Posted by: Kirsten | Tuesday, 18 September 2007

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Fall is upon us — my absolute, without a doubt, hands-down, no contest, favorite season of the year. And one of great benefits of homeschooling the kids is taking no-guilt vacations at any time of year.

Where will you be visiting this fall and what are your plans? A little frolicking in the fall foliage perhaps? Or some paddling down the river or across the lake?

Mammoth Cave Nat'l Park (Foto by Jon T. Merryman)
Wherever your travels take you, learning opportunities for the kids are all around you.  The National Parks and Monuments still have decent visiting hours, there are still plenty of daylight hours for hiking or biking, nighttime temperatures haven’t quite gotten down to freezing in most places, and best of all, the crowds are nowhere to be found! With all those things working in your favor, what’s stopping you from a long weekend or weeklong  trip to the local National Park unit?

Well, cost can be a factor for one thing.  If you live in wonderful places like Chicago, for example — lots to do in the area, but after Indiana Dunes, no more National Parks!  So what’s a family to do?

Let me suggest a strategy I’ve used in the past for getting away from it all while still having something left in the bank to come home to.  In my diabolical plan to visit far-flung parks on a shoestring, envision two maps: 1) The United States map showing all National Parks, Monuments, Recreation Areas, Historic Sites, etc.  Now, overlay that with 2) a map of a discount airline like Southwest Airlines and you’ve got yourself a blueprint for cheap, last-minute travel planning.

For example, if I did live in Chicago and was looking to get away for half a week (Wednesday through Saturday), what sorts of opportunities rise to the top of my potential travel plans? A peek at the Southwest website shows discount $49 one-way fares from Chicago to places like St. Louis, Cleveland, Columbus, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Louisville, Nashville, or Omaha. Those locales will get you at or near such places as Jefferson National Expansion Memorial (the arch), Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, Stones River National Battlefield, or Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

My son and I did the flight to Louisville, Kentucky one beautiful October for $39 each way, rented a car, drove to Abe Lincoln Birthplace, then to Mammoth Cave for a long weekend.  Add in a smattering of commercial and local sites like Horse Cave, Kentucky (with a river running right through the cavern), the National Corvette Museum (vroom vroom), or the Louisville Slugger baseball bat factory and you’ve got a load of options to satisfy even the most eclectic family wish list for a short weekend, long weekend, or full week of activities. The Mammoth Cave National Park visitor center has a campground only a short walk away for an inexpensive home base from which to operate, a camp store very close by, evening ranger programs by the campfire, and of course the exciting cave tours.

What will you do this fall?  Stop all that wishful thinking and get out there and see the world!

— Jon
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