Discover the Largest Cities in Missouri

Written by Erica Scassellati
Published: July 22, 2023
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Missouri is located at the very center of the country. The landlocked state contains a number of rivers such as the Missouri, Mississippi, and Meramec. Although some may think of the Show Me State as a rural area, Missouri is actually home to some pretty large cities with bustling economies.

Missouri is the 18th largest state by population and the 21st largest state by total area. In this article we will explore the five largest cities in Missouri by population, total area, and economic impact, and why these cities are so important.

The Largest Cities in Missouri Based on Population

The first factor to examine when determining the size of the city is its population. Though nonlocals may think of farmland and cattle when they picture Missouri, the state is actually home to several major cities with notable populations. Here are some of the largest, according to Cubit.

City NamePopulation
Kansas City509,297
St. Louis286,578
Springfield170,067
Columbia128,555
Independence121,202

Kansas City

Missouri locals probably won’t be surprised that Kansas City has the largest population in the state. Those who don’t live in the area, however, might not have realized that there are two Kansas Cities, and one lies within Missouri and not Kansas!

KCMO boasts a healthy population of 509,297 individuals. The city holds Missouri treasures such as Arrowhead and Kauffman Stadiums, Union Station, the National WWI Museum, and more.

Despite its larger population, the cost of living in Kansas City is still 5 percent lower than the national average. It’s no wonder so many people make this city their home.

Kansas City is the largest city in Missouri by population and area.

©Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com

St. Louis

St. Louis is one of Missouri’s most well-known cities. It is the second most populated city in the state and is quite smaller than Kansas City with a population of 286,578.

Still, St. Louis boasts eye-catching architecture like the Gateway Arch and impressive tourist attractions such as the St. Louis Zoo, Anheuser-Busch Brewery, and more. St. Louis is also one of the oldest cities in the state, with roots dating back to 1764.

Springfield

Though Springfield might not sound as familiar as the first two cities on this list, it’s not far behind St. Louis in terms of population. Located in southwestern Missouri, Springfield boasts a population of 170,067. It’s a college town in many ways and is home to Missouri State, Drury, and Evangel Universities.

What’s more, Springfield continues to grow in population. According to Springfield Regional Economic Partnership, the city’s annual growth percentage is “more than double that of the state of Missouri and 62% higher than the nation’s.”

The Largest Cities in Missouri Based on Total Land Area

Another way to determine the size of a city is by total land area. Two of Missouri’s major cities by population also have some of the largest land areas in the state. Another major city by land area is an important military base. The data compiled below comes from USA.com.

City NameTotal Area
Kansas City314.95 sq mi
Fort Leonard Wood96.18 sq mi
Springfield81.72 sq mi
Independence77.57 sq mi
Wildwood66.42 sq mi

Kansas City

Kansas City tops the charts again as the largest city in Missouri by far with a total land area of 314.95 square miles. No other city in the state comes close to Kansas City’s land area, which makes it all the more understandable that the city has such a large population.

The city is located on the south bank of the Missouri River. Like many midwestern cities, KC is surrounded by rolling flat terrain and features warm summers and cold winters.

While a sprawling metropolitan area might not be the best spot to take in nature, KC does feature an impressive zoo and several conservation and nature centers in the area.

Fort Leonard Wood

Located in central Missouri, Fort Leonard Wood is the second largest city in the state by land area, though it is considerably smaller than Kansas City. As its name suggests, Fort Leonard Wood is a U.S. Army training installation established in 1940. The base has a total land area of 96.18 square miles.

Fort Leonard Wood mostly functions as a military base and contains several bodies of water such as Bloodland Lake and Lake DiCaprio.

Fort Leonard Wood Missouri

Fort Leonard Wood has the second-largest land area in Missouri.

©Rex K. Williams/Shutterstock.com

Springfield

Springfield has the third largest land area in the state of Missouri with a total of 81.72 square miles. While the city might be known as a college town, Springfield offers a host of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors, thanks to its location on the Springfield Plateau of the Ozarks. In fact, there are nearly 100 city parks in Springfield.

Springfield has several nicknames, including “Queen City of the Ozarks” and the “Birthplace of Route 66.” Visitors can head to the Wonders Of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium or take a ride through a tour of a cave known as Fantastic Caverns.

The Largest Cities in Missouri Based on Economic Impact

Recent data on GDP by city is difficult to find. Luckily, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC) analyzed the state’s data back in 2020. While the data listed below isn’t quite current, it’s a pretty accurate way to look at the state’s economic impact by metropolitan area.

City NameGDP in Dollars (2020)
St. Louis$149.86 Billion
Kansas City$124.29 Billion
Springfield$18.22 Billion
Columbia$9.39 Billion
Jefferson City$7.38 Billion

St. Louis

The St. Louis metropolitan area ranks highest in the state of Missouri in terms of GDP. However, since the numbers from MERIC include the entire metropolitan area, parts of Illinois were also in this report that concluded a real GDP (adjusted for inflation) of $149.86 billion in the year 2020.

The St. Louis area is home to eight Fortune 500 companies, some of which include Centene Corporation, Edward Jones Investments, and Graybar Electric. St. Louis has one of the highest GDPs in the country, and some of its largest industries are business, healthcare, and social services.

st. louis arch

St. Louis is known for the Gateway Arch and has the highest GDP in the state of Missouri.

©James Roblee/Shutterstock.com

Kansas City

The Kansas City metropolitan area ranks second highest in Missouri in terms of GDP. Like St. Louis, the numbers compiled from MERIC include the entire metropolitan area, so parts of Kansas were also in the report that concluded a real GDP (adjusted for inflation) of $124.29 billion in the year 2020.

One of Kansas City’s major employers is Cerner, a healthcare information technology service. Others include Children’s Mercy Hospital and Hallmark. Some key industries include transportation, distribution, and manufacturing.

Springfield

Springfield comes in third yet again for cities in Missouri with the largest real GDP, with a number of $18.22 (adjusted for inflation) in the year 2020.

Some of the city’s key industries include distribution and logistics, advanced manufacturing, and technology and innovation.

Springfield is also the headquarters for Bass Pro Shops, which employs an estimated 2,989 people according to Springfield Regional Economic Partnership. The largest employer in Springfield is CoxHealth, a locally owned, nonprofit health system.

Nathanael Greene Memorial Park

The Nathanael Greene / Close Memorial Park houses the Springfield Botanical Gardens and is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Springfield.

©Rachael Martin/Shutterstock.com

Conclusion

Three of the same cities in Missouri are in the top five in terms of the state’s highest population, land area, and GDP. They are Kansas City, St. Louis, and Springfield. These cities are an incredibly important part of Missouri’s history and its present.

On the east and west sides of the state sit St. Louis and Kansas City, two major hubs for city life, tourism, entertainment, and more. These border cities have a rich history in the state, proving that Missouri is known for much more than agriculture and livestock.

In the southwestern part of the state sits Springfield, a college town with a lot to offer. Outdoor enthusiasts will find that Missouri has plenty to explore when visiting Springfield. Missouri is also home to Fort Leonard Wood, a thriving military that has grown in importance throughout the country. By studying these stats, you can see just how diverse Missouri is today.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Sean Pavone/Shutterstock.com


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About the Author

Erica is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on history, food, and travel. Erica has over 3 years of experience as a content writer and holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, which she earned in 2018. A resident of Kansas City, Erica enjoys exploring her home town and traveling around the world to learn about different cultures and try new food.

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