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Here’s a Summer ‘Staycation’ Guide for Families on a Budget Affordable Fun is Close at Hand

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Above image credit: The small lakes and ponds in the James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area are popular spots for beginners to learn how to fish. (Brent Frazee | Flatland)
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4 minute read

Summer is officially here, and the kids are already getting bored. 

If your budget doesn’t allow for an expensive vacation this year, there are plenty of ways to get the family outdoors for some quality time. 

What to do? No problem. Here’s a handy guide to local outdoor “staycation” options.  

Fishing at James A. Reed 

The James A. Reed Memorial Wildlife Area was built with bank anglers in mind. 

The public area near Lee’s Summit features 12 lakes ranging from one to 42 acres. There’s plenty of good fish-holding cover within casting distance from shore. There’s even a small lake for kids only (ages 15 and under accompanied by an adult). 

The lakes offer good populations of bass, channel catfish, crappies and bluegills. And a few of them are stocked with rainbow trout in the cold-weather months. 

Plan to get out early in this heat and humidity. The fish will hit until it gets too unbearable. 

Location: On Ranson Road, one mile east of Lee’s Summit. 

Hike to a Waterfall 

You will think you’re in the Ozarks when you hike the Parkville Nature Sanctuary

At the end of the Old Kate Trail, hikers young and old alike can pause at a beautiful waterfall that cascades into White Alloe Creek below. That path is especially popular with families because it’s short with only a slight gradient. 

Look, but don’t touch. Managers of the nature sanctuary don’t want hikers to climb on the waterfall itself. But it’s a beautiful spot for pictures and to enjoy nature. 

Other trails cross over smaller waterfalls on brooks that flow through the nature sanctuary. It’s a little taste of the Ozarks without even leaving the Kansas City metro area. 

Location: 100 E. 12th St., Parkville.    

The waterfall at the Parkville Nature Sanctuary offers a touch of the Ozarks in a busy suburban setting.
The waterfall at the Parkville Nature Sanctuary offers a touch of the Ozarks in a busy suburban setting. (Brent Frazee | Flatland)

Camping at Hillsdale State Park 

You don’t have to travel far from Kansas City to find a campsite to park your RV or pitch your tent. 

Hillsdale State Park, just south of the metro area on the Kansas side, has large campgrounds with many sites along the water.  

The Russel Crites Campground is the most popular, with 98 sites with utility hookups and another 18 for tent camping. The Scott Creek Campground has 60 sites with water and electric hookups. 

The Crites Campground will put you at the center of the reservoir’s activity. There is a swimming beach, boat ramp and hiking trails nearby. 

Go to the website reserveamerica.com to see what campsites are available and to make your reservations. 

Location: The state park office is located at 26001 W. 255th St., Paola. 

Boating at Blue Springs Lake 

You don’t own a boat? No problem. 

Blue Springs Lake Marina rents pontoon boats perfect for family outings. 

They are rated for up to 10 people and can be rented for $50 per hour or for an all-day fee of $200 on weekdays and $325 on weekends. 

Some restrictions apply. Check out the Jackson County Parks and Recreation website to learn more.  

Location: 1700 N.E. Bowlin Road, Lee’s Summit. 

Paddle Sports at Shawnee Mission Lake 

If you’re into paddle power instead of horsepower, Shawnee Mission Lake is your kind of place. 

The 120-acre lake in Johnson County is a popular place for canoeing, kayaking and paddleboarding. The marina at the lake will set you up, offering rentals for everything from pedal boats to canoes and kayaks. 

Go to the website to reserve a boat. 

Location: 7900 Renner Road, Shawnee.  

Mariana Ramirez let her toy chihuahua Zuka lead the way when she went paddle boarding at Shawnee Mission Lake.
Mariana Ramirez let her toy chihuahua Zuka lead the way when she went paddle boarding at Shawnee Mission Lake. (Brent Frazee | Flatland)

Explore at Burr Oak Woods 

The Burr Oak Woods Conservation Area and Nature Center is a great place for families to explore nature not far from the urban core. 

The Missouri Department of Conservation area features a trail system that cuts through hardwood forests, along rocky outcroppings and large boulders, past a stream and through restored prairies. 

In the nature center, interpretive exhibits highlight Missouri’s flora and fauna. And a wildlife viewing area gives visitors a chance to watch the area’s many birds, including wild turkeys, flock to feeders. 

Location: 1401 N.W. Park Road, Blue Springs. 

A variety of colorful birds are attracted to the feeders at the Burr Oak Woods Nature Center.
A variety of colorful birds are attracted to the feeders at the Burr Oak Woods Nature Center. (Brent Frazee | Flatland)

Fishing at Smithville Lake 

Smithville Lake, about a half-hour north of downtown Kansas City, can be a busy place in the summer, with pleasure boats and personal watercraft churning the water. 

But there is a gentler, more serene side to the reservoir. Get back in the flooded timber where the big boats and jet skis can’t go, and you’ll find fish. Smithville is known for its bass, crappies, catfish and white bass. 

If you don’t own a boat, you can rent either a fishing boat or a pontoon from Camp Branch Marina. Call (816) 407-3420 for reservations. 

Location:  Marina is located at 17201 Paradesian St., Smithville. 

Family Fun at Ernie Miller Park 

Ernie Miller Park & Nature Center in Olathe has introduced thousands of people to the outdoors since it opened in 1985. 

Named after a popular Olathe civic leader, the land was purchased by the Johnson County Park and Recreation District with the goal of creating a recreation and interpretive center. 

Today, the 125-acre park includes both outdoor and indoor exploring possibilities. 

The park includes three miles of hiking trails, native prairies, a creek, a small pond and an amphitheater for special events. The nature center features live animal exhibits, a large stream aquarium and educational exhibits. 

Location: 909 North Highway 7, Olathe. 

Brent Frazee is an award-winning writer and photographer who was the outdoors editor of The Kansas City Star for 36 years before retiring in 2016. He continues to freelance for magazines, websites and newspapers. 


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One thought on “Here’s a Summer ‘Staycation’ Guide for Families on a Budget

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