Whether it’s the mountains or the beach or a new big city that beckons, summertime is prime family vacation time. But like just about everything else, a global pandemic has disrupted many pre-planned vacations. So, if you’ve got time off and nowhere to go, we’ve put together a list of local outdoor activities to help you plan an adventurous family staycation.
The risk of contracting the coronavirus is lower outside than indoors. However, many of these attractions still require masks for at least part of the process. Keep that in mind while planning an outing in the heat and humidity of a St. Louis summer.
Depending on the age of the children involved, it may be best to start early, take a break for lunch on a shaded patio and pick a different activity in the cooler evening hours. The region offers hundreds of miles of trails for hiking and biking, beautiful boutique hotels and scenic parks. Even the most familiar sites have added new ways to experience them with enhanced safety protocols.
Keep in mind that most places require advance reservations to limit capacity at any given time. With a little advance planning, you can rediscover local gems and create lasting vacation memories.
1. Grafton Sky Tour Aerial Lift, Resort and Zipline
The Grafton Sky Tour Aerial Lift offers one of the best views of the region and a cool way to get there. When we visited, the enclosed gondolas were not yet open for riders. The open chair lifts were operating at around 30% capacity, so every other bench was occupied. Masks were required while waiting in line but not mandatory on the lift. The gentle and leisurely ride takes you up the bluff top to Aerie's Resort and Winery, where they had plenty of patio seating set up for drinks and food. The spot overlooks the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers and is a relaxing way to enjoy the beauty of the region.
Tickets are $10 per person for a round trip pass and season tickets are available for $29 per person.
More info • 618-786-8439; aeriesview.com
After you make it back down, be sure to check out the zipline, owned and operated by the same family. The zipline tour includes seven lines, two suspended rope bridges and a small hiking trail. A maximum of 10 people are allowed on each tour, including two guides. The length of a tour will vary depending on group size. Ours took about two hours. This zipline is more family friendly than ones we’ve done in the past. Masks are required during the check-in process but not on the course itself.
Tickets are $69 per person.
2. Fruit picking
Summer brings a bounty of fresh fruit, and we visited Eckerts Farm in Belleville to pick blackberries. Peaches also will be ripened and ready soon. We wore masks when we got our tickets at the check-in booth and on the wagon ride into the fields. Masks are not required while picking fruit. It brought back childhood memories for me while we picked blackberries from their prickly bushes under the hot sun. You can buy your field access pass online (children under 2 are free) in advance to secure a time slot. There were hand washing stations for guests to use prior to picking. It’s best to check their crop update online before finalizing plans.
3. MonstroCity at City Museum
One of the country's largest and most unique jungle gyms is the City Museum’s iconic MonstroCity. It’s an outdoor rebar playground featuring two planes propped on ladders, a fire engine, a castle turret, a 25-foot cupola, narrow crawlers arching four floors over a patio, and ramps and ladders connecting the whole thing together, mostly. Underneath MonstroCity, you can find the Cabin Inn serving slushies, sodas and a full bar, and a brick patio that houses Tony's Barbecue Pit. The ball pits are closed, but the playground will still engage most children for at least an hour or two.
Access to MonstroCity is included in City Museum's general admission ticket, which is $16. City Museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Reservations are encouraged, but walk-ups will be accommodated.
4. Missouri Historical Society’s guided walking tours
There’s a new series of walking tours in town offered by the Missouri Historical Society, which partnered with Amanda Clark, who ran Renegade Tours for several years. We signed up for St. Louis History and Architecture 101 with Clark, who shared engaging storytelling and a deep well of historical knowledge, along with historic photos on her iPad.
The tours are about 2 hours long, and masks are required the entire time. Even though we started at 5 p.m., it was extremely muggy. I needed a few breaks to take my mask off and catch my breath, although no one else in my family had any problems. Clark condensed 250 years of history while we walked and pointed out features of local architecture that are definitely not part of a standard (boring) tour. We were fascinated and want to explore more of the tour offerings, and even our teenagers stayed engaged.
There are also several virtual tour options such as Made in STL and Whole Lotta (STL) History.
See STL Walking tours are wheelchair accessible. Tour starting/ending points are included in booking info. Walking tours are $20 per person or $15 per person for Missouri Historical Society members.
5. Missouri Botanical Garden
MOBOT’s main campus and Shaw Nature Reserve, a garden site in Gray Summit, reopened in mid June. Both implemented additional protocols, including requiring e-tickets purchased in advance and limiting capacity. The 79 acres of horticultural display at the garden include the Chinese Garden, English Woodland Garden, Ottoman Garden, Victorian District and one of the largest strolling Japanese Gardens in North America. There’s also a tram tour available for more relaxed visit.
6. River Adventures
Big Muddy Adventures connects St. Louisans to their most famous natural resource — the rivers. The tour company offers several different packages including a monthly river time supper club, full moon float, Missouri river trip and an Ozark day trip. Families can also book a custom trip.
7. The St. Louis Wheel and Union Station
It’s hard to resist the appeal of a 200-foot, neon-lit Ferris wheel. Not only did we see the beautiful St. Louis skyline at sunset, but we also posed for several selfies while waiting in the socially distant line. The wheel makes three to four rotations during the 15-minute ride. There's also miniature golf, a carousel and excellent kid-friendly, patio dining at the Soda Fountain restaurant.
8. Butterfly House private tour
The Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House in Chesterfield began offering guided, private tours when it first reopened and will continue offering them on Mondays. Each tour requires a minimum of two people and a maximum of nine. They start 20 minutes apart with staggered arrival times. A staff member took us on an hourlong journey through a new circus-themed exhibit, "Under the Big Top," featuring insect displays and interactive games. It included a private butterfly release and live animal encounters. Advanced reservations and masks are required for everyone over age 9.
9. The St. Louis Zoo
There's a new baby elephant at the zoo, although mama Rani and her calf are bonding in private and not available for public viewing yet. But there are still plenty of other cute animals to see. Visitors must reserve free, timed tickets before visiting, and masks are required for visitors ages 9 and older. Several of the indoor exhibits remained closed, and visitors can't cool off in the Penguin & Puffin Coast. But the crowds are less heavy than normal, and the concessions hand out free water, probably because the water fountains are still not working. There are hand sanitizer stations in several places.
10. Forest Park Boathouse
The paddle boats are back in action at the Post-Dispatch Lake in Forest Park. The Boathouse remains a place to fuel up and then cast off into the water. Visitors can explore 22 acres of waterways that wind around two islands and host varieties of fish, frogs, dragonflies, egrets, kingfishers and ducks.
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