Our family lived in rural Kansas when my two kids were young and their summers were spent playing in the woods behind our house. They built forts with sticks, swam in the creek and climbed trees that their imaginations transformed into everything from pirate ships to the jungles of Africa. Family vacations were spent camping, and weekend hikes were the norm.
When we moved to Kansas City, Kansas several years ago, we were pleased to find so many great outdoor spaces and made sure we took advantage of all the city had to offer. Since my kids have become teenagers, though, and they have busy lives of their own, our outdoor bonding time just doesn’t happen very often. A few weeks ago, I checked our family calendar and realized that all four of us had the weekend free. “Grab your bikes, we’re hitting the trails!” I announced at the breakfast table.
Both my kids looked at me with a little hesitation. I gave them my best come on; it’ll be fun look, and Jake, my 17-year-old, obliged. He gave his sister a nudge and said, “Let’s hit the Armourdale Loop first.”
BIKING ALONG THE KANSAS RIVER
My husband, Neil, hooked the rack to the back of the car while the kids and I got the bikes, and we headed to Armourdale’s short trail—the perfect place to get our day started.
The trail started under the Kansas Avenue Bridge and definitely had an industrial feel to it, at first. But the further we biked along the 1.3-mile trail of the Armourdale Hike & Bike Route, the more nature began to reveal itself. I pedaled leisurely in the back of our little pack over the crushed-stone pathway, enjoying the breeze and the birds chirping in the sunlight. Neil and the kids stopped ahead of me, and Sara, our 16-year-old, pointed at the small island in the middle of the river.
“An eagle,” she whispered, a hint of awe in her voice as she took out her phone and snapped a photo.
A soft quiet fell over us. I’d seen eagles many times before, but there’s something about their grace and beauty that gets me every time. After several moments, the gorgeous bird took flight and made several loops around the island before landing out of sight.
We pedaled on, and saw a few more birds flitting across the trail. When we returned to the car, Sara and I scrolled through her pictures of the eagle while the guys loaded up the bikes. She picked out her favorite and shared it on social media.
“And you didn’t even want to come this morning,” I teased. Sara just grinned and gave me the obligatory teenage eye roll.
AN URBAN NATURE OASIS
We picked up sandwiches for lunch at the local deli and drove to Wyandotte County Lake and Park. I grabbed the large quilt we kept in the trunk for such occasions and snagged a spot near the kids’ fishing pond for a picnic. After we devoured our lunch, we sat back and relaxed in the shade. It was one of our favorite spots when we first moved to Kansas City, Kansas Jake and Sara loved to stand on the shore and cast their line into the water, while they waited for the telltale tug that signaled they’d hooked a big one.
The massive wooded area made it feel like we weren’t even in the city anymore. There was room to roam and wander in its rolling beauty. “Who’s up for a hike?” Neil asked, hopping to his feet. The rest of us joined him and spent the better part of the afternoon exploring the trails, where we met a group on horseback out for an afternoon ride. “Next time?” Sara asked Neil, with a hopeful glance at the horses. He gave her a wink and a nod.
A BEAUTIFUL SPOT FILLED WITH HISTORY
“There’s one more place we need to hit before the day is done,” Neil said, and I had a feeling I knew where we were headed. Lewis and Clark played a major role in many of Jake and Sara’s childhood explorations in our little woods back in rural Kansas. The kids would sit on logs in the creek, pretend they were paddling westward, and argue over who got to be Lewis.
I figured Neil was taking us to the Lewis and Clark Park at Kaw Point. And I was right. Neil pulled into the park, and I smiled, thinking back on those imaginative summers. As soon as Jake realized where we were, he playfully shoved Sara and said, “I’m Lewis! I called it first!”
Though we had had a full day, the weather was ideal and our kids had no trouble keeping their energy high. The beautiful woods and wildflowers in the 10-acre park greeted us as we hiked along the Heritage Trail. Throughout the park there were historical markers and signs with important facts about the Lewis and Clark expedition. Neil had fun quizzing the kids, and I was impressed with how much they recalled.
We ended our hike at the point where the Kansas and Missouri rivers came together. The sun was beginning to set, and the lights of the skyline glittered in the distance.
Our outdoorsy getaway was the perfect way for our family to explore the natural beauty near the heart of the city and to spend precious time together. We agreed that we should discover other hidden gems and continue to have more adventures together—whether we get to be Lewis or Clark.
Guest Blogger: Jackie Tucker