We decided an outdoor adventure with room to run and play was exactly what our family needed.
Every family has one: a wild child. Me? I’ve got three. My parents tell stories about me growing up as proof that my kids are just like me, and I guess it’s true. We’re a pretty active bunch. The kids are very well-behaved. It’s just that, occasionally, they have a little extra energy to burn. Lately, it’s felt like more than “a little,” though. So my husband, David, and I decided an outdoor adventure with room to run and play was exactly what our family needed.
We drove from our home in southern Illinois to the St. Louis area for the weekend. Our first stop was Meramec Caverns, just southwest of the city. David and I had both been before, but our kids had not. We knew they would love it—especially our oldest son, 12-year-old Dean. He’s been obsessed with Indiana Jones ever since David first introduced the movies to him. Now he turns everything into a chance to explore.
The most spectacular part of the tour was the Stage Curtain, the largest single cave formation in the world.
As my children stepped into the dim, honey-colored lit caves I observed a calm wash over them. There was a peacefulness there that made you want to whisper, something my children don’t usually seem to know how to do. Neither of them made a sound. They simply held on to every word our tour guide, John, was saying about the rarest and largest cave formations in the world.
Walking through the Meramec Valley above the caves, you would never know that these complex and gorgeous formations are hidden below the rolling hills. Dean’s face lit up as John described what it might have been like when the Native American tribes first discovered the caves that had taken about 400 million years for Mother Nature to form.
Ginger, my nine-year-old daughter—and myself, if I’m being honest—were both captivated by the shimmering mineral formations and the jewel-like way they reflected the colorful staged lighting. John went on to tell us stories about the famous and infamous people who used these caves. People like French colonial miners, digging for treasures of their own; Civil War soldiers who used the cave’s minerals to make gunpowder; and outlaw Jesse James who made the caves his hideout. It’s even possible that the caves were used in the Underground Railroad, helping slaves escape to the North.
The most spectacular part of the tour, though, was the Stage Curtain, the largest single cave formation in the world. With its massive draping stalactites hanging from the cave ceiling and the sheer span of it—nearly 60 feet wide—you almost need an extra pair of eyes to take it all in. It really is breathtaking. And the musical light finale does a wonderful job showcasing this amazing crown jewel—the perfect end to the tour.
And the end to our kids’ silence. “I knew it was too good to last,” David joked as we told the kids they had half an hour to run around before we hopped back in the car and headed to Lone Elk Park.
The park is large enough that it seems to give you the feeling of being alone with the stunning wild elk and bison.
Hands down, Lone Elk Park was Caleb, my seven-year-old son’s, favorite place we visited. He almost couldn’t contain his excitement when a larger-than-life elk with a giant set of antlers crossed the street right in front of us.
“Wow! Oh, wow,” was all he could keep repeating with his jaw hanging wide open. It was pretty spectacular.
When we first entered the park, I was worried that it would be crowded, arriving on a weekend. But the park is large enough that there’s plenty of room to spread and it gives you the feeling of being alone with the stunning wild elk and bison. David recorded the elk crossing, which we thought was going to be the highlight of the visit. That is, until we saw three elk splashing and cooling themselves in the lake.
“Hey, it looks like you guys!” I teased the kids as we watched the animals prance around in the water.
After all the excitement, we had definitely worked up an appetite. So we pulled into one of the gorgeous, shaded picnic areas and dragged out our ice chest and haul of treats we’d brought with us to munch on. The afternoon sun was sending soft rays of light through the trees, and the temperature was perfect. None of us were quite ready to leave. So we decided to head off on the bison hiking trail and enjoy more of the beautiful wilderness of Lone Elk Park.
A wonderful way to end a day filled with nature, but the following day would bring more.
“Can we do this again next weekend?”
How do you say no to that?
“Aww, he’s hungry!” Ginger laughed as the baby goat guzzled the bottle of milk she was feeding him. I love the gentleness that animals bring out in my normally rambunctious girl. We nicknamed her Ninja Ginger when she was little because we would turn our backs for a second, and next thing you know she’s standing on top of the kitchen counter. But she sees an animal—any animal—and she’s immediately transformed into this tender, quiet and nurturing little human, which is one of the many reasons why we love going to Grant’s Farm.
It’s one of my top places to go when we visit St. Louis, with or without kids. The rides, shows and attractions are a blast, but our family’s favorite is getting to enjoy all the animals up close. From the playfulness of the goats to the chirping of the parakeets and the awe of those iconic and majestic Clydesdale horses, the entire farm is teeming with nature and life.
We took the train ride through the Busch estate and wildlife preserve. A mother and baby deer watched with interest as we passed by. “It’s kind of like we’re the ones in the zoo, not the animals,” Dean commented, rather astutely I thought.
After the train ride, we walked around, admiring all the different animals, and found the camel rides. “Please, please, pleeeeease, can we ride a camel?” Caleb begged.
“Ask your father,” I started to say, but then I realized that David was already in line to take a ride himself. He gave me an impish grin, and motioned for us all to join him. The kids squealed with delight as we each had a turn around the ring. I may have squealed along with them.
As we left Grant’s Farm, we were all ready for dinner. I had planned a picnic in Forest Park to wrap up our time in St. Louis. There’s a gorgeous spot beside the Grand Basin at the foot of Art Hill, and if we timed it just right, I knew we’d catch the sunset.
The kids raced up and down Art Hill while I laid out the picnic blanket and a delicious spread of Pappy’s BBQ, as David mysteriously had to “run an errand”. The sky was turning three different shades of pink and was absolutely breathtaking. After devouring the barbecue and diving into the Ted Drewes frozen custard that David brought back as a surprise, the first stars began to appear.
Ginger bounced to her feet and sang, “Star light, star bright, first star I see tonight. I wish I may, I wish I might. Please grant this wish I wish tonight. I wish…”
“Well?” I asked. “What do you wish?”
After a long pause, she asked, “Can we do this again next weekend?” She stood there grinning with her fingers crossed hopefully in front of her.
Tell me, how do you say no to that?Discover more of family-friendly St. Louis to help plan your getaway.