Summer Staycation: Southeast Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) - Let's face it, planning a vacation can be work!

"Reservations, where you gonna stay, the plane flight," said Gus Torres, a Derby father of three.

Not to mention the money it takes.

"The price of the hotel, the price of the food, the price of the tickets," added Eloy Mendoza, father of four.

Both families enjoy taking trips, but the kids dread a long car ride.

That's why KSN's Stephanie Bergmann and photojournalist, Raoul Cortez, set out to find affordable fun that's not far away.

"I guess the trick is to find out what we all do have in common and go for that."

First on the kids' wish list is the great outdoors.

"I'd pick hiking 'cause it's really fun," said Zoe Torres, smiling.

For that, our crew explored southeast Kansas and hit the jackpot around Independence. Elk City Lake has several hiking trails, from an easy one-mile loop to an all-day trek.

Kids will enjoy climbing on big rocks along the way and watching for birds and wildlife.

The state park charges just $5 per carload.

Next, our KSN crew headed to Riverside Park, what's called "the Jewel of Independence."  It's 50 acres of fun on the cheap!   

A ticket to ride the refurbished miniature train is just $.25.  The water park is $4 a person, and the zoo is free-- home to the first monkey to survive space travel.

"I have four kids of different ages, and they can all come here and be happy" said local mom, JoElla Eriksen. "They love miniature golf, which is $1 per person. They love the carousel, which is $.05 per person."

The carousel just re-opened at Riverside Park, after getting a complete restoration.

Just outside Independence, another kid favorite is the "Little House on the Prairie," where author, Laura Ingalls Wilder, lived in 1870.

The replica log cabin is being rebuilt and should be finished the first week of June. The museum asks for a donation of $1 for kids and $3 for adults.  

From there, KSN went to Cherryvale for the summer activity all kids crave.

"We like to go swimming!" said Josephine Mendoza.

The perfect place is Big Hill Lake, often called "The Little Ozarks."  You can dig your toes into a soft, sandy beach and enjoy a picnic and fishing for just $5 per vehicle.    

For really big fun, how about climbing on Big Brutus, the largest electric shovel in the world?!

It's so giant, you can actually see the top of the coal shovel from miles away before you actually reach it, outside the town of West Mineral.

Big Brutus is 16 stories tall, and visitors can climb way up inside it to sit in the driver's seat. The price to tour Big Brutus is not that big-- $5 for kids and $8 for adults. Children under six are free.

Remember, no stay-cation would be complete without good food.

In the town of Pittsburg, Chicken Annie's and Chicken Mary's have cooked up legendary fried chicken for decades and sit less than a block apart.

Chicken Annie's dates back to 1934, when the wife of an injured miner needed to make money and support the family.

Then, in the 1940's, another miner's wife opened Chicken Mary's.

Even today, families love to taste both and decide for themselves which fried chicken is best!   

The last stop for our KSN crew in southeast Kansas was Galena.

"The real goal is just to spend time together, kind of unplug, and just be with each other."

At a nostalgic gas station called "Cars on the Route," kids can get their picture taken next to the rusty tow truck said to have inspired the Tow Mater character in the movie "Cars."

Inside the store, you can buy snacks and Route 66 memorabilia. 

Whether you spend five minutes or five hours at these attractions is up to you!

"I guess the trick is to find out what we all do have in common and go for that," said Gus Torres. "The real goal is just to spend time together, kind of unplug, and just be with each other."

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