Diamond Hunting and Tree Houses

Fall Family Adventures

Autumn is approaching, and that means it’s time for a family adventure with beautiful fall foliage, great photo ops and unforgettable fun. These are two trips our family enjoys, especially in the fall!

Dogwood Canyon Nature Park

2038 W. State Hwy. 86, Lampe, MO. DogwoodCanyon.org. Admission charged; rates vary for age and chosen attraction.

Dogwood Canyon Nature Park, straddling the Missouri/Arkansas border, is a beautiful 10,000-acre oasis in the Ozarks. The park is beautiful year-round, but we’re especially partial to autumn weather when the air is crisp and the fall foliage starts to change. At Dogwood Canyon, the first stop is the water-powered miss, where families may watch live demonstrations, tour the small museum showcasing Native American artifacts or savor a delicious meal at the restaurant, where you’ll enjoy breathtaking views of the waterfall. We were very impressed with the hospitality and helpfulness of the staff.

Next, you may explore the park. My girls were especially enchanted with the Nature & Conservation Center and Tree House. Fans of Animal Planet’s Treehouse Masters may have watched as the beautiful tree house was designed and built showcasing the beauty of the Ozarks and offering a whimsical playground for children.

After exploring the tree house, our family chose to enjoy a bike tour through the park’s paved trails (you may bring bikes or rent on site). They also offer Segway tours, horseback riding, fishing and walking tours. On the bike trail, we saw beautiful waterfalls, crossed bridges, explored a small cave and saw a variety of wildlife, including fish and birds.

Next, we took a tram tour. This was my personal favorite. The open-air trams take you on a two-hour guided tour where you will see bison, elk, whitetail deer and Texas longhorns. On our tour, we were excited to see a baby bison who was only a few weeks old. Our guide was knowledgeable and passionate about the wildlife at the park and gave us many opportunities to take photos along the way. The tram tour is one of the most popular attractions at the park, so reservations are necessary as slots fill quickly.

Dogwood Canyon is a beautiful nature reserve with acres to explore biking, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, eating and just relaxing. Plan to spend an entire day if you visit this attraction.

Nearby: You may visit the Wonders of Wildlife Museum & Aquarium in Springfield, MO. This museum features beautiful natural history exhibits with wildlife displays and a world-class aquarium where you’ll enjoy a huge stingray touch tank, among the many highlights.


An Arkansas Adventure

Arkansas is especially scenic in the fall as you drive through the Ozarks and Ouchita Mountains. On a recent four-day family trip, my girls wanted to visit Crater of Diamonds State Park (a finders keepers diamond mine), so we included other great attractions along the way.

Heading south from Kansas City, we drove through Joplin, which required a stop to take photos at Grand Falls, a 163-foot-wide waterfall. This was a great pit stop to stretch our legs and enjoy some scenery.

On our way to Little Rock, we visited the Botanical Garden of the Ozarks (4703 N. Crossover Rd., Springdale, AR). This small botanical garden was a perfect stop en route. We spent about an hour and saw the butterfly garden and the children’s garden with a beautiful tree house reminiscent of Tinker Bell’s. The girls loved this “child-sized” fairy garden where they could play and explore.

In Little Rock, we visited several educational attractions, including the Museum of Discovery, a science museum where the interactive exhibits are especially well done and the staff is on hand, ready to demonstrate and answer questions. The girls loved the Guinness World Record musical bi-polar Tesla coil show where we watched the coil choreographed to music. They also enjoyed lying on a bed of nails, experimenting with electricity, pretending to broadcast their own news report and experiencing a tornado at Tornado Alley. The museum is currently hosting a diamond exhibit, a great way to learn more about diamonds and rare gems before a trip to Crater of Diamonds. We spent about a half day at the museum.

Also in Little Rock, we visited the Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum, where we saw the tugboat Hoga and toured the inside of the submarine USS Razorback, which was in Tokyo Bay during the formal surrender of Japan, ending World War II. This attraction took about 90 minutes to explore and was one of the highlights of our trip.

While we were in Little Rock, we rode the trolley ($2/person for an all-day pass) and visited the Heifer International Visitors Center (a free museum where you learn about the charity that feeds people internationally), the Old Statehouse Museum (learn Arkansas’ history) and local restaurants. My favorite attraction in Little Rock was the Old Mill, a historic re-creation of an 1880's water-powered grist mill that is famous for its appearnace in the opening scenes of Gone With The Wind.

Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro was the focal point of our trip. One of our girls had learned about the park as she was studying Arkansas, and her fascination took our family on a diamond hunt. We spent hours in the 37-acre plowed field digging for gems. You may bring your own shovels and sifters or rent equipment at the park. Workers demonstrate both dry and wet sifting—we spent the bulk of our time wet sifting. In addition to diamonds, visitors find jasper, amethyst, quartz, garnets and other rocks and minerals. Staff at the park help visitors identify their finds. Although we didn’t find a diamond, we did meet visitors who had and we did come home with treasures and many great memories.

Tip: Click here to read our how-to instructions to make your own Diamond Hunting T-Shirts perfect for a treasure hunt.

On our way home, we visited Hot Springs National Park and toured one of the historic bathhouses.

Then, we headed to Garvan Woodland Gardens (50 Arkridge Rd., Hot Springs, AR), a beautifully wooded botanical garden. The trails are paved and shaded, and visitors enjoy exploring Japanese gardens, train garden, fairy gardens and the newly opened $1 million tree house. This is not your traditional tree house! Rather, the structure is a very modern and artistic haven in the woods. Garvan is one of the most beautiful gardens we’ve visited for its natural setting.


Tip: If you have a membership at the Overland Park Arboretum or Powell Gardens, you’ll enjoy free admission to both botanical gardens in this story. If you have a Science City membership, you’ll enjoy free admission to the Museum of Discovery.


Kristina Light’s girls love tree houses! One of their favorite memories is staying in a tree house at River of Life Farm. You may read about this adventure here.

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