riverways is a top choice for so many reasons. Comprised of the Current and Jacks Fork Rivers, the picturesque park boasts countless springs and is abundant in wildlife. For a thrill, check out the MR340 (Missouri River 340), the country’s longest continuous river race. Participants get 88 hours to complete the demanding journey down the storied river, starting from Kaw Point in Kansas City and ending in St. Charles, a city on the western outskirts of St. Louis.

9. …as is the biking.

Photo: Missouri Division of Tourism

Mountain biking trails for every skill level crisscross throughout Missouri. There are both tranquil and technical trails overlooking the Meramec River at Castlewood State Park. Singletrack and downhill options are found at Two Rivers Bike Park. Urban trail systems like Swope Park in the heart of Kansas City and the Landahl Mountain Bike Park in the KC metro area are convenient biking sites for city folk.

Missouri’s trails also cater to more extreme riders. Going for distance? At 240 miles, Katy Trail State Park is the longest developed rail-trail in the country. Also, the connecting Rock Island Trail State Park is in the process of expanding its network of trails, with 47.5 miles complete stretching from Pleasant Hill to Windsor. For gravity-focused riders, Shepherd Mountain Bike Park is one of the best downhill parks in the Midwest. Then there’s Howler Bike Park. Its name is a fun nod to local folklore, and the trails will literally “leave you howling!”

Whether you like to golf, spend time in the woods or water, or sip wine in a historic town, Missouri is filled with unexpected delights that attract travelers from both near and far. So pack your bags and let the Show-Me State show you why its surprises can’t be missed.