When you think about the National Parks Service, I bet you are picturing the big ones: Yellowstone, the Grand Canyon, etc. I’ve never been a “national parks” person until this summer, and I didn’t have to travel very far to become one! There are two national parks right on our doorstep and another one within a few hours’ drive of St. Louis, and they are definitely worth checking out.
Ozark National Scenic Riverways
Every Memorial Day weekend, we join family friends for an extended camping weekend, and this year, we decided to try out Round Springs, near Eminence, Missouri. Round Springs is located along the Ozark National Scenic Riverways, which is a national park! It’s a fairly quick 2.5 hour drive from St. Louis and is a very pretty drive once you leave the interstate.
Our campground was clean, family-friendly, we had bathrooms and showers nearby, and there was so much to do besides roasting hot dogs and s’mores. In addition to the amazing river that we floated on rafts, there is also the namesake Round Spring and the Round Spring Cave (both of which were a short walk from the campground). We were also within driving distance of other local landmarks like Echo Bluff State Park (wonderful place to stay if you are more of a “lodge” person), and Devil’s Well.
The Gateway Arch is probably one of the most recognized local landmarks, but it also happens to be a national park. Even though I remember going as a kid, I’m almost ashamed to admit that I had never taken my kids there until this summer.
We took the Metrolink from the station closest to our house, which was an event unto itself for my crew, and it was a short walk from the station to the park grounds. The recently renovated park grounds are amazing, so much open green space and an awesome view of the riverfront (side note: our trip coincided with recent flooding, so access to the riverfront is limited). And once inside, it’s free to walk through the museum; fees apply to the documentary movie and the tram ride to the top.
We skipped the movie (my kids are 2, 5 and 7, so our attention spans aren’t quite there yet) and went straight for the trams. (Warning: if you are at all claustrophobic, you may have issues with the tram.) Reservations for the tram are recommended, especially during peak seasons. Once up at the top, we all ooh’ed and aww’ed at the view. After snapping a few pictures and marveling at how small the cars driving below were, we headed back down and checked out the museum. We ended our visit with lunch at the food court which had some surprisingly good bbq.
A fun way to commemorate your trip to any national park is to collect a “stamp” that shows the name of the park and the date you visited. You can buy the official passport book from most national park gift shops or online, and don’t worry, if you forget your passport, most stations have extra scrap paper that they will gladly stamp for you to glue into your book once you get home (I know this from personal experience!).
Next on our list is the Ulysses S Grant Historic Site, which is also located right here in St. Louis. A quick look on the website shows that there is no cost to get in and the guided tours are also free (win-win for this family of 5!). We can’t wait to break out the kids’ passports and collect another stamp. Maybe I’m a “national parks” person after all!