Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park

Location: 2995 Lincoln Farm Rd; Hodgenville, KY  42748

Price: Free

Smashed Penny Machine: No

Lincoln Birthplace Park is about two hours and fifteen minutes East of Evansville and about an
hour South of Louisville.  The park consists of two properties where the Lincoln family once lived.  Sinking Springs is the larger portion of the park.  The Knob Creek site is about 10 miles from the main park.  The Visitor’s Center and memorial is at Sinking Springs.  There is a seasonally staffed ranger station at Knob Creek along with restrooms.

We chose to visit only the Sinking Springs portion of the park.  We started our visit at the Visitor’s Center.  The Visitor’s Center has a small museum explaining President Lincoln’s life in Kentucky and general information about life on the frontier in the early 1800’s.  The museum is fairly small but had a replica of a log cabin main room and a play area with Lincoln Logs which the kids really enjoyed.  The Visitor’s Center also shows a short 15-minute video and has a small bookstore/gift shop.

After completing the museum portion of the Jr Ranger books, we took the boardwalk trail behind the Visitor’s Center (this is also the handicap assessable path to reach the memorial) up to the memorial.  The memorial sits on the top of the hill where the Lincoln cabin was probably located.  You can also access the memorial by walking up the steps in front of the memorial from the parking lot.  Inside the Memorial building sits a log cabin.  It is not the family’s actual cabin but it is representative of what the cabin probably looked like.  You are not able to enter the cabin.  There are a few plaques inside the memorial describing the significance of some of the architectural features of the memorial.

After looking at the cabin, we decided to hike the Boundary Oak Trail, which starts just behind the Memorial.  The trail is probably about a quarter mile.  There is one semi-steep hill and the trail is all gravel.  The trail is not hard, my three-year-old nephew, two-year-old daughter and eighty-year-old grandmother all walked it without problem.  There is not a lot to see along the trail.  It meanders through the trees.  Some of the trees have small plaque beside them identifying the type of tree and giving a few examples of how settlers would have used this type of wood.  The path does cross a small stream twice, which my nephew enjoyed wading across it with his rain boots.  The trail is probably a little nicer either late April/early May when wild flowers would be blooming or October when the leaves are in Fall colors.

The Boundary Oak Trail comes back out of the woods near the base of the stairs for the memorial.  Just to the left of the memorial stairs is a small set of stone stairs that lead to the spring the family would have used as a water source.  From the sinking spring we walked back up to the Visitor’s Center to turn in the Jr Ranger books and get our badges

Overall:  Honestly, there isn’t a lot to do at this park.  Lincoln Boyhood in Indiana is a better experience with the reenactment farm and larger museum.  There doesn’t seem to be much else to do in the general area either.  The park would make a nice stop off if you were traveling along I-65 (park is about 20 minutes from the Elizabethtown exits) and wanted a short stop off to let kids burn some energy.  You could also easily combine this with a trip to Mammoth Cave National Park (about 45 minutes Southwest).  Unless you are really Lincoln history buff or trying to collect all your Jr Ranger badges (which we are both) I would not go out of my way for this park.

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial
Location: 3027 East South Street; Lincoln City, IN  47552
Price: Free
Smashed Penny Machine: No

Lincoln Boyhood Park is about an hour East of Evansville and about an hour and fifteen minutes West of Louisville.  The park is fairly small containing a small visitor’s center, a living historical farm, a few hiking trails and a small picnic area.  The park is directly across the highway (and is connected via trails) to Lincoln State Park which is run by the state of Indiana.  The state park is quite a bit bigger and offers more hiking, several picnic areas, two lakes (one of which has a swimming beach), a campground and cabins for rent.  You can find out more information about the state park here: https://www.in.gov/dnr/parklake/2979.htm

We started our afternoon at the visitor’s center.  The visitor’s center has a short film (about 15 minutes) that tells about Abraham Lincoln’s childhood and young adulthood in Southern Indiana.  There is also a small museum that details about Lincoln’s life and about pioneer life in the early 1800’s.  In the main hall way of the visitor’s center is a small selection of books and souvenirs available for purchase.  If you have kids in your group, you can also get the Jr Ranger booklet from the front desk.  I would also highly encourage you to use the restroom at the visitor’s center.  The other bathrooms in the national park including the ones by the picnic area are primitive, outhouse style restrooms.

After exploring the visitor’s center, we decided to hike to the living historical farm.  After leaving the visitor’s center follow the trail past the flag pole and then stay on the left path for the shortest distance to the farm.  Along this route you will also pass the Pioneer Cemetery.  This is the resting place for several people who once resided in the general area as well for Lincoln’s mother Nancy Hanks Lincoln.  The trail will also walk directly past the picnic area and the primitive restrooms.  Just before the farm, there is a very short path to the left which is a memorial built on the site of the cabin where the family lived.

The living history farm is a depiction of what a typical early 1800’s farm would have looked like in the area.   The farm is open and staffed from about mid-April through the end of September.  During offseason you can walk to the farm but none of the buildings are open.  The farm is staffed by people in period clothing.  Throughout the day the staff does typical chores a family farm would have had to complete from cooking meals, sewing, caring for animals and crops and chopping firewood.  Since the needs of the farm are ever-changing each visit is somewhat unique.  On this visit, a staff member was spinning wool into thread on a spinning wheel.  Other members of the staff were telling stories of frontier life and answering questions.   The staff is very good at interacting with kids and recruiting them to help around the farm.  It’s a neat hands-on experience that helps bring a little bit of history to life.

The farm’s main building is the family one-room cabin.  There is also a smoke house (they had bacon curing during our visit), a woodworking shop, chicken cope, barn (sheep, horse, cow) and family garden. Kids are free to gently explore the cabin and grounds.

Past the farm there is a short hike (maybe 200 yards round trip) to the well the family would have used for water.  There is nothing very exciting to see and the trail dead ends here.  We took the hike because one of the farm workers sent the girls on a “mission” to bring back a bucket of water so they could see what chores would have been like for kids on the farm.  It wasn’t a bad hike just nothing exciting.

The hike back from the farm we took the Trail of Twelve stones.  The trail (about a half mile) passes twelve stone from various buildings that were important to Lincoln’s life and small plaque explaining the stone.  They aren’t very exciting stones unless you are really, really into history from this time period.  However, it’s an easy hike through the woods and it brings you back to the pioneer cemetery so it makes a nice loop from the farm back to the Visitor’s Center.  The kids then turned in their Jr Ranger books and received their badges.

Overall:  This is not a very large park (especially by Federal park standards), but a very nice park to visit.  You could spend easily two to three hours exploring but could see the highlights very easily in an hour if you were pressed for time.  There are a lot of other things to do in the general area so it would be easy to make this part of a longer day trip or even a small weekend getaway.  Other things in the area include Lincoln State Park, the town of Santa Claus and Holiday World theme park.

Miss A and Miss L at the farm

Miss A working on her Jr Ranger book

St Louis Zoo

St Louis Zoo
Location: 1 Government Drive; St Louis, MO  63310
Price: Admission is free
Smashed Penny Machine: Yes, several located throughout the park

The St Louis Zoo is a very large zoo.  It is located in St Louis’s historic Forest Park just off of I-64 a little West of downtown.  Admission to the zoo is completely free.  There are several attractions in the zoo that cost an additional fee: Railroad ($7.95/all-day pass), Sea Lion Show ($4), Children’s Zoo ($4), Stingray Petting ($4/person, $1/food cup), Carousel ($3/ride; adults must pay to accompany child), 4D Theater ($5) – if you are planning on doing more than one get an Adventure Pass ($12.95/person) at the front gate that gives you access to each of these.  There is also a $15 fee for parking at either zoo parking lot.  The zoo is part of Forest Park so you can park your car anywhere parking is legal in the park for free.  However, parking near the zoo fills up very quickly on weekends and in the summer.

We entered the zoo at the South Entrance.  If you are wanting to purchase the Adventure Pass, you’ll do that at the windows before you enter the zoo.  There are bathrooms just to the left of the gift shop (also to your left).  A map kiosk and an information booth is just to your right.  We headed to the right to the historic area of the zoo.  The hill is a pretty steep climb so I always choose to tour this part of the zoo either first thing or later in the afternoon to avoid hiking it in the heat of the day.   There are two indoor exhibits here: the reptile house and the monkey house.  Both are good ways to spend time if the weather isn’t cooperating with you.

We worked our way counter-clockwise through the zoo.  Because we had arrived a little later than we had originally planned (traffic coming into the zoo – this was the first day in weeks where the Midwest wasn’t melt your face hot with 900% humidity so the zoo was VERY busy), we stopped at East Refreshments on the top of Historic Hill for a lite lunch.  We split a cheese burger basket and a chicken strip basket between the four of us.  Both came with a side of fries and a small drink.  It was plenty of food to share and was reasonably priced (for a zoo) costing us just under $20.   The seating here is all outdoors and partially shaded at noon.

One thing I would highly suggest is investing in a Zoo sipper cup.  Currently they are $10.99 per cup with $1.00 refills.  If you park in the parking lot, you will get a $1 off coupon to use.  Also these cups NEVER expire.  So if you are like us and live semi close (we visit about once a year), you can bring the cup back and still get $1.00 refills.  We buy just one cup and share it but there are discounts if you buy multiple cups at a time.

Our favorite exhibits when the weather gets warm are the penguin/puffins coast and the polar bear.  Both have indoor viewing.  Penguin and Puffin Coast is kept at a temperature that the penguins like so it’s always nice and chilly inside (just a warning exiting this exhibit you are dropped right into the middle of a gift shop theme park style).   Sea Lion Sound also has indoor viewing (a tunnel under the enclosure).  Check your times on your map, if you are within 10 minutes of the next Sea Lion feeding don’t go into the tunnels.  The Sea Lions go to where they’ll be fed waiting on the keeper and you can’t see them from within the tunnel.  Both of these attractions can see lines during busy visit days.  Waits typically aren’t more than 10-15 minutes.

We ended our day with a ride on the Zoo Train.  The train makes a full loop of the zoo (including 3 well-lit tunnels).  There are stops in all the major areas of the zoo (Historic Hill, Red Rocks, Lakeside Crossing, River’s Edge, The Wild, Discover Corner) and tickets are good for all day riding so you could use the train to travel around the zoo.  On busy days the waits to board can be fairly long (we waited about 30 minutes).

Overall: There is a lot to see and do at the St Louis Zoo.  Its 100% worth the stop if you are in the area or can make a day trip of it.  Plan to spend a minimum of 3 hours here to see everything.  We love this zoo and make a tradition of coming over every year.

Miss A with the gorilla statue

Miss A and Miss L

Marengo Cave National Landmark

Marengo Cave National Landmark
Location: 400 E State Road 64, Marengo, IN
Price: Tours start at 18/adult and 10/kid 3-12
Smashed Penny Machine: Yes, located in the gift shop

Marengo is about an hour and half East of Evansville and about 45 minutes West of Louisville, KY.  Marengo Caves is just outside of town and is part of the larger Indiana Caverns system.  The park has two guided cave tours, a nature trail, a crawl maze (it’s supposed to simulate cave exploring minus the dirt), a gift shop/snack bar, camp grounds and picnic areas.  The surrounding area also offers several state parks, two additional caves and other outdoor recreation such as canoeing.

They offer two tours of the cave one is about 40 minutes long and the other is about 60 minutes long.  The caves are not accessible to wheelchairs or strollers and you cannot bring a backpack carrier (I would think you could probably do a front pack) so if you are bringing a little one in you’ll have to carry them or they have to walk.

We opted for the 60-minute tour.  Tours depart the gift shop about every 30 minutes during the summer season so we had about a 20-minute wait.  We used the time to get a bathroom break, look around the gift shop and relax in the rocking chairs on the covered porch.  There is a short 5-minute hike on a paved path from the gift shop to the entrance of the cave.

The interior of the cave is damp (this was a very wet cave with several puddles that you needed to step over) and cool (about 52-degree year round).  I found the interior temp refreshing with how hot and humid it was outside but little ones might need a light jacket.  Most of the tour is very well-lit but there are two parts of this tour that little ones that have fears of the dark might have issues (there was one part that was lit by “lanterns” so you could see how the early cave explorers would have come through and then at another point they turn off the lights so you can see how dark the cave really is).  The actual walk is not hard but you are on your feet for the full hour there is nowhere to sit.  Some spots have fairly low ceilings so anyone over 5’7” may have to duck but these were not frequent.  Also to exit the cave you must walk up a flight of uneven stone stairs little ones may need help.

The tour guide was fairly informative about the history of the cave and a little bit about the geology of the cave.  He did say he had only been working at the cave a few months.  A more experienced tour guide probably would have added a little more to the experience but the tour was fine.   The tour ends on the back side of the gift shop.

Overall it was a good tour and a nice stop.  If you did both tours and explored the gift shop, I would say you would need to plan about 2.5 to 3 hours.  We were there about 2 hours (our tour ran a little longer than 60 minutes and we were about 20 minutes early for our tour).  There were dining options in Marengo (about 5 minutes from the cave) or Leavenworth (about 15 minutes from the cave).  If you are driving through the area or are looking for an easy day trip.  We spent about 3 hours in the area (not counting a 5K race we had run that morning) including a late lunch at the Overlook Restaurant in Leavenworth (it’s a small sit down restaurant that overlooks the Ohio River, mid-priced, home-cooking style food).

Adam and Miss L

Day Trips

Day trips are a great way to see some really cool things near your home town.  Since they are close to home they normally won’t cost as much because you don’t have to worry about hotels.  I live in Evansville, IN which is in the Southwest Corner of the state.  Because of our location many great day trips for us might also make a good day trip if you are coming from Indianapolis, IN (3 hours Northeast), St Louis, MO (2.5 hours West), Louisville, KY (2 hours East), Cincinnati, OH (3.5 hours Northeast) or Nashville, TN (2.5 hours South).

Marengo Caves – Marengo, IN

St Louis Zoo – St Louis, MO

Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial – Lincoln City, IN

O’Bannon Woods State Park – Corydon, IN

Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park – Hodgenville, KY

O’Bannon Woods State Park

Location: 7234 Old Forest Rd SW
Corydon, IN  47712
Price: $7/car Indiana residence; $9/car out-of-state residence

On our way back from Cincinnati, we decided on an impromptu stop at a local state park.  O’Bannon Woods is about 30 minutes off the interstate near Corydon, IN.  It’s probably an hour from Louisville, KY.  The park offers camping (primitive and electric), hiking, horse trails, fishing and picnicking year round.  They also have a pool, nature center and pioneer farmstead seasonally.  The park is very close Wyandotte Caves but is managed separately from that park.

Because it was off-season we decided to just do a small hike.  The weather which had sucked this whole trip finally cleared up and it was almost spring-like outside.  We parked at the Nature Center and walked part of the Tulip Valley Trail.  We had only meant to hike the lower part of the trail which is an easy mile loop by the visitor’s center.  This part of the trail is gravel and flat but I’m not sure you could take a stroller through it.  The trail actually walks you through the farmstead so that was fun to look at even if all the buildings were closed for the winter.  We saw a few deer while walking through the farmstead.

About midway through the hike, our oldest daughter decided she needed to use the restroom.  The only bathrooms open off-season are in the campgrounds.  We decided to take the trail the rest of the way up to the campgrounds.  The trail is only about a half mile from the gravel part to the campgrounds.  However this is a fairly steep climb up the ridge to the campground on a narrow dirt path (or in our case mud).

Restroom/shower house was clean.  We allowed the girls to play on the well maintained playground in the camping area.  Then we hiked back down the ridge to the nature center and our car.  The roughly two-mile hike took us about an hour and a half including a bathroom break and playground time.

Overall: We only hiked a small part of this park.  We plan on coming back during season to check out the farmstead and hike a few of the more rugged trails when we are better prepared.

Miss A hiking

 

Miss L and myself hiking