Weekend Getaway:: Reelfoot Lake and Discovery Park

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By the time the long President’s Day weekend rolled around, my family desperately needed a getaway. Being pregnant and subsequently having a newborn meant that we hadn’t been out of town since camping over Labor Day; we even skipped our annual holiday visit to see family. That, coupled with the rainy winter we’ve been experiencing, meant that we were all a little stir-crazy.

This would be our first trip as a family of five, and we had a few qualifications: first, it needed to be relatively close, both because we only had a three-day weekend and because we had a road-trip-untested baby in tow. Next, we wanted to go somewhere that had both outdoor and indoor options for activities, particularly because the weather at this time of year can be kind of a crapshoot. Third, we were interested in someplace new to us where we didn’t have friends or family to visit and could just escape for a bit.

Reelfoot Lake and the nearby Discovery Park of America fulfilled all of those needs.

We’d heard about Discovery Park from several people, and once we showed our two daughters some videos, they were ready to pack their suitcases. And my husband had mentioned Reelfoot Lake multiple times, so when we figured out that they were in close proximity, we started looking for lodging.

Thanks to AirB&B, we found a cute little cabin right on the lake. And thanks to a well-timed half-day, we made the two-ish hour drive northeast in the afternoon, arriving by dinnertime. We had a great family-style meal at Boyette’s and settled in for the night, anticipating a full day of adventure on Saturday.

The weather was perfect for our outdoor plans. Our first stop was the Reelfoot National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. While not huge, the visitor center was very informative and just interactive enough to entertain our girls for a bit. The wetland habitat is ideal for waterfowl, and Reelfoot is known as a migration destination for bald eagles. While we opted to skip the guided eagle tour (we weren’t sure if our crew could last for two hours), we did see several on our own. We took advantage of the numerous boardwalks, observation decks, and paths to look for wildlife and do a little “hiking.”

We took the long way around the lake as we headed back to our cabin, which allowed our kids to check Kentucky off their list of states visited. (I also may or may not have made my husband stop the car so we could stand with one foot in Tennessee and one foot in Kentucky; it’s not often we get to be in two places at the same time!) I stayed behind with a sleeping baby, but our last stop for the afternoon was the Reelfoot Lake State Park Visitor Center. Inside, my husband and daughters got to see a red-tailed hawk, bald eagles, an owl, and, of course, a milk snake, which is standard for just about every nature center we’ve ever been to.

Back at the cabin, we played a rousing game of UNO while the delicious smells of beef and barley stew filled the air. One of the great things about being away from home is the escape from all of the mundane–yet necessary–household tasks that dominate our time and thoughts. We had the freedom to just enjoy each other’s company, and we relished the opportunity.

We changed gears the next day and headed the 30-ish miles to Discovery Park of America. If you’ve been there, you know that it is hard to describe. Think the Pink Palace/CMOM/pioneer village. There was so much to see and do that while we were satisfied we had covered everything, we definitely could have gone back a second day. 

Since I am having such a hard time describing the museum/heritage park, I’ll let the pros handle it: 

Discovery Center, Discovery Park of America’s 100,000-square-foot museum showcases ten exhibit galleries focused on topics like Native American history, the military, natural history, regional history, science, space technology, art, transportation and more. […] The 50-acre outdoor heritage park includes a man-made river flowing through the extensively-landscaped property, along with waterfalls, bridges, and other water features.” 

The outdoor area also has log cabin replicas, a huge barn filled with vintage farm equipment, gardens, and a pretty sweet playground. Our family especially enjoyed the interactive science area and giant slide shaped like a person indoors, and the train cars and depot outdoors. 

Now the details: Discovery Park is open seven days a week, but has shorter hours (10:00-4:00) and is closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the off-season (January-February and August-December). General admission is $15.95 for adults and $12.95 for kids 4-17. Children 3 and under are free.

After squeezing every minute of fun out of Discovery Park and shutting the place down, we headed back to the cabin where we enjoyed another meal and quiet evening in. What a luxury to settle in with a book after the kids went to bed and not feel guilty about it. 

All too soon, our weekend getaway came to a close. We packed up and headed back to reality after the Presidents Day holiday, tired from our adventures, yet rejuvenated from the chance to relax a bit. The baby did great, and the big kids had a blast, so we have already made plans to return sometime soon to such a fun locale only a few hours down the road.