Want to explore Parkville? Start with this beginner's guide to the city
Tucked into the hills above the Missouri River, this picturesque Missouri town carries a complex history. It's one of the fastest growing communities in the region, yet honors its 19th century roots.
This story was first published in KCUR's Adventure! newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox every Tuesday.
The city of Parkville, located on the bluffs of the Missouri River in Platte County, retains its rivertown vibes into the 21st century. It’s also one of the fastest growing communities in the area, according to the Kansas City Business Journal.
Parkville was founded by George Park, a veteran of the Texas War for Independence. He purchased a 99-year lease for the riverboat landing from David English in 1838, then platted the town in 1844.
The town has survived flooding, changing economies, and disputes preceding and during the Civil War (Southern sympathizers threw Park’s printing press in the river for promoting anti-slavery sentiments, a bold stance in an area that was then called “Little Dixie”).
Much of Parkville is still rural farmland and forest, making it a haven for folks who want access to Kansas City (only 20 minutes to downtown) but don’t want to deal with the everyday hassle of an urban environment. The hilly environment will definitely help you get your steps in as you explore.
When you visit, be sure to stop in Photo Op Alley, where local artists have created murals for a variety of selfie spots.
The charming historic downtown has buildings dating back to the 1840s. It’s just a few blocks long, but packed with restaurants, antique stores, funky emporiums, and specialty boutiques that sell everything from vintage watches to beef to candles to guitars.
Pocket Park is in the center of the downtown, a series of landscaped tiers next to Frank’s Italian Restaurant, established in 1931. Once a month in the summer, performers entertain pedestrians with Music on Main.
At the top of the park, there’s a minigolf course and ice cream shop, and along the way statues of Mark Twain, the Missouran humorist, and Bill Grigsby, a famous sports broadcaster and Parkville resident.
Parkville Coffee, established in 2010, features rotating gallery space for local artists and a book nook, where a selection of local and indie authors’ works are for sale. (President Barack Obama even stopped in for a tea in 2014.)
Riverpark Pub & Eatery sits inside in the converted Park College Power Plant, built in 1917. Café des Amis is an authentic French bistro serving lunch and dinner. Wines by Jennifer is a popular stop for locals and tourists alike since 2003. You can also choose from pizza, brunch, vegetarian, ice cream, barbecue, and more.
Connecting to the town’s transportation past, the old train depot has been converted into an art gallery (and previously served as City Hall). The train still runs through the town, though it no longer stops —be careful crossing the tracks from the public parking lot.
Near the tracks, Kansas City’s Rochester Brewing and Roasting Company opened a location in January 2023, with two train cars attached to the building for seating.
The historic district juts off from Route 9 just west of Park University, but if you keep following Route 9 north (and past Parkville’s historic cemeteries) you’ll arrive at a newer commercial and residential district, with amenities like City Hall and the Platte Valley Community Center.
Park University was another endeavor of George Park’s (he also founded what would become the city of Manhattan, Kansas). Founded in 1875, the campus sits high on the hill above the river town. The university’s motto is “Fides et Labor” (Faith and Labor) and it used to run its own farm where students could work to pay their tuition.
Some of the historic buildings, like Mackay Hall with its iconic clock tower, were built by students with quarried limestone from the nearby hills. Those quarries are now caves used for both academic and commercial purposes.
You can find the Mabee Learning Center inside these caves, which also house the university’s bookstore and a variety of student services. The commercial area accommodates a variety of businesses.
Park University is also home to the International Center for Music, which trains top musicians from all over the world. During the academic year, many students perform in the Graham Tyler Chapel on campus, but award-winning students, alumni, and faculty have also performed at the 1900 Building, Folly Theater, and Kauffman Center (as well as internationally), and as soloists with the Kansas City Symphony and Kansas City Chamber Orchestra.
Classical KC shared a broadcast last year of Stanislav & Friends, featuring ICM’s founder and artistic director, Stanislav Ioudenitch.
You can take a virtual tour of the Parkville campus. Park University also has a campus in Gilbert, Arizona and satellite programs throughout the US.
Putting the park in Parkville
Much of Parkville is greenspace, with plenty of trails to explore and picnic spots to enjoy.
English Landing Park connects with the Missouri Riverfront Trail and has three miles of pedestrian trails, as well as ball fields, playground, sand volleyball courts and disc golf course. There’s also a picturesque bridge, stages, and sculptures carved from tree trunks.
Neighboring Platte Landing Park is nearly twice as big but not as developed. It includes the Sullivan Nature Sanctuary, off-leash dog parks, and boat launch, as well as two miles of walking trails.
The Parkville Nature Sanctuary, about one mile north on Highway 9, still has traces of when it was part of the farm for Park University. It’s now a shady reprieve, with trails of varying lengths (as well as an ADA accessible Bluebird Trail) and plenty of benches to stop and listen to the sound of birdsong and watch ebony jewelwings flit around the creek.
One of the trails takes you up to a waterfall and is named for Old Kate, a mule who served the university for nearly 30 years. The Friends of Parkville Nature Sanctuary also holds a monthly photo contest for amateur photographers. Just note that dogs and other pets, as well as vehicles and bicycles, are not allowed in the nature sanctuary.
The City of Parkville hosts a variety of events to bring the community together, including yoga and tai chi sessions, storytime in the park, hikes and races. Visit Historic Downtown Parkville’s What’s Going On? page to learn about events throughout the year, including August’s Parkville Days festival and October’s plein air Paint Parkville festival, now in its 11th year.
Sample local products at the Parkville Farmer’s Market in English Landing Park. The market is Saturdays 7 a.m.- 12 p.m. (April through October) and Wednesday 12 p.m.- 4 p.m. (mid June through mid September).
On July 4, the city has a huge “Party in the USA,” with a pancake breakfast, parade, family activities, band performance, skydiving exhibition, and fireworks.
But Parkville plans events all year long. In October, Parkville Nature Sanctuary is converted into a haunted woods for the annual Ghost Stories, which include bonfires, storytelling, and spooky trails. In December, there’s Christmas on the River in English Landing Park and Winter Wonderland in Parkville Nature Sanctuary.