Looking to get out of Dallas for Spring Break? If you've just realized that Spring Break is next week and want to do something but aren't sure what, this one's for you!
Glen Rose (1.5 hours away)
This is a relatively small park, but it is a great one. If the Paluxy River is low, you can see dinosaur tracks in the riverbed that date back to 113 million years ago. There are also a lot of hiking and biking trails, but personally, I just like to walk the riverbed
If you have small kids that are into dinosaurs, this is a great stop. If. not, skip it. It has life-size dinosaurs that follow a meandering path and there is a fun playground and the opportunity to do some gem hunting at the end. Our kids really enjoyed it but I think that anyone over the age of 9 may be bored. There is a great gift shop that they make you walk through. It is impossible to leave without buying your child something. It's both infuriating and brilliant at the same time.
Fossil Rim is a safari park in Glen Rose. You can take a self-guided tour or take a guided tour in one of their open-air trucks. You will never have the same experience twice here and it is so much fun to have a giraffe or other animal eat out of your hand. Spring Break and other holidays are really busy and lines can be very long. They sell out mid-morning during these busy times. If you want to do this next week, I highly recommend purchasing tickets in advance. There are currently many slots open for purchase for next week, but they will be gone soon! There is a really nice lodge and safari tents available for rent. The tents are small and can accommodate 2 cots with walking space or 3 without walking space. There are bathrooms in each. They are rustic but the food is good and the sunsets with the animals in the foreground are unbeatable.
Big Rocks Park (014 NE Barnard St, Glen Rose, TX 76043) - I couldn't find a working direct link to this park, so I've posted the address. This is a great, free city park along the river. Its name is appropriate - there are big rocks:) Kids and adults alike love to climb the huge rocks and then wade in the cool water. It's cooler than it sounds. Don't just stand there and watch your kids, go hop along some rocks. Free heart-pounding fun - how often can you say that?
State Park Camping Trip or Day Trip (varies)
You may not have a camper and you may not be up for staying in a tent. I get it. But you have still have some choices to enjoy our state parks (which are ah-mazing!!!): (1) You could stay in a cabin at a state park or KOA, or (2) stay at a local hotel or Air Bnb, or (3) you could just make a day trip. I highly recommend downloading the Texas State Parks app - it's great, easy to use and you can download the park map and trail map and see if it's a good fit for any activity that you would want to do. Availability is very difficult to get last minute at any state park in Texas because of the popularity of camping right now but if you book now, you should still be able to get a day pass. DO NOT WAIT UNTIL THE DAY THAT YOU WANT TO GO TO GET A DAY PASS. For real! Get one now and cancel if you choose not to go later. You won't be refunded, but you will donate to the state parks (which is a great thing IMO) and you will also enable someone else to get in that day. Some of our favorite nearby include:
This is a small park about 2 hours from Dallas. There is a completely flat hiking trail around the lake and then there is a trail that is rather strenuous up and down hills and creeks. We love both for different reasons. You're in the East Texas pines; it's gorgeous.
Speaking of pine trees, Lake Bob Sandlin also has a lot of East Texas pines. This is a great lake to kayak on although this time of year (and during COVID), you will need to BYOK (read that; the acronym strangely makes me think of Morris Day and the Time's "The Bird").
There is a steep hill down to the water, but you are rewarded with a fun little beach to find cool fossils (ammonites, sea urchins, sharks' teeth, etc.). There's also a lovely nature trail and other hiking trails. I like this park for its proximity to Dallas and finding fossils is fun for all.
This is a nice park with great trails, good kayaking (BYOK here too) but there are two things that make this park really cool - (1) there is a 20-mile bike path along an old railway to connect it to Weatherford, a historic town nearby and (2) there are a set of rocks that are perfect, and I mean perfect, for beginner rock climbers. Maybe even experienced rock climbers. All I can say is that I have always been interested, but not interested enough to die that way. But when I saw these rocks, I decided that this was the perfect place to give it a shot. I think you have a chance of surviving a fall. Who's in it with me? We saw several people doing it and my daughter actually was done with the hike at that point and ready to sign up. I think we may have a future Outward Bound girl.
Kids love rocks, gems, digging, getting dirty, and treasure hunts. This gives you all that and a bag of chips. At Crater of Diamonds State Park, you pay a nominal fee and can bring your own or rent digging and sifting materials. Keep what you find and if you are having too much fun but have to go, you can take a 5-gallon tub with you to sift through on your own time.
Any idea how to identify gypsum from a diamond? Me neither. I found that out the hard way, convinced that I had found several small diamonds. Negative, Ghost Rider.
On your way out, you show the nice people at a desk your "treasure" and they crush your dreams. Just kidding. They are very nice and will tell you what you found. And there really is the chance to hit it big. It happens every few years. The best time to go is after some rain so that you can easily move the ground. If this sounds fun for the kids but not you, think again. My poor kids got a lecture about endurance and hard work because they wanted to leave before I did.
Want to be a pro? Read more here on how to plan, pack and search for diamonds and gems at Crater of Diamonds State Park.
Broken Bow (3 hours)
Broken Bow is a great destination for families and large groups. Hochatown and Broken Bow have so many fun options: hiking, fishing, a petting zoo, or just hanging at your cabin.
Several families can inexpensively share a cabin rental with a lot of amenities. Most have a fire pit, hot tub, porch seating and a game and/or media room.
A word of warning, Broken Bow is not a hidden gem. It is well-discovered by Dallasites and Oklahomans from Tulsa and Oklahoma City. Plan several months in advance and more than that if you want to book over a fall and winter holidays.
I have an extensive guide on the "Ultimate List of Things to Do in Broken Bow." Take a look now or save it for later.
Waco (1 hour, 40 minutes)
A few years ago, the ubiquitous, brown National Park Service signs popped up along I-35 headed toward Waco. One day, I took the kids and ventured there. Back in the 70s, some kids were playing in a creek and found a bone. They told the man that owned the land and everyone was smart enough not to try and dig it out themselves. They contacted Baylor University and an archaeological dig took place and identified the find as a nursery herd of mammoths. Some unknown event caused the adults to circle around the babies before they all died and they were found huddled together. To date, nearly 30 mammoth remains have been identified. You take a free guided tour and eventually make your way to a building covering unearthed mammoth fossils down below. You walk along an elevated platform and get to observe not only mammoth skeletons but also from a camel (Pangaea anyone?) and other animals. If you like history, this is a really cool find.
You cannot currently take a guided tour of the museum but you can go through at your own pace. You can also visit the gift shop and experience making your own fizzy soda.
Disclaimer: I've never been here. I think if I went here, I would love it, but I'm not sure that I would ever admit it. I can be petty and jealous and I feel that way about Chip and Joanna. I have no doubt that they are lovely people but I had never heard of them the first 20 years in Texas and suddenly they = Waco. I also feel like they throw up shiplap, paint everything white and then put a fiddle fig in the corner. Related, does anyone know where to get a good deal on one? I am not spending $150 on a plant that I have a high probability of killing.
Lake Murray State Park (1 hour, 45 minutes)
I wanted to include something from our northern neighbor, Oklahoma. I feel like North Texans are largely familiar with Broken Bow and Turner Falls, but a lot of people do not know about Lake Murray State Park which is closer than the other two. Bill and I were actually picking up a rental camper and heading to Turner Falls to stay when the owner advised us to skip Turner Falls and head to Lake Murray. He told us we'd shave 30 minutes off of our drive and go to a great park that has not been vandalized by graffiti and trash like Turner. We went and had a great time. They have some really cool CCC structures (the Governor's House, a water tower, fire ring). At the park, or in close proximity, are boats for rent, a pool, mini-golf, regular golf, and horse stables. Our daughter had a lot of fun riding a horse around the fence line.