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Grand Central: Mystery tours

Courtesy Mark Twain Home and Museum

You never know what you’ll encounter next on a mystery tour in the Grand Central states — and that’s exactly the fun of it.

Group leaders and tour operators have found great success in mystery tours, recruiting groups of passengers to take trips to unknown destinations. As they go, travelers get a thrill in trying to guess what stop will be next on the itinerary.

Mystery tours are a great way to expose your travelers to some of the hidden gems and undiscovered attractions that dot the country, and Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma have these sites in spades. Each of these states offers four- or five-day mystery tour itineraries for travel planners, who can take them in their entirety or mix and match them for a great trip through the whole region.

If mystery tours intrigue your group travelers, these stops will make your next outing a memorable one.


Mystery tours highlight some fascinating places throughout Missouri, taking visitors to places they probably never thought they would go.

Up first is the Missouri State Penitentiary in Jefferson City. Built 100 years before Alcatraz, this prison held hundreds of infamous outlaws in its time. After the prison tour, you can reward your group for good behavior with a stop at Central Dairy, a local business that has served ice cream since 1932.

Fulton is the home of the National Churchill Museum, where groups have a tour and tea on the second day of their mystery tour. This museum is housed in a 12th-century church brought over from London and sits on the site where Winston Churchill gave his famous “Iron Curtain” speech.

On the third day of the tour, groups stop in the town of Florida to visit Mark Twain’s birthplace before proceeding to Hannibal, where Twain spent much of his childhood. A tour of Hannibal includes stops at the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum, where visitors learn about how Hannibal inspired popular characters in Twain’s novels, as well as a Mark Twain Riverboat dinner cruise.

Another American storyteller got his start in Marceline, the final stop on Missouri’s mystery tour. Groups visit the Walt Disney Hometown Museum and learn about the town that served as the inspiration for Disney’s Main Street USA.

On a mystery tour through Kansas, groups will learn numerous fascinating stories about the people and places of the Sunflower State.

Tours start at the National Orphan Train Complex in Concordia, where visitors hear about orphaned and homeless children from the late 1800s and early 1900s who were transported by train to their new adoptive families.

Next is a visit to Nazareth Convent, a 1902 red brick convent and chapel with an extensive collection of art and artifacts.

On the second day of the tour, groups head to MarCon Pies in Washington. Groups can watch as more than 600 pies are made daily by hand for delivery to area stores and restaurants. After lunch, visitors tour Herr’s Memory Lane, a collection of more than 100 fully restored vintage cars, trucks and tractors.

There’s another church on tap on the third day of the tour. St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison was established in the 1850s and is home to about 40 monks. Frank Lloyd Wright designed the main church at the abbey.

On the final day, groups visit the Buffalo Soldiers Monument on Fort Leavenworth army base and can meet with veterans who served in this regiment in the mid-20th century.

The tour ends with a bit of fun at the C.W. Parker Carousel Museum, where visitors can ride a 1913 wooden carousel created by one of the country’s leading carousel carvers.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.