Helpful Hints, The Great Outdoors

Memorial Park’s new Eastern Glades Is the Perfect Picnic and Play Spot for Kids!

Memorial Park is more than two times the size of New York City’s Central Park, but most of us know it by the running loop and not much else. We may see the golf course through the trees or the ball fields across Memorial Parkway, but it’s always seemed a little more for adults than kids. As of this month, that’s completely changed with the opening of the first phase of Memorial Park’s master plan, the Eastern Glades. We highly recommend packing a picnic (make it a donut picnic, because after about 9am it’s way too hot these days) and a frisbee and heading there as soon as you can!

About the Park’s Master Plan

There are so many good things to say about Memorial Park Conservancy’s thoughtful approach to master planning. They used the awful drought in 2011 as an opportunity to rethink the park’s ecology, history, and use, and their master plan is an exceptional result of this process. They are focused on making the park accessible to all Houstonians through different kinds of transit and to different kinds of people by providing places for families to gather and play.

Explore Memorial Park in a whole new way in the Eastern Glades by checking out these boardwalks that run through the forest, right by the lake!

Here are a few amazing additions coming to the park in the next few years:

  • Clay Family Eastern Glades: Just opened! This is what we’re talking about in our post today, and if it’s any indication of the quality and beauty of the rest of the plan, we’re sold.
  • Land Bridge and Prairie: Memorial Park is bisected by the giant that is Memorial Parkway, and this project creates a wide, green bridge to connect the two. Stroll over the bridge and you’ll get to explore a restored Gulf Coast prairie in all its glory.
  • Sports Complex: Opening this year, the sports complex brings all the sports fields in Memorial Park together in one area, freeing up space for things like the prairie restoration.
The new lake in the Eastern Glades is perfect for spotting tadpoles, relaxing nearby, or taking a walk.

Getting there and Parking

If you want to check out the Eastern Glades, here are a few key things to know about where to go and where to park:

  • Drive to the east side of the park: It would make sense that the Eastern Glades is on the eastern side of the park, but stating the obvious because it would be a long walk from anywhere else. Crestwood is the street you want to look for – you can get to Crestwood from Memorial Parkway or via Washington and driving through the neighborhood towards Memorial Park.
  • There are parking meters: It’s annoying sometimes to see these parking meters pop up in previously free spots, but just like the ones at the Arboretum, they serve an important purpose here. These meters pay for the operating costs of these incredible new park enhancements. 75% of parking in the park is still free and will be for a long time to come, and there is plenty of neighborhood parking close by.
  • Park on or around Crestwood St: We were able to park right on Crestwood at Blossom, which is the entrance to the Eastern Glades, and it was free on the street. We noticed that the neighborhood has a ton of free street parking, so that’s a great option. Let’s cross our fingers that everyone’s respectful when doing this so it doesn’t become a bunch of no parking zones!

Checking Out the Eastern Glades

Before going further, let us reemphasize the need to go early – like 7:30am – because it is beastly hot right now. You’ll have the space mostly to yourself: bonus!

The grass is probably the best feature of the park, and there are a lot of outstanding features. This is non-prickly, soft, AWESOME grass!

Here are the highlights of this incredible, 100-acre area:

  • Picnic lawn: There is a huge, circular lawn as you walk into this area of the park with super soft, bouncy grass that is so awesome you don’t even need a picnic blanket! The grass continues around groves of trees and provides shaded, green pathways for kids to explore.
  • Lake: The water in this lake is spectacularly clear, and there are new plantings right along the edge. We saw tons of tadpoles and baby frogs already getting settled! Walking around the lake is easy on the pathways and boardwalks, and it’s a nice way to get the lay of the land. There are also long, curved, stone benches that provide ample seating and a good climbing spot for kids.
  • Woodland boardwalks: As you walk around the lake, you’ll see some boardwalks leading straight into the woods – definitely check them out! You’ll end up right back at the lake, but it’s a chance to see the forest in all its glory. It’s neat that it’s not just a straight path – there are “ends” that encourage you to stop and enjoy.
  • Covered pavilions and picnic areas: There are no tables yet because of COVID, but there are three brand new pavilion structures with giant, built-in grills that will be fantastic to reserve, along with some private picnic areas. We also noticed some spots that would be perfect for future food trucks and farmer’s markets, so we’re crossing our fingers those will happen soon!
  • Audio Tour: Right now there are temporary signs encouraging you to do the audio tour – do it! You’ll learn some of the history and ecology of the Eastern Glades. We all enjoyed it as a family. It’s not long and it makes you really understand how magical this transformation is.
The covered pavilions have neat chalkboards outside each one! You can see the chimney from the grill on the right hand side.

We hope you will enjoy this area of the park as much as we did. We feel like Memorial Park is now finally a great spot for families, and we’re pretty excited about heading there more than once a month to play and relax.

Helpful Hints, Travel

Road Tripping from Houston to Colorado with Kids: Boulder, Rocky Mountain National Park, and Ft. Collins

So far on our epic road tripping journey from Houston to Colorado with kids, we’ve planned our trip, headed up to Canyon, TX to rest our heads and see both Cadillac Ranch and Palo Duro, and explored southern Colorado, including Colorado Springs. For the final post in the series, we’ll use Boulder as our home base to explore the surrounding area, including Fort Collins, Rocky Mountain National Park, and some very special green space in between.

A Quick but Essential Stop in Denver

We had probably visited Denver at least 10 times before, so it wasn’t on our list to really explore, but it was a fantastic stop between Colorado Springs and Boulder for lunch and stretching legs! Here are some recommendations on stops you should make in Denver and why:

  • Cerebral Brewing: It wasn’t open to visit (thanks, COVID), but they had curbside pickup from 12-7. We ordered online that morning and grabbed a 4-pack of delicious Myopic Tendencies micro IPA for our picnic lunch. FYI, this area is the “cool area” and thus super hard to find a bathroom anywhere. The park we’re about to mention had port-a-potties though!
  • Zaps Epiq Sandwiches: The perfect choice for a takeout picnic lunch, ordering was easy and pick up was seamless. The staff were wonderful and had it all ready in advance. Everything we ordered was fantastic!
  • Cheesman Park: A very large and open park for stretching those legs after a long drive, Cheesman Park has nice picnic tables, port-a-potties, and super soft grass for taking a rest after a great meal. The park used to be a thoroughfare for vehicles, but recently many of the roads through the park have been blocked off to make it more pedestrian-friendly. The neighborhood is hard to park in, but you should have success near the southwest corner of the park. We were able to find a spot and walk just a block or two to eat lunch at a nice picnic table in a grove of trees. After we ate, we ran through the grass and explored the monument in the middle of the park.
So much space to play and run at Cheesman Park in Denver!

Spending Time in Boulder

Previous visits to Boulder without kids were filled with strolling down Pearl Street and late night eating and drinking. COVID didn’t allow any of that on this trip, and the kids go to bed early, so it was a different experience this time around. We were lucky to have old friends in the Boulder area that showed us a couple of hidden gems that we wouldn’t have otherwise visited. We enjoyed these the most:

  • Rayback Collective: We drove right past this at least twice and had no clue it was even somewhere fun to go, because it’s back from the road. This is a really neat spot to eat and drink with kids. They do need to stay at the table with you because of COVID, so make sure you have an activity book or something for them to do! There is a rotating selection of food trucks and a big open indoor space as well where there is often live music.
  • Walk the Boulder Creek Path: This pathway runs right along the creek and is a really fun way to spend an early evening with kids. When we went, there were people tubing in the creek, walking, picnicking, and just plain enjoying themselves. It was relaxed, and it helped get a different flavor of the city than just being a tourist on Pearl.
  • National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) Center and Trails: We didn’t get to do this, but it’s on our list when we come back, and it was highly rated by our friends. The center itself was closed due to COVID, but apparently the trails are great for kids – they were open at the time – and it’s absolutely gorgeous.

Fort Collins – A Perfect Day Trip

Sort of like Boulder, the last time we were in Fort Collins was without kids, so it was all beer festivals and eating out. This time our goal was to spend time outdoors and of course to visit New Belgium Brewery! Here’s how we did our day trip:

  • Breakfast from Butterfly Cafe: Our kids get up early, so we were on the road by 8 and in Ft. Collins by 9. We grabbed breakfast in Ft. Collins and took it to Lee Martinez Community Park, a large park just up the road from the cafe that’s right next to a small science museum. Takeout from the cafe was easy and delicious, and the park was a 5-minute drive. There were picnic tables, and the kids ran around the baseball fields and played tag. There were also restrooms – big bonus!
  • Wading in the Cache la Poudre River: This seemed to be the hot thing to do in Ft. Collins, because it was well – hot – when we were there! This is a very long river, but a good bit of it goes right through the middle of Ft. Collins. There is an area close to the aforementioned Lee Martinez Park that is easy to walk to. There are miles of trails along this river, so it’s hard to understand where exactly to start. This area is called the Poudre River Whitewater Park. There were tons of families, but it was easy to find a spot to ourselves that was safe for little kids. Bring your bathing suits and towels, because wading in the water just won’t cut it!
  • New Belgium Brewing: We just had to go to this brewery, but when we looked to try and get reservations (there was limited capacity at the time we visited), they didn’t have any. We drove to the brewery anyways to get some beer, and because it was a weekday, they had some space reserved for walk-ups on their very large and awesome patio available. It was restful and fun, and the kids were able to drink apple juice while we enjoyed our beer. If you want to go here and capacity is still limited, especially on a weekend, get reservations well in advance!
The walk along the Cache la Poudre River in Fort Collins is beautiful.

Rocky Mountain National Park

No trip to Colorado is complete without visiting Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP as the locals call it – and we will to because it’s hard to type the whole thing), so we reserved 2 days at the park in advance. What we did was amazing, and we don’t regret it, but we’d do it a different way next time. Here are some lessons learned so your trip can be better for it:

  • There are two main ways to get into RNMP – Estes Park, which is the way everybody goes and knows, and Grand Lake, which is closer to Denver. This is a HUGE park, people!
  • One day was enough, because we found more accessible and less crowded places by accident that were really spectacular.
  • The AllTrails app was right and told us that the very popular trail to Nymph Lake/Dream Lake/Emerald Lake was “heavily trafficked,” but we didn’t believe them because at the time we went, the park was operating at 60% capacity. That was a mistake! Literally every family in the park was on this trail, and the trail head was out of parking, even at 10am when we went. We had to wait in line for the Bear Lake shuttle and that was just weird, even with everyone masked up. The trail on the RMNP map also said it was a “stroll,” and it was most definitely a moderate trail for someone from the Gulf Coast used to flat landscapes – be warned!
  • The most awesome experience was when we decided to not do any other big hikes and just drive through the park on Trail Ridge Road. It was wonderful driving up through the freezing cold tundra and through the windy switchbacks for breathtaking views! We went in the Estes Park entrance and out the Grand Lake entrance – do not underestimate the drive once you get OUT of the park from Grand Lake to Boulder. It was literally hours, but we were fine with it. Just be prepared!
You just can’t go this area of the country and not enjoy the views at Rocky Mountain National Park!

When we go again to RMNP, here’s what we’ll do:

  • Use Denver or Greeley as a base: Boulder was great because we enjoyed the city and went up to Fort Collins, but if we were to focus on Rocky Mountain National Park again, we would probably stay in Denver and access RMNP through the Grand Lake entrance.
  • Go visit the Continental Divide again: The picture at the sign is cool, but the real gem is the nearby lake and stream so you can see the water drain to the Atlantic on one side and the Pacific on the other. We had the most fun exploring this area, and there was nobody there!
  • Hike the Coyote Ridge Trail: This is on the same side of the park as the Grand Lake entrance. While we didn’t do it, it was highly rated and AllTrails said it was great for kids. This part of the park was not busy at all and it would have been really fun to explore.
  • Visit the Alpine Visitors Center: We probably wouldn’t drive through the whole park again – instead, we’d go from Grand Lake to the Alpine Visitors Center and back. It would have been fun to hike around there and see a totally different and superbly chilly landscape. Just remember to bring pants and a coat – we couldn’t get out of the car for any length of time because we had shorts and hoodies!

The Real, Unexpected Treasure – JeffCo Open Space

Probably the most surprising and fun drive of this part of the trip was on the way back from Grand Lake out of Rocky Mountain National Park and back to Boulder. We were really exhausted from driving all day and just wanted to get home, but because it would take the same amount of time either way, we opted for a back road from Idaho Springs to Golden two small towns on the route), rather than the larger I-70. This smaller road, US Route 6, was a super fantastic drive through wilderness, forested mountains, and our favorite – TUNNELS! There were 5 tunnels on this route to drive through, whitewater rafters on a river next to where we were driving, and the whole family loved every moment. We vowed to go back the next day and explore this area.

Turns out US Route 6 is right through the middle of Jefferson County – this particular county has something called JeffCo Open Space, which is an organization that has preserved 56,000 acres of nature, 27 open space parks, and 244 miles of trails. Why have we never heard of this before? Here’s an interactive map (best viewed on desktop) of the whole thing, and here’s a pdf if you’re on mobile or want to save it.

The next day after we made the drive, we went back to check the rest of it out. US Route 6 is part of the Peaks to Plains Trail, a trail that is currently being constructed that will eventually be 65 miles of trails connecting 4 counties and 7 cities. Wow!

The part of the Peaks to Plains Trail that is finished that we visited was Clear Creek Canyon Park. There were several trail heads along US Route 6 that had easily accessible entrances with parking lots, but we chose the Big Easy Trail Head. There are restrooms, you can wade in the cold, clear water, there is a really neat bridge, and it connects to miles of walking trails. These trails are paved and 10-ft wide, so it’s perfect for strollers. We didn’t have a stroller, so we spent most of the time in the woods after crossing the bridge over the river. There was a dirt trail that was easy hiking to a rock climbing wall. We didn’t do the wall, but it was fun hiking the trail! Note that this whole area is near the highway, so you will hear road noise. We didn’t care one bit.

One of the best parts of the Big Easy Trail Head area was playing in the water. Bring your bathing suits and towels! There are about a half dozen areas to get down into shallow water with a rocky bottom that young kids will absolutely love. We felt safe, even though our kids aren’t swimmers yet, and there were no families even close to us.

The water and trails at the Big Easy Trail Head were safe and enjoyable for families of all ages and abilities.

After that, it was back on the long road back home, with stopovers in Pueblo and Canyon.

That’s where this road trip ends – we hope we’ve been helpful to you in planning your trip to Colorado. When you get back, let us know what your favorite moments were!

Helpful Hints, The Great Outdoors, Travel

Road Tripping from Houston to Colorado with Kids: Southern Colorado

In the heat of summer, there’s really no better place than Colorado to escape the Houston heat. Previously, in this series, we talked about how we planned our road trip and how we started and ended it with Cadillac Ranch and Palo Duro Canyon. Next up, we finally get to Colorado and get a taste of the cooler weather and the mountains!

From Canyon, TX, after Cadillac Ranch, we headed northwest through Raton, New Mexico and up through Trinidad, the first major city in Colorado off I-25, the major artery in eastern Colorado. Trinidad is a historic little town worth driving around, and it’s the start of a really amazing scenic drive called the Highway of Legends. Because it’s just over 7 hours to Colorado Springs, we wanted to add a hike and a nice drive into the middle of the day to break it up. The nice thing about the Highway of Legends is that while it takes longer to do than going straight up I-25, the start and finish are both on I-25 so you can keep on trucking when you’re done. It was WAY worth the detour!

Stops on the Highway of Legends

  1. Trinidad Lake State Park: We actually did this one on the way back home, and it was HOT. There are a couple good trails for kids in this park, including Long Canyon on the south side of the lake and Levsa Canyon on the north side. Long Canyon is more wetlands and opportunity to see wildlife, and Levsa Canyon, takes you up for a nice view of the lake and a rocky but totally doable climb. It sort of reminded us of the TV show “Hey, Dude!” We liked it, but it would have been better in the morning or evening.
  2. Spanish Peaks: You get to drive right through and around this whole, beautiful mountain range, which even though it’s not the biggest, has a really amazing history and some very unique rock formations like the Dakota Wall that were new and interesting to us. It was cool and a little misty when we went through on our way up to Colorado Springs, and the drive was just gorgeous. And it gets chilly, even in the worst of summer!
  3. Lathrop State Park: This was probably the second best hike of the whole trip. Make sure to check if you need a reservation in advance – we did at the time we went, but it was easy to get online on the way there. One of the special features of the park is a “hogback,” which is a large, rocky outcropping that is a lot like a ridge. The aptly named Hogback Nature Loop Trail was a little challenging but totally doable with our 3 and 6 year old – we just had to hold hands and be careful on a few key parts! The views were spectacular and it was a great way to get in the hiking spirit.
Hogback Nature Loop Trail at Lathrop State Park – you get to go up in those cool rock outcroppings!

A Word About AllTrails

An invaluable resource if you plan on doing a lot of hiking, especially with kids, in Colorado is AllTrails. There’s a great website, and you’ll want the app on your phone for sure. There are just a couple important things to remember:

  1. If a trail says it’s “easy,” take it with a grain of salt. Easy is relative, and us Houstonians don’t get much elevation change beyond some stairs here and there. Easy can mean a paved trail, but it can also mean a rocky trail with scary drop offs and 650 ft elevation gain. Read the reviews and pay attention to the details! If you think you’re ready to dive into moderate-rated trails first thing, try a couple easy ones and just make sure first. I would consider our family relatively fit, up for adventure, and willing to try a challenge, but the easy trails were plenty for us!
  2. The names on AllTrails don’t always match the names in real life. You can record your own hike on AllTrails, and you can also name it what you want. Many of these hikes are in state and local parks that have their own names/trail maps, and we spent quite a bit of time matching up the AllTrails name to the official name to make sure we understood where we were and how to navigate.
  3. If a description mentions “highly trafficked,” it really is. Highly trafficked = super popular. If you’re trying to stay away from crowds, do these trails early, on rainy days, or find a different trail.

AllTrails is a hugely helpful resource to locate and narrow down the perfect hike for your family, but make an effort to read the reviews and double check the info with other resources.

Colorado Springs & Surrounding Area

After the long drive to CO Springs, we were ready to crash. We had booked an Airbnb in a residential neighborhood close to the US Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, and that worked great. We thought about booking closer to the Old Colorado City area, and we’re glad we did not do that, because it was more expensive and it really wouldn’t have mattered. Everything is so close, and we weren’t needing to be in a walkable area with restaurants, because it’s COVID and everything is takeout anyways. Manitou Springs was way too busy and touristy for us – it was too packed for comfort and as we drove through the traffic in the city center, we were glad we didn’t book there!

There are plenty of great breweries to visit in this town, along with some good food. Here were a few gems:

  • Beer to-go from Bristol Brewing Company: Located in a very cool place called the Ivywild School, the beer is delicious! There is food in the Ivywild School, but at the time we were there, it was closed.
  • Tacos from Dos Santos Tacos: This was the best to-go meal of the trip. Super easy to order online, and the family meal options were perfect for a family of 4. These are legit street tacos, y’all – and we are all picky because we’re Houstonians, right?
  • Food and cocktails to-go from Shuga’s: The cocktails were killer, but the kids’ bento was sort of weird. We should have ordered from the grownup menu because it was great!

There is absolutely no shortage of socially distanced things to do around Colorado Springs. We did visit Garden of the Gods and got really lucky because it was about to rain, so the place cleared out. We didn’t mind getting wet and we got the Siamese Twins Trail all to ourselves! Definitely do this early or when it’s overcast because it’s busy. Get a map at the gift shop. It was a good, easy, short hike.

Like everyone who visits CO Springs, we drove up to Pike’s Peak – going as soon as the park opened was a good call, as it wasn’t crowded. It was really cool driving up there, and you can send a family representative into the gift shop at the top to grab hot chocolate and donuts for everyone. The visitor’s center is a hot mess right now because basically the whole summit is under construction, so it’s not exactly a peaceful experience. The view’s great though, and who doesn’t want a donut from 14,000+ feet? During the time we were there you could drive all the way up, but as of the time of writing it appears that you must take a shuttle part of the way. I’m not sure we would have done the shuttle experience. Make sure to get your tickets in advance if you’re headed there regardless!

The most memorable trail was the absolutely breathtaking and a little challenging Mt. Cutler trail located in North Cheyenne Canon Park, where you can hike up to the top of the mountain. The trail is steady upwards but not overwhelming – our 3 year old was fine on most of it by himself. The trick is to HOLD HANDS with the ones you’re worried about falling off the edge, because there are many steep drop offs! Ours are risk takers, so each parent took a kid. It was well worth it at the top – you feel like you really accomplished something, and the view is amazing! Bring a special snack at the top to celebrate for sure.

The views were bananas off the Mt. Cutler trail! Bonus: there’s even a small stream at the trail head across the street to take your shoes off and play in when you’re tired!

Things we didn’t do but would next time:

  • Cheyenne Mountain Zoo: You need a reservation WAY in advance, so make sure you get tickets. You also get to see the Will Rogers Shrine of the Sun, so it’s a twofer!
  • Seven Falls: We actually saw the falls and bridges from Mt. Cutler, and it would have been cool to hike to them. It probably was packed, so that’s why it wasn’t at the top of our list.
  • MORE North Cheyenne Canon Park! It was not crowded and the views and hikes were perfect for our skill level!

Royal Gorge Bridge and Railroad

One day trip that was wonderful was the Royal Gorge. It’s over an hour from CO Springs, and it’s well worth it! A few tips:

  • You CANNOT walk over the bridge without paying to enter the park. It’s expensive! We sucked it up and paid the $70 bucks to walk over and back, which was cool but probably the free overlook in the parking lot would have been fine. It was fun to walk across, but we didn’t do any of the included attractions because we had a 12:30pm reservation for the railroad and it was not right next door.
  • There is a gondola that is included if you purchase a ticket to go across the bridge, and you can take that over and back, but the line gets LONG. Take it on the way there and walk back if you get there when it opens – otherwise the line is very unwieldy and you won’t want to walk all the way uphill and wait in like to take it back. It is super fun looking through the cracks between the wooden planks and finding your state flag on the bridge! We didn’t mind walking both ways!
  • The Royal Gorge Route Railroad was a great experience – plan a solid 20 mins by car to get there from the bridge + 5 mins of parking lot walking on both sides – and we were very glad we did it! There are many classes of service – just pick the cheapest one, because the way to travel is the open air car! You can order beer and wine and food in your seats and then walk to the beautiful open air car (standing room only) to enjoy the amazing views up to the bridge and through the canyon. The food isn’t great, but the beer flight included some good, local beers! We ate a packed lunch in the car on the way there so we only had a small snack.
The bottom is wayyyyyyyy down there if you look through the cracks in Royal Gorge Bridge!

Stay in Pueblo on the Way Back!

If you’re going more north than CO Springs and you are planning your long drive back at the end of your trip, the absolute best place to spend your last night in Colorado is Pueblo. South of Colorado Springs, you will have plenty of time to get a morning hike in prior to heading back to the TX Panhandle. It only took us a little over 5 hours from Pueblo to Canyon, TX, which was way better than the 9 it would have taken from Boulder (our first idea).

Looking for hikes close to Pueblo? Try the aforementioned Trinidad Lake State Park on your way out of town – it’s right on the way back. Or, if you want something even more memorable, venture into the Wet Mountains, about a 45 min drive west of Pueblo.

For our final leg of the journey and the blog series we’ll venture north from Colorado Springs to Boulder and the Rocky Mountain State Park area – coming soon!

Helpful Hints, The Great Outdoors, Travel

Road Tripping from Houston to Colorado with Kids: Palo Duro and Cadillac Ranch

If you’re thinking about a road trip, now’s the time to go for it! In our first blog post in this series, we covered planning a road trip from Houston to Colorado with kids, along with some essential tips that will make the long drive easy. Now, we’ll dig into the nuts and bolts of the Texas portion – from Houston to Canyon, TX – and the rewards that await you once you get there.

It’s almost impossible to make the drive to Colorado in a day. Depending on where you want to end up, two can even be stretching it with kids in tow. Plus, you want to make those days at least a little fun, and the kids need to run around. Those factors considered, we decided that Canyon, TX was the perfect city to rest our heads in, both on the way there and back.

Why Canyon? These reasons sealed the deal for us:

  • It’s a little over 9 hours from Houston without stops – we could start at 8am, and with a few stops, be there before the kids’ bedtime
  • Colorado Springs, our first CO destination, is a little over 7 hours from Canyon, so we had time to get in a good hike in southern Colorado on our way
  • Palo Duro Canyon State Park is a place we’ve always wanted to visit
  • Cadillac Ranch is really close and right on the way out of town towards Colorado
  • There are enough places to grab some food to-go and a couple decent hotels

Getting There

There are lots of ways to get to Canyon from Houston, but the best (and most interesting) route seemed to be through Waco, up through Ft Worth, through Wichita Falls, and then on to Canyon. 45 to 287 is always an option, but save that for the trip back (in reverse, of course) when you don’t care as much about scenery and just want to get home!

We decided we wanted to make one real stop (other than bathroom breaks) on the way up, right around lunchtime. It turns out that there are two fantastic stops within just 10 minutes of each other – you can grab the best kolaches in Texas at the Czech Stop in West, TX, and then you can eat them at the Hill County NB Rest Area just north of Abbott, TX! The rest area is really the most fantastic rest stop we have ever seen. Clean, modern bathrooms, plenty of wide open spaces for running around, and tons of covered picnic areas. There was a nice breeze when we were there in late July, so it didn’t even seem that hot.

We eat a ton of kolaches, and these were WAY at the top of the list! Plus, there were autographed photos of Willie AND the Tiger King above the counter 🙂

Cadillac Ranch

Cadillac Ranch was one of two must-dos for our family. It’s an iconic Texas landmark, it has been on our list to see for years, and it would be really fun for our kids to channel their inner street artist. We bought 3 cans of spray paint before we left at Home Depot to make sure we were prepared.

If you haven’t heard of this landmark before, it’s basically 10 Cadillacs from the 1950s with their noses buried in the dirt in a field, so they are all sitting at a diagonal with the trunks in the air. These cars have been spray painted over and over again through the years, and it’s a tradition to bring your cans and tag them on your way through town. There’s no entry fee – just remember to give your cans to someone on the way out or put them in the trash.

Cadillac Ranch: Go early and bring spray paint!

At first our plan was to go to Palo Duro first thing in the morning and THEN go to Cadillac Ranch on the way out. That would have been a very bad plan for the following reasons:

  1. It’s friggin HOT out there mid-day in the middle of a field in Amarillo
  2. It gets super crowded at Cadillac Ranch starting mid-morning

The best way to pull this off is on the way up from Houston, get your rest in Canyon, wake up, and go straight to Cadillac Ranch first thing. If you get there around 8, nobody’s there yet, and you have your pick of cars to spray paint! You can take a billion photos (there is no better place on earth to get photos of your kids with colorful backgrounds!), you can keep away from others, and it’s still nice outside – even in late July. Just leave before 9:30 to get on the road to CO.

Palo Duro

We had planned to go to Palo Duro on the way up to Colorado, but we messed up and forgot to make reservations in advance by purchasing a day pass. By the time we figured this out, they were all taken for the day we needed to go. We were bummed, but this turned out to be a huge blessing in disguise. Instead, we decided to hit up Palo Duro on the way BACK from Colorado in the evening. This was perfect because:

  • It was hot, but not too hot at all – like 91 degrees at 6pm, and we didn’t have to worry about it getting hotter. It got cooler as we enjoyed the park because the sun was setting!
  • You’ll be on Mountain Time because you were just in CO, so 6pm feels like 7pm and the kids won’t be too exhausted to have a good time
  • The park is open as of August 2020 for day visitors to enter 7am-7pm, but you can stay as long as 10pm!
  • There is almost nobody in the park except a few folks camping after 6pm. We had the place to ourselves!
  • The animals in this type of environment are most active at dusk, so you get to see cool things like armadillos and other wildlife
At Palo Duro Canyon State Park, there is unbelievable beauty everywhere you look. Photos don’t even do it justice.

We asked the park ranger what to do with small kids if we wanted to be there for like 1.5 hours, and she recommended the following:

  • Drive through the park – it takes about 30-40 minutes without stopping to hike
  • Stop at the overlook at the beginning of the drive where you can see the whole canyon – second largest in the country – amazing!
  • Hike the 0.5 mile Pioneer Nature Trail (trail map here – make sure to request one from the ranger upon entry). Even though it’s short, still bring plenty of water! There are lots of little trail offshoots to explore, and it’s easy to see how to get back while still enjoying the desert scenery.
  • Stop at “The Big Cave” (stop 10 on the trail map) and climb around, getting as close as you want if you’re brave!

All in all, the front end and back end of our trip that could have been a monotonous drive to get to the finish line in CO ended up being some of our best memories.

Now, plan the next leg of your trip from southern Colorado up to Colorado Springs, Royal Gorge, Pike’s Peak, and the surrounding area!

Helpful Hints, The Great Outdoors, Travel

Road Tripping from Houston to Colorado with Kids: It Begins

We’ve always wanted to go on a road trip with our two kids, currently ages 3 and 6, but we figured it might be when they were a little older. A plane trip always just seemed so much easier! But then, COVID struck. After many months in quarantine and being right in the midst of Houston’s dog days of summer, getting out of town had to happen or we’d all lose our minds! So off to Colorado we went. Here’s what we did and how we did it.

Can’t beat the scenery or the weather during a Colorado summer.

The Plan

Here is what we knew about what we wanted to do (and what we had to do given COVID) that shaped how our trip evolved:

  • Stay far away from others and in the outdoors as much as possible
  • Avoid the heat (because we have enough of that right now in Houston!)
  • Take in some breathtaking scenery
  • See multiple places rather than stay in one spot to give the kids a flavor of CO as a whole
  • Eat some good food, even if we can’t eat at restaurants – and eat healthy wherever we can

Our trip shaped up quickly to focus on the eastern side of Colorado, mostly because of drive time. We also knew we wanted to break up the long drive up there (and back) into 2 days, so that narrowed down the choices rather quickly into the following 10-day plan:

Day 1: Houston to Canyon, TX (9+ hours – longest and most painful drive)
Day 2: Canyon, TX to Colorado Springs, CO (7+ hours)
Days 3-4: Enjoy Colorado Springs and surrounding area
Day 5: Drive to Boulder (1.5 hours – easy!)
Days 6-7: Enjoy Boulder and surrounding area
Day 8: Boulder to Pueblo via Golden, CO (around 3 hours – to get a jump on the drive back)
Day 9: Pueblo, CO to Canyon, TX (5+ hours)
Day 10: Canyon to HOME!

Why Canyon, TX and not some other spot? We wanted to do 2 things there: see Palo Duro Canyon State Park and check out the infamous Cadillac Ranch, both of which ended up being AWESOME. More on that later.

Channel your inner street artist at Cadillac Ranch!

Things We Learned About Road Tripping in General

There are plenty of blog posts and checklists online about what to bring on a road trip with kids, so we won’t rehash everything you should pack. Here are a few things we tried/learned that really helped us on those long driving days with the kids:

  • Over-pack your snacks: we packed a TON of snacks and stuff for meals because we wanted to minimize contact with other people. You know what? It wasn’t enough! We STILL went to the grocery store multiple times. If you think you packed enough, you probably didn’t, so grab that extra large box of applesauce and those 3 extra packs of granola bars, and more of whatever else you think you have enough of!
  • Have a solid cooler/snack bag strategy: Bring a small cooler and a reusable bag for the front of the car, both packed with drinks/snacks/napkins/etc. This should be everything food-wise you need for the day. Make sure it’s accessible while driving so you don’t have to stop to unpack and reorganize (bathroom breaks will cause you to stop plenty!). Also pack a large cooler and large bag in the back with the rest of your food. Then, restock your small cooler/bag with fresh snacks/drinks each morning so you can grab and go as needed!
  • There’s more to life than iPad: While the iPad was totally a part of our strategy, especially for those 9+ hour driving days, there were some really cool and unexpected things that were super fun beyond screen time. First, podcasts! Download a bunch of them for free – our favorite ones are Story Pirates and Storynory. The kids were fascinated, the stories were cool, and they gave us some peace – huge win for the whole crew! Next up, this random license plate sticker book – we bought several cheap things for the kids to try on the road, but this one was the biggest hit and kept them occupied for the longest. It was a good riff on an old school game. Each long driving day, the kids got to choose one movie to watch on iPad, and the oldest played an iPad game while the 3 year old was passed out napping, so everyone was happy.

Learn more in our next post, when we finally get on the road. We’ll share the stop you can’t miss on the way from Houston to Canyon and tell you the best way (we think) to visit Cadillac Ranch and Palo Duro Canyon State Park with kids!

Read the next post in this series!

Helpful Hints, The Great Outdoors

Geocaching: Free outdoor fun with kids in Houston!

A microcache we recently found – it’s a super small geocache often magnetically attached to something in the environment, like a sign or a metal pole.

What’s totally free, gets you outdoors, is fun for the whole family, is almost exactly like a treasure hunt, and can be done in Houston but also all over the world? Geocaching! This “sport” has been around over a dozen years, but don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it. We’ll tell you all you need to know to get started!

What is Geocaching?

When you geocache, you hunt for small containers hidden in the landscape by people that plant them in nooks and crannies just for you to find them. You find these containers using your phone, which takes you to the location, and then you use your treasure hunting skills (and sometimes a few hints) to find the exact place they are hidden. The kind folks that hide the containers do it just for fun – there’s no financial incentive, and the fun is to surprise and delight – and to see how many people can find it!

Geocaches abound all over Houston, so it’s the perfect thing to get your kids outdoors and in pursuit of a super fun goal.

How do I get started?

You’ll need a few key things if you want to have a successful geocaching experience:

  • Close-toed shoes, water, sunscreen, and bug spray: these caches are in the great outdoors, and sometimes they can be pretty hidden. You may find yourself in a forest, a field, in a neighborhood, or near a bayou – so make sure you’re really ready to explore!
  • The Geocaching app: this free app by company Groundspeak is available for iOS and Android. You will want to download the app on any phones that will be involved in the hunt. We made a family account so we can log all our finds on the same app, and we signed in on multiple phones. With a free account, you can access tons of easy and medium level geocaches. A paid, annual account gets you harder caches, but don’t do this until you get really good! There are plenty of free ones to choose from.
  • Your phone: You will need to access the app on your phone so you can choose a cache to find, navigate to it, see information about the cache, and record that you’ve found it, among other things. Don’t worry, you won’t be buried in your phone the whole time – it’s just a tool to help you get to your goal.
  • A pen: It’s fun to sign your name when you find a geocache, and most of them contain a list to do just that!
  • Small trinkets: The larger geocaches may have small toys or trinkets inside, so bring a few of your own so you can either contribute or swap them out. Good geocache etiquette requires that if you take something from a cache, you put something back in!
There is a list inside many geocaches so you can write your name and when you found it. It’s fascinating to see when it was last found. Some caches ask you to put where you’re from, and you’ll see people from all over the world that have found it!

Geocaching Lingo

Once you’ve got everything ready, you’ll need to know some geocaching vocabulary. This is an extremely popular hobby with a dedicated following, and like any specialized craft, there are plenty of new words to learn!

  • Geocache: this is the actual container you will find – “geo” because it’s located using GPS, and “cache” because the container has things inside it. Geocaches can be tiny (size of a kid’s finger) to the size of a shoebox, and anything in between. They are usually made of something very sturdy like metal or plastic, and many are magnetic because they are affixed to metal of some kind. There are also those hidden in the landscape under brush. Sometimes they are painted to camouflage with their surroundings. The goal is for the inside not to get wet, because there’s stuff in there!
  • Muggle: when you search for caches, it’s very important that innocent passersby not see you find it or place it back. These people are called muggles – if they do see you, they might get curious and take the cache or put it back in the wrong spot, which would ruin the fun for everyone. Watch for muggles and wait for them to pass!
  • DNF: In the racing world, this means “did not finish,” but in the geocaching world, it means “did not find.” When you try to locate a geocache but you just can’t find it, log a DNF in the app so others know it wasn’t found. Sometimes caches get moved or lost (remember muggles?), so this alerts others that it might not be there – or may be super hard to find.
  • TFTC (Thanks for the Cache!): You might see this abbreviation when you’re looking through the activity section on a cache – people write TFTC when they find a cache to to thank the person who originally hid it.
  • FTF (First to Find): This is the ultimate achievement in geocaching – being the “first to find” a geocache! They are being placed all the time, so you may very well get a FTF in your adventures.

How to Geocache with Kids

Pre-planning is key when geocaching with kids. It doesn’t take long, but you will increase your chances of success if you:

  1. Bring plenty of water and snacks: you don’t want to cut your adventure short because the kids are hungry or thirsty, so pack a bag like you’re doing some light hiking.
  2. Keep the explanation simple: Tell them they are going on an outdoor treasure hunt! They won’t get to keep the treasure unless you find a cache with trinkets, but it’s really rewarding and fun to find a geocache regardless.
  3. Find a spot with several geocaches: Sometimes caches are hard to find or not there anymore, so make sure to guarantee success and increase your odds. Great places in Houston include along the major bayous, larger thoroughfares (think Heights Blvd, Heights or Midtown Hike and Bike Trails), parks (Memorial Park and the Arboretum are great spots), and unique neighborhoods (Old Sixth Ward). The rule in placing caches is that it has to be free to enter so it’s accessible to everyone.
  4. Try, try again! Sure, it’s frustrating if you can’t find a cache, but keep hunting and you will be rewarded. On our last outing, we found 2 of the 4 we searched for. I’m pretty sure one was there and we missed it, and the other I think was legitimately missing. We have small kids so searching for a long time isn’t an option. Better to move on and get a quick win by finding a different one! You can always go back and try again another time.

We hope geocaching is as fun for your family is at is for ours. Hopefully we’ll see your name on a geocache around Houston soon!

Day Trips from Houston, Food, Helpful Hints

Houston Day Trip with Kids: Rosenberg, for Nature, Great Food, and Trains!

It’s hard to call a trip to Rosenberg an actual day trip from Houston (it’s basically still Houston all the way past Highway 99 these days), but there’s so much to do there that it’s well worth planning a whole day of family fun!

To start, pack up your snacks and water and head straight to Seabourne Creek Nature Park. Located just off 59, it’s just past the National Guard Armory (look to the left when you’re driving to see a big tank!) and the Rosenberg Civic Center. Maintained by the Texas Master Naturalists, this former plain green field with a detention pond has turned into a natural oasis hosting an abundance of wildlife. These wonderful volunteers have painstakingly recreated three beautiful Texas habitats in a single park: woodlands, prairie, and wetlands.

Part of the wetlands habitat at Seabourne Creek Nature Park

The hiking’s easy at Seabourne Creek – it’s perfect for small kids, because each habitat has one main trail that is about 1/3 mile long. You can easily see all of them in just over an hour. Logistically, the parking is plentiful and the bathrooms are clean and right up front. Just a few of the things to do when you’re there:

  • Take binoculars (or just use your eyes!) and see how many birds you can spot – we found egrets, roseate spoonbills (they look like flamingos with spoons on their bills – cool!), and so many more
  • Enjoy a snack on the picnic tables in the woodland area
  • Run along the boardwalk in the wetlands
  • Count the ducks in the lake
  • Search for butterflies in the butterfly garden
  • Check out the greenhouse where they are growing the native prairie grasses and restoring the habitats

When the kids start saying “pick me up!” or “I’m hungry,” head over to the Ol’ Railroad Cafe in Rosenberg (the old downtown – it’s pretty adorable) for a lunch that satisfies both kids and grown ups. The salads are outstanding, and the burgers are on fresh-baked buns, but pretty much everything is delicious.

The tour is a must-do at the Rosenberg Railroad Museum

Next up, walk just a couple blocks over to the Rosenberg Railroad Museum (closed Mon/Tues). Well worth the entry fee, you start at the small indoor museum, and kids get to do a fun scavenger hunt that ends in them getting to pick a special prize when they complete it. Outdoors is an amazing scale model of Rosenberg 70 years ago with trains chugging through the landscape. If that weren’t enough, there’s a play area where the kids can climb all over a wooden train play set, and you can check out the REAL trains chugging by from a platform to get the perfect view!

Also included is a tour you can take as a family: even if you don’t think your kids can handle tours (we generally don’t do them because we’re pretty rowdy and easily distracted), go for it! They are great with kids and the tour is fascinating to everyone, and it includes a trip through two train cars – a shiny red caboose and a very fancy passenger car.

Put a cherry on top of your day at Another Time Soda Fountain in downtown Rosenberg!

Now that you’re thoroughly exhausted and your kids are almost to the point of losing it, head across the street to Another Time Soda Fountain to wrap up the day and reward everyone for being troopers. You can belly up to the bar on old-time barstools if your kids are old enough or settle in at a table and enjoy the ambiance there. Choose from a great selection of delicious shakes and malts, or introduce your kids to the ever-classic Coke Float.

By this point, there will almost surely be naps in your future on your way home, if they haven’t happened already. Enjoy the quiet time and that drive back to Houston!

Do you have any other favorite Rosenberg haunts? Let us know in the comments!

Best Of, Helpful Hints, Houston Events, The Great Outdoors

Best of Houston with Kids: Transportation Edition

If your adventures are anything like ours, sometimes getting there is the best part. Somehow kids can rattle off dozens of modes of transportation way before they can count to 10 – it’s probably because these many-wheeled vehicles are just so darned cool.

On our travels through Houston, we’ve searched high and low for the best places to enjoy planes, trains, cars, trucks, buses, and construction vehicles, and we’d love to share them with you. You may find yourself geeking out more than your toddler!

You can actually ride these trains quite a long distance at Zube Park!

Best transportation-themed park, inside the loop: Donovan Park. A classic, albeit crowded, choice for fun, the wooden train is the signature element of this super fun place to play. Get there early to beat the crowds and the heat, and head across the street to Melange Creperie or Cloud 10 Creamery for a well-deserved snack afterwards.

Runner up, best inner loop transportation-themed park: Hermann Park. Another get-there-early (like when the gates open at 8:30) kind of place, it’s worth it to experience the train! Trains start at 10, so snag some donuts on your way, enjoy a donut picnic, and watch the ducks until you can get your ticket. If you’re feeling really brave or your kids won’t dive headfirst off the boat like mine will, try the pedal boats too!

Yet another runner up for best ITL transportation park…because, fire trucks: Fire Truck Park. Nestled right in the middle of West University, this park is best for the younger set – infants through maybe age 4 – with tons of age-appropriate things to do and see.

Best transportation-themed park, outside the loop: Zube Park. March through November, the Houston Area Live Steamers graciously offer train rides to kids for free (donations accepted!). It’s a popular attraction, and it’s so special that this passionate group of train lovers wants to share their hobby with kids just for fun! Totally worth the drive.

Did you know there are planes that have fold-up wings? We didn’t until went to Lone Star Flight Museum!

Most awesome transportation museum: Lone Star Flight Museum. This was a complete surprise to us the first time we went – we love this museum! There are two spotless indoor hangars, a gallery to experiment with all things flight, and a super amazing gift shop to find something unique on your way out. They are always hosting interesting and creative educational events, too, so visit often or become a member!

Best place to be a fireman: Houston Fire Museum. Located in midtown inside historic Fire Station No. 7, built in 1899, this museum caters to both little kids and adults. Be sure to check the calendar, because they’re often closed for birthdays (which are extremely fun, by the way), but it’s worth the wait! There’s a place to dress up as a fireman, slide down a fire pole, play in a play house to learn how to escape a fire, and get inside the cab of a real life fire truck to save the day!

There is just nothing quite like the Bayou Wildlife Zoo…

Craziest transportation experience, animals included: Bayou Wildlife Zoo. Our family is still questioning what on earth happened at this place! It’s a blast riding the rickety tram, listening to the speech of the creative tram drivers, and dodging hungry camels as they try and grab a bit of food from your bucket. It’s definitely down-home, and definitely memorable.

Best cheap transportation experience that will actually get you somewhere: The METROrail. Whether you are headed to the ball game or just plain bored, the METROrail is where it’s at. Park anywhere along one of the lines, buy a ticket, and enjoy the ride. Sometimes we park far away to go somewhere along the line just so we can ride the train for a few stops!

We can’t even remember how many super cool trucks we sat in at Touch-a-Truck!

Coolest transportation-themed event: Bellaire Touch-a-Truck (once a year, in March). This is the OG touch-a-truck event in Houston. Just Google “touch a truck houston” and you’ll see what I mean. They’re all a ton of fun, but they really bring it at Evelyn’s Park! See every form of transportation you can imagine, climb all over them, talk to real firemen and truck drivers, and so much more!

Most Texan twist on transportation: Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo (3 weeks in March). You might not think of the Rodeo as a place for enjoying things that go, but think again. There are tons of tractors and trucks to check out, along with ponies to ride!

What did we miss? Do you have any transportation-themed favorites? Let us know in the comments!

Day Trips from Houston, Helpful Hints

Houston Day Trip with Kids: Galveston

Often, trips to Galveston follow a pretty similar narrative: either a weekend at a beach house or a day relaxing on the beach…with tons of traffic there and back. These are both excellent choices (traffic excluded), especially with kids, but there are countless options for fun that don’t involve a swimsuit!

Winter is probably the most beautiful and awesome time to be in Galveston with your kids!

Here are some tips for getting the most out of Galveston with your kids:

  • Go when it’s winter. Houston winters are gorgeous, and the crowds in Galveston are way more manageable too.
  • Be an early bird. Your kids get up early, so take advantage of that pre-dawn wake-up and get out the door before 9! Chances are, you’ll miss all the traffic!
  • Bring a picnic. Sure, there are great places to eat, but a lot of them are overly touristy and expensive. If you must chow down in a place with 4 walls, try The Spot. Still touristy, but the food is great and you will want to reuse their kids drink cup for as long as your kids need a lid!
  • Use the car…for sleeping. Galveston is pretty far, so if you have to come back early, do it during nap time. Or, commit to a full day: put them in their PJs before you leave to go home, let them pass out in the car, and put them straight to bed when you get there.
La King’s Confectionery on the Strand is a classic: you can’t leave Galveston without going there!

We won’t detail everything to do in Galveston – you can find info about Moody Gardens (great place – a day trip in itself!) and the way-too-expensive-and-not-that-great-for-kids Pleasure Pier all over the place – but here are a few gems that we consider tried and true:

  • La King’s Confectionery: It’s the most wonderful candy shop, taffy pulling experience, ice cream shop, and soda fountain you can imagine. This historic and popular Galveston attraction is located on the Strand, a fun place to shop and walk around.
  • The Elissa: Located just off the strand, this ship hails from 1877 and is a part of the Texas Seaport Museum. Explore the decks, check out the captain’s quarters, marvel at the engine room, and actually take the helm! The all-volunteer crew sets sail each March and spends the rest of the year training and making her seaworthy.
  • Galveston Island Brewing: Kids are totally welcome at this super casual spot, and they have root beer!
  • Galveston Railroad Museum: So much more than a static display, a ticket to this museum lets you ride a real train by the cruise ship terminals.
  • Port Bolivar Ferry: The best free thing to do in Galveston, this is your chance to feed the seagulls, try and spot dolphins, and enjoy the sea breeze. Often we just go over and right back again just to enjoy the experience.
  • Galveston Children’s Museum: Located in a basement, it’s a fun place to spend a couple hours. It’s not shiny and new, but the exhibits are all hands on and the kids L-O-V-E it!
  • Galveston Tree Sculptures: After Hurricane Ike devastated Galveston, artists decided to make something out of the destruction. Many trees that were broken were turned into works of art, and you can drive around and find them all!
  • Go treasure hunting on the beach: Take a drive to Galveston’s west end (away from super busy East Beach), way past Moody Gardens, and find a place where you can pull in. The shells are way more plentiful and the beach is much more serene and less crowded!
If you’re lucky and the Elissa’s volunteer crew is getting ready to sail, they may even let you help with the ropes!

What are your favorite things to do in Galveston with kids? Let us know in the comments!

Helpful Hints

Getting Your Kid’s Energy Out: Indoor Edition

We all know the weather in Houston is mighty unpredictable: it could be 80 degrees in January, or there could be a 2-week streak of downpours in September. Or, it’s just plain 105 degrees in August with 95% humidity and there’s no way you’re going outside. In these instances, having a few places in your back pocket where you can take kids to release pent up energy is essential. Here are some favorites that have saved us from going stir crazy!

For the toddler set, options are limited. There are plenty of places that charge a membership fee that fit the bill, but most of those places are full with birthday parties on the weekends and also really pricey. It’s also hard to find places where toddler’s don’t get stepped on by the big kids. A couple of go-to spots for us include:

  • MajestKids in Sugar Land: It may be far for many of you, but the drive is worth it. Especially because you can get a good nap in on the way there or back! Located in a small strip center, this place is perfect for kids 3 and under. There are giant foam blocks, big wooden playsets, a bounce pillow, a foam pit, and there’s even a dedicated infant area. They have healthy snacks at the snack bar too. Though it was a 30+ minute drive for us, we found ourselves going back again and again.
  • Weiss Energy Hall at HMNS: Houston Museum of Natural Science is super fantastic overall and a source of endless fun, but you don’t normally think about it to expel a toddler’s energy. The 4th floor houses Weiss Energy Hall, and despite its elevated purpose (I’m not sure I could ever begin to explain fracking or viscosity to a 2-3 year old), toddlers can have a blast here. Despite it being one of the neatest spaces in the museum, it has never been crowded when we’re there, and there are tons of cool things to push, pull, see, and do. The space is gigantic, and the lights and tech are super cool for parents and kids alike. Bonus: when your kid gets tired, leave through the dinosaur exhibit on the first floor and marvel at the larger-than life skeletons that look like art!
  • Lowe’s or Home Depot: Ok, hear us out. It sounds weird, but there are two big things this option has going for it. First, giant, long aisles to run down. Second, fascinating things to look at and explore! If your kid has extra energy, put something heavy in the cart and let them push it around. Bonus: you can get light bulbs and plan your next home renovation while your kid touches every single carpet sample and opens and closes the washing machines to their heart’s content!
These giant foam blocks at MajestKids are just one of many awesome features for kids under 4!
Lowe’s is a great rainy day locale for running wild through the aisles with a toddler!

For kids that have passed the toddler phase and have boundless energy to burn off, the choices are plentiful all over the city. We have a particularly active elementary school kid, so we’re often challenged with finding the most interesting and varied indoor activities to exhaust him when the weather’s crummy. Here are some unique ones to try:

  • Urban Air on 290: This is a place where kids from toddler age to adult can have a blast, but the sweet spot is elementary school. There are several Urban Air locations, but this one is our favorite because of the combo of a great ninja warrior course, tons of trampolines, a huge playground, and several rock walls – all of which are included in the price of admission. If your kid is older elementary, they can even do a zip line!
  • Texas Rock Gym: There’s nothing like a giant rock wall to tire out a 5 year old! The folks at Texas Rock Gym know how to work with kids – they offer day passes, memberships, and camps. Your child can try the auto-belay and go up the wall on his or her own, but the best way to play is for you to belay and your child to climb. It’s a great bonding experience, and you both get to enjoy it. You can rent a harness for each of you, and if it’s your first time, you’ll get a one-on-one training to show you exactly how it works.
  • Urban Movement: This is a new one for us, but it’s so awesome that it’s now in our regular rotation. Urban Movement is for kids and adults and focuses on the sport of parkour – aka using your body to run, jump, and climb over all sorts of things. This is a class-based program, but that’s sort of necessary so you know what to do. After an hour of instruction, there’s an hour of free play in the gym. Your kid will literally never want to leave!
The ninja warrior course at Urban Air on 290
Texas Rock Gym has a wide variety of routes ranging from beginner to expert.
Urban Movement uses parkour to teach balance, build strength, and build confidence

Lastly, sometimes you can’t go anywhere when the weather’s bad, or you just don’t want to. For those occasions, we recommend a couple of key pieces of equipment that will help you tire out your little one, no matter their age:

  • Plastic cones
  • Masking tape
  • An indoor trampoline (Little Tykes has a great one!)
  • A soft ball you can throw around inside and not break a window or the TV

With these simple tools, you can build countless obstacle courses that will challenge your kids and make being stuck inside a blast. Use your watch to time them, add in challenging things to jump on/over/around, require a few jumping jacks here and there, and they’ll be passed out on the couch in no time.

So, what did we forget? What recommendations do you have for indoor places in Houston to go for kids to get their energy out?