U.S. News & World Report travel readers recently voted the Grand Canyon, Disney World, Hawaii and Yellowstone National Park among its best family vacations.
It’s completely understandable. What kid, or parent, wouldn’t love to see one of the world’s most scenic wonders, interact with beloved characters, enjoy water activities in a top tropical destination or camp under the stars in a truly iconic park?
But what if a family could enjoy unique attractions, interact with historic characters, enjoy on-water play or camp in one of the newest parks in the country for one-third of the price? The answer is road trip in Missouri.
The Show-Me State is filled with some of the nation’s top family vacation hot spots, and for Jefferson City residents, the destinations within a few hours distance can make for inexpensive and memorable vacations.
Some of the best parts of a road trip are to see where that road takes you. To jumpstart the plans, HER has highlighted three weekend getaways that will certainly steer any family in the right direction.
For locals, the nation’s “best recreational lake,” according to USA Today & 10Best readers, is more than likely a regular summer weekend getaway. However, a family can change up their routine to make each Lake road trip a vibrant and unique experience.
Try planning a road trip to Lake of the Ozarks around a theme. Up for an adventure? Explore brand new and popular Lake attractions. Act as spies attempting to gather information and get out of a hidden room within Bagnell Dam or alleged thieving pirates freeing themselves from their captain’s ship at the Lake’s newest family attraction, Lake Escape, located on Bagnell Dam Strip. Take a voyage with the Lake’s resident pirate, Captain Scalawag, aboard the Calypso at Jolly Rogers Grub & Grog in Rocky Mount.
Perhaps keeping cool during the sticky summer weather is a theme of choice. Outside of on-water activities, the aquatic haven also offers two water parks: Big Surf Water Park in Linn Creek and Timber Falls Indoor Water Park at Tan-Tar-A Resort in Osage Beach.
History is abound at Lake of the Ozarks, and families can enjoy artifacts and interactive displays about area history at four museums. Learn about Native American culture and participate in traditional dances, food and arts and crafts during the Osage River Pow Wow June 16-18 at the Tuscumbia River Park. Fish, swim, camp or picnic while viewing one of the last standing and functional suspension bridges of its kind in the nation, the Swinging Bridges, in Brumley.
Make a Lake adventure a competitive one by testing each family member’s skills. Race at the go kart tracks, make hole-in-one shots at mini golf courses, reach new heights at Get Air indoor trampoline park and enter the battleground of Laser Force Laser Tag. See who can catch the biggest fish or cool off indoors at the Lake’s largest arcade haven, Miner Mike’s and Busters.
This summer is a great time to revisit Lake of the Ozarks with a brand new family experience. For more information, visit Lake of the Ozarks Convention & Visitor Bureau’s website at www.funlake.com.
Top Times to Road Trip
• Hot Summer Nights: Summer-long cruise-in with loads of free family entertainment. Dates are May 12, June 9, July 14 and Aug. 11 on Bagnell Dam Strip in Lake Ozark. Visit www.hotsummernightscruise.com or find them on Facebook.
• Canine Cannonball: Free dog dock jumping competition from June 16-18 at Dog Days Bar & Grill in Osage Beach. Visit http://dockdogs.com/eventscal/dog-days-canine-cannonball-5/.
• Osage River Pow Wow: Native American cultural festival from June 16-18 at Tuscumbia River Park. Visit www.osageriverpowwow.com.
• Fireworks Fun Fest: Music, games, food and fireworks starting at 5 p.m. June 30 at The Lodge at Old Kinderhook in Camdenton. Visit www.oldkinderhook.com.
Featured Activity: Helping to bring families to the Strip
Recently opened on April 6, Lake Escape is the culmination of a longtime vision and months of planning from three escape room and game enthusiasts: brothers Drew and Evan Busen, and friend Thor Fox. Their mission was to deliver an original escape room attraction that drew on history and fun themes of the area, offered challenging puzzles and, most importantly, provided a family-friendly activity for the historic Bagnell Dam Strip in Lake Ozark.
The trio, along with the tireless efforts of their friends Craig Allen and Ozark Mountain Woodworks owner Shaun McDonnell, developed intricate puzzles, pieces, panels and parts of each original room that added ambiance and solution significance for its occupants.
Lots of wood and items in Lake Escape came from the Illinois farm of the Busen brothers’ grandparents, putting a personal stamp on a family-friendly business. Ameren also donated pictures and artifacts from Bagnell Dam to add to one escape room.
With plans for additional rooms and new themes in the future, the Lake Escape family encourages guests to visit their current escape rooms: a secret workshop within Bagnell Dam and a pirate-themed adventure in the belly of the captain’s ship.
Teams of three to eight people are suggested at Lake Escape, and entry is priced at $28 per person or $180 to rent the entire room for up to eight people. Due to the nature of the escape rooms, the recommended age is 12 and older. Children 14 and younger must be accompanied by an adult.
For more information or to make reservations, call 573-693-9998 or www.lakeescapeloz.com.
For decades, visitors have been drawn to the scenic concave bluff that overlooks Sinking Creek, the pristine waterway that runs to the popular Current River.
On July 30, 2016, Missouri State Parks opened up their 88th state park, named after that historic bluff, expanding and preserving the longtime playground for nature enthusiasts.
Echo Bluff State Park is located about halfway between Salem and Eminence off Missouri 19 and is surrounded on three sides by nature havens: a hiker’s paradise in Roger Pyror Pioneer Backcountry, trout fishing hot spot Montauk State Park and the Ozark National Scenic Byways, which includes the Current and Jacks Fork rivers, Mark Twain National Forest and several state conservation areas.
Both in its natural beauty and modern amenities, families have ample opportunity to enjoy this 476-acre, year-round outdoors playground. The crystal-clear Ozarks stream, Sinking Creek, is a main attraction and includes deep holes perfect for smallmouth bass fishing, according to Missouri State Parks. Families should also bring their water shoes, with ideal swimming, snorkeling and wading spots both near Echo Bluff and accessible by the creek’s gravel bars.
The park also has tours of historic buildings, two hiking trails and the Adventure Playground, with nature-themed features, water spouts and splash pad for the kids.
One of the main features for families visiting Echo Bluff State Park is its two-story lodge with 20 guest rooms, a restaurant, a general store and four meeting rooms for special events, like a family reunion.
The rooms in the lodge have gas fireplaces, outdoor decks, king beds and a sleeper sofa, with two-bedroom suites available. In addition, families can also call five detached cabins next to the lodge a temporary home on their road trip, with four cabins boasting two bedrooms and one with four bedrooms.
If camping is part of a family’s road trip experience, Echo Bluff State Park’s campground features 60 RV sites and 12 “walk-in” campsites where visitors hike a short distance into the woods to camping decks and fire rings.
Take advantage of this less than three-hour road trip from Jefferson City to one of the state’s newest parks, and experience “the gateway to the Ozarks.”
For more information or lodging reservations,call 573-751-5211 or 844-322-3246, or visit https://mostateparks.com/park/echo-bluff-state-park.
Featured Activity: Get wet at the Adventure Playground and nearby waterways
Even though there are lots of ways to enjoy the outdoors at Echo Bluff State Park, there are ample activities to cool off during the hot summer months.
Kids will enjoy the Adventure Playground, a uniquely designed nature-made haven. Rock formations, stairs and interactive equipment surround traditional playground necessities such as slides, swings and more to entertain kids of all ages for hours. Activity at the playground can redeem “cool” rewards when the family gets wet at the splash pad and water spouts built into the site, located near the park’s lodge.
Families can also stay cool by taking a swim, wading or tubing down Sinking Creek, or going on a float trip at nearby Current or Jacks Forks rivers, with waters averaging between 58 to 68 degrees year round.
Tour a 100-year-old grist mill, Alley Spring, and explore Round Spring Cave by lantern. Picnic and hike near the impressive cascading waterfall of the Rocky Falls Shut-in nine miles southeast of Eminence on Route NN, view geological wonders in the Cave Spring along the Current River or Devil’s Well near Akers, or catch a glimpse of the wild horses that run through woodlands of Shannon County.
For more information, check out VisitEminence.com.
Walt Disney’s boyhood home is in Marceline, Missouri, and visitors can now glimpse into this icon’s life at the Walt Disney Hometown Museum. On the other side of the state, another American icon is hailed in his hometown, which offers an ideal family road trip for Mid-Missouri residents.
Nestled in the bluffs beside the mighty Mississippi River, the city of Hannibal even uses a picture of Samuel Clemens, better known as the world famous author Mark Twain, in its logo and understandably so. Clemens spent his formative years there, with its setting inspiring adventures for many of his most memorable characters, Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and Becky Thatcher.
The town has preserved many of Twain’s most notable “haunts,” including his boyhood home and the Mark Twain Cave, which offers a one-hour guided tour where young Clemens explored and later laid ground for literary fantasy in this famous novel, “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.”
With Mark Twain, meaning a river deep enough for a steamboat to navigate, families can enjoy a ride down the Mississippi River on the historic Mark Twain riverboat. The 400-passenger boat offers one-hour sightseeing cruises and two-hour dinner cruises where guests can see Jackson’s Island, Lover’s Leap and other legendary sites.
Take a tour or stay in the Rockcliffe Mansion, a “turn of the century,” gilded-age masterpiece built between 1898 and 1900 and decorated with many original antique furnishings. Twain led a two-hour speech on the steps of this historic inn and site, and now the bed and breakfast is a popular destination for visitors.
Climb the steps up to the Mark Twain Memorial Lighthouse, which was built to mark the 100th year of Twain’s birth and sits on top of Cardiff Hill. Families can work together to solve four different free scavenger hunts at Hannibal’s parks and earn a free treat from a local business.
Many other activities provide family entertainment, including Sawyer’s Creek Fun Park, a pay-as-you go activity center offering bumper cars, a shooting gallery, fast pitch, arcades, train rides, mini golf and food and souvenir shops. Keep cool in the summer heat at Mark Twain Landing, a water park a half-hour drive outside of Hannibal in Monroe City.
Take a walk around downtown Hannibal, which is filled with unique artist shops, businesses, eateries and other sites, or hop aboard the Hannibal Trolley Company sightseeing tours.
Plan a road trip around two big events celebrating Mark Twain. Held May 27-28 in the city’s historic downtown district, Twain on the Main offers strolling characters, games, food, arts and crafts and in celebration of three Mark Twain novels — the Wild West in “Roughing It,” antebellum Hannibal of the 1840s in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” and the Renaissance period in “The Prince and the Pauper.” National Tom Sawyer Days, held from June 30-July 4, includes a variety of concerts, vendors, food, a carnival, fireworks, a Tom and Becky contest and a fence painting contest.
Through many of these activities and others, families are sure to create their own adventure on a road trip to Hannibal. For more information, visit www.visithannibal.com.
Featured Activity: Explore one of the most haunted towns in America
History can also be haunting, and Hannibal offers a glimpse into its paranormal past through Haunted Hannibal Tours.
A child friendly excursion takes guests on a history-based guided driving tour around one of the most haunted towns in America, showing guests its most notoriously haunted sites.
According to VisitHannibal.com, participants can hear stories of murder and mischief during Mark Twain’s boyhood days in Hannibal, meet the present-day ghosts of the mansions on Millionaires’ Row and many other infamous tales.
The tour leads to a “paranormal investigation” of the Old Baptist Cemetery, where graves of slaves and Civil War soldiers were laid to rest.
Tickets are $15 for adults and $7.50 for children ages five to 10. Children ages 4 years old and younger are not permitted on the tour. For more information or make a reservation, call 573-248-1819 or visit www.hauntedhannibal.com.