Stops: St. Louis, Petit Jean State Park, Hot
Springs National Park, Memphis, Garden of the Gods
Drive time: 27 hours round trip
Pictured: The waterfall at Petit Jean State
St. Louis, Mo.: Halfway to Arkansas, consider
staying in St. Louis, home of The Arch, gateway to the
Midwest. Your children may think it's a bit on the short side
compared to Chicago's skyscrapers, but it's definitely a do and the
Lewis and Clark movie is worth the stop. Also in St. Louis you'll
find one of my very favorite spots, the City Museum, where
imagination runs crazy-wild. Think brain scribbles. You can swim
through thousands of rubber balls, check out the world's largest
pair of men's underwear and climb through MonstroCity, the most
monumental, monolithic, montage of monkey bars-built out of two
Saber 40 aircraft fuselages, a fire engine, a castle turret, a
25-foot-tall cupola and a set of 4-foot-wide wrought-iron Slinkies.
It's like no place you've ever visited.
Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, Jasper, Ark.: You know
you are almost there when you see motorcycles hanging off the
treetops like Christmas ornaments. Yes, you are in Arkansas. But
the Horseshoe Canyon
Ranch, my girls' all-time favorite vacation, is world class
when it comes to dude ranching and good old-fashioned family fun.
The wranglers and the owners, Barry and Amy, really make this
family dude ranch feel like your western home away from home-could
be why so many families come back again and again. Even the ranch
dog is hospitable. He walked us back to our cabin each evening,
standing guard on the porch each night. Aside from the horseback
riding, which is spectacular, Horseshoe Canyon Ranch offers all
kinds of western family fun like cookouts in the hills, critter
hunts, five-star rock climbing, wrangler stories by a cozy fire,
skeet and .22 shooting, ziplining, river canoeing and a very cool
Via Ferrata-a jungle gym on natural rock that brings out the brave
adventurer in everyone.
Petit Jean State Park, Petit Jean Mountain,
Ark: When is the last time your family hiked to a 95-foot
waterfall? Trust me, it's a hike you won't soon forget. Spend an
afternoon at Petit
Jean State Park, where the terrain is just breathtaking.
There's curious history, too. Even little legs can handle the
easy-to-hike Cedar Falls Trail where you can walk right up to the
largest, most beautiful waterfall in the state.
Hot Springs National Park, Ark: Such a natural
wonder, with thermal water flowing from 47 springs that shoot from
the center of the Earth. In fact, about a million gallons of
143-degree water flow from the springs each day. You can fill up
your own bottle of natural spring water-lots of the locals do-at
one of the springs in town. The kids will get a kick out of it.
Also, stop by the Hot
Springs National Park Museum located in one of the original
ornate bathhouses on Bathhouse Row.
The kids can earn a junior ranger badge as they learn about the
history of Hot Springs, a town once known for healing spring water
back in the early 1900s.
Memphis, Tenn.: There's no place like Memphis
and no better time to visit than on the 35th anniversary of Elvis
Presley's death. We love the Peabody Hotel, where you
can watch the legendary Peabody Duck March at 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
each day. It's a 75-year-old tradition where five North American
ducks march to and from the marble hotel lobby.
Get there early for a spot because the lobby fills up
is also worth a stroll: very family friendly in the afternoon,
fantastic food and live music to keep your feet thumping.
And of course, you'll want to put on your blue suede shoes for a
tour of Graceland,
the ultimate rock 'n' roll pilgrimage. My girls got a kick out of
Elvis' jungle room. Three brand new exhibits open this spring for
the 35th anniversary celebration-Elvis on Tour, Elvis Through His
Daughter's Eyes and Icon: The Influence of Elvis Presley.
Garden of the Gods, Shawnee National Forest, Harrisburg,
Ill.: Are we home yet? If you're looking for one more road
stop to break up the loooonnng ride through Illinois, stretch your
legs with a scenic hike through the
Garden of the Gods in the Shawnee National Forest near
Harrisburg. The kids will enjoy climbing the massive pillars of
sandstone and sculpted rock formations. It'll give them a chance to
burn off just enough energy before tackling the rest of the ride