Missouri : Safety by City
- Blue Springs
- Cape Girardeau
- Creve Coeur
- Jefferson City
- Kansas City
- Lee’s Summit
- Maryland Heights
- New Madrid
- Poplar Bluff
- St. Charles
- St. Joseph
- St. Louis
- Ste. Genevieve
Poplar Bluff, Missouri, is known as the gateway to the Ozarks and one of the cities that makes up the region known as Southeast Missouri.
Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the many parks and recreational areas in and around Poplar Bluff, including Lake Wappapello State Park, Mark Twain National Forest, and the Ozark National Scenic Riverways.
These areas provide opportunities for hiking, fishing, boating, and camping.
Poplar Bluff is a working-class town, where a Saturday afternoon is more likely to involved going mudding in your four-wheel drive vehicle at Bricks Off Road Park than getting a mud wrap at a fancy spa.
You’ll find as many farms to tour as museums and spend more time eating food with your hands than utensils, thanks to a vibrant barbecue culture.
This is a conservative area in the heart of bible country and people wear camouflage to church during hunting season.
If there’s any part of Missouri that truly feels like the South, it’s Poplar Bluff, and they have the accents to prove it.
Warnings & Dangers in Poplar Bluff
OVERALL RISK : MEDIUM
There's a medium risk here with misleading crime data posted in the MIBRS (the system used to classify crimes in Missouri). If you don't know where to look, you'll get the wrong sense of safety in this community.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK : LOW
Bluff Area Transit runs weekdays along four routes until 4:00 pm. Taxis and rideshares might take a little longer, but rental cars are available. You'll need a car to get here anyway, so it makes sense to just keep it through your trip.
PICKPOCKETS RISK : MEDIUM
There's a lot of theft in this town, but only a handful of pickpockets. If you look at the Poplar Bluff Police Department (PBPD) Facebook page, you'll see video after video of shoplifters, thieves rummaging through cars, and taking stuff from front lawns. Treat it with a medium risk when any of your personal items aren't under lock and key.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK : MEDIUM
Flooding along the Black River, tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, winter weather—it all happens here but comes with plenty of warning. It's still a medium risk. The Butler County Emergency Management Agency can help educate you on the safety steps.
MUGGING RISK : MEDIUM
The majority of robberies that happen are highway robberies, meaning they happen in public places. Yet another **shrug** due to lack of transparency is how many of those robberies happening against strangers vs people who know each other. Treat it with medium risk.
TERRORISM RISK : LOW
Drug dealers are the real terrorists here, but there's a low risk of an international terror attack. It's a small town among small town in a rural region that doesn't have any hard targets.
SCAMS RISK : LOW
Most scams target residents, such as threatening to shut off the power if they don't pay immediately. Just don't trust anyone here because there are too many thieves and swindlers desperate for money in a poverty-stricken town. There are good people here too, mind you, but you have to err on the side of caution.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK : MEDIUM
Women should treat it with a medium risk and travel in pairs or groups, especially at night. Don't accept invitations to go to parties in the woods or rural homes. You want to stay in public places near surveillance cameras to be safe.
TAP WATER RISK : LOW
The 2021 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations. Communities are required to post new annual reports by June of each year, so check for an updated one before your visit.
Safest Places to Visit in Poplar Bluff
Poplar Bluff doesn’t have its own tourism website, but there is one for Butler County and the surrounding region, including places in “The Bluff.”
It’s worth noting that Poplar Bluff will be in the Path of Totality for April 8, 2024, Solar Eclipse.
The tourism site does have a Poplar Bluff-focused tourism guide.
The safest things to do here involve visiting museums and historical sites, but start at the Poplar Bluff History Museum to get an overview of the region.
Other museums include:
- Margaret Harwell Art Museum
- Flying F Gallery (historic farmhouse)
- Historic Rodgers Theatre
- Wheatley School and Black History Museum
- Mo-Ark Railroad Museum
Poplar Bluff sits on the southeastern corner of the massive 150,000-acre Mark Twain National Forest.
There are small towns within the forest, offering adventures on the road and in the backcountry.
20 miles north of town, you can check out the Lake Wappapelo State Park offering camping, cabins, paddle sports, fishing, and hiking.
Mountain bikers will love the Wolf Creek Trail that runs for 21 miles, but if you really want to get dirty, Bricks Off Road Park is the place to be.
A family turned their farm into a mud pit where big trucks to dune buggies can crawl, climb, and drop through feet of mud.
Check out the Agritourism section on the Butler County tourism site to review the seasonal options.
From orchards to pumping patches to petting zoos, you’re sure to find some way to celebrate the Missouri landscape.
The city itself has many antique stores and locally owned businesses, with some great restaurants to get the local flavor.
Hayden’s BBQ has been there for 75 years, but there are newer businesses offering them sweet and salty competition.
Please try to eat and shop locally in Poplar Bluff to help their economy.
Places to Avoid in Poplar Bluff
Honestly, it’s easier to list the place not to avoid, and we did that above.
While there’s no neighborhood too dangerous to visit, like in some major urban areas of St. Louis, you’ll be able to tell when you’re in a bad part of town.
East of Main Street has more violent crime, while property crime is spread throughout the city.
Several high-profile carjackings have happened here over the past few years, which isn’t usually common in a small town.
In one case, a man jumped into a car stopped at an intersection, and in another carjacker was lying in wait in the backseat.
The area around the river is, understandably, the first to flood.
Luckily, you won’t find the bulk of hotels near the river as they are safely on the other side of town.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Poplar Bluff
- PBPD does a great job of updating its Facebook page @PoplarBluffPoliceDepartment. To make sure you have the updated address information, the police department is located at 911 N. Shelby Road.
- The city of Poplar Bluff has a Notify Me system where you can choose from dozens of categories if you want to get alerts. Most of them won’t be of interest to you unless you like seeing city council agendas, but road conditions and utility updates will be helpful.
- Follow Butler County Emergency Management on social media @ButlerCountyEMA. You’ll get information about approaching storms, health concerns, and shelters.
- This part of Missouri would be highly impacted by a big earthquake in the New Madrid Seismic Zone. While earthquakes don’t come with any advance warning, you should know some basics. For example, do you know if you should go inside or outside in an earthquake?
- Look at the MoDOT website to see the progress of a major construction project that will expand I-57 through Butler County. It could impact your travel time and road access, so know which phase of the project is underway before you visit.
- Poplar Bluff is among a growing list of cities that offers a free Narcan vending machine. Narcan can immediately reverse an opioid overdose if given quickly, and it’s simple to use as a nasal spray. You can stop by the Behavioral Health Group Poplar Bluff Treatment Center if you want to carry some with you, just in case you happen to be in a public place where an overdose happens.
- Never drive through a flooded roadway, no matter how calm or shallow the water seems. It just takes six inches of water to knock down a person or carry a car away. Plus, the water can be contaminated and carry large debris.
- Trying to get good information in Poplar Bluff online is very hard. A lot of the websites are outdated, have link rot (dead links), or promise sections like “News Updates,” only to have an empty page. You’ll need to use your phone to call people if you want good information closer to your visit.
- This part of Missouri is hilly and rural, so you should avoid the roads if there is snow or ice in the forecast. You won’t get reliable mobile phone service and the two-lane roads mean you’ll have little space to veer out of the way of another vehicle.
- Anglers must have a fishing license from the Missouri Department of Conservation. You are required to carry it with you at all times while fishing. Be sure to get a non-resident license.
So... How Safe Is Poplar Bluff Really?
The fact that the answer to that question is so hard to find is indicative of many problems—lack of transparency, outdated systems, and no media holding powerful people accountable.
Since I can only go into 2021 data, which was before the transition to a crime reporting program (UCR vs. NIBRS), I can tell you that statistically, Poplar Bluff ranks as one of the most dangerous in the states.
Take that with a grain of salt because a community with 16,000 people will see the crime rate go exponentially up and down with fewer crimes since the crime math is done per 100,000 people.
Poplar Bluff is a poor community, with an average income below $37,000 and a poverty rate of 27%.
Just 9% of violent crimes were against strangers, so as long as you aren’t looking for trouble (or drugs), you likely won’t run into any.
The city has a new police chief and a new building, which should lead to a change in policy and technology.
“There are changes to be made and challenges to be addressed, but I’m confident the department will continue to serve the city to the best of our ability,” the new Police Chief Mick McClain said.
“I feel the city of Poplar Bluff itself is continuing to grow, and it is my hope that the police department will continue to grow as well, and not only growth in personnel but growth in the services we provide.
We want to strive for perfection daily.”
Drugs are a huge problem here, although I can’t give you accurate 2022 statistics to back that up.
In one incident in 2022, five people overdosed in one home.
Between 2019 and 2020, an overdose death happened on average every nine days in this region.
The opioid crisis is being fueled by drugs laced with fentanyl, which is deadly in low doses and can’t be detected in street drugs or illegal prescription drugs.
“I wouldn’t even suggest these days getting an aspirin from an unknown source, because you don’t know what you’re getting, what you’re taking,” Chief McClain said.
26% of thefts over the past five years have involved car break-ins or car accessory thefts.
Pricey items like the catalytic converter are the main targets, and that theft will stop your vacation in its tracks.
The number of shoplifting and car break-in videos on social media will have you double and triple checking the locks on your car and removing everything but the steering wheel.
If you are choosing a place to visit in southwest Missouri, you should strongly reconsider Ste. Genevieve or Cape Girardeau.
How Does Poplar Bluff Compare?
|Siem Reap (Cambodia)||63|
|Phnom Penh (Cambodia)||61|
|Niagara Falls (Canada)||87|
- Visas - International travelers need a visa from the U.S. State Department and those are issued for the purpose of your trip—tourism, work, school, etc. You also need a passport that isn't within six months of expiring.
- Currency - Only the U.S. Dollar is accepted here. Don't carry cash. There are just too many thieves out there looking for someone with a wad of money. Use credit cards and check your transactions daily.
- Weather - You'll need to dress for each season, but this is a very causal and laid-back town. You won't find dress codes, other than the requirements to wear a shirt and shoes. Winter can be cold, so bring a coat. Summers will be muggier than you might expect, and you'll want bug spray because the mosquitoes will eat you alive.
- Airports - The nearest commercial airport to Poplar Bluff, Missouri is the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport, 70 miles northeast of the city. The estimated drive time from Poplar Bluff to Cape Girardeau Regional Airport is around 1 hour and 15 minutes, depending on traffic conditions.
- Travel Insurance - Travel insurance offers peace of mind in a place with such high theft rates and such extreme weather risks. If you don't have health insurance in America, get some supplemental options since there is no such thing as free healthcare here.
Poplar Bluff Weather Averages (Temperatures)
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