Fort Collins occupies an area of outstandingly scenic beauty in the north-east of the state of Colorado. Built by the side of the Cache le Poudre River, the city is backed by the spectacular Rocky Mountain Range, bordered to the west by the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest and to the east by the Pawnee National Grasslands.
As its name might suggest, Fort Collins was originally founded as a military fort in the mid-1860s, but has grown over the decades to cover over fifty-seven square miles and has an ever-increasing population heading towards the two hundred thousand mark. The city and its outlying region's long history from the pioneering days to present times is exhibited in the Fort Collins Museum in diverse collections totaling over thirty-thousand artifacts.
With verging on three hundred miles of cycle lanes running through the city, it's not difficult to get outside and enjoy some exercise in Fort Collins either. It is one of only four cities in the US that has been classed as bike-friendly.
One element of the city that the residents are fond of that isn't represented in the museum is beer. Fort Collins has one of the highest ratios of craft breweries per capita of anywhere in North America and loves its beer-related festivals too as well as brewery-related cycle tours. That's great if you're of an age to enjoy that type of activity, but not so good if you have kids that can't join in.
As colorful and fun as it may be, to escape the boozy brigade that invades the streets during the Tour de Fat beer and bike festival, pack the kids into the rig and hit the highway. Their turn will come in the future when they're older, but in the meantime, while everyone else is going stir crazy, take them on a week-long road trip from Fort Collins to Birmingham in Alabama for some amazing nature-related activities.
Leave Fort Collins on the I 25 in the direction of Denver, but skirt around the city to join the I 70 and get some miles beneath your wheels. After a few hours of motoring, you'll notice a drastic change in the landscapes as you leave mountainous Colorado behind and enter into the prairies of Kansas. Keep going until you reach the rural community of Dorrance where you can turn off the highway at junction 99 and head north on 200th Street to the Wilson State Park.
The Wilson State Park has a great campground on the side of Wilson Lake that's open year-round, though you'll need to reserve your campsite before arriving. It's a superb place to pitch up with the family on the first day of your road trip from Fort Collins to Birmingham as there's so much for the kids to do. Take them hiking around the reservoir along the Dakota Trail, go mountain biking on the park's ten miles of cycle paths, get them swimming from the beach, go boating or fish from the shore while spotting the prolific wildlife there or in the nearby Wilson Wildlife Area.
After seeing the best of Kansas in the Wilson State Park, take to the road again and keep rolling in your rig until you approach Springfield in Missouri. Just before you get to the city, stop off to wow the kids by taking them into the incredible underground world of the Fantastic Caverns. The caverns are situated on Farm Road and there is a spacious parking facility at the entrance where you can leave your RV.
The Fantastic Caverns are a series of enormous limestone caves full of spectacular geological formations. Sit back in one of the wagons drawn by a propane-powered car as you're driven through the illuminated labyrinth millions of years old. It's worth getting a kink in your neck to see the gigantic stalagmites and stalactites that have been formed by the continuous seepage of water through the rocks. The tour of the caverns takes just under an hour and will leave the young ones open-mouthed with sheer amazement at the subterranean wonder hidden beneath the surface of Missouri.
While you're in the vicinity of Springfield, head into the city to take the kids to a fascinating attraction that will show them not just about the terrestrial and aquatic wildlife of North America, but from the entire seven continents across the globe. The Wonders of Wildlife National Museum and Aquarium is located on West Sunshine Street which is the city center, but take the MO 13 and you won't have any trouble negotiating the route through the suburbs to get there.
The massive installation has countless 4D galleries depicting the natural habitats of numerous species of mammals form polar bears to elephants and the creatures inhabiting the US's national parks. There are also four-dimensional historical displays that include Theodore Roosevelt's cabin and a collection of artwork related to the expeditions of Lewis and Clark.
In the aquarium section, there are representations of marine life from the world's rivers, lakes, and ocean,s ranging from jellyfish to paddlefish and sharks. Plan to spend a good few hours here as the kids won't want to leave until they've seen it all.
If you've ever considered showing the kids how much fun kayaking or canoeing are, the Lake Charles State Park is the ideal place to do it. The park is near Powhatan in Arkansas and has a campground that is open twelve months of the year. Some of the campsites are fitted with fifty amp hook-ups and water while others are thirty amp so make sure you reserve the right one for your particular rig.
The central feature of the state park is the six-hundred and fifty acre Lake Charles, a reservoir created by the impoundment of Flat Creek. If you're not traveling with your own kayak or canoe, there are crafts available for rent from the Lake Clark Fishing and Kayak Club who also organize guided kayak adventures on the lake with an emphasis on kayak fishing. Paddling is a fantastic sport to introduce the kids too and once they've found their rhythm with the oars, they'll be leaving you far behind so make sure they wear their life preserver at all times.
Play a fun practical joke on the young ones and convince them that, as you're driving past the Meeman-Shelby Forest State Park, rather than sleeping in the rig, you're going to spoil them with a night of luxury at a five-star hotel - then take them to Gracelands in Memphis. The iconic, white mansion with its columned portico was the home of one of the US's most famous singers, Elvis Presley and now is maintained as a museum in his honor.
Take a tour around the mansion and the kids will be so flabbergasted by the opulent luxury, they may well start to consider singing as a career. The sparkle from the singer's diamante and crystal-encrusted show suits could well leave them totally star-struck. Getting a look inside his remodeled, ultra-deluxe jet plane will leave them open-mouthed and could well set light to some latent ambitions so be prepared for some RV karaoke on the next leg of your road trip from Fort Collins to Birmingham.
After the glamour and glitz of Gracelands, get back to nature and reality, by heading to the Holly Springs National Forest. The forest lands cover an immense one-hundred and fifty thousand acres of the state of Mississippi, but you'll find the Chewalla Lake Recreation Area a convenient place to camp without going too far off your main route. Get there from Memphis by taking the I 22 to Lake Center from where you can join the Higdon Road which leads to the recreation area.
The campground at the Chewalla Lake Recreation Area has thirty plus campsites for RVs that are distributed along the forested shores of Chewalla Lake. Only nine of the campsites have hook-ups so if other RVers have arrived before you, you'll be pitching up primitive style. It's a great spot to set out exploring the woods with the kids or to go hiking or biking on the designated trails before hooking some fish out of the lake for dinner.
If seeing the four-dimensional presentations of animals in their worldwide habitats at the Wonders of Wildlife Museum piqued the kid's interest, pull up in Tupelo and show them a few examples of the real thing. The Tupelo Buffalo Park is located on Coley Road which you can join just after passing through Belden on the I 22 as you continue to head east through Mississippi on your week-long family road trip from Fort Collins.
The Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo is the state's biggest wildlife park and covers one-hundred and seventy-five acres where there's a diverse selection of animals roaming freely as well as in conditioned enclosures. Drive in your own vehicle through the fenced fields where there are bison, water buffalo, zebras, giraffes, camels, and yaks grazing peacefully. Browse the iguanas, pythons, and tarantulas in the reptile house before being entertained by the escapades of the primates in the monkey house. They're a lot livelier and more entertaining than the versions the kids saw back in Springfield.
End your week-long family road trip from Fort Collins to Birmingham in a way the kids are not likely to forget for a long time. A great way to make the entire vacation more memorable is by finishing up your seven days away from home with a visit to the Tupelo Haunted Castle. While it may not seem such a child-friendly thing to do, believe it, it is, and it'll probably be the adults on the trip who end up being more scared than the kids.
The faux-castle style structure in Tupelo is similar to an escape room experience but with some added horror elements thrown in. See who has the best eyesight as you attempt to not get lost in the darkness. Negotiate a spooky labyrinth when you never know what scare is around the next turn or where there's a ghostly actor waiting to jump out and spook you. It's different and great family fun that will probably have you laughing more than screaming.
When you roll into Birmingham in Alabama after a week on the road with the family, you'll be laughing at all the amazing memories you've made. From hiking through forests to creeping through spooky mazes, there will be something to smile at in the years to come. Before turning around and heading back to Fort Collins take time to have a look at the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum or the McWane Science Center before grabbing a bucketful of Alabama-style southern fried chicken and heading back to the rig to relive the experiences you've had.