William Howard Taft National Historic Site

Location: 2038 Auburn Ave
Cincinnati, OH  45219
Price: Free

We got up a little later than normal and got on the road after breakfast.  We arrived in Cincinnati around 11:30 local time (thanks to a fun break down of time zones, the far western counties in Indiana are in CST).  Unfortunately for us, this has been a VERY wet March for the entire Midwest and that weather pattern continued for much of the trip.

Our first stop was the William Howard Taft National Historic Site.  I will admit that I knew almost nothing about President Taft but we put this on the list figuring it would be a quick stop to add to a growing Jr Ranger badge collection.  There is a little bit of parking directly in small lot in front of the Visitor’s Center.  If the site was having a very busy day, there is plenty of street parking on nearby side streets.

The entire complex includes a small visitor’s center which had a small museum dedicated to President Taft and the rest of the Taft family and a short video (about 15 minutes) that gives background to President Taft’s life.  With a one year old in tow, we did not watch the movie.  We stopped in to the ranger’s desk to collect the Jr Ranger booklet and the volunteer told us he would be leading the next tour over to the house in about 10 minutes.  So we used that time to look around the museum.

The short tour of the house including a volunteer or ranger giving a tour of three of the main rooms in the house including the parlor, office/library, and the nursery.  All three rooms are set up with period style furniture and some Taft family heirlooms.  This was President Taft’s childhood home so the tour is aimed at explaining how his upbringing helped mold him into the President.  After touring the rooms, visitors are free to explore the upper and lower stories of the house.  Upstairs would have originally been the children’s bedrooms but have been converted into displays about various aspects of President Taft’s career.  The basement would have housed the family’s kitchen and dining room but has been converted into conference rooms.  The tour was very informative and my budding history buff had a lot of questions for the tour guide.  Then we wandered through the exhibits to finish filling the Jr Ranger booklet.  Unfortunately due to the rain we couldn’t walk through the gardens outside but other than that this is a GREAT rainy day activity.

The Visitor’s Center also has a small gift shop where my daughter purchased an old fashion toy like the children would have played with when Taft was a child.  She also turned in her Jr Ranger booklet to receive her badge and certificate (this one was a very nice one printed on card stock, most of them are just the last page of the booklet).  Total time spent along with the tour was a little over an hour.  You could spend more time if you read each of the displays in detail but we were starting to get hungry so we rushed through a few.

Overall: We all enjoyed the Taft house.  If you aren’t big into history this is not a good fit for you, but I honestly learned a good deal about a lesser known President.  Oldest daughter learned some stuff and baby enjoyed being able to show off  her skills of climbing stairs and making mad dashes out of rooms with her father chasing her.

Miss A learning about President Taft
Miss L loving the multiple sets of stairs in the home.

Cincinnati – March 2018

This year our daughter’s Spring Break was the week before Easter so we already had a long weekend for Good Friday.  We decided on a mini trip of just Thursday and Friday.   It gave us the best of both worlds: something fun for my daughter to look forward to on Spring Break, we only used one day of vacation and we were back home in time for Easter festivities with family.

We live at the point of Indiana (you know where it meets Kentucky and Illinois) and we wanted to pick a destination that wouldn’t mean driving all night to get there.  We settled on Cincinnati, OH since it is only about a 3.5 hour drive from home meaning we would only need to spend one night in a hotel.  Plus I hadn’t been to Cincinnati since I was a child.

There is a fair amount of things to do in the general Cincinnati area include Kings Island theme park, the Newport Aquarium, the Cincinnati museums, and several professional sports teams.  It really wouldn’t be hard to make this a location for a longer stay.

Travel group: Myself (34), my husband (32), and our two daughters (7, 1)

Time of trip: Spring Break, Late March

Day 1 Travel from Evansville to Cincinnati
William Howard Taft National Historic Site
The Root Beer Stand
Trammel Fossil Park
Hotel in Sharonville area

Day 2 Cincinnati zoo
O’Bannon State Park
Travel back Home

Lambert’s Cafe

Location: 2305 E Malone; Sikeston, MO  63801
Price: $-$$
Smashed Penny Machine: Yes, in the gift shop

I’m not a big fan of restaurant reviews.  I really feel each people’s tastes are so different that reviews are pretty pointless.  Just because I loved the food means very little to just about anyone else in the world.  However I don’t consider Lambert’s to be a restaurant.  This place is an experience.

I’ve been to Lambert’s many times over the years.  It’s just far enough away from my hometown to make it a once in a long while treat but close enough you can just make a day trip out of it.  I know from experience that on weekends this place can get very crowded and waits can be long.   We arrived about 4:30 on a Monday evening.  We didn’t have a wait for a table but the restaurant was pretty full.

Throughout your meal, servers will be walking around with “pass arounds” which include things like fried okra, black-eyed peas and fried potatoes amongst others.  The real draw of Lambert’s is their fresh rolls which are also included with every meal.  The server will literally throw a roll at you from across the room so be prepared to catch.  The rolls are roughly the size of a soft ball so they are fairly easy to catch.  If catching your dinner isn’t really your style (you probably picked the wrong stop) you can ask and the server will just bring one to your table. My daughter loved catching rolls and asked for another one every time they brought out fresh rolls.

Overall impression: Overall I don’t think the food is overly impressive.  Its good food and you’ll get your money’s worth (large portion sizes, freebies, rolls) but it’s not going to be on the cover of “Fine Dining Monthly” or anything like that.  The real treat is the atmosphere.  We stop in anytime we can reasonably work it into a trip.

Hot Springs National Park

Location: 101 Reserve St; Hot Springs, AR  71901
Price: Free, parking may cost
Smashed Penny Machine: Not that we found

I threw this stop into the trip just so we could get the Jr Ranger Badge.  I didn’t expect too much out of this park and honestly thought it would bore my 6-year-old but she’s obsessed with getting her badges.  I was greatly mistaken.

This park is very unique for a national park because it’s nearly completely urban.  I mean the whole park is basically just in the middle of downtown Hot Springs.   The main allure of Hot Springs both in the past and today is the water.  The water is naturally hot when it arrives to the surface.  There are several natural springs around the general park area where you can see and touch the water.  Touch with care though because the water is very hot.  We could see steam rising from the surface and it was easily 75 degrees outside.

Start your tour of the national park at the Visitor’s Center and Museum inside the historic Fordyce Bathhouse.  If you are doing the Jr Ranger program you’ll be able to pick up your book at the front desk.  They also offer free guided ranger tours of the facility.  We opted to do the self-guided tour so we could backtrack as needed to complete the Jr Ranger book.  Each floor showcased how the bath houses were set up and talked about the various medical benefits that the springs were thought to have.  My daughter loved exploring the bath house with its many twists and turns.  For me it was neat to see what was considered high-class at the turn of the last century.

After completing everything we could in the Museum, we then went on an architectural scavenger hunt down Bathhouse Row.  It was very neat to see the various styles of the buildings.  We stopped in one of the other bath houses that has been converted into a bookstore for the national park so my daughter could shop.  There are tons of stores on the other side of the street where you could probably get cheaper souvenirs but I’m big into spending our money within the park system when possible.  After walking all of Bathhouse Row we returned back to the visitor’s center via the Grand Promenade which was much less busy.  My daughter found a water fountain where you drink the natural spring waters still hot from their source.  My daughter thought it was great.  I didn’t find drinking hot water on a warm day all that amazing (it doesn’t taste any different from drinking hot water from your faucet).

My daughter turned in her booklet and received her badge and historic trading cards.  At this point it was time for us to be on our way.  I had planned on spending about 45 minutes here and we ended up spending a very relaxing and informative two hours exploring the park.  There is more that we did not do.  Several of the bath houses are still operational spas.  So for a fee you could experience a real hot springs bath for yourself (that one is on my bucket list for a trip without kids).  The park also has some trails that go up the mountain.  Also there are many other locale attractions that Hot Springs has to offer.  You could make an easy long weekend out of a stay in the area.

We brought in the umbrella stroller because we thought “hey it’s a city we can totally use this.”  I would not suggest bringing your stroller into the Visitor’s Center.  The bathhouse is 4 stories tall.  There is an elevator in the building but it was an ancient thing and I never felt like waiting for it.  So I carried a folded up stroller and my husband carried a baby throughout the museum.  Although the museum is fully accessible, it’s going to be much easier without it.  However when we walked Bathhouse Row and the Grand Promenade the stroller was very helpful.  If we were to go again, I would probably leave the stroller in the car but park close enough to go back and get it.

Overall impression: I enjoyed this park much more than I thought I would.  I was astounded how much my daughter enjoyed learning about this time period.  I would suggest stopping if you are passing through the area.

Mr H, Miss A and Miss L enjoying the front patio
Miss A trying out a bath in the bookstore
Miss A getting her Jr Ranger badge

Texas Renaissance Festival

Location: 21778 FM 1774, Todd Mission, TX  77363
Price: $30/adult, $15/kid as of 2018 season
Smashed Penny Machine: Yes it’s in the gift shop by main entrance near guest services

Texas Renaissance Festival takes place every Fall for several weekends in September and October.  Each weekend has a unique theme.  I’d suggest checking out their website as the themes tend to rotate and change each year (https://www.texrenfest.com/).

A couple things to note about Ren Fest before you go:

  1. Price – This is not going to be a budget stop. You have to buy entrance tickets and then nearly everything inside costs extra.  The various shows are free but the performers make their money off of tips and selling their DVD’s/CD’s, so expect someone to be collecting money as you exit the show.  All food, drinks, games, and rides cost extra.
  2. Mature Audiences – Some shows are for mature audiences only. If you are there with your kids and the performers announce that it is not a kid friendly show; they really mean that.  Most of the mature shows would be rated R or NC-17 for language and subject content if it was a movie.
  3. Costumes – LOTS and LOTS of people show up in costume. I only mention this because some costumes can be a little revealing.
  4. Download the App – Ren Fest grounds are very big (over 15 acres). Having a map handy is a must, unless you like walking in circle’s all day.  The App also will give you show times and a brief description of the show.
  5. You can bring in strollers or wagons (rentals available as well) but the paths are not paved. We were able to push our umbrella style stroller through the property without any problems but if there has been rain it could get difficult.
  6. Get there early – Crowds can be very large. I recommend coming early to beat the worst of the crowds.  Lines, especially for parking, can get very long.  Coming early will also help beat the heat.  If you aren’t from Texas, please understand that September and October are basically still Summer months.  Expect afternoon temperatures in the 80’s and 90’s.
  7. Avoid the people asking you to fill out the form as you enter to win a free “whatever.” Unless you like junk mail and SPAM then by all means fill it out.
  8. Arrive at shows early – Several of the stages are outside without much cover. If you want a shady spot (especially for jousting) arrive early.

There are a few ways to save a little cash

  1. Come on a Sunday. As of the 2018 season kids are free with an adult ticket on Sundays.  Sundays are also less crowded.
  2. Bring a water bottle. Each member of your group is allowed to bring in one unopened bottle of water.  Once you drink this water, refill your water bottles at one of the many water fountains (normally found near the restrooms).
  3. Price shop – Many of the stores sell similar styles of items. You might be able to find a better deal at another vendor.
  4. Window Shop – Just enjoy browsing the unique offerings.
  5. Share food – There are many different styles of food (Italian, German, Polish, Greek, etc). To save money and allow us to try different things, we shared whatever items we bought.

We drove up to Ren Fest from the far west Houston suburbs.  It was about an hour and a half drive across a lot of Texas cattle lands.  Once you get closer to Todd Mission follow the signs about Ren Fest parking.  Don’t listen to your GPS at this point.  Follow the signs and directions of the local law enforcement directing traffic.  We arrived to the grounds about 9:30 in the morning.  After parking we changed my older daughter into her fairy costume because it was Enchanted Forest weekend and she had randomly picked being a fairy for Halloween that year (always awesome when you can get multiple uses out of costume).

After we were in the park, we stopped by a face painting booth to complete her fairy look.  She choose a full face paint design which cost us $12 but it looked very nice and it lasted the whole day with minimal smudging even though it was HOT.  We browsed several shops and bought a few souvenirs including a hand carved wizard’s wand and some hand knitted finger puppets.

We caught several shows including a whip show (Adam Crack) which was very neat but a little loud for baby (she and I left our seats and stood in the very back to watch it).  We also caught the mid-day joust, which wasn’t a full joust it was games of skill.  It was still very impressive to see the knights and their horses.   Each section of the arena is assigned to cheer for a different knight.  We really got into learning our cheer and jeering the other fans.  My daughter bought a pendant from one of the vendors.  After the show the knights met at the stables just a few yards from the arena and they all signed her pendant for her.  The knights had a few sharpies but if you want to do this I would suggest bringing your own sharpie to help save time.  We also paid a dollar for a carrot to feed the horses and we got to pet the “unicorn.”  We also stumbled upon a Punch and Judy puppet skit in the Sherwood Forest.  I think this was my daughter’s favorite show.  The performer did a great job interacting with the kids through the puppets and lots of slapstick humor.  The biggest drawback for this show was there was no seating.

I did limit my daughter to only one ride or game.  Each ride/game were between $3-$10 dollars.  She chose the spinning dragon eggs which I rode with her.  It’s almost exactly like a spinning teacup ride only the ride operators actually manually spin your egg.  They did manage to spin it with plenty of force that the ride was enjoyable.  The ride lasted probably 5 minutes or so.  While we were riding the Grand Marche Parade started by, so after we were able to regain our equilibrium we waved at the performers and shop keepers as they came by.  My daughter was awestruck when the queen complimented her on her fairy costume and the royal court walked by.

Around two in the afternoon, we had enough of the heat and decided to call it quits a little early so we could make it to our hotel in Texarkana early enough to swim.

Overall impression: I enjoy Ren Fest.  I love looking at all the various costumes people dress up in and I love the overall hustle and bustle atmosphere.  It is a very popular but the only area that felt crowded was around the main entrance.  All the vendors, performers and staff were very friendly and excited to answer questions about their craft.  Although it is not a cheap stop I would splurge and take my family again.

Miss A with a unicorn
Miss A and the dragon egg ride
Miss A watching Punch and Judy

Galveston Island

Location: Galveston, TX
Smashed Penny Machine: We found one at Fish Tales Restaurant

I’m going to start by saying this is nowhere near a list of everything you could do on Galveston Island.  I lived in the greater Houston area for over two years, made numerous trips to the island and still haven’t experienced everything I want to experience on this island.  We had about 4.5 hours to enjoy the island before we were due back in the far west suburbs so this trip focused mostly on letting my kids and husband see the ocean for the first time and getting some good seafood.

We arrived on the island about 9:30 and drove to the local beach park of Stewart Beach.  If you follow your GPS here, you are going to spend all your time on the main highway and get stopped at a dozen stop lights and see basically nothing.  So ignore your GPS, take a right on 61st or 53rd Street (doesn’t matter which).  Follow that until it dead-ends into Seawall Blvd.  Take a left.  Enjoy driving to the beach along the beach (just pay attention to the road, this is a busy 4 lane road with lots of pedestrians on it).

Stewart Beach is at the far East end of the island.  There is a parking fee. Cost of the fee depends on season and day of the week.  Off season weekend parking costs us $10 for the day. Now I’m going to be honest with you.  Most people really dislike Stewart Beach and I fully understand their reasons.  I agree the bathroom building is in need of some major repairs and the fact that you can’t leave the beach and come back throughout the day is very annoying.  Despite these short falls I still recommend Stewart Beach.  It’s easy to find.  It’s farther down the island but not really remote like most of the beaches on the West end of the island.  It has an actual bathroom/changing room facility.  I’m sorry but when you’ve got two kids to get changed I don’t want to mess with port-a-potty and tiny changing huts.  I need room to change a diaper.  The park has picnic tables that are up off of the sand and depending on time of day have some shade.  I’ve never found the beach to be dirty: the trash cans are never overflowing and you don’t have piles of trash on the sand. So I still say go to Stewart Beach just keep your expectations in check.

I will also be the first to admit that if you are looking for beautiful blue ocean waters with huge crashing waves, you’ve picked the wrong vacation destination.  The waters of the Gulf aren’t nearly as rough as the Atlantic’s and for some reason (maybe it’s the tides?) the waters around Galveston always seem murky.  However the water was still plenty warm this time of year (early October) and since we were there early on a Saturday morning in the off-season the beach was basically empty (us and 2 other families).  We spent about 3 hours playing in the surf (which was actually a little rougher than normal thanks to a tropical storm way off cost; but also made the day a little overcast) and building sand castles.  Around lunch time, we called it quits and rinsed the sand off as best we could and left the beach for some lunch.  If you are planning a whole day at the beach, you can bring coolers to this park and there is a small snack bar (open seasonally) and plenty of picnic tables up near the restrooms.

We ate at one of my favorite Galveston restaurants, Fish Tales.  Fish Tales is right on Seawall Blvd across from Pleasure Pier.  I always ask to eat outside on the patio upstairs.  It’s mostly covered and there is normally a good breeze coming off the Gulf so it’s fairly pleasant out there regardless of the weather.  Plus one of the best parts of eating on the balcony is seeing the beach when you eat.  The pier does obstruct the view of the water a little but not too bad plus you can people watch the people headed to the Pier.  The food is always great and the staff is even better.  Fish Tales shares a parking lot behind the building with Pleasure Pier.  It is a pay lot but the restaurant will validate your parking after your meal so there is no cost.  We also found a penny machine by the hostess stand and the staff was very gracious to turn a couple of dollar bills into change for me because I didn’t have any quarters.

After lunch we walked down the street to Murdochs.  Murdochs is a huge gift shop that sits out over the water.  It’s about a 4 block walk (one way) but I didn’t want to try to drive the car down there and look for more parking.  Plus walking along the beach is always fun.  After finding some fun souvenirs, it was time to walk back to the car and head out.

Overall impression: Like I said this is just a half day spent on Galveston Island.  You could really spend several days on the island.  Galveston is probably not my favorite beach destination but it isn’t as crowded as Destin or Panama City and it still has a small town feel even though it right next to Houston.  You could easily get a hotel on the beach and do day trips to the great Houston attractions as well.

Miss A enjoying lunch at Fish Tales
Mr H and Miss L enjoying the beach

Houston Trip – October 2017

One of my best friends lives over a thousand miles away from my in the outskirts of Houston, TX.  When I found out her baby shower was being held the same weekend my daughter had fall break from school I knew it was a sign that we needed to make a marathon trip down there.

Travel group: Myself (33), my husband (31), and our two daughters (6, 10 months)
Time of trip: Fall break in early October

Day 1 Travel from Evansville, IN to Arkadelphia, AR

Day 2 Arkadelphia to Brookshire, TX

Day 3 Morning: Galveston Beach
Afternoon: Baby Shower
Evening – spent replacing my husband’s glasses because he lost them in the Gulf, thank God for   eyeglass stores open on Saturdays and flexible friends

Day 4 Texas Renaissance Festival
Hotel in Texarkana, AR

Day 5 Hot Springs National Park
Dinner at Lampert’s Café
Home

A couple of things to note:

  1. We had the ability to stay with friends so that helped us cut down on food and hotel expenses. We also had a fair amount of time spent just hanging out with friends.  There really is a lot of things to do in the greater Houston area, you could easily make a weeklong trip here.

Rocky Mountain National Park

Location: Estes Park, CO
Price: $20/car
Smashed Penny Machine: Yes, we found one at the Alpine Visitor’s Center

Rocky Mountain National Park is a big park.  We only had one day here so we decided to hit one of the coolest highlights: Trail Ridge Road.

Trail Ridge Road is a 48 mile scenic drive that runs from Estes Park to Grand Lake and takes you to a height of over 12,000 feet in elevation.  The road takes you from alpine forest through alpine tundra and crosses the Continental Divide.

I highly suggest you arrive at the park early if this is on your to do list.  We arrived at the park about 9:00 in the morning and there were already a few cars out ahead of us on the road but it wasn’t crowded.  We stopped at the first few pull outs with plenty of parking and only one or two other visitors looking around.  We took our time to explore and take in the lower regions and watched squirrels, pikas and chipmunks running about the rocks.  The day had been fairly overcast at the lower elevations.  As we climbed higher and got above the cloud cover the kids were amazed that it was sunny above us and we could stare over a sea of white fluffy clouds.

By mid-morning as we were approaching the tundra pullouts, parking was becoming much more of a problem and the overlooks were much more crowded.   We enjoyed seeing the fat marmots sunning themselves on tundra rocks and were very lucky to see a large herd of elk including several calves resting on the side of the road.

We stopped at the Rock Cut pullout and hiked the Tundra World Nature Trail.  The trail is paved but not a very even pavement.  The trail is also fairly steep.  We did managed to push the stroller up the path but we were fairly winded when we got to the top.  This is a fairly short hike and as long as you take your time (remember you probably aren’t used to working out at this altitude) your kids can easily do this hike.  There are also great little markers that line the path that talk about tundra life and how the plants and animals adapt to this harsh climate.  Also at this point it’s probably a good 20 degrees cooler than it was back in Estes Park (and very windy) even in the height of summer I would suggest bringing a light jacket to wear.  It took us probably 30-45 minutes to climb to the peak of the trail and then go back down to the car.  We were there in July during the height of tourist season, so the trail was fairly crowded (not Disneyworld crowded but still there were a fair amount of people walking the trail); I’m sure that this trail takes on a whole new life when the park is less crowded (remember in the road does close in the winter so check with the park service before your trip).  The big plus of doing this drive during the summer was the wild flowers were in full bloom so take time to really stop and see the details of the tundra.  Also a friendly reminder the tundra is a VERY delicate ecosystem, please stay on the trail.

We reached Alpine Visitor’s Center around 11:30 and by this time the road was PACKED. Parking at the Visitor’s Center was very crowded.  The Visitor’s Center has a nice museum in it and a gift shop with a small snack bar.  There is a short trail at the Visitor’s Center that will take you to the top of the mountain.  Although Alpine Ridge Trail is fairly short, it is not an easy hike.  The hike was pretty much just a giant staircase.   If you decide to take the hike, give yourself plenty of time and rest when you need to.  I felt myself getting a little dizzy a couple of times hiking to the top.  The view from the top was amazing and be sure to get a picture next to the elevation marker.

After getting some souvenirs, we headed back down Trail Ridge Road.  Rocky Mountain National Park was a little unique to us because not all ranger stations will do the JR Ranger oath.  We had to go to the JR Ranger Headquarters at the Hidden Valley Ranger Station and participate in a Ranger Led Program.  Hidden Valley looked amazing and while the older kids were attending their ranger program, I walked with the babies around the picnic area and mountain stream that crossed the area.  After completing the short program and receiving their badges, we decided it was time to eat and headed back to Estes Park for a late lunch.

Overall impression: A half day in the park gave us a great overview of the mountains.  We are due back to Estes Park in a few years for another family reunion and are already planning on visiting a different part of the park.  This is a must do if you are in the area!

Miss A being a Ranger
Miss A in the tundra
Mr H and Miss L just above the alpine forest

Estes Park, CO

We spent several days in the general Estes Park area.  We spent a couple of days exploring town and the YMCA of the Rockies (where we stayed) and one day exploring parts of Rocky Mountain National Park.

Our first day in town the group split.  Some of our group went white water rafting.  There are several outfitters that do day and half day trips from Estes Park.  Our group went with Rapid Transit Rafting.  We had rafted with them before and had a good experience.  There really isn’t anywhere in Estes Park to raft.  So it’s about an hour drive to the river.   How good the rapids are is going to depend on a lot of factors like what time of year you are there and snow pack for the year.  Our group said they had a great time and that the river was running fairly fast but nothing too scary.

The other part of our group (the one’s that say rafting is for the young folk and the one’s watching the kids) explored the Estes Park Tramway.  This is located just a little ways outside of town.  I would get to the tramway station a little early in the morning if you don’t want to wait in a long line.   We were there about 20 minutes after opening (thanks to a wrong turn) and the line wasn’t too long.  I think we waited for about four cars to go up the mountain before we boarded.  They do really pack people into the cars so keep that in mind.  You can bring strollers but I would suggest folding it up and holding baby for the ride to the top.

The tramway does have a fee.  Adults were $14 and kids 6-11 were $10.  It’s about a ten minute ride to the top of the mountain.  Once there you can take in the views and there are some hiking trails.  We saw a lot of very fat chipmunks (or maybe some type of ground squirrels).  The lady working the gift shop mentioned they had a sighting of a bear just before busy season.  The kids had a good time climbing over the rocks and checking out how small the town looked down below.  There was a gift shop with a small snack bar (there is another gift shop at the base where you buy your tickets), and they did have a smashed penny machine.  We spent about an hour looking around the top.  We were able to get on the very next car going down the mountain (if two cars are running there is normally only about 5 minutes between cars depending on how fast they are able to load and unload).  Overall I think the tickets are a little pricey for what there is to do at the top.  It was a fun experience but I’m not sure I’d do it again.

Since our rafting group only did a half day trip, we met back up with them a little after noon and ate lunch.  We then had a lot of fun shopping down the main stretch of town.  There are lots of great little stores to explore.  The Christmas shop was my favorite but I think the kids enjoyed the ice cream shop and candy store more.  Parking can be a bit of a problem during the summer.  Check out Estes Park’s website for a listing of parking lots (https://www.visitestespark.com/).

We stayed at the YMCA of the Rockies in one of their large family cabins and we spent some time each day exploring the grounds.  They have a lot of options some of which are included in your room rate (giant connect four anyone?) and other activities for a fee.  Several of my cousins took an archery class and they said they had a lot of fun.  We did some hiking around the grounds and saw a few deer.  The kids also enjoyed some downtime just playing on the swing sets.

Overall impression: Estes Park has a lot to offer.  It could easily be a weeklong destination.  It is a very busy town in the summer.  Locals I talked to said that if you visit in off-season it’s a completely different and much more relaxed experience.

MIss A and Miss E in the tram
Miss A, Miss E and Mr G playing on the rocks at the top of the mountain

Downtown Rapid City

Location: Rapid City, SD
Price: FREE
Smashed Penny Machine: Not that we found

We finished off our time in Rapid City by exploring downtown.  The downtown area has a nice collection of local shops and restaurants.  There are city parking lots you can use.  Fees to park depend on the time of day that you come to downtown.  Check out Rapid City’s travel website for more details on parking (https://www.visitrapidcity.com/things-to-do/downtown).

Downtown Rapid City has a fun collection of life-sized statues of all of our past presidents on the street corners.  Stop by the visitor’s center at 512 Main Street for a walking guide (or download from the website before you go).  My older daughter is fascinated with President Lincoln so we went on a quest to find his statue (get the map, downtown is bigger than you think).  But we enjoyed seeing all the presidents along the way.  We made a game out of trying to guess the president before looking up who it was (yes I’m aware of how big of nerds we are J ).  It was fun but educational as well (parenting win!).

We dined at Firehouse Brewing Company which is housed in a converted fire station.  We were seated on a covered outdoor patio and despite it being mid-July it was a comfortable experience.  Firehouse has its own microbrewery.  I am not a beer drinker but the members of our group that sampled the various beer flights only had positive things to say about it.  Food was very good and moderately priced.

After dinner we decided to explore Main Street square.  This small park surrounded by boutique shops was a great way to unwind in the evening.  The weather had cooled off as the sun went down but it was still warm enough for the kids to play in the splash fountain.  There wasn’t any live music the night we were there but they did have music playing throughout the square.  On a Wednesday evening it wasn’t extremely busy but there were several groups of people playing around.

Overall impression: I think downtown has a lot to offer to everyone in your group.  If you enjoy shopping this is a great place to visit.  It was a very relaxing spot and the perfect ending to this stage of our trip.