For three day in early March 1861 intense fighting occurred between Union and Confederate troops in the fields and forests surrounding Elkhorn Tavern, a waypoint along the Butterfield Trail. The Confederates were heading north into Missouri with the intention of capturing St. Louis and the Union was determined to stop them. Leaving most of their supplies behind the Confederates marched to meet the Union army in a surprise attack. This proved to be a tactical error as the Confederates ran low on ammunition on the morning of the third day and were forced to withdraw. Missouri remained in the Union for the rest of the war.
The visitor center has good exhibits and a short film about the battle. Descriptions for each stop along the seven mile driving tour are included in the park brochure.
Most of the points of interest can be viewed without leaving your vehicle. A paved path leads to the reconstructed Elkhorn Tavern (not opened for tours) and a short paved trail leads to an overlook of the main battleground.