Retreat to Family Fun at Chickasaw Center

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Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center has a hiking trail.
The Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center offers a mile-long hiking trail on the grounds.

Located steps away from the Chickasaw National Recreation Area, formerly the Platt National Park, I found the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center set on top of a bluff in the Arbuckle Mountains. It offers families a secluded area to discover the rolling landscape of South Central Oklahoma.

What I loved at the Chickasaw Retreat 

  • The secluded area allows families to reconnect with each other without roughing it.
  • The hiking path located on the property features superb views of the lake.
  • The Wellness Center offers health club style facilities.

What I wanted at the Chickasaw Retreat 

  • Families always want an outdoor poolscape.
  • More breakfast options, like make-your-own waffles.
  • Real glassware in the rooms along with real creamers for coffee.
Stay at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma.
The Great Room at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center offers a space to gather and reconnect with your group or family.

The Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center

With over 1,750 acres of secluded mountain top to explore, the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center offers the ideal spot for families to reconnect. The facilities are large but not the crowds. With just 43 rooms on the property, I found a table at the complimentary breakfast and a chaise by the pool.

If traveling with a group of extended family or friends, I found a Great Room on the second floor. With unparalleled views of the mountains from the floor-to-ceiling windows, this space offered seating groups and a central fireplace, gaming table and television. The opportune spot to congregate in the evening.

The Chickasaw Retreat features a guest laundry along with a business center, meeting and conference space.

My Room at Chickasaw Retreat 

During my stay, I enjoyed a Junior Suite with my family. With a spacious room, I found plenty of space for a roll-away or pack-n-play. With neutral walls and modern art, my room exuded calm sophistication.

Stay at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma.
My family enjoyed an Junior Suite at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center.

A large balcony with a pair of chairs allowed for morning coffee, thanks to an in-room Keurig maker with coffee and tea. I found an in-room safe, an alarm clock with a iPhone dock along with charging plugs on all the lamps. The large flat-screen TV sits on top a full-size credenza.

A separate kitchenette provides a small refrigerator, a full-size microwave and a separate sink. Lots of storage, but I didn’t find any dishes. I would have liked to see real glassware and mugs to accompany the deluxe ice bucket.

The work desk at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center.
I used the work desk outfitted with extra outlets at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center.

My Bathroom at the Chickasaw Retreat

The luxurious bathroom includes a soaking tub for rejuvenating. The stone vanity offers ample space along decorative lighting and upscale toiletries. I found a closet area in the bathroom area along with the ironing board.

The bathroom at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma.
My bathroom at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center featured a soaking tub and a separate water closet outfitted with a glass-enclosed shower.

My room included a separate water closet area with a separate glass-enclosed shower with decorative tile work. A family-friendly feature that allows for sink use with a kid in the shower.

The amenities at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center.
Moms always love the amenities in a room, like the Bedrè Chocolates, locally-produced.

Dining at the Chickasaw Retreat

A complimentary continental breakfast buffet is served daily from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. daily, in the dining room, next to the registration area. During my stay, I found muffins, pastries and cereals along with coffee. Yogurt, hard-boiled eggs and biscuits and gravy were on the buffet along with orange and apple juice. 

Activities at the Chickasaw Retreat 

In a separate building, I found a wellness center that rivals any health club. Equipped with treadmills, stationary bikes and Cybex equipment.

Stay at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center for the Wellness Center.
The Wellness Center at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center offers lots of equipment, a steam room and a sauna.

After entering an immaculate, modern locker room, I found a separate shower stalls with curtains. Finish getting ready at a vanity lined with sinks and mirrors, outfitted with decorative lighting.

With a steam room and a dry sauna, relaxing comes easy at the Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center. I also found the Sole’renity Spa, with services like manicures and pedicures, massages, facials, wraps and waxes.

The indoor pool at Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma.
My boys, 9 and 12, enjoyed the indoor pool during our trip.

The indoor pool is a standard rectangle but includes a spa. With the deepest section at 4-feet, kids rule the pool in the evening.

Family Fun in Sulphur Oklahoma

During our visit, we explored the Chickasaw National Recreation Area along with the revitalized downtown Sulphur. With its unique shopping and outdoor activities, like swimming, hiking and boating, my family explored non-stop for our entire weekend away.

Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center in Sulphur, Oklahoma, offers over 1,750 acres of mountain views, along with a wellness center.

 

Where’s the Chickasaw Retreat 

Located in South Central Oklahoma 12 miles from Interstate 35 and 87 miles south from Oklahoma City. The address is 4205 Goddard Youth Camp, Sulphur, Oklahoma, the closest town. 

Know before you go:

  • Self-park is complimentary.
  • The Pool and Gym are open till midnight.
  • Complimentary Wi-Fi that doesn’t require a password, a great feature for tech-savy kids.
  • Chickasaw Retreat and Conference Center is a pet-free and smoke-free facility.
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Camp in a Cabin that Kids Love in Key Hole State Park Wyoming

A cozy cabin near Devils Tower National Monument.
Sitting on the porch of our cabin in Key Hole State Park, about an hour from Devils Tower National Monument.

Camping in Key Hole State Park

Once you leave the Black Hills area of South Dakota and head west, the lodging and restaurants get a bit sparse. Since I’m traveling with three kids, I’m always looking for cabins instead of roadside motel rooms. After road tripping across the U.S. one thing I’ve learned, kids love cabins.

Key Hole State Park fits the bill, I got a cabin for the kids and it’s 41 miles away from Devils Tower National Monument with easy access off Interstate 90. This location provides a quick 50-minute drive in the morning before the crowds really swarm the popular National Park Service site.

camping in the shadow of Devils Tower National Monument in Key Hole State Park.
Devils Tower National Monument offers families a National Park Service site less than an hour away from Key Hole State Park.

Key Hole State Park features a 14,000-acre reservoir for water recreation with a marina and fishing. I also found 170 camping sites with tables and grills. The playground for the kids offers another feature for families.

What’s in our Cabin

Key Hole State Park surrounds the Keyhole Reservoir and our cabin sits right on the water. The view from the front porch offers Moms a moment to savor the morning sun dancing off the water before the kids wake up.

cabins in Key Hole State Park
The pine paneling and furnishings of our cabin give it a cozy feel that the kids loved though bedding isn’t furnished.

We stayed in Cabin #1, right on the reservoir. It features a pair of bunk beds, a full-size bed, a small table and bench, perfect for a family of four. The interior features pine paneling and all the furnishing are made from peeled pine timber. The beds are outfitted with mattresses only so the kids used their sleeping bags and I brought a fitted sheet and topped with my sleeping bag along with pillows for everyone.

The cabins feature full electricity, so I plugged in all the electronics at once. I found a window unit in the cabins though I didn’t turn it on during our stay in July.

Cabins in Key Hole State Park near Devils Tower in Wyoming.
Kids love cabins as much as kids love bunk beds that I found in Key Hole State Park.

The cabins don’t features indoor plumbing but a potable water spigot was located next to our parking spot.

Restroom Facilities at Key Hole State Park

Let’s talk about the bathrooms for a moment–kids don’t care on vacation but Moms do. And I’ll be honest, the restroom situation wasn’t the best. We stayed for one night so I just dealt with it since the kids loved the cabin and bunk beds. For families staying longer than a night might want to consider this before booking.

I've got your cabin for family fun in Wyoming, near Devils Tower National Monument.

I failed to find a modern restroom next to our cabin (site #1) and we walked to a primitive vault toilet nearby. Meaning a composting toilet without running water and electricity instead of a flush toilet with a sink with running hot water. I prefer modern restrooms with showers and hot water for campgrounds with cabins. I didn’t find a shower in the entire campground.

Without lights in the restrooms, meant I had to load the kids up in the SUV so I could leave the headlights on so we could have light. Luckily, my kids didn’t have to go to the restroom during the middle of the night.

The carful of kids brushed their teeth at the outside water spigot and I put my hair up in a ponytail and washed my face with cold water. I’ll take a hot shower at the next place.

To sum it up, I love the cozy cabin with its amazing view of the Key Hole Reservoir. But the restroom situation could be an issue for some Moms.

Wyoming offers lots of National Park Service sites in Wyoming.
The big sky and popular National Park Service sites, like Yellowstone, Grand Teton and Devils Tower lure us to Wyoming.

Where’s Key Hole State Park

Key Hole State Park is located at 22 Marina Road, 16 miles from Moorcroft, Wyoming. A quick 20-mile drive to Devils Tower National Monument offering families a national park service site along with a lake view.

The cabins cost $57 a night but I paid an additional $50 refundable deposit. I reserved my cabin in advance and cabins are reservable from May 15 to September 15. No minimum night stay required for the cabins, a convenient feature.

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Take the Kids to See the Devil in Wyoming

Devils Tower National Monument for families in Wyoming.
Add Devils Tower National Monument to your Wyoming road trip itinerary.

The carful of kids spent several days exploring the Black Hills area of South Dakota and the national parks of South Dakota, like Mount Rushmore, the Badlands National Park and the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Devils Tower National Monument, about 110 miles from Rapid City, South Dakota, offers another must-do National Park Service site for families in neighboring Wyoming.

Devils Tower topped my bucket list since first I saw the monument in the 1977 movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It’s an eery site, a stone tower jutting out of a grassy plain and I see why Steven Spielberg choose this spot as a UFO landing site.

History of Devils Tower National Monument

A laccolithic butte of igneous rock sits in the Bear Lodge Mountains of the Black Hills. Devils Tower stands 1,268 feet above the nearby Belle Fourche River.

Hike the Tower Trail at Devils Tower National Monument.
The Native American prayer clothes hang from tree branches on the Tower Trail.

Sacred to Native Americans in the area, its native name of Bear Lodge was misinterpreted by explorers to Bad God’s Tower. Bad God’s Tower became Devils Tower when the monument was named.

Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Devils Tower the National Park Service’s first national monument in  1906. It offers one of the premier traditional crack climbing area in North America. Though most ascents take four to six hours, the fastest climb was completed in 18 minutes.

What to do in 2 Hours at Devils Tower

Devils Tower National Monument offers an iconic destination for families. You can spend all day or you can check it out in a couple of hours, depending on your itinerary.

Explore Devils Tower National Monument with your family.
Hiking the Tower Trail offers families great views and an easy paved path at Devils Tower National Monument.

If limited on time, stop by the Visitor Center and attend a Ranger Talk if available. Then hike the Tower Trail. On the way out of the park, check out the Prairie Dog Village.

Kids at Devils Tower

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

Earn a Junior Ranger Badge at Devils Tower National Monument
Taking the Junior Ranger Oath after completing their booklets, attending a Ranger Talk and taking a hike.

We stopped by the Visitor Center to pick up our Junior Ranger Booklets and sat down for a Ranger Talk, a requirement to earn the collectible badge. A volunteer ranger and school teacher explained how to climb Devils Tower and she showed our group climbing equipment. My boys were mentally prepared to climb the 1,200-foot high rock, too bad we hiked instead.

Hiking with Kids at Devils Tower

Hiking is my go-to activity for families in National Park Service Sites. Devil Tower offers several hikes for families.

  • Tower Trail, a 1.3 mile paved loop that encircles the Devils Tower, features Native American prayer clothes tied to the trees and shrubs. It starts a short way from the Visitor Center.
  • Red Beds Trail offers a 2.8-mile loop for views of Devils Tower.
  • Joyner Ridge Trail, a 1.5-mile loop offers a less crowded trail at the edge of the park.
  • South Side/Valley View Trails, a .6-mile trail that takes families to the Prairie Dog Town.

Explore Devils Tower National Monument in eastern Wyoming, about an hour from South Dakota's Black Hills, for family-friendly hiking and a prairie dog town.

Prairie Dog Town

On the way out of the park, we stopped at the Prairie Dog Town, right inside the entrance gates. The kids loved watching them duck into their tunnel system. Listen for their tiny barks as they communicate to each other. Don’t touch or feed them even though they’re super cute.

The prairie dogs of Devils Tower National Monument in Wyoming.
Kids love animals so stop by the Prairie Dog Town in Devils Tower National Monument.

Camping at Devils Tower

Devils Tower features a 50-site campground open from May until October. The Belle Fourche River campground offers potable water though no hookups.

During my visit to Devils Tower National Monument, I found a nearby camping cabin at the Key Hole State Park, 41 miles away from Devils Tower, a quick 50-minute drive. Our cabin featured full electricity, but the potable water is outside at the spigot and no indoor plumping.

A cozy cabin near Devils Tower National Monument.
Sitting on the porch of our cabin in Key Hole State Park, about an hour for Devils Tower National Monument.

Where’s Devils Tower

Located 33 miles northeast of Moorcraft, Wyoming, or 27 miles northwest of Sundance, Wyoming, on Wyoming Highway 24,  Devils Tower is open 24 hours a day, closed Christmas and New Years Day. The Visitors Center opens from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the summer season and opens from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the rest of the year.

Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $15 per vehicle to explore the monument.

Know Before You Go: 

  • Devils Tower is a popular destination and I found limited parking at the base of the tower.
  • I found a line for the entrance during the summer season.
  • Don’t feed the Prairie Dogs. They carry Tularemia, a bacterial disease.

 

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Launch a Missile with the Kids in South Dakota

Explore the Minuteman Missile Site for Cold War History in South Dakota
At the Delta-Nine Launch Facility, I found a de-activated missile within sight of Interstate 90 in South Dakota.

Why tour a Missile Site

Under the swaying grass of the South Dakota plains, 1,000 missiles stood on constant alert for 30 years. Used as a deterrent in the Cold War against Russia, a pair of missileers living 30 feet underground were a command away from launching a missile that could destroy civilization on another continent.

After an arms reduction in the 1990s, the National Park Service opened a site dedicated to the Cold War. The Minuteman Missile National Historic Site is a decommissioned missile field next to Badlands National Park.

History of the Minuteman Missile

During the late 1950s, the Minuteman I missile was developed as an Intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). It provided an improvement in technology from the previous generation of ICBM’s, the Titan Missile.

The Titan Missile, the first-generation ICBM’s, required a lengthy and potentially dangerous launch sequence with larger underground silos. The Minuteman missiles offered solid-state fuel, a more stable option, and smaller, more efficient underground silos.

Explore the Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota.
Hidden in plain sight, the Delta-One Launch Control Facility sits on top of a underground bunker where missileers stand on constant ready.

Over the years, the Minuteman II missiles replaced the Minuteman I until their retirement after the START—Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty in 1991. And today, Minuteman III missiles still stand guard against nuclear attack.

What to do in 2 hours

The Black Hills of South Dakota offers plenty of family adventure so if you are short on time. I suggest starting at the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site Visitor Center to learn about the Cold War and the Minuteman missile program. Then drive to the Delta-Nine Launch Facility, or missile silo, to see a deactivated missile all hidden in plain sight along Interstate 90.

Explore the defense systems of the Cold War at the Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota.
The Delta-Nine Launch Facility, or missile silo, offers families with limited time a look at a deactivated Minuteman missile.

The Delta-One Launch Control Facility is an industrial-looking complex that’s locked at all times. And doesn’t offer much above ground unless you have a ticket to the underground tour so skip it if limited on time.

Delta-One Launch Control Facility Tour

 As a former flight crew member, this tour tops my list of interesting National Park Sites I’ve visited over the years. An under-the-radar tour, my family secured tickets to look into a classified world from 30 years ago.

Exploring the Minuteman Missile Site with a family.
I wanted to see some red phones in the Delta-One facility.

After driving and parking in a gravel parking lot, my family, including three kids, waited for the special missileer ranger to arrive. After unlocking the gate on the razor-wired fence, we walked to the unassuming building in plain sight of Interstate 90.

The upper portion of the facility houses a kitchen area, living area and security area. This area provided back-up generators and environmental systems for the underground facility.

Explore the underground facility at the Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota.
Hard to believe but launched Minuteman missiles could reach their target across the world in 30 minutes.

In all, eight Air Force personnel, based out of the nearby Ellsworth Air Force Base, worked on the topside of the Delta-One facility. A cook, a facility manager and six security personnel worked three days on and three days off, keeping the Delta-One facility secure for the two missileers located underground.

In a small elevator, we descended 31-feet before unloading in view of the 8-ton blast door. Behind the door, that can only be opened from inside, we entered a small self-contained living space.

exploring the underground Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota
We entered the underground bunker through the 8-ton blast door.

For 24-hours shifts, two missileers watched and waited for a launch command that never came. In addition to standing on the ready, missileers oversaw the maintenance of the launch facility and authenticated messages.

Exploring the Delta-One facility at the Minuteman Missile Site in South Dakota.
The underground facility could support life for 30 days after a nearby attack once the doors were locked.

During our tour, our special missileer ranger walked us through a mock launch that had this kid of the Cold War ready to duck-and-cover. The tour was gripping and eery in a way that only history can haunt your idle thoughts.

Exploring the unground Delta-One facility at the Minuteman Missile site in South Dakota.
With an aviation seat equipped with a harness and strapped to the floor, a missileer watched and waited for a call that never came.

 

Kids at Minuteman Missile Site

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

Explore the Minuteman Missile Site to learn about the Cold War.
We waited outside the fence for the park ranger giving the tour at the Delta-One facility.

The Minuteman Missile Site offers three different programs for kids, depending on age, and a tour of the underground facility is not necessary. The booklet can be downloaded and mailed back to the visitor center for a ranger to look over and send the earned badges back to your kids too.

The underground tour is an effective history lesson though the subject matter might be frightening for some kids. At the time of the tour, my son was barely old enough to attend.

Take the family 30-feet underground to a classified world from the Cold War, where two missileers waited and watched for a launch command that never came.

Lodging and Food Service

The Minuteman Missile Site is a day-use park. Wall, South Dakota offers the closest restaurants and lodging. Stop off at Wall Drug Store for a café and unique roadside attraction, 21 miles west. Badlands National Park offers cabins within the park and the eastern entrance is 5 miles south of the Minuteman Missile site.

Where’s the Minuteman Missile Site

Minuteman Missile National Historical Site opens from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving Day, December 25 and January 1. The visitor center is free along with the Delta Nine Launch Facility.

I found three separate facilities for the the Minuteman Missile National Historic Site. Start at the Visitor Center located at 24545 Cottonwood Road, Phillips, South Dakota, at exit 131 off Interstate 90. To tour the Delta-Nine Launch Facility or Missile Silo, use exit 116 off of Interstate 90. For tour ticket holders, the Delta-One Launch Control Facility is off Interstate 90 at exit 127.

Reserve tickets in advance for the Delta-One underground tour. Adult admission is $6 and kids 6 to 16 are $4 with two tours daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. with more scheduled during the summer. 

Know Before you go:

  • Kids under 6 and under 40″ tall are prohibited on the Delta-One underground facility tour.
  • Only 6 people allowed on a Delta-One tour due to the limited space.
  • Delta-One visitors must be willing to climb two 15-foot ladders unassisted in case of emergency.

 

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Stop and Hit the Wall Drug in South Dakota

Consideration for brands mentioned.

Enjoy a fresh donut at Wall Drug Store in South Dakota.
Yes, Wall Drug Store in South Dakota sells fresh maple donuts. Pull the car over and grab one while they’re hot.

Few road trip attractions can beat a drug store in South Dakota. Seriously, Wall Drug tops my list for ultimate road trip stops for everyone, not just the kids.

From my house in Central Texas, I drove 1,154 miles to stop for a buffalo burger at Wall Drug, thanks to the built-in app in their website that calculates the mileage. It’s hard to pass up Wall Drug with their billboards dotting the interstates across the entire Midwest. And really, don’t. It’s an iconic roadside attraction and the place to grab a glass of their free ice water and stretch those road-weary legs.

Wall Drug is South Dakota's Badlands and Black Hills offers family fun.
Stop by the Apothecary storefront at Wall Drug for a step back in time.

History of Wall Drug Store

In 1931, Dorothy and Ted Hunstead opened the only drugstore in a speck of a town, Wall, South Dakota. After five years of struggling to get the business off the ground, the Hunstead family needed customers to walk through the door.

Then one hot, dusty afternoon, Dorothy decided to put up signs along the highway to Badlands National Park offering Free Ice Water. It worked, visitors started walking through their doors for a cool drink and found all the stuff they forgot to pack.

A stop at Wall Drug in South Dakota is a must for a road trip.
Need some boots? Wall Drug sells boots, western belts and bags along with cowboy hats in all sizes for the family.

Wall Drug Store Today

The Hunstead Family still offers free ice water, 5¢ self-serve coffee and a free bumper sticker. But today, Wall Drug is one of the top attractions in South Dakota.

A rambling space that covers a city block features sundries and souvenirs along with specialty clothing, like boots, leather goods and cowboy hats. Spend an hour or half-the-day, be arrive early, Wall Drug shutters the doors around 5 p.m. most days.

Stop by South Dakota's Wall Drug on your road trip.
Need a cup of coffee? Wall Drug offers self-serve 5¢ coffee, cash only.

Eat at Wall Drug

In addition to the free water and the 5¢ coffee, I stop at Wall Drug to eat. It tops my list when road tripping across South Dakota on Interstate 90 for its authentic charm. With over 500 seats, getting a table won’t be a problem either.

With the largest privately-owned collection of western art and illustration in U.S. hanging on the knotty-pine walls of the dining room, I sat down at a marble-topped table with my menu. The choice for me was obvious, a Buffalo Burger, with locally-sourced South Dakota bison.

Stop by Wall Drug in South Dakota for family fun and food.
The locally-sourced Buffalo burger and onion rings is perfect after a day of driving or exploring.

I always try to eat the iconic food of a destination, like the South Dakota buffalo burger. But for kids and less adventurous eaters, I found a menu full of all-American favorites.

Family Fun at Wall Drug

Don’t miss the backyard for all the photo ops. Sitting on the giant jackalope can’t be beat for cute kid pictures and the miniature Mount Rushmore sculpture is close enough to touch.

Hop on the Jackalope at Wall Drug in South Dakota.
Kids and Moms love the Jacklope in the backyard of Wall Drug in South Dakota.

The enormous T. Rex, similar to the one found in Badlands National Park, roars to life ever few minutes. Kids can mine or pan for treasure or try their hand at the shooting gallery.

During the summer, take off the shoes and run through the backyard splash pad.

Wall Drug in South Dakota features a replica of Mount Rushmore.
Get a picture of the kids with the presidents at Wall Drug.

Shopping at Wall Drug

I dare anyone to find a place with more shopping in Wall, South Dakota. I found Black Hills gold, silver and turquoise jewelry. Along a wall of lined with cowboy boots, I spotted boots for everyone, even hard-to-find kids sizes. Add a hat and a handbag and complete the western outfit.

Camping in one of South Dakota’s five national parks? I found a stocked camping store. I love my vintage-looking enamelware and Wall Drug sells tons of different colors and unique serving pieces.

Wall Drug Store along Interstate 90 in South Dakota supplies everything a traveler forgot at home and a cafe packed with burgers and donuts.

Wall Drug supplies all the South Dakota souvenirs anyone could need. If they don’t carry it, it wasn’t made.

More Reasons to Stop at Wall Drug

The Western art collection in Wall Drug should not be missed. Gracing the knotty-pine walls, I found over 300 pieces of original art, especially western oil landscapes. Including two pieces painted by the Mount Rushmore architect, Gutzon Borglum. In all, the art collection is worth more than $3 million.

Need a place for quiet reflection? I found a peaceful Traveler’s Chapel. The Pharmacy Museum offers a quaint look at the apothecary storefront from years ago.

A stop by Wall Drug in South Dakota is a must for your road trip.
Wall Drug features over 300 pieces of original Western art and sculptures.

The stuffed and mounted animal heads excite the animal spotters. The kids pose for pictures with wood-carved cowboys.

Where’s Wall Drug Store:

Wall Drug Store is located at 510 Main Street, off Interstate 90 exits 109 and 110, near Badlands National Park. It is open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Sunday 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For the Café, it’s open Monday through Saturday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Nearby Attractions:

Though free ice water is great, you must be on your way to somewhere. I suggest spending a few days in the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota discovering their parks.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial

Badlands National Park

Wind Caves National Park

Jewel Caves National Monument

Custer State Park

 

 

 

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Explore Scotts Bluff National Monument for Family Fun

 

Visit Scotts Bluff National Monument with kids for Pioneer History.
Scotts Bluff in Western Nebraska marked the end of the plains for pioneers on the Oregon Trail. Photo Credit: NPS

On a quest to see the lower 48, the carful of kids drive on to Jasper National Park in Canada from our home in Central Texas. Our most recent stop included an Old West shoot-out in Dodge City, Kansas. And before that, we explored Lawton, Oklahoma, to learn about the Comanche people.

Waking up in Kansas, Scotts Bluff National Monument lies just beyond the horizon in Nebraska. A new state for us and that’s the point of our quest, to explore the new states.

A road trip stop in Nebraska, Scotts Bluff National Monument.
A new state, Nebraska, offers miles of crops and a national monument.

This area of the U.S. does NOT offer a north/south interstate to jump on and speed things up. I would have to drive west to Denver to catch I-25. So far, we seen miles of crops dotted with occasional road construction while driving through the midwest.

Scotts Bluff

Scotts Bluff National Monument rises 800 feet above the North Platte River, located nearby. It offers a notable natural feature along the Oregon, Mormon and California Trails. All pioneer trails that passed through this area.

Visit Scotts Bluff National monument to learn about the Oregon Trail.
At the entrance of Scotts Bluff National Monument, we stop for a picture, a family tradition.

Named after a fur pelt clerk, Hiram Scott was an employee of the American Fur Company. He died in the area under a cloud of mystery.

History of Scotts Bluff  

Scotts Bluff stood as a natural landmark since the beginning. The first human traces found in this area date back 10,000 years. The Pawnee and Kansa people, among others, set up semi-permanent villages next.

Visit Scotts Bluff with kids in Nebraska.
Scotts Bluff sits along several pioneer trails, like the Oregon Trail.

The European explorers and fur traders used this route along the North Platte River to travel between St. Louis, Missouri, and the mouth of the Columbia River on the Pacific Coast. Hunting and trapping the valuable beaver, the pelts exuded luxury in the 1800s.

Starting in 1836, emigrants traveled west along the Oregon Trail. When they reached Oregon, they received 320 acres of farmland. In 1847, Brigham Young lead the first Mormon wagon train to Utah.

The Pony Express rode this route from 1860-1861 to transport mail between Sacramento, California, and Saint Joseph, Missouri. The transcontinental railroad linked the coasts in 1869.

In 1919, the area was designated a national monument.

Scotts Bluff Summit

Hop aboard the free Summit Shuttle if your vehicle is prohibited on Summit Road. The driver will share the significance of this monument during the 7 to 10 minute drive.

Visit the Scotts Bluff Summit with the kids.
Scotts Bluff Summit is a must with kids if you have time, a quick 10-minute drive from the Visitor Center.

Completed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Summit Road features the only three tunnels in Nebraska. And kids always love tunnels.

At the top of the bluff, we found hiking trails and vast views in every direction.

What to do with kids at Scotts Bluff

At the Visitor Center we picked up our Junior Ranger Badges and walked through the interpretive area. I found exhibits depicting the migration of 250,000 American pioneers that passed through this area from 1843 to 1869. The Visitor Center features a short film too.

Hike on top of the Scotts Bluff Summit for family fun
The interpretive signs at the summit tell us what’s on the horizon.

If time and weather allows, I always include a hike when we explore a new national park site. So we drive up Summit Road to Scotts Summit to take a short family-friendly hike.

Next the Visitor Center I found a living history area with covered wagons. This area helps the kids understand the journey on the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon. On most Saturdays, costumed interpretive rangers explain the history of the area.

Hiking in Scotts Bluff

Hiking gives families a chance to explore the summit or take a one-way hike back to the Visitor Center. During our visit, we hiked around the summit that features parking but no restrooms or picnic tables.

  • North Overlook Trail is a paved .5-mile loop. Moderate.
  • South Overlook Trail is a paved .4-mile loop. Easy.
  • Saddle Rock Trail is a 1.6-mile hike, one way, from the summit area to the Visitor Center, includes steep grades and sharp turns. Difficult.

Got a road trip stop for your family in western Nebraska.

Where to Eat

Scotts Bluff National Monument offers a vending machine for drinks and a water fountain with a bottle filler. The monument doesn’t offer food service.

When road tripping and visiting national parks, I always pack meals when we are away from towns. The carful of kids found three covered picnic tables near the Visitor Center and pulled out the cold-cuts for a picnic dinner.

Where’s Scotts Bluff National Monument

Scotts Bluff National Monument located at 190276 Old Oregon Trail in Gering, Nebraska, on the western border. Open from sunrise to sunset. The admission is $5 per car or purchase an America The Beautiful National Park Pass for $80 if visiting several national park sites.

An ideal road trip stop when driving to the Black Hills of South Dakota to visit Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave and Jewel Cave, and Custer State Park.

Know Before You Go: 

  • Summit Road is narrow and includes three tunnels. Vehicles longer that 25 feet and taller than 11’7” are prohibited.
  • Trailers are prohibited on Summit Road.
  • Summit Road remains open year-round, though closed Christmas Day (December 25) and New Years Day (January 1).
  • Summit Road opens from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the summer season and closes at 5 p.m. during the rest of the year.
  • Cyclists can use Summit Road after the daily closure until sunset.
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Get the Heck into Dodge City with the Kids

Dodge City Kansas and Boot Hill museum tops the list for family fun.
Boot Hill Museum tops the list for family fun in Dodge City, Kansas. Once an Old West cow town overflowing with cattle rustlers and gamblers, now offers kids a taste of western adventure.

As a child of the 80s, National Lampoon’s Vacation, with Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo, put Dodge City, Kansas, on my to-do list. So years later, here I am with my carful of kids ready for fun.

The Boot Hill Museum

The Boot Hill Museum in the middle of Dodge City, Kansas, offers the ultimate stop for adventure-loving boys. The Old West came alive for the carful of kids with stagecoaches, saloons, old schoolhouses and scraggly characters.

Dodge City's Boot Hill Jail is a must for families when road tripping.
This Mom loves to put the kids in jail at the Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City, Kansas.

For the carful of kids, the real draw starts in the saloon. When dusty cowboys ride into town looking for some fun, misunderstandings are moments away.

A hungry cowboy looks at a barmaid wrong and the barkeep throws him out the swinging doors. The next thing I know, the carful of kids hear a a couple of pops. Our heads turn and we are in the middle of a Dodge City gun fight, dust cloud included. The eyes of my boys pop out of their heads.

Stop at the Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City, Kansas, for an Old West shootout.
The pretty barmaids cause a ruckus at the Long Branch Saloon in Dodge City, Kansas.

Offered twice daily during the summer season, the gunfight offers families a front row seat for Old West adventure. I had my doubts but the action had my carful of kids on the edge of their seats. Thanks to their Nerf guns, my boys relived the action in our backyard after our trip.

As we meandered through the rest of Dodge City’s restored buildings, the creak of the wood floors took us back in time. I found more than 60,000 antiques that date back to the 1870s and collected from Dodge City residents. Don’t forget to hop abroad the stagecoach for an authentic frontier road trip experience.

History of Dodge City

Dodge City represents the Wild West for most Americans, and named after nearby Fort Dodge. In 1865 as the Indian Wars intensified, the U.S. Army constructed the fort, near the Santa Fe Trail, used for cattle drives.

Hop abroad the Stagecoach at Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City, Kansas.
Not our next road tripping vehicle! The motion of the stagecoach actually made my youngest a little nauseous. Can’t imagine a real trip across the frontier in one.

Dodge City became a boom town after a Texas Longhorn quarantine pushed the cattle drives west. At the intersection of the Santa Fe Trail, the Chisholm Trail and the Western Trail, Dodge City collected cowboys and cattle rustlers alike.

Gambler-turned-lawman Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson tried to keep the town in order. Yet Dodge City’s reputation as a wild frontier town, made it a legend. The name Boot Hill Museum originated after the Boot Hill Cemetery, where outlaws that died with their boots on are buried.

Head to Dodge City, Kansas, for road trip fun with the family, a summertime shoot-out  tops the list for my boys.

Other Dodge City Sites

I found a bronze sculpture dedicated to the Texas cattle drives, El Capitan, at Second Avenue and West Wyatt Earp Boulevard. The 100th Meridian Marker offers another interesting road trip stop at 1105 East Wyatt Earp Boulevard.

If you have a bit more time, the Historic Dodge City Trolley Tours hits all the stops around town. Admission charged.

Dodge City Kansas offers family fun at Boot Hill Museum.
Climb abroad the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Steam Engine parked in front of the Boot Hill Museum for your train kids.

Know before you go:

  • I purchased the Family Pack that includes admission for two adults and two kids ages 17 and under for $42. This includes admission to the museum, an introductory video and the summertime shoot-out. Otherwise, adult admission is $12 and kids admission, 5 to 10, is $9 along with a senior discount (65+).
  • Boot Hill Museum features a variety show and a country-style dinner for an additional charge.
  • Boot Hill Museum, located at 500 W. Watt Earp Blvd, opens from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. from Memorial Day until Labor Day. Open at 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. the rest of the year.
  • Be there for the daily shoot-out at noon and 7 p.m. during the summer season.

 

 

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Family Fun in Lawton Oklahoma

Stop by the Holy City of Wichita when you explore Lawton with kids.
The Holy City of Wichitas depicts the scenes of Christ in Jerusalem, like the World Chapel.

Lawton with kids

The Carful of Kids take epic road trips all the time. This trip has us driving from Central Texas to Jasper National Park in Alberta, Canada. That requires a lot of driving so we stop in Oklahoma for some family fun before heading north.

A good day of driving got us to Lawton, Oklahoma, 85 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. We need to keep moving so we explore Lawton with kids.

Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge

First stop, Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, 20 miles northwest of Lawton. A refuge with over 59,000 acres that free-range buffalo, Texas Longhorn cattle, prairie dogs, deer and elk, roam.

Stop off at the Quanah Parker Nature and Visitor Center for an interpretive display. The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge offers camping with 47 tent sites, 23 RV sites and 20 walk-in sites.

Lawton, Oklahoma offers several sights perfect for family travelers. Learn about the Comanche people and the Last Comanche Chief Quanah Parker along with military history.

Open sunrise to sunset seven days a week with free admission. Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge offers 30 miles of hiking trails though we drove through looking for wildlife.

Holy City of the Wichitas

Close to the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, I found the Holy City of the Wichitas, a shrine west of Lawton.

Explore the World Chapel at the Holy City of Wichita when you explore Lawton with kids
The interior of the World Chapel in the Holy City of Wichitas near Lawton.

In 1926, the late Reverend Anthony Mark Wallock started an annual Easter Pageant. The 66-acre site got a federal grant in 1934 and the Federal Works Progress Administration built many of the buildings remaining.

The annual Easter Pageant, the Prince of Peace remains the longest running passion play in the U.S. Depicting the birth, life and death of Christ, the play drew a record crowd in 1939 of 225,000. With the Wichita Mountains as a backdrop, Jerusalem comes alive with Temple Court, Calvary’s Mount and the walls of Jerusalem.

Explore the Holy City of Wichita when you visit Lawton with kids.
The Holy City of Wichitas recreates Jerusalem in Oklahoma in the shadow of the Wichita Mountains.

Open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to sunset and free to enter though they take donations. The Holy City of the Wichitas is located at 262 Holy City Road inside the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge.

Comanche Chief Quanah Parker

We want to  explore Lawton with kids in part for the personal family history. My last name is Parker and Lawton features many sites important to Parker family folklore and the Comanche Nation.

Since I’m part of the large Parker family that’s lived in Texas since the 1830s, I wanted to share the legendary tale of Quanah Parker and his mother, Cynthia Ann Parker, with my kids.

Explore the Comanche Museum when you explore Lawton with kids
The Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center offers families lessons in the WWII contributions and arts of the Comanche Nation.

The tale of the Parker family became a Texas legend when a nine-year old Cynthia Ann Parker was abducted from Fort Parker, in east Texas, in 1836. After an arduous bareback ride across Texas, she eventually assimilates into the Comanche Tribe. She melds into the culture and eventually marries the Comanche Chief Peter Nocona.

They had a son, Quanah Parker, who would become the last Comanche Chief. As Texas and Oklahoma settlers encroached on the traditional lands of the Comanche people, the Indian Wars broke out. After a bitter battle in Palo Duro Canyon in Texas, Chief Quanah Parker would eventually move his people onto a reservation in Oklahoma.

Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center

Our first stop to learn about Quanah Parker and the Comanche people is Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center. The Comanche Museum focuses on the history of the Comanche people from the beginning until today.

During our visit, we learned about 17 men, the WWII Comanche Code Talkers, that helped to defeat Hitler during D-Day as code-talkers using their native language to communicate in an undeciphered code. During our visit, I also enjoyed the art display featuring Comanche artists.

Explore the Comanche National Museum when you explore Lawton with kids.
Learning about the Comanche code talkers of WWII at the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center.

I found the Comanche National Museum and Cultural Center at 701 NW Ferris Avenue. Open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday and closed Sunday.  It’s free and took about an hour to explore.

Fort Sill Army Base

The carful of kids continue the history lesson and head over to the Fort Sill Army Base to visit the Fort Sill Post Cemetery (not be confused with the Fort Sill National Cemetery). As the final resting place of Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, his mother Cynthia Ann Parker and his little sister, Prairie Flower on the high point of the cemetery, Chiefs Knoll.

Quanah Parker and his band of Comanches clashed with settlers moving into Texas and Oklahoma resulting in the Indian Wars and the Battle of Palo Duro in the Texas panhandle. After the overhunting of the buffalo and starvation of his people certain, Quanah Parker surrendered at Fort Sill in 1875.

The grave of Quanah Parker at Fort Sill, another site to explore in Lawton with kids.
Sitting high on Chiefs Knoll at the Fort Sill Cemetery, we find the grave of Quanah Parker, last chief of the Comanche Nation.

The federal government appointed Parker the chief of the entire Comanche people and he went on to become a successful rancher near Cache, Oklahoma before dying in 1911.

The Fort Sill National Historic Landmark and Museum also features the original frontier fort along with 34 historic buildings. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free to enter and all located in Fort Sill Army base.

 

Explore Fort Sill in Lawton with kids, especially for the Howitzers.
Last stop at Fort Sill, the U.S. Army Field Artillery Museum and Park.

I have two boys that love guns so while explore Lawton with kids, we walk through the  U.S. Army Field Artillery Museum and Park. A park filled with Howitzers (wheeled artillery gun) from around the world and a must-do for kids that love guns.

Know before you go:

  • To gain access to Fort Sill, visitors are required to obtain a daily visitor pass at the Fort Sill Visitor Control Center at T6701 Sheridan Road.
  • All adults are subject to a  Department of Defense background check.
  • It’s free and took 15 minutes to complete the process.

 

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Fort Worth Burger Quest at Kincaid’s Hamburgers

 

Kincaid's Hamburgers offers juicy burgers at their original location.
We stop for lunch while in Fort Worth at the original location of Kincaid’s Hamburgers off of Camp Bowie.

One of my favorite days of the year, the carful of kids hit the road for another road trip. A few more bags to wrestle into place in the back of the SUV. We pull out of the driveway just a few minutes behind schedule.

I merge the RAV4 onto I-35 and say goodbye to Central Texas as I head north. The carful of kids’ ultimate destination: Canada. Driving over 2,400 miles to the Canada’s Jasper National Park and back will take weeks.

First things first, we got to get out of Texas and that seems to take the longest. Thanks to the 75 mph speed limit, the miles start to roll on by.

Burger Quest at Kincaid’s Hamburgers

With hungry kids in the SUV, I’ve got the place for lunch. In my quest for the best burgers in Texas, I’ve been checking out burger joints across the state. The next one on my list is in Fort Worth at Kincaid’s Hamburgers.

Kincaid's Hamburgers in Fort Worth offers a juicy burger and original character.
Kincaid’s Hamburgers started as a grocery store back in 1946 and the shelves are still stocked.

Located off Camp Bowie, Kincaid’s opened in 1946 as a grocery store. Packed with original character, I found shelves still stocked with cans of vegetables.

In 1964, the meat cutter, O. R. Genry bought a $25 grill and slapped on some burger patties. Word spread and 50 years later Kincaid’s Hamburgers has six locations throughout the Fort Worth area.

Kincaids Hamburgers in Fort Worth offers juicy burgers at the original location.
Kids love a picnic table. And I love thememorabilia hanging on the walls of the original location off Camp Bowie.

We walk up to the counter in the back of jadeite-green grocery store and look over the menu board. I order quarter-pound burgers, perfect size for the kids, then find a picnic table and wait for our freshly grilled burgers to emerge from the kitchen.

Kincaid’s grills up quarter-pound and half-pound burgers featuring Black Angus beef, ground in-house.  All burgers come dressed with mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles and onions.

For the picky eaters, the kids’ menu includes chicken strips, hotdogs, corndogs and grilled cheese. Don’t miss the shakes and malts.

The original Kincaids in Fort Worth makes a juicy burger.
Lunch Break! Black Angus Burgers with fries and onion rings at the original Kincaid’s in Fort Worth.

We grab our burger bags when called and pull out our paper-wrapperd burgers. I take a good, long smell; I smell summer. Then I take that first bite and I taste summer.

The toasty bun gives way to a juicy patty even in the smaller burger. Most places can overcook a quarter-pound burger, not at Kincaid’s. Good stuff. Mustard is a must for a Texas burger and finish it off with shredded lettuce and a beefsteak tomato.

I love onion rings and these are good onion rings. They are crunchy, crispy and the perfect shade of toasty brown. When you bite through the ring, the onion is tender. So simple yet so hard to find—perfect onion rings.

Like our lunch break, the burgers go quickly. The carful of kids need to make it to Oklahoma before nightfall. So back the SUV we go.

Looking for some authentic burger joints, I pulled together a few of my favorites from Texas.

Other Texas Burger Joints

Love Burgers? Got some Joints for you across Texas.

When in Austin, grab a table under the shade of a century-old pecan tree at Shady Grove Restaurant on Barton Springs Road for a burger, steps from Zilker Park.

Waco, in Central Texas and along Interstate 35, offers several joints that top my list for best burgers. Dubl R Old Fashioned Hamburgers features a counter where kids watch on as the grill cook flips up some lunch. Another option, Dave’s Burger Barn that offers a Zipper Ripper Challenge along with house-made potato chips.

Know before you go:

Kincaid’s, at 4901 Camp Bowie, open Monday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

 

 

 

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Killer Snakes and Cuddly Cactus Found in Joshua Tree

 

Discover Joshua Tree National Park with kids.
Joshua Tree National Park offers two desert ecosystems along with the Joshua trees. Photo Credit: National Park Service

Travelers leaving Los Angeles, California, fail to look beyond the lane lines as they race east to Phoenix. Just outside Palm Springs, Joshua Tree National Park, offers families a glimpse into two different desert ecosystems. Best explored during the school year, families can hike in a national park larger than the state of Rhode Island.

History of Joshua Tree

In 1936, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Joshua Tree a national monument. Then the California Desert Protection Act of 1994 renamed it Joshua Tree National Park. Of course, the 1987 U2 album made the park a bucket list destination for a generation.

Discover the Cholla cactus in Joshua Tree National Park with kids
The Cholla Cactus might look cuddly, beware spiny thorns attract kids and pets alike.

The area is a transition zone, where the Mojave Desert and the Sonoran Desert meet. The Mojave Desert with elevations of 3,000 feet and above, provides a unique habitat for pinyon pines, Joshua trees and numerous yuccas and cacti.

The Sonoran Desert, below 3,000 feet in the eastern portion of Joshua Tree National Park, offers rugged plants, like the Creosote bush, Octillo cactus and the kid-favorite, cholla cactus. But beware, the soft-looking cholla plant harbors thousands of thorns.

Take a picture with Joshua Tree National Park sign with kids.
Joshua Tree National Park offers a quick pitstop along the busy Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Los Angeles. Take a minute and snap a picture with the kids at the park entrance sign.

Another signature feature of Joshua Tree National Park is the rock piles. The granite formed rock piles after the eons of erosion.

What to do in 2 hours at Joshua Tree National Park

For road trippers traveling along Interstate 10, a drive through Joshua Tree National Park offers a quick overview. I’ve done this on several occasions. Must-stops include the Ocotillo Patch and the Cholla Cactus Garden along the main road, Pinto Basin Road. Stop at a visitor center, located near the entrances, for current conditions and a map.

Discover Oasis Visitor Center at Joshua Tree National Park with kids.
The Oasis Visitor Center near the town of TwentyNine Palms offers an interpretive area.

The West and North entrances offer the most Joshua trees along Park Boulevard with several stops along the way. Keys View offers a panorama of the Coachella Valley, located off Park Boulevard.

Hiking in Joshua Tree 

Joshua Tree National Park offers several hiking opportunities just right for kids. At the southern entrance, the Bajada Trail offers an accessible .25-mile loop. Along Park Boulevard, the Keys View Trail is a .25-mile trail to an overlook. At the Oasis Visitor Center, the Oasis of Mara offers a pet-friendly .5-mile loop to discover a desert oasis.

Hike the Oasis of Mara in Joshua Tree National Park with kids for an easy hike
Along the Oasis of Mara loop behind the Oasis Visitor Center, families can hike an accessible trail.

Moderate hikes require more preparation and should be avoided during the summer. Pick up a map at the visitor center and pack water regardless of the season.

Kids at Joshua Tree National Park

The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about Joshua Tree National Park. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.

Kids can earn several Junior Ranger Badges at Joshua Tree National Park. Add this desert destination, just a few hours from Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Phoenix, to your road trip itinerary.
Earning Junior Ranger Badges is part of our National Park experience.

The Joshua Tree Junior Ranger badge requires attending at ranger program. Visit an exhibit in the visitor center and have a ranger sign off on the booklet, if ranger programs aren’t offered during your visit.

National Junior Ranger badges can be earned at Joshua Tree National Park like the Junior Paleontologist, the Night Explorer patch, and the Wilderness Explorer patch.

Lodging and Camping in Joshua Tree 

 Joshua Tree National Park offers nine developed campgrounds within park boundaries. Black Rock and Indian Cove campgrounds offer reservations and the others are first-come, first-serve campgrounds.

Kids always pose for pictures at Joshua Tree National Park.
Be sure and grab a photo of your kids at the Oasis Visitor Center.

RV hookups aren’t provided in Joshua Tree National Park though group camping and equestrian sites are available. Regular campsites with water are $20 a night.

For hotels, Palm Springs, California, offers lots of options, including unique rental properties. During my visit to Joshua Tree National Park, we stayed at Walt Disney’s former Palm Springs home, complete with hidden Mickeys.

Getting to Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is located 52 miles from Palm Springs, the closest city with commercial flights. Mojave National Preserve is 138 miles from Palm Springs, home to the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument.

Joshua Tree National Park offers three entrances, located at the north, west and south ends of the park. The larger visitor center, Oasis Visitor Center near the town of Twentynine Palms, offers an interpretive area and a desert walking pave.

The Cottonwood Visitor Center offers basic assistance, like maps and directions, and staffed by a park ranger. The western entrance station offers water only though the Joshua Tree Visitor Center is located nearby, close to California Highway 62.

Getting Around Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree National Park is open 365-days a year and 24-hours a day. Use an America the Beautiful annual pass ($80) or purchase a 7-day pass for $25 per vehicle.

Four-wheel drive roads should be avoided in a standard two-wheel drive vehicle, most family cars.

Know Before You Go:

  • Remember a hat, sunscreen, sunglasses and water for all seasons.
  • Seven different rattlesnakes call Joshua Tree National Park home.
  • Use maps for navigation, not your GPS.
  • Cell phone coverage is poor in the park.
  • Stay away from abandoned mines.
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