An escape from hectic work and family schedules is closer than you may think. A short jaunt from Kansas City, you can rediscover four state parks and historic sites that offer a getaway loaded with diversity to suit the taste of everyone in the family. From a pleasant bicycle ride around a lake beneath tree canopies to learning about Civil War action in the area, this two-day trip will satisfy your cravings for some relaxing, enjoyable time away from your everyday routine.
Start the weekend with a trip to two of Missouri’s historic sites with ties to the Civil War. First, visit Confederate Memorial State Historic Site in Higginsville, which is the site on which the former Confederate Soldiers Home of Missouri once stood. From 1891 to 1950, more than 1,600 veterans with their wives and children filtered in and out of the home. While visiting the site, walk through the cemetery and the restored chapel. The grounds, which total 135 acres, include a nice picnic area dotted with old trees, small lakes for fishing and room for the kids to run. Cost: Free.
After a peaceful picnic lunch, travel a few miles north to Lexington, home of Battle of Lexington State Historic Site. While visiting the site, you’ll learn about the Sept. 18-20, 1861, Civil War battle fought in Lexington and how the Southern troops approached the Union entrenchments pushing a line of hemp bales to protect themselves from the Union’s artillery fire. You can view the exhibits in the site’s visitor center, watch a video about the battle, take a self-guided walk around the battlefield and tour the Anderson House, which was used as a field hospital by both sides during the battle. Cost: The visitor center, video and battlefield are free. Tours of the Anderson House are $4 for adults and $2.50 for children ages six to 12.
After a day packed full of Civil War history, set up camp and get a peaceful night’s sleep under the stars at Watkins Mill State Park and Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site in Lawson. This site offers a perfect mixture of history, education and outdoor recreation. Stop off at the site’s visitor center to learn about the Watkins family and their early enterprises. Then, spend the morning watching an 1870s family live, work and play on the Watkins farm. Observe as costumed interpreters work in the heirloom garden, cook in the summer kitchen and do daily chores on the farm. The historic site’s Living History Farm Program runs Friday through Sunday from mid-May through August. Your visit to the site would be incomplete without a tour of the Watkins home and woolen mill, which is the only 19th century textile mill in the country with its original machinery still intact. Cost: The visitor center is free. Tours of the home and mill are $4 for adults and $2.50 for children ages six to 12.
Following a morning experiencing the past, your future holds an afternoon of outdoor recreation. Enjoy a picnic lunch at a secluded picnic table or head back to camp to cook a tasty treat over the campfire. Afterwards, make your way to the 100-acre Williams Creek Lake, the park’s focal point. There, you can spend the day swimming or lounging on the beach, walking or bicycling around the lake on a paved trail or trying to catch some fish for dinner. The park also offers hiking and equestrian trails. Cost: Park admission is free. Camping is $13 to $21 per night.
A 30-minute drive north leads you to the final stop of your getaway -- Wallace State Park in Cameron. This peaceful, family-oriented park offers camping, picnicking, a six-acre lake for fishing and swimming, hiking trails and best of all -- solitude. Hike the rugged terrain with forest-covered hillsides on one of many trails. Benches along the trails not only provide a resting spot for hikers, but also an opportunity to enjoy the sights and sounds of the plants and animals that usually go unnoticed as you stride through the woods. The nearby Trice-Dedman Memorial Woods, owned by the Nature Conservancy and administered by the park, offers additional opportunities for solitude. Cost for camping: $13 to $21 per night.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources preserves state parks and historic sites to give visitors the opportunity to discover Missouri’s unique landscapes and heritage. State parks and historic sites are funded primarily by the one-tenth-of-one-percent parks, soils and water sales tax, which allows visitors to enjoy these resources at little or no cost, making them a great value. Your family will also value their time together exploring and enjoying Missouri’s fascinating natural and cultural resources while creating lasting memories.