An Autumn Family Glamping Trip
Glamping is one of the fastest growing trends in travel. If you want to experience the great outdoors without the work of setting up tents and unrolling sleeping bags, but also want to enjoy the luxuries of mattresses, heating and cooling, indoor plumbing and more, you’ll be happy to find that more and more options are becoming available. If you had asked me years ago, I would not have predicted that glamping would become one of my favorite ways to travel. I have many fond memories of tent camping and always have loved sleeping under the stars. But, alas, I’m a chronic back pain sufferer, and sleeping on the ground is no longer my friend. I’ve wanted my girls to experience great family memories while enjoying the beauty of nature, so glamping has become one of our family’s favorite ways to vacation. These are a few of our favorite places for a weekend (or week-long) getaway to enjoy autumn foliage and nature.
Our family loves state parks. We often add them to the itinerary when traveling to other states and we make a point to visit several Missouri state parks every year. Last year marked the opening of Missouri’s newest state park, Echo Bluff. Situated in southern Missouri in the heart of the Ozarks, with nearby access to float trips along the Current and Jack rivers and Ozark National Scenic Riverways, Echo Bluff was our destination last fall. We fell in love with it, booking a trip for this coming October before we left. The site is open year-round, but we are especially partial to the beauty of autumn.
The beautiful concave bluff along Sinking Creek, where voices echo against the rocks, gives the park its name and offers a scenic backdrop to the park lodge and cabins. Visitors to Echo Bluff have many lodging choices, including hotel rooms in the main lodge (which also houses a restaurant and gift shop), cabins, RVs and tent camping. Our family chose modern cabins that were fully furnished homes complete with kitchen, bathrooms and beautiful decks for grilling. The site includes a delightful playground, an amphitheater used for programming and a community fire pit where you may sing camp songs and make s’mores.
The park is beautiful and scenic, and if you’re lucky, you’ll even see the wild mustangs of Shannon County, one of the only wild horse herds in Missouri, known to roam the park and nearby riverways.
Five fun things to do when you visit Echo Bluff State Park:
- Canoe: Many float trip outfitters are set up near Echo Bluff, and you may choose to float the Current or Jack rivers. We opted for a half-day float on the Current River. The river is one of the prettiest in Missouri with crystal clear blue water, and floats are a level 1, ideal for families with young children and beginning canoers. Use the directory on MissouriCanoe.com to schedule your trip.
- Tour Alley Spring Mill: The mill, part of the National Park System, offers photos worthy of a calendar. The bright red historic mill, used to grind wheat to flour, is picturesque against the backdrop of Alley Spring with surrounding walking trails. NPS.gov/ozar/learn/historyculture/alley-mill.htm
- Go Fishing: Bring your fishing pole and try to catch smallmouth bass or goggle eye, a local favorite fish.
- Hike and Mountain Bike: The park offers 4.23 miles of hiking and biking trails. Nearby, try the Current River Trail for 8 miles of trails. You may bring your own bikes or rent them at the lodge.
- Enjoy Nature Programs: The faculty at the park hosts nature programs all year long, teaching families about local wildlife and nature. Or, bring your telescope or pack a journal and create your own nature journal during your stay.
Bears, bears, bears. If you visit our home, you’ll find that one of our daughters LOVES bears. Last year, as we planned our next family trip and asked the girls for input, her love for bears and the other girls’ love for adventure took us on a Smoky Mountain vacation we all loved. The Smoky Mountains in Tennessee offer breathtaking views of “blue smoke tipped mountains” and wildlife. Our family was excited to see live black bears in Cades Cove in the National Park, but that was just part of the fun. As America’s most visited national park, this destination offers many adventures to enjoy in the park and surrounding communities. You may choose traditional camping or rent a cabin from one of many local agencies. Those cabins come with any number of luxurious amenities according to your budget.
Five fun things to do when you visit the Smoky Mountains:
- Plan a day in Pigeon Forge, TN: Pigeon Forge offers a variety of family entertainment options and live shows. Some of our favorites included the Island (IslandInPigeonForge.com), an entertainment and dining mecca with a Ferris wheel offering gorgeous views of the mountains, arcades and my girls’ favorite, the Island Ropes Course with 30 different elements, two zip lines and one simulated free fall quick jump. Our family loved the Alpine Mountain Coaster (SmokyMountainAlpineCoaster.com), the longest downhill mountain coaster in the United States. And my daughter’s favorite was Three Bears General Store (ThreeBearsGeneralStore.com), a gift shop that also happens to be home to a live bear habitat where visitors may feed bears.
- Visit Dolly’s hometown of Sevierville, TN: Take a cave tour through Forbidden Caverns (ForbiddenCavern.com), one of Tennessee’s natural wonders. Play at NASCAR Speedpark (NascarSpeedpark.com) that has go-kart tracks for all ages and sizes.
- Ride the Aerial Tramway at Ober in Gatlinburg, TN: The aerial sky tram (OberGatlinburg.com), inspired by similar rides in Europe, offers visitors breathtaking views of the Smoky Mountains. After your ride, visit the many shops and restaurants in Gatlinburg.
- Explore Fall Foliage: The parks service offers maps and advice for your leaf peeping tour at NPS.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/fallcolor.htm.
- Be Adventurous: From zip lines to helicopter tours, white water rafting to mountain biking, you’ll have many adventures to enjoy in the Smoky Mountains.
Kristina Light’s girls are planning a s’mores cookoff competition and camping version of “Cutthroat Kitchen” for this year’s autumn trip to Echo Bluff. They hope to make it an annual tradition.