I grew up in Springfield, Missouri and since it’s within driving distance from Austin, we make the long haul about once a year. For this visit, however, I decided to make it into a road trip adventure that I think every family would enjoy, especially the “glamping.”
Here’s a step-by-step guide to a super fun, unique (albeit some may call hillbilly – but in the most endearing way), family-friendly vacation. Even if you can’t fit it in this summer, put it on your “to-do” list for next year!
Day 1: Drive from Austin to Hot Springs, Arkansas (470 miles, without stops about 7 hours…but this is a road trip, there were stops!)
- Stop 1: Sulphur Springs, Texas – visit (and if you’re daring, maybe use) the one-way glass public bathroom on the square on College St.
- Stop 2: Texarkana, 500 Wood St., Texarkana, AR – be in two states at one time! Stand with one foot in Texas and the other in Arkansas.
- Stop 3: Yurt lodging at Catherine’s Landing (we stayed 2 nights). It costs $125 per night for a deluxe yurt (king-sized bed, bunk beds, table, refrigerator, air conditioning, deck, grill and fire pit). We stayed in yurt #7, which we thought was the most secluded. Beautiful location with trails, disc golf, gym, lake, pool, biking. I even enjoyed a trail run.
- Dinner: Phenomenal NY-style pizza at DeLuca’s – but you need to call and reserve your dough!
- Optional activity: Crater of Diamonds where you can dig for real diamonds (website says one diamond is found a day). We opted against this due to the heat. I’ve been told it’s hard to find anything. It opens 8 am, recommended to wear old clothes and shoes, bring shovels, buckets and strainers (or rent there).
Day 2: Explore Hot Springs
- Morning spent at Catherine’s Landing biking and relaxing.
- Escape Hot Springs puzzle room – so great for all ages with nicely timed hints. We barely escaped the “Bathhouse & Gambler” room!
- Bailey’s Dairy Treat – Bill Clinton rumored to have worked there as a teen; 510 Park Ave.
- Visit the Arlington Hotel – grand and historic, and across the street from the natural pools of the very hot springs; 239 Central Ave.
- Grilled hot dogs and made s’mores using the fire pit outside our yurt.
- Optional activity: Magic Springs and Crystal Falls Water Park. I’ve heard it is a lot of fun. Due to limited time, we opted to stay in town.
- Optional activity: Visit a bath house. Buckstaff offers a 30-minutes whirlpool mineral bath, 501-623-2308 (minimum age is 10).
Day 3: Drive from Hot Springs to Eureka Springs (200 miles, about 4 hours, very scenic drive)
- Breakfast at the Pancake House in Hot Springs (not the nicest service, but a good country breakfast)
- Lodging in Bam Bam’s Bungalow at Turpentine Creek Wildlife Refuge – the proximity to the tigers and lions is phenomenal! The “tent” we stayed in was air conditioned with a queen-sized bed and bunk beds, a table and refrigerator (stocked with free snacks). Bathroom was nearby with shower. Cost was $165 for four people. I cannot rave enough about this sanctuary!
- Great walking tour with extensive education about the lives of the rescued cats (and bears).
- Witness feeding time – purely “savage”(!) but such an experience.
- A visit with the animals at dusk.
- We heard the lions roaring and purring all night…our own safari adventure.
- Dinner at Rockin’ Pig Saloon – appears to be a biker bar, but super friendly with fantastic food!
Day 4: Drive from Eureka Springs to Branson, MO (50 miles)
- Great breakfast at The Filling Station (in Eureka Springs).
- Short drive to Branson through winding, scenic roads.
- Stayed at a price-conscious hotel, Branson Towers (reserved online for $100). Kids were disappointed there weren’t any “towers” as the hotel name implied (but happy there was a bathroom in our room for the first time in days and an indoor pool). Note: Big Cedar Lodge is a great resort right outside of Branson. I didn’t chose it due to our budget, but it would be a wonderful place to spend a few days.
- Ate at Outback (local, not the chain) known for their alligator tail.
- Saw Rick Thomas, an illusionist show at the Andy William’s Moonlight Theater (cheesy but fun). Get discounted, reliable and easy ticket sales here.
Day 5: Silver Dollar City! Best amusement park in the world, set in the late-1800s. Great rides (roller coasters, adventure rides, wet rides), lots of shade, shows, see craftswomen and men in action, handmade crafts. $5 off coupons available online.
Day 6: Drive from Branson to Springfield, MO (30 miles)
- Stay at Hotel Vandivort for a 4 star experience in my hometown (close to the birthplace of Route 66 and the famous Wild Bill Hickok gun duel on the square). It’s a modern hotel with great views of downtown.
- Family fun options include: The Discovery Center, Founder’s Park, Jordan Valley Park, the Mediacom ice skating arena, the original Bass Pro Shops (with a renovated wildlife museum opening in the fall) and Hammon’s Field, home of the Springfield Cardinals.
- Mamas – if you want an empowering and fun full body workout, check out The Studio.
Day 7: Drive from Springfield, MO to Austin, TX (600 miles)
- As our friend Willie sings, “On the Road Again,” take a deep breath, and go for it! Oklahoma has never looked so…flat. But, you’ll have a lot to reminisce about on the drive home to Austin.
Congratulations, you have officially experienced the beautiful Ozarks and have taken a piece of it back with you!