by Jen Lucas, Pack Up + Go Contributor
To summarize, if you haven’t read part one of this journey, my Dad and I drove from California to Pennsylvania with a six and a four-year-old. We lived to tell the tale and honestly had an enjoyable time due to proper planning, keeping each leg of the trip under eight hours, researching a few kid-friendly options in each city and remaining flexible.
We left off in Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico and were heading to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This city was more of a stopover destination, mostly to catch up on sleep, as it was over the recommended eight-hour drive. However, I wanted to ensure we had something to do in case we needed to blow off some steam so I found a few options that seemed interesting, such as the Martin Park Nature Center and the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum.
The Martin Park Nature Center is a great escape from the city with walking trails, a nature themed playground, and a Visitor Center with live animals and streams cascading over red rocks. It seemed like the perfect option right on the way to get out into nature, and would prepare us for the next leg of our trip.
The Cowboy Museum seemed fitting based on the location, which is also important when visiting different cities, as I like the kids to experience local culture. Conveniently located off Route 66 and highly rated on TripAdvisor, the museum is full of Western culture and Native American history. Unfortunately, we decided to bypass activities in Oklahoma City, get a solid night’s sleep, and hit the road in the morning towards our next stop, Memphis!
As this was my first time in Memphis, I chose to stay at La Quinta Inn near Graceland, because I was hoping to be near the action but not experience quite the party scene as I would downtown. The area was not the best, and when we pulled into the parking lot through the iron security gates, I felt as though it could be a mistake to stay in the area. The property itself was clean, offered free breakfast, had a nice outdoor pool and was of great value. We were minutes away from Graceland and many Elvis-themed establishments, so it was quintessential Memphis and excellent for the adults. As for the kids, I chose not to shove Elvis Presley down their throats and instead gave them a few options of activities, including a river boat cruise or Graceland, figuring they couldn’t care less about the music icon.
Shockingly, my six-year-old was very much interested in going to Graceland and watching performances in restaurants complete with Elvis impersonators in sequin-filled jumpsuits. I was beyond excited, as Graceland was a first for both of the adults, as well, and I’ve deemed it one of those place you must see at least once in your life. The kids were both fully engaged in the tour of his home and still tell the stories of his life and death to this day.
To continue with the kid-approved, Elvis-themed occasion, I discovered that the famous Marlowe’s pink Cadillac would pick us up at our hotel, so immediately made reservations. Since Elvis used his first royalty check on a pink Cadillac for his mother, Marlowe’s chose the same vehicle to shuttle local hotel guests to their restaurant.
After filling my belly with some of the best BBQ I’ve ever had and their famous fried pickles, we rested up for the final leg of our trip, a visit with friends at their cabin in Lake Lure, North Carolina.
Some may recognize Lake Lure as the filming spot for the movie Dirty Dancing, but the 720-acre lake, located amongst the Blue Ridge mountain range and near Chimney Rock Park, is kid heaven with approximately twenty-one miles of shoreline. The beach is pristine with boat and kayak rentals, fishing, water skiing and a water park with water slides and games. We opted for the boat rental and spent hours cruising around the lake, jumping off every few miles to enjoy the refreshing water.
Our friends had a timeshare at the Fox Run Resort which was close to the lake. It had both an adult and kid pool, lazy river, golf course and bar/restaurant. The amenities were perfect on rainy, cloudy days when we didn’t want to risk being on the lake in case of thunderstorms.
After three days at the lake, it was noticeably time to make our way to the final destination: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Even though the kids’ DVD players broke somewhere in Tennessee, we were able to keep the trip enjoyable and headaches to a minimum by ensuring they were informed and therefore interested in our destinations. We also made sure to take a break whenever necessary. We are proof ten days in a small SUV with young children can be enjoyable!