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Voted the #1 Thing to Do in Jefferson City and recipient of the 2023 Travelers’ Choice on TripAdvisor, the Missouri State Penitentiary (MSP) is worth exploring in Missouri’s capital city. It was named the “Bloodiest 47 Acres in America” in 1967 by Time magazine and is a beloved treasure to history buffs and thrill-seekers alike. Guests walk through once-overcrowded housing units and the gas chamber where 40 inmates took their final breath. The MSP is a historical time capsule showcasing the eras of penal evolution. See why a trip to this infamous prison should be on your bucket list!

Wander the long hall of cells in Housing Unit #3.

The Missouri State Penitentiary was the oldest continually operating prison west of the Mississippi River.

The Missouri State Penitentiary received its first inmate in 1836 for stealing a watch. As the only prison closest to the Western Territories at the time, the penitentiary accepted any type of inmate, which led to severe overcrowding. At its peak in 1935, there were a recorded 5,300 inmates who resided on the property. Although Alcatraz is one of the most renowned prisons, it didn’t become a federal penitentiary until 1934 – MSP had already been in operation for 98 years. Surrounded by limestone walls with Jefferson City growing around it, MSP operated for 168 years until it decommissioned in 2004.

Interested in photos of MSP during its operational years? Click here!

Join in on our educational scavenger hunt in the MSP Museum. Photo by Tyler Beck Photography

Several notorious inmates walked these halls.

During MSP’s years in operation, thousands of inmates roamed the hallways. Notable names include boxing legend Charles “Sonny” Liston, notorious bank robber Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd, and the assassin of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. – James Earl Ray. Previous inmates are not glorified, rather, guides share the history, their stories, and how they have shaped the world we live in today. Some inmates left the penitentiary for successful careers, while others chose a life of more crime.

Learn about MSP’s 168-year-long operation in the museum. Photo by Tyler Beck Photography

The MSP Museum adds another dimension to the prison experience.

With the purchase of a tour ticket comes free admission to the Missouri State Penitentiary Museum ($2 admission without a tour). The museum houses a collection of prison memorabilia from its time in operation. Guests are greeted with a replica cell, inmate artwork, contraband and more! It is in the lower level of the Col. Darwin W. Marmaduke House (former warden’s home) and adds another layer to the story of the infamous prison.

Grab your favorite ghost hunting equipment and investigate the abandoned prison.

The prison goes bump in the night… all year long.

Contrary to popular belief, the penitentiary is haunted year-round. Whether you want to learn the ghostly stories of inmates that some say still roam the halls or roll up your sleeves and learn to hunt or investigate paranormal activity, ghost and paranormal tours are a great way to experience the otherworldly side of MSP. There’s a reason why MSP is featured on popular shows like Ghost Hunters, Destination Fear, Portals to Hell and many others. See for yourself why people return year after year hunting for the unexplainable!  

Tours of the Missouri State Penitentiary are offered March-November. Lock up your tour today!

Traveling to Jefferson City, Missouri

Jefferson City is in the heart of the state and within close proximity to the following airports. Rent a car or hop aboard the Amtrak Missouri River Runner (St. Louis or Kansas City) to journey to Missouri’s capital city!

  • Columbia Regional Airport (COU) | 25 miles
  • St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL) | 120 miles
  • Springfield-Branson National Airport (SGF) | 140 miles
  • Kansas City International Airport (MCI) | 170 miles

Visit for more information.