2014 Keystone Fireside
2014 Keystone Fireside
Tampa in Florida is an amazing city where there's just about every entertainment and cultural activity imaginable, plus fantastic outdoor recreational opportunities happening all year round. Major annual events like the Gasparilla Pirate Festival and the Florida State Fair at the beginning of the year, as well as the Gasparilla Music Festival in March, draw the crowds to Tampa in their thousands. With everything from arts centers to multiple museums, water parks, zoos, an aquarium, and several great beaches, Tampa is a family vacation hot spot in Florida where you'll never have time to get bored.
If, after exhausting all there is to do in Tampa, you still have plenty of vacation days left or if you want to avoid the visiting crowds, heat, humidity, and thunderstorms of the summer months, hit the I 10 westbound in your rig. A seven-day RV road trip will take you as far as Wichita Falls in Texas. It's a great escape route that will see you driving part way around the Gulf of Mexico, over five state borders, and through endless landscapes of forests and lakes. You'll only need to change highways once and that's a straight move onto the I 20. A less complicated road trip would be hard to find. There are numerous state parks and national forests along the way to pitch camp in for the night and lots of incredible places the kids will just be begging you to stop at.
As you make the road trip from Tampa to Wichita Falls, they'll be thrilled when you pull up in Ocala to take them ziplining, freaked out with a hike through the jungle-like Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park and awed by the underground caverns in Marianna and that's before you even leave Florida. The days will just fly by and before you know it, you'll be rolling into Wichita Falls amazed by what you encountered along the way.
After all the adrenaline thrills at the theme park, take some chill-out time in the Cedar Hills State Park. It's around a fifteen-mile drive south from Arlington so it won't take you long to get there, and it's a perfect place to pitch up for the night too. The park has a good campground with over three hundred campsites all fitted out with water and electricity hook-ups so there's no shortage of space plus the park gates are open until ten in the evening so you can roll up late.
There's plenty of daytime activities in the Cedar Hills State Park to keep the family busy. They can hike or bike several trails, swim or fish in Joe Pool Lake or explore a historic farm that has been turned into an informative agricultural center.
The rangers run a series of programs and workshops throughout the year focused on nature and history. The park provides a great junior ranger kit and a free journal for the kids where they can keep a record of all the amazing things they do while there.
Once you're back on route and heading towards Dallas on the I 20, tell the family the next stop will be at the Six Flags Over Texas theme park and they'll be jumping for joy. Located to the south-west of Dallas between Fort Worth and Arlington, the park is acres and acres of amusement ride fun.
Let the youngsters loose on rollercoasters, carousels or rides that will have them sky diving through the air without a parachute. There are over thirty different rides at the park that will leave them voiceless from screaming. The tiny tots won't miss out either as there's a special area with rides just for them and some for families too where you can enjoy the diversions together.
When they're ready for a rest from all the excitement, catch the Looney Tunes show, become a mega-star for the day on the karaoke, shop for souvenirs or fill them up with some food from one of the many concessions. It's a day of your family road trip from Tampa to Wichita Falls they'll remember forever and probably want to repeat.
After being in an out-of-Africa environment, while you're in the region, why not take the young ones on an ancient American experience. It's unique and one they won't be able to see anywhere else.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site, Poverty Point, is a prehistoric earthwork constructed by an ancient indigenous tribe somewhere around three or four thousand years ago. Although the actual use of the several mounds at the site are still being debated by archaeologists, they may have been used for ceremonial or trading purposes, it's a fascinating place to explore.
There is also a museum at Poverty Point full of artifacts that have been extracted from archaeological digs in the area. Stone bowls, balls of cooking clay and arrowheads used by the natives of the hunter-gather tribe are just three of the things you can expect to see.
During the year, there are various demonstrations and events held at Poverty Point such as how to build a fire the primitive way, how to cook in a fire pit with the clay balls the ancients used and spear throwing contests. They're all free and fun to join in with.
Tease the kids and tell them you've teleported them to Africa as you drive through the gates of the Wild Country Safari Park. It works great if they've fallen asleep and wake up to see a giraffe staring through the window. They may well believe you.
The expression on their faces will be worth the fifteen minute detour off route. To get to the park, turn off the I 20 when you see the signs for Delhi - that's Delhi, Louisiana, not Delhi, India – and head along the LA 17 northbound for about ten miles.
At the park, you can either drive your own vehicle through the three-hundred acres of enclosures or take the guided bus tour. There are herds of zebra, giraffes and American bison roaming freely. Camels, kangaroos, and donkeys live here too, as well as reptiles and a petting zoo where the kids can get up close and friendly with some of the smaller species of animals in the park.
Stop off in Jackson on your road trip from Tampa to Wichita Falls and baffle the youngsters with science at the Mississippi Children's Museum. They'll be totally mesmerized by the hands-on exhibits in the colorful, child-oriented museum that's more like a theme park than an educational institution.
In the museum, they'll be able to explore Mississippi by climbing over an interactive map, learn about pollination in a special outdoor playground, discover what nutrition is while scaling an obstacle course and enter the world of story in the Literacy Garden.
The museum also hosts some fantastic events throughout the year that are suitable for the whole family. You could find your road trip coincides with Neon Night, an evening festival with live music and food trucks, NASA Day or Dr Seuss' Silly Birthday Celebration. Don't miss out on any of the fun and check what's happening before you arrive in Jackson.
The Florida Caverns State Park is both an interesting spot to stop off at on your RV road trip and an ideal place to pitch up for the night. The park is a five-hour drive from Tampa and has a pet-friendly campground open all year round that can accommodate RVs up to forty-five feet in length. What makes the park special and will fascinate the kids are the series of explorable underground caves there.
The young ones will love going down into the depths of the earth and seeing the stalagmites and stalactites illuminated with colored lights. They may even see some bats, frogs or cave crickets.
Once they've toured the caverns, take them hiking or mountain biking along some of the park's multi-use trails. The Chipola River runs close to the campground too so it's easy enough to tackle up then go and fish for a dinner you can grill up together under the stars.
If you prefer to keep your kid's feet firmly on the ground rather than having them flying sky-high, stop off at the Devil's Millhopper Geological State Park instead of Ocala. The park is around a three-hour drive from Tampa just north of Gainsville. While you may think Florida is all about palm trees, hike the park trail and you'll feel as if you've changed continents rather than set out on a road trip from Tampa to Wichita Falls.
The trail drops, via a wooden staircase, down into a sinkhole worn from the surrounding limestone by multiple streams and is full of dense, tropical rain forest vegetation. It is totally otherworldly. As they head down into the depths of the hole, the young ones will have a great time spotting fossils embedded in the rock walls.
A visit to the park is a fantastic way of showing the kids the diversity of nature while enjoying some outdoor time with them before getting back in the rig and hitting the road again.
With several days of road trip ahead, if the kids are bursting with pent up energy and are struggling to sit still, make your first stop at the Canyons Zipline and Adventure Park in Ocala. It's a short drive from Tampa to Ocala, only about an hour and a half, but it'll give the young ones a chance to burn off their excited exuberance, and you'll have some peace for the rest of the day.
Let them loose on the Treetop Express, and they'll be clambering over sky bridges and zooming down zip lines high above a tree-lined canyon and lake full of alligators. If they don't have a head for heights or are too small for that type of activity, no problem. At the park, they can saddle up and ride horseback along forested trails, go kayaking along the canyon or scavenge for gems and crystals in the park's Zuber Mine.
As you roll into Wichita Falls, guaranteed the family will be singing at the top of their voices and won't stop talking about the great time they had on the way. Whether you choose to pitch up in a private RV campground in the city suburbs or stay somewhere a little quieter like the Lake Arrowhead State Park fifteen miles out of town, the fun doesn't need to stop there. Kick back and relax after the drive before setting out to explore the city because there's a lot to do and you'll need some energy to do it.
In Wichita Falls, find out all about the flora and fauna of Texas at the River Bend Nature Center, spend the day at the Castaway Cove Water Park or visit the Kell House Museum. After all that, the youngsters will have worked up an appetite so why not indulge them with some authentic Tex-Mex for dinner? The road trip from Tampa to Wichita Falls is one they'll want to do again and again – it's just great.