State Park #7: Prairie State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

Prairie for as far as the eye can see.
Prairie for as far as the eye can see.

We returned from Pittsburg, KS from Taylore’s wedding back in August of 2016 and, at Brooke’s suggestion, we looked for a Missouri State Park near that region that we otherwise wouldn’t visit for a very, very long time.  She ran across Prairie State Park, which happened to be just over the Kansas/Missouri border.

In all honesty, it doesn’t seem like there’s all that much to do there.  They’ve got multiple hiking trails, including one we went on that, literally, involved walking through a field.  There are some backpacking trails that are a bit longer and further out, but again, given the terrain, I’m not sure that it would be all that “hilly” or otherwise difficult to make good time on a long trail.  Shade was certainly at a premium out there…

...the boy was very slow...
…the boy was very slow…

The “claim to fame,” at least so far as we could tell in our limited time there, was that this open field we were hiking through also contains bison and elk.  When we first drove in, the sign informed us that there were free roaming elk and bison moving through the area and, while we didn’t see any, unfortunately, we did see signs of them…

Ew...
Ew…

…but with multiple buffalo patties around, it was clear that large animals move through the area frequently.  They were easily identified by their similarity to their other bovine brethren (and the fact that we saw tons of the elk variety in Colorado and it looks nothing like this).

A nest for something...big...
A nest for something…big…

We also saw multiple spots in the grass that clearly used to bed some kind of large animal.  It wasn’t obvious to us whether we were seeing elk or buffalo “beds,” but they must have been recent, as the grass looked like it would pop back up given enough time.

"You may experience bison/elk"...is that a combination organism?!
“You may experience bison/elk”…is that a hybrid organism?!

Overall, it was a nice, brief little stop.  They’ve got camping, but we didn’t see much of a shower house available: only a single in-ground outhouse near the picnic area.  It looked like mostly primitive camp sites and, although they actually looked pretty nice and spacious, only one was reserved for the coming days.  I suppose August isn’t exactly prime camping season.

We want to go back and see some bison up close, though!  Perhaps another time, when we happen to be down in southwestern Missouri!

State Park #6: Pershing State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

Back in May of 2016, we went camping at Pershing State Park. It was named for Gen. John J. Pershing, who grew up in the area and explored it as a kid. It’s located in the north-central part of the State, so Brooke and I had visited the park back when we were in college, so we thought it’d be cool to check it out with our kids.

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The campsite we stayed at was just a short walk to a small pond. Calvin and Meg weren’t particularly great at fishing, but they still had fun! If I remember right, the kids got their lines stuck in branches a few times and didn’t catch anything, but oh well – it killed some time.

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The campsites were pretty flat and covered in trees. It was easy enough for them to entertain themselves around the campground. We were there in mid-May, so the temperature was pretty reasonable: chilly at night, nice during the day, not many mosquitoes yet. There was plenty of wood around to make a fire with, and that’s always entertaining to 2- and 5-year-old kids.

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We didn’t do a ton of hiking, but Pershing has a pretty cool walking trail through some tall grasses. There wasn’t much wildlife aside from birds we could see, but the kids enjoyed hiding from each other, darting around corners behind brush. The boardwalk pictured above is a short loop within walking distance from the campsite. We did our best not to carry Calvin all that much, but we didn’t have much of a choice unless we wanted to sleep on the trail forever…

There was also a cool observation deck where you could watch for water fowl in the marsh. The kids took their sweet time climbing up to the top, despite the fact it wasn’t even really that tall. Remember, Calvin is among the slowest people on the planet and it was even worse when he was 2…

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Overall, we had a great time! It was also a relatively short drive for us, which is always appreciated. I don’t remember there being a playground all that close to our campsite, which would have been nice, but our kids were of the age where they could “make their own fun” so it wasn’t a big deal.

We’d go back! It’s definitely worth the return trip someday!

State Park #5: Rock Bridge Memorial State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

So, I last posted about State Parks last May. For real, this time, I’m going to get a few more in the virtual can. It’s on my “Christmas Break list” and Brooke keeps reminding me to work on them.

We last visited Rock Bridge Memorial State Park near Columbia in April 2017, though Meg first visited back in 2012, before Calvin was born. As close as we live, and as often as we’re in Columbia, you’d think we’d go more often, but alas.

The proverbial “rock bridge.”

The park gets its name from an unusual rock formation carved out by a creek over many years. Growing up, we used to be able to actually walk through the bridge, but a few years ago, they removed the wooden walkway. To be fair, they’d have to close the walkway any time the creek flooded, so perhaps it’s for the best.

Meg was a bit smaller back then…

Brooke and I both went to the park growing up, actually. Mom and Dad took my sister and I and we both went on school trips relatively frequently. I never got to go down in the “Devil’s Icebox” cave, but Brooke got to back in high school. I also participated in an orienteering activity there in 8th grade, which Mom fondly remembers.

Some relatively light hiking around the park

The hiking around the park can be as strenuous or as simple as you want, with many trails set up on wooden slats, and other portions being traditional dirt trails. The park is pretty big and has campsites, but I don’t remember ever camping there. My experience is mostly just the hiking around the park, but even with that, I never really went all that far.

That kid…

The aforementioned Devil’s Icebox cave is somewhat popular among amateur spelunkers. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d even gone down as far as these pictures here indicate. The kids found it pretty awesome to be down in a cave by the rushing water. We didn’t get all that wet, but they did go out in the middle of the water out on some slippery rocks.

We’re in a cave!

We may end up camping there at some point, but for the time being, we’ll probably just visit when we get some time in Columbia. It’s a fun and easy park to walk around in so we’ll definitely head back…but we have quite a few other parks to hit, too!

State Park #4: Van Meter State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

Hey, remember when I said I was going to make blog posts about all the State Parks we’ve visited??  Yeah, back in 2016?  I suppose I should get back to that.

Incidentally, we went camping at Van Meter last weekend, but I’ll put that in a separate post.  Before I do that, perhaps I should share some of our “greatest hits” from previous years.

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Remember this kid??

Van Meter State Park is the closest state park to Marshall, so it’s the one we’ve visited the most since we moved here in 2014.  There’s a small playground and a campground (that we only recently camped at!), and a few relatively light hiking trails that hit various parts of the park.

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Hiking has gotten…faster…over the years…

A few of the trails head down into wetland areas, and for short legs, they’re pretty easy to handle.  We’ve probably visited those most often, as we could put Calvin down and let him roam mostly freely (albeit slowly).  The other trail we’ve visited with relative frequency is the Lakeview Trail that (spoiler alert) goes around Lake Wooldridge.

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The Lake is one of the best parts of Van Meter!

The lake is especially nice because you can get close to it, but you don’t have to.  The kids get some interesting scenery to check out, and we get a halfway decent hike.  That trail gets “spider webby” as the Summer goes on, so it’s definitely better in the late Spring/early Summer months.

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Picnicking on our very first visit.

The other interesting note about Van Meter is that a series of Native American mound structures are present on the site.  The Missouri American Indian Cultural Center is on the park grounds and has a few displays to explain this history to visitors.  The mounds found at Van Meter aren’t as large as those found in Cahokia, but have similar features.

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One of our multiple New Years’ hikes!

One tradition we’ve tried starting for New Year’s Day is to go hiking.  This year proved a tad chilly for that (high of 11 F, low of -8 F), so we put off our hike a few days (but still went!). Typically, we’re the only visitors at that time (because duh…), so it’s nice being out in the new year with a fresh, nature-esque perspective.

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Again, I can’t emphasize how slow Calvin is.  Seriously.  He’s the slowest hiker ever.

Anyway, Van Meter is a fun park to visit.  I’m not sure it’s a “destination state park,” but the camping experience was near perfect and the hiking is relatively simple for kids and adults, alike.

State Park #3: Trail of Tears State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

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It’s about time for another one of these posts, right?

Back in early June, 2015, we went on another camping trip with the Montgomerys and tried to find a place somewhat “halfway” between Marshall and the Memphis, TN area.  We tried Trail of Tears State Park near Jackson, MO.

In general, we weren’t all that pleased with this park.  Not that it was bad, per se, but the area wasn’t quite as well arrange for families as the last place.  The sites we selected were near each other, but much more forested than St. Francois from the previous year.  That also meant that Calvin, who wasn’t a great “walker” quite yet, found it much easier to trip on tree roots and rocks, and wander out into poison ivy with relative ease.  Also, we effectively had two separate camp sites, as the map we’d looked at wasn’t exactly clear on the position of the two locations, ultimately putting our tents about as far from each other as possible.

There was a very limited playground, but it wasn’t within walking distance.  There weren’t really other activities available either, aside from hiking, but again, when you’ve got small kids, that isn’t a great option.  At Calvin’s and Meg’s age now, we’d probably have a better time, but back then, it wasn’t ideal.

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I should note that we did have fun visiting!  This state park just wasn’t our favorite, I suppose.  Early June was a little on the warm side, but not unbearable.  Being deeper in the woods meant that the breeze wasn’t exactly…er…breezy…but we got something.

Anyway, we’d probably go back someday, but it isn’t all that close to our house (Jackson is mostly off the highway, but we have to drive a very round-about way to get there from here), so it will probably be awhile before we’re back in that area of the state.

State Park #2: St. Francois State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

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A brisk morning…

We visited St. Francois State Park way back in April of 2013.  Meg had recently turned 3-years-old and this was among her first camping trips (though not her first, because we went to Minnesota about 7 months before this), and probably our second time using our massive “new” Coleman tent.

We took this trip with the Montgomerys, from church, and another couple they knew from work.  It’s been awhile, so I’m thinking back on this particular camping trip and I remember it being quite cold!  Meg, Brooke and I were there alone for Friday night and it dropped to near freezing.  I remember reaching into the second room to make sure Meg was breathing and warm multiple times during the night, so we didn’t sleep all that well.  The second night was markedly warmer, though the other folks who joined us for the trip complained about being cold.  We’d already seen the worst of it, so Saturday night was relatively balmy for us!

With regards to the park itself, they had a healthy number of nice hiking trails that suited our abilities well.  We had Meg strapped to our backs, but thankfully, the trail we went on was mostly level, so it wasn’t all that strenuous.  It also went along a creek for a good portion, so that provided Meg with something interesting to look at while we were moving about the park.

One of my all-time favorite shots...
One of my all-time favorite shots…

The park also had a pretty good playground close to where we were camping, at least within walking distance.  Most of the facilities were close to our camping site too, and everything was clean and accessible.  Meg was potty trained by this point, but we were still having to work with her a bit on sitting on an actual toilet, rather than sitting in an outhouse.

We didn’t really take advantage of any nature talks, at least not that I remember.  I’m sure they were offered, but we were likely busy enough trying to wrangle Meg that we didn’t pay much attention to them.  Firewood was easily accessible, so we’d have to go on some field trips to either buy or find some.

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That Saturday morning was cooooooooold!

Another nice thing about this park was the open areas near the camp site.  With some other places we’ve stayed, the camp sites were deeper into the forest, leaving little “play areas” for young kids to run around without tripping over tree roots or rocks.  The location for the camp site had a nice, open, grassy area across from the tents, so it was easy for the kids to kick a ball or run around the tents.  The adults could also see the kids from a substantial distance, so they couldn’t go hiding behind a tree or anything without us noticing.

One of the other things Brooke and I remember about this park was that Meg, Latham and Ellis played in our tent for hours on Saturday afternoon.  The sun was out, the weather was nice, and the tent had a door that the kids could open on their own.  They’d run around it, move toys in and out of the screened-in area, and they’d be yelling and screaming with delight.  Sure, it got kinda annoying for us (and dirt on our sleeping bags…), but they entertained themselves for a lot of this trip, giving us a nice reprieve from our normal weekend activities.

Meg and Latham playing in the tent.
Meg and Latham playing in the tent.

Overall, we have fond memories of this park.  Compared with some others we’ve attended, this one seemed particularly well-suited to young kids, something we probably didn’t appreciate until we went to some other state parks that weren’t as well organized for such things.

State Park #1: Katy Trail State Park

This post is part of an ongoing series summarizing each State Park in Missouri that our family has attended. We hope to visit each of 54 State Parks before the kids graduate from high school.

Biking on the Katy Trail
Biking on the Katy Trail last summer

Katy Trail State Park is a 240 mile shared-use trail converted from the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad.  Growing up in Columbia, it’s a site I visited multiple times with my family (at the Rocheport section), but Brooke and I made multiple visits to the St. Charles section of the trail shortly after moving to St. Louis.  Now that we live in Marshall, we live about 30 minutes away from the Sedalia portion of the trail, ironically making it closer than it has ever been to the two of us.

As Brooke and I are the only two in the house capable of riding a bicycle (sans training wheels…), we picked up a trailer for my bike last year that we can put the kids in.  It folds up in the back of our Forester pretty easily, though by the time you put our bikes on the roof rack of the car and the front tires of said bikes in the back with the folded-up trailer, we’re mostly out of room (i.e. we can go to Sedalia, Boonville or Rocheport pretty easily, but not much further, as we don’t have room for overnight bags).

For now, the kids like riding in the trailer and we use it on trips to the local playground here in Marshall.  Meg is 6, but is still relatively small, so she fit in the trailer easily last year and this year – next summer may be a different story.  Hopefully, we can get Meg riding her bike over the next year, but Calvin will still be able to use the trailer for years to come.

Honestly, there isn’t much to write about here.  The trail picture above is what it looks like for 240 miles.  It goes through/near some small towns, sometimes there are bathroom facilities available (though usually not), some sections are shaded while others aren’t.  It’s a great State Park to visit, but personally, we like biking on it more than anything else.  It’s a “mixed use” trail, so we see walkers and joggers frequently, though closer to cities – the further you get from the cities, the more likely you’ll find bikers.  Some sections, especially near the State Fairgrounds in Sedalia, also allow for horses, but we don’t often see them on the trail.

Ultimately, it’s a really awesome resource that’s unique in that quite a few Missourians have been on it, likely without knowing it’s a State Park.  It isn’t a “single destination” like the other State Parks because it spans the entire state (as in, you can live in Kansas City or you can live in St. Louis, and you can visit the same park while only driving for 20 or 30 minutes to get there).  I suspect the kids will both have fond memories of this one.

Grand Tour of Missouri State Parks

Look at those happy campers!
Look at those happy campers!

We like to think of ourselves as “outdoorsy” types and, thankfully, we’ve got a really good Department of Natural Resources in Missouri to provide us with some great opportunities around the state.  When we traveled the Oregon Trail last year, Brooke and I found that many other states out that direction had some very unimpressive parks to visit, especially with regards to how much they charge to camp there relative to the quality of the facilities provided.  Thankfully, Missouri has cheap rates (even for non-residents), and some really nice places to visit.

Therefore, we decided it would be cool to hit every state park in Missouri before both kids graduate from high school.  There are 54 state parks and another 33 historic sites, many of which are also associated with the parks.  We’ve already visited a few of them as a family of four, so if we visit a few each year, we should be able to pull it off rather easily.  We’ll probably camp at most of them, but some of them like Rock Bridge State Park and Van Meter State Park, we may just visit.

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be making a few posts about previous visits that both kids have been present for, so you may see some old pictures showing up.  Apparently, I didn’t post about many of those trips, so I guess I need to catch up.  Still, this will be a lengthy series of posts, so enjoy!