A replica of Lewis and Clark’s keelboat
Summer is finally here and you’re ready for adventure, right? Well, we’ve rounded up some destinations within 300 miles of Memphis that promise to surprise and delight your crew. So load up the car and hit the road; new summer memories await.
Dig for Diamonds
If your kids love the idea of digging for buried treasure, then this is the place for you. Crater of Diamonds State Park consists of a 37-acre plowed field, actually an eroded surface of an ancient volcano pipe. On average, two diamonds are unearthed here each day, though people also find quartz, amethyst, and garnets. Park rangers will help you identify your finds. Be sure to wear light colored clothes you don’t mind getting dirty, since most of the field is dirt clods and in direct sun. Once the kids grow tired of digging, cool off at Diamond Springs Water Park. With its wading pool, spray geysers, and water slides, it’s the perfect anecdote to a hard days dig.
Crater of Diamonds State Park, Murfreesboro, AR • craterofdiamondsstatepark.com Drive time: 4 hrs. Admission to diamond field: $8/adults, $5/12 & under. Water park: $6/adults, $4/under 42”). Shovels & pails extra.
Adventure with Lewis and Clark
Among the most interesting interpretive centers I’ve visited is the Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in Hartford, Illinois (30 min. east of St. Louis). Don’t let its bland name fool you — this museum offers a colorful tale. It’s located here because the Corps of Discovery wintered at Camp River DuBois before launching on the Missouri River in St. Charles, Missouri on May 14, 1804. The museum has several intriguing displays but our favorite is the keelboat, packed with the supplies Meriwether Lewis gathered for the journey west. Everything — the men’s flannel shirts, Indian peace medals, books, cloth for tents, needles, scientific equipment, maps, brass compasses, journals — eight tons of provisions in all — had to be cataloged and packed to fit the 55 feet keelboat. You’ll see a life-sized replica here, along with an example of the fort and lots more.
Lewis and Clark State Historic Site • campriverdubois.com Drive time: 4.45 hrs. Admission: Free. Donations accepted. For a Lewis and Clark itinerary from St. Louis, go to explorestlouis.com/visit-explore/discover/itineraries/lewis-clark-adventure
That’s the fancy name for cave exploring and there are several places within a day’s drive worth investigating. One of the granddaddies is Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky. The world’s largest known cave system, Mammoth stretches 400-plus miles beneath the rolling hills of south-central Kentucky. There are a number of tours offered, from historic trails that talk about the park’s early visitors to trog tours for ages 8 to 12, where kids climb off-trail to see rarely visited passages.
We’ve also enjoyed Ruby Falls at Lookout Mountain in Chattanooga. Here, an elevator drops you 1,200 feet below the ground to begin your journey. Though pricey, the tour is very interesting, easy to walk, and the Ruby Falls at the end of the tour is a fabulous reveal.
Mammoth Cave National Park • nps.gov/maca Drive time: 4.5 hrs. Admission: Free for park entry, fees for tours.
Rev Up Your Engine with Cool Cars & Trucks
The Lane Motor Museum might be small but like a sexy sports car, it wows you with style. The Lane boasts one of the largest European car collections in the nation. Here you’ll see three-wheeled cars, sports cars, military vehicles, an amphibious car, Austin Minis, Citroens, Mercedes, BMWs, and much more. This is a museum my son and I have returned again and again, each time seeing something new to appreciate.
Another family favorite is Chattanooga’s International Towing and Recovery Museum. The museum is just three miles away from where the first wrecker was built in the early 1920s. What’s best is that the docents here are passionate about their tow truck collection and make the experience all the more meaningful.
The Lane Museum, Nashville • lanemotormuseum.org Drive time: 3 hrs. Admission: $9/adults, $3/ages 6-17
Explore a One-of-a-Kind Museum
If you are planning a trip to St. Louis, Missouri this summer, then City Museum must be starred and underlined. This four-story fun house is designed to appeal to kids’ love of adventure, challenge, and hands-on fun. During our visits we’ve spied kids climbing through aerial tunnels and sailing skyward on bungee chords. Inside, kids can slide down a conveyor belt-like slide made of rollers. Much of the exhibits incorporate recycled products to create works of art, like a colorful iguana made from shards of glass and bolt ends, that wraps around a column in the café. Elsewhere you see playful tile mosaics of fish and sea creatures. It is a crazy, inventive place, one your kids won’t soon forget.
City Museum, St. Louis • citymuseum.org Drive time: 4 hrs. Admission: $12/kids 3+, $10/after 5 p.m. Friday and Saturday nights
Discover a Cool State Park
Pickett State Park, nestled on the Cumberland Plateau, offers rustic stone cabins built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), who worked to improve parks during the 1930s. Here you can discover hidden caves, canoe on 12-acre Arch Lake, or explore the adjacent Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Big South Fork is a pristine park rich with interesting land formations and hiking trials. If your family enjoys horseback riding or canoeing, there are several guide outfits available. For a more rustic experience, spend the night at Charit Creek Lodge, where kerosene light keeps the dark at bay and you can eat and sleep in an original homestead cabin from 1817.
Pickett State Park • Tnstateparks.org/parks/about/pickett Drive time: 6 hrs. Admission: Free; rental prices for lodging varies
Survey the Animal Kingdom
At this one-of-a-kind animal adventure, you’ll find everything from kangaroos and giraffes to ostriches that knock on your car window. Wait, what? Yep, at Tennessee Safair Park, the animals roam free while visitors drive through. Kids will get a kick out of feeding the giraffes that extend their long tongues for a treat. You’ll also learn how people farmed and lived during the pioneer days of the South.
Tennessee Safari Park, Alamo, TN • Tennesseesafaripark.com Drive: 1.5 hrs. (16 miles northwest of Jackson) Admission: $12/adults, $8/ages 2-12