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Fabulous Photo Ops and Family Outings

Remember Grandma’s calendar with the beautiful photographs of majestic waterways and picturesque historic sites, places that seemed to be the stuff of period novels and a long gone past? Living in the city, it’s easy to forget the wonder and beauty of nature and history—but you don’t have to travel far for a sightseeing excursion begging for the perfect family photo op, a picnic and exploration.

Go Chasin’ Waterfalls

Both Missouri and Kansas are home to numerous waterfalls—from simple cascades of water overflowing from the dams at local lakes and rivers, to more majestic and photographic settings.


A favorite local fishing spot, Lake Olathe (625 Lakeshore Dr., Olathe, KS) is also home to Cedar Creek Falls (143rd St./Dennis Ave.), an overflow dam on Cedar Creek just above Lake Olathe. The waterfall flows year round, but like most waterfalls is prettiest after a heavy rain. Fishing, boating, hiking and playgrounds are available for fun.

Day Trip Destination:

Rock Creek Lake Waterfall (3 miles west of Fort Scott. Directions: Drive west out of Fort Scott, KS, on 19th Street. The street name changes to Kansas Road and later turns south, becoming 195th Street, which runs along the east side of Rock Creek Lake. Enter the park at the north end of Rock Creek Lake and follow the narrow gravel road across the dam to a lot near the falls.) This watery gem flows year round and is a beautiful series of three waterfalls from the outflow of Rock Creek Lake. While you’re there, be sure to tour Fort Scott National Historic Site (660.223.0310). Tours are self-guided with a wonderful narrated "cell phone tour." Bring your phone along and dial in to hear interpretations in each of the 16 buildings. Fort Scott was established and garrisoned by the U.S. Army from 1842 to 1853 and again during the Civil War. As you tour the fort, you'll learn about the life of soldiers and note distinct differences in the living conditions of infantrymen and officers. The tour includes a field hospital where you learn about pre-Civil War military medical care, the prison with early lessons in crime and punishment, the bakehouse and kitchen where meals were mass-produced for the troops and the living quarters, stables, barracks, guardhouse, parade ground and museum, complete with historical exhibits.

Vacation Destination:

Grand Falls - shown in lead photograph- (Joplin, MO. Directions: From the intersection of I-44 & Hwy. 86, go south 1 mile, cross Shoal Creek and turn right immediately after crossing the bridge. Follow the south bank of Shoal Creek for 3 more miles. You will spot the falls on the right.) Missouri’s largest natural, continually flowing waterfall is a beautiful site located in the Missouri Ozarks. One of the widest waterfalls in the state, Grand Falls is caused by unusually thick layers of chert rock. While you’re there, visit Candy House Gourmet Chocolates (510 S. Kentucky Ave., Joplin, MO, 417.623.7171), where children delight in watching as candies are made by hand. Nature lovers enjoy the Wildcat Glades Conservation & Audubon Center (201 W.  Riviera Dr., Suite A, Joplin, MO, 417.782.6287), an educational and entertaining nature center with wonderful animal exhibits, hiking trails and educational programs.

Meet at the Old Mill

In this modern era of energy research and experimentation, it is fascinating to see and learn how, not so long ago, water power was an integral part of the local economy. And the mills that housed the machinery for production are now nostalgic settings for sightseeing and education.


Shoal Creek Living History Museum (7000 NE Barry Rd., Kansas City, MO, 816.792.2665) is a village of more than 20 historic buildings on 80 acres of rolling hills in northern Kansas City. Known for bringing the 1800s to life through special events and programs, the facility is open daily for walking tours. Buildings include a one-room school, pharmacy, jail, mercantile, blacksmith, homes for upper and lower income families, church, cobbler’s shop and—our favorite—the grist mill! It is the only working grist mill at a historic site in Kansas City, and it was amazing to watch the water wheel against the rolling hills of the frontier village.

Daytrip Destination:

Take a break from technology and enjoy an opportunity to get back to nature at one of the most scenic state parks in Missouri. Just north of the river lies Watkins Mill State Park (26600 Park Rd. N., Lawson, MO, 816.580.3387,, featuring a 100-acre lake, campgrounds, picnic areas, trails and Watkins Woolen Mill State Historic Site. There, you can tour a 19th-century three-story woolen mill and home to learn what life was like for families more than a century ago. The mill is the only 19th-century textile mill in the United States with its original machinery still intact. Watkins Mill offers many terrific choices for daycationers. The lake features a paved bike path, fishing spots, boating, picnic tables and a swim beach. If you’d like to stay the night, you may make reservations to use the campgrounds. During the day you’ll see white-tailed deer, wild turkeys and a variety of birds, and at night you’ll find terrific views for stargazing.

Vacation Destination:

Missouri is home to several beautiful mills perfect for sightseeing, and many of them are near one of our favorite vacation destinations: River of Life Farm (417.261.7777). In the Ozark Mountains on the North Fork of the White River lies River of Life Farm, a secluded and scenic getaway with breathtaking views of the 350-acre Ozark Mountain property and the falls of the White River below. The lodging is unique: guests stay in tree house lodges built into the hills, creating a picture-perfect escape. Canoeing, fishing, hiking and stargazing are favorite activities.  Nearby, visitors may tour several historic grist mills, including Dawt Mill, Hodgson Mill and Hammond Mill. Hodgson is one of the most photographed in Missouri and our favorite of the three. Built in 1861 to harness the power of the spring flowing into Bryant Creek and rebuilt in 1897, the tall, three-story mill no longer grinds grain but still houses the old milling machinery and offers a beautiful backdrop for photos. Tip: Read our blog, "Tree House Camping" for more informaiton about River of Life Farm and a great vacation there!

Kristina Light loves to explore off-the-beaten-path sights with her family every chance she can get!

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