It’s not too late to make summer travel plans.
Some parents have had their family vacations scheduled a year in advance, and others still don’t know if a vacation will be in the cards this summer. For some, work and sports schedules make it difficult to plan too far ahead.
But packing up the car and heading out on the road on a whim can be a ton of fun. It doesn’t have to take weeks of planning and can actually make it more of an adventure to fly by the seat of your pants. A summer road trip is fun whether it’s a day trip, a long weekend or an entire week out of town.
Here are a few ideas for drivable destinations, with some suggestions to make it even more fun for the kids. Choose your own adventure!
Day Trip: Pawhuska
Ree Drummond put Pawhuska on the map. But even before the Pioneer Woman skyrocketed to fame, Oklahoma families have been making the trip to Pawhuska for fun family days.
There’s so much summer fun to be had in Pawhuska, from a drive through the Tallgrass Prairie to a swim in Bluestem Lake. Leave early to make the one-hour drive from Tulsa to Pawhuska. You can pack a picnic if you plan on spending part of the day at Bluestem, or better yet, stop for breakfast or lunch at the Pioneer Woman Mercantile.
The Mercantile has been a gift to Pawhuska. Originally constructed in 1910, the Drummond family renovated the historic building to its original beauty and beyond. It’s now filled with kitchenware, clothes, jewelry, gifts and toys, curated by Drummond.
Fans of the Pioneer Woman will love the Lodge tour. The Lodge is where Drummond’s Food Network show is filmed, and it’s a fun place to poke around, even for the kids. Check the Pioneer Woman website to find out the Lodge tour dates.
Back at the Mercantile, take the kids upstairs to the bakery where they can watch bakers and pastry chefs roll out pie dough and decorate cookies behind the kitchen windows. This is also a great spot for sipping lemonade or an iced coffee while people watching.
Pack a change of clothes and a towel, and let the kids splash around at Lake Pawhuska. The falls at Bluestem Lake are also worth making a trip. Kids will love the roar of the falls.
If you want to add on a little something to this trip, you could start early with breakfast at the Merc. You can’t go wrong with Edna Mae’s Pancake Breakfast – $12 for a short stack, two eggs, bacon, sage sausage and infused syrups. Once you’ve tooled around downtown, you can make the 45-minute drive east to Woolaroc, where kids can explore the wildlife preserve, visit the petting zoo and then wander the museum in the welcome cool air conditioning.
Long Weekend: Bentonville
Northwest Arkansas has become a top family travel destination – and luckily for Tulsans it’s just about a two-hour drive. There’s plenty to do in Bentonville and the surrounding towns. Make a mini vacation out of it, spending a couple of nights for a long-weekend getaway.
Bentonville is best known for two things: the birthplace and headquarters of Walmart and the home of the renowned Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Crystal Bridges is a must when visiting Northwest Arkansas. Even if you’ve been before, there’s always something new to see, whether a new exhibit or wandering the grounds to explore a new path in the Ozark Woods surrounding the museum.
It may be on the higher end of your budget, but for a splurge the 21C Museum Hotel is a great hotel that’s both kid friendly and sophisticated, a feat to pull off. But if you know your kids will want to swim in the hotel pool – one of the best things about family vacation for many kids – there are big-name hotels with pools for the kids.
The Amazeum is one of the best children’s museums around. Kids will love the interactive exhibits, play labs, homestead cabin and farm, cloud theater and outdoor play space. With a focus on science, this museum lets kids explore their world through learning and play. If you have time, plan to spend the day, allowing the kids to play without being rushed. There’s plenty of space for toddler play, as well as areas for older kids. The Tinkering Lab is for kids ages 7 and older and allows them to use a variety of materials and technology to explore and create.
Bentonville is known for having some of the best bike trails in the country. Load up your bicycles so that you can spend a day riding, whether it be on paved pathways or off-road mountain bike trails. Ride downtown and stop for lunch at the fun Crepes Paulette, a quirky and delicious restaurant with savory and sweet crepes. Kids will love the banana and Nutella crepe or the simple butter and sugar crepe.
On the way:
If you have the time, stop in Siloam Springs at Natural Falls State Park. The park is just outside Siloam Springs in Colcord. It’s worth the stop to hike to the 77-foot waterfall. A railed observation platform is a great spot for a photo and to take in the view. Kids who have read the book Where the Red Fern Grows will be interested to know that scenes from the movie were filmed in the park.
One Week: Pagosa Springs
A road trip to Colorado is the ultimate escape from the oppressing Oklahoma heat. As you inch further north, eventually winding through Wolf Creek Pass, you’ll roll down your windows for a cool breeze and beautiful mountain view and be immediately glad you decided on this destination.
Pagosa Springs is a great town for families, with walking trails, campgrounds, rafting, fishing and hikes easy enough for kids. And for the less outdoorsy, there are downtown shops, mineral water hot spring pools, artist collectives, bakeries and many restaurants with patio seating to enjoy the nice weather and pretty views.
Even compared to other laid-back Colorado towns, Pagosa is particularly easy breezy, with a slow pace and relaxed vibe.
It’s pretty easy to find a house, cabin or condo to rent, or if you’re looking for something more full service, there are several inns and hotels.
Treasure Falls is a one-mile roundtrip hike to a 105-foot waterfall. The views are gorgeous, and kids will love the adventure of the climb plus feeling the spray and mist of the water the further up they go. This is a must for scenic photos and will be something kids and parents will store in their memory banks.
Start your day at the Pagosa Baking Co. Grab a table on the patio and sip a mocha (made with housemade ganache) as you nibble on freshly made croissants, green chile and cheddar quiche or a slice of berry pie. Situated in the heart of downtown, this is a good starting point for a walk through downtown along the San Juan River. Jump off the trail, and walk down near the riverbank so the kids can explore the environment along the bank and wade in the water. It’s easy to find little hot springs pools to soak your feet.
On the way:
There are a few routes you can take from Tulsa to Pagosa Springs. But for added fun, take the route through Santa Fe, stopping overnight to take a break from the road and to enjoy the city, where you could easily spend a week. At the top of our picks for Santa Fe is the Meow Wolf psychedelic, immersive art museum where kids can explore the nooks and crannies of imagination. The Georgia O’Keefe Museum is another not to miss – one parents will love but kids will also appreciate, as the museum has many kid-friendly activities, including giving children sketchbooks when they enter.