August is the transition month for my family – summer vacation ends and school begins. This year there are two dates circled for the first day of college; one is our son’s and the other is our daughter’s. The weekends are clicking by and the final Platte County summer camping trip has been written plus circled in red on the calendar – Weston Bend State Park Camping.
My son, Daniel, is an Eagle Scout who loves to camp; in fact, he’s a returning Ranger at the Philmont Boy Scout Camp in New Mexico this summer. My husband, James, gave up scouts in grade school, but he got hit with the camping bug when Daniel went through scouts. My daughter, Emily, loves nature and being outdoors. She can identify an owl just by the sound it makes far-off in the woods. Me? I prefer four walls and a bed to a tent and sleeping bag, but am out-voted every year. A tent is our home for the weekend once a year.
Weston Bend State Park encompasses 1,133 acres less than 30 minutes from downtown Kansas City. It is close enough to easily drive to but just far enough to leave city life behind. The campground features 37 basic and electric campsites, complete with modern restrooms (thank goodness) plus hot showers, and, for those staying longer than a weekend, laundry facilities. For hikers and bicyclists, the park has a 3-mile, paved loop-trail through a beautiful hilly and wooded area. Additional gravel and dirt trails allow visitors to explore the park and river bottom area.
Once we set up the tent and got everything unloaded from the van (who knew so much “gear” was needed for a weekend 10 minutes from home?), we grabbed our water bottles and hiked to the scenic outlook. Looking down at the Missouri River, I can almost picture Lewis & Clark traversing the river in 1804, during their expedition. Fast forward to today and you can see Fort Leavenworth in the distance. This is my favorite part of the park, with the lush, green trees canopied below the overlook and the farm fields contrasting against the riverbank. It’s always fun to try and identify the birds flying from tree to tree. I wish the parakeets seen in abundance during the 1800s were still here.
Another favorite activity is hiking the Weston Bluff Trail to downtown Weston, a small town which was established in 1837. The hike of 1.25 miles each way has a prize at the end – a visit to Main Street Galleria. The first time we made the hike into Weston, we were looking for something to drink and saw the “Old-Fashioned Fountain” sign. Daniel and Emily were in grade school at the time and had never been to an old-fashioned fountain. We entered the store and they discovered the wonderful tastes of handmade phosphates. With all the flavors available, Daniel selected “cola” and upon tasting deemed it the original Coca-Cola prior to being bottled. We all try different flavors and combinations every year.
When the college students are no longer able to go on our annual camping trip, my husband says he and I will uphold the tradition. I told him I would if we could include a trip to Green Dirt Farm one evening, for a Farm Table Dinner. Located less than ten minutes from Weston Bend State Park, Green Dirt Farm brings in the area’s most respected and inventive chefs to prepare a one-night only, four- course menu using locally grown and harvested ingredients. Seating, which is limited to 30, takes place in the barn, where everyone is seated around a long harvest table. The 11 Farm Table Dinners sell out quickly; I have never been. Also, Green Dirt Farm offers Cheese Appreciation Events and Farm Tours. I might have to sneak away from Weston Bend and partake in one of their new events where they bring in a local beverage and food mover & shaker to co-host a tasting. Think my annual s’more creation at the campfire might be on hiatus for a year.
We never seem to have enough time, but one year I would love to do a “park hop.” There are wine trails and pub crawls, so why not a park hop, where we venture to another park or two before heading home?
Guy B Park Conservation Area is less than 10 minutes from Weston Bend (2.5 miles north of Platte City, on Route 371 and Bee Creek Blvd.). It features 17-acre Tobacco Hill Lake, stocked with trophy bluegill. The 380-acre park has an additional smaller pond which is ideal for fishing and frogging. My kids promote the catch and release philosophy – clothes, on more than one occasion, have been saturated when chasing those elusive bullfrogs. For those who enjoy hunting – Guy B Park allows shotgun and archery hunting of rabbits, squirrels, quail, turkey, waterfowl and deer.
The final stop on the park hop would be Platte Falls Conservation Area, which is five minutes down the road (I-29 & Route HH). Camping is permitted and fishing along the Platte River yields catfish with additional ponds featuring black bass and crappie. The 2,356-acre park is a favorite among bird watchers and hikers.
Although I may prefer a bed and air-conditioning during the dog days of summer, the memories created by our family’s annual camping trip in Platte County are just too priceless to miss.
Written by Jennifer Goering from the Platte County Convention and Visitors Bureau.