Don't let the name mislead you: The "Spider Sniff" at the Busch Memorial Conservation Area (2360 Highway D in Weldon Spring; call 636-441-4554 for reservations) this Friday night is not going to be a group of ne'er-do-well kids snorting black widows in the deep woods. It is instead a legitimate nature activity, with guides and naturalists and eager children ages 7-12 "sniffing out" spiders for educational purposes. Wolf spiders, ladderbacks and a multitude of garden spiders will be observed in the early evening (8-9:30 p.m.) when they are actively building webs and hunting dinner. Theoretically, if your kid's a little daffy, he could sneak a whiff of a spider while the guide is occupied teaching, but who wants to smell a spider that just finished a big construction job? The "Spider Sniff" is a free event, and kids are advised to bring their own flashlights, hats, and some sort of bug repellent. -- Paul Friswold
It's definitely worth the 2.5-hour drive to Hannibal to take in Tom Sawyer Days, the annual celebration of Mark Twain's world. The fun starts this Saturday, June 28, with baby and child pageants, but the best events happen from July 2-6.
That's when you can watch the National Fence-Painting Championship, the mud-volleyball and horseshoe tournaments, raft and tricycle races, fireworks and parade. The Tom and Becky contests turn Twain characters into real-live eighth-graders, and the Tomboy Sawyer contest requires girls to spit watermelon seeds and blow gum-bubbles. The frog-jumping contest, a practice event for the international championship in Calaveras County, California, is hilarious. The kids blow frantically on the frogs' backs (it wouldn't be nice to kick them, ya know). Competitors may supply their own frogs, or rent one from the area Boy Scout troop for $1. (From St. Louis, take I-70 west to U.S. 61 north to Hannibal, 1-TOM-AND-HUCK, www.hanmo.com, most events free.) -- Byron Kerman
Out of the Bathtub Great Rivers Towboat Festival
Stick a toe in the water of history without getting wet at the Great Rivers Towboat Festival in Grafton, Illinois. You'll find tows in the water near where the Mississippi and Illinois rivers meet, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturday, June 28, and from noon to 4 p.m., Sunday, June 29. Admission is free for the towboat tours, live Zydeco music, storytelling and exhibits. Behold the historic Twila Luhr towboat and the rope-throwing contest for seasoned deckhands, and buy treats at the crawfish boil. Grafton sits about 40 miles north of downtown St. Louis along the Great River Road. Call 618-786-7000 or visit www.greatriverroad.com. --Thomas R. Raber