How to Summer Like a Kid

It’s time to unleash this summer and enjoy the water, the sun, the fields, the trails and the entertainment with the same abandon and excitement you had as a kid. Here's our list of carefree things to do this to ensure your best summer yet.

By Katie Pollock Estes with additional reporting by Cory Patton

Jun 2024

Jessica Pearson riding a bike through Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park in Springfield MO
Photo by Brandon AlmsJessica Pearson, captain for a local women’s racing team, cruised through Nathanael Greene/Close Memorial Park on a bicycle from Sunshine Bike Shop. Purchase Photo

It’s time to let loose and enjoy a summer like the ones we had as kids! A summer filled with carefree exploration and fiercely intentional enjoyment of the little things that make this season magical. It’s all about soaking up Vitamin D on a bike ride, breathing in fresh air on a hike, and the simple pleasure of enjoying an ice cream cone in the sunshine. So keep this issue as your guide, and carry it with you instead of your briefcase when you need a respite from adult pressures—because there’s nothing more carefree than doing summertime like a kid.

Go Ride a Bike

Feeling wind in your hair as you zoom around on a bike is a great way to get your heart pumping. It’s okay if you haven’t done it since you were a kid. You know what they say...

Frisco Highline Trail

This trail runs 35 miles from Springfield to Bolivar, but you don’t have to do it all at once. Try a partial trip from the Wishart to Bolivar trailheads to see wildflowers in La Petite Gemme Prairie and cross a 317-foot bridge.

Sac River Mountain Bike Trails

There are 14 miles of single-track trails here that wind through woods and prairies. It’s great for more advanced cyclists, but beginners can tackle it too.

Dogwood Canyon Nature Park

The trail is paved, and the scenery is unbeatable, including numerous waterfalls and streams. Bonus: There’s an on-site restaurant for post-ride snacks.

Two Rivers Bike Park

There are 14 miles of professionally designed single-track mountain biking trails spanning this 400-acre park.

Also read: The Best Trails in Southwest Missouri.

Andy's Frozen Custard concrete and sundae in Springfield MO
Photo courtesy Andy's Frozen CustardCool off with a frozen concrete or sundae from Andy's Frozen Custard.

Eat Some Ice-Cold Treats

Andy’s Frozen Custard

There’s no better reward for standing in line in the heat than that first bite of Andy’s. Grab a seat outside one of the locations and tuck into a summer seasonal, like a blackberry concrete in June or a key lime pie concrete in July.

Swirly's Ice Cream & Waffles

“The difference between our ice cream and others is it’s a good bite from start to finish, so you get every ingredient and topping put into our ice cream from the very beginning to the very end,” says Jack Powderly, co-owner of Swirly's Ice Cream & Waffles. Jack, along with co-owner, Kenzie opened Swirly's in 2022 to provide an ice-cream that stays good to the last lick by blending the ice cream with toppings to create a unique, flavored soft-serve. Find out more about Swirly's here and keep an eye on their social media for opening times.

Complete Your Summer Reading

Lazy summer days call for lazy summer activities, like slipping into a hammock, cracking open a book and letting the afternoon pass slowly. Here a few ways to connect with other readers this summer for some literary inspo.

The Library Center

Just one of the branches of the Springfield–Greene County Library District, The Library Center offers tons of resources. Events and book clubs offer ways to connect with other readers, and you can pick up reserved books at drive-through windows after browsing best-sellers and tools for book recommendations at

Pagination Book Shop

Pagination Bookshop hosts plenty of book clubs where you can indulge in your literary whims with a few other grown-ups who are along for the ride (watch their Facebook page for author talks). Owner Jennifer Murvin is also great at offering recommendations.

Stay Up Late

Bedtime, schmed-time. Summer is for long hot days that bleed into cooler nights, and staying up late to enjoy it feels like a vacation. Here are a few carefree ways to enjoy twilight and beyond.

Go Night Swimming

There are so many pros: Skipping sunscreen, sliding through water lit by pool lights, taking over a place that’s usually reserved for sun-worshipping daytime fun. Find a friend with a pool, or join Green Meadows Pool, where you can partake in adult swim nights.

Play Ghost in the Graveyard

If you forgot how to play this game, enlist a kid to teach you. We did that, and we had a blast! It’s a screeching, giggling, running-around-in-the-dark bucket of fun. And even though we enjoyed it with a 7-year-old, it’d be just as fun with a group of fun-loving grown-ups.

Catch Fireflies

They glitter, and they twinkle, and they are way more evasive than we remembered them being when we were kids. But fireflies flashing in the night sky are a quintessential childhood memory. So grab a jar, and let yourself relive the feeling of capturing a little magic.

Group of people stargazing
Photo courtesy ShutterstockEnjoy the peace and quite of the nighttime sky.

Gaze at the Stars

Remember what it felt like to marvel at the night sky when you were a kid? This summer, let yourself feel small in this great big universe by doing a little stargazing.

Lay on Your Back in Your Backyard

Toss a blanket down in your backyard, and lie back to admire the stars. Apps like Night Sky and SkyView let you point your phone at the sky to see what constellations are up above. Be sure to look up during the peak of the annual Perseids Meteor Shower (August 11–13).

Visit River of Life Farm

Above the 9-acre observation field at River of Life Farm, there’s a big sky and minimal light pollution, which makes it a great spot to see a lot of celestial bodies. If you are staying in one of the treehouse cabins there, there’s no fee to use the observation fields.

Check Out Missouri State University's Baker Observatory

Missouri State University’s Baker Observatory houses powerful telescopes, primarily for lab work and research. But it also opens up to the public for free stargazing events.

Also read: More of best stargazing opportunities in southwest MO.

Get Lost in the Woods

Take the time to explore—really explore—the Ozarks by embarking on a trek through the woods on one of the region’s countless hiking trails.

Have you ever been on a hike with a kid? They don’t care how long the trail is, what the pre-planned payoffs and sweeping vistas are supposed to be, or what timeline their accompanying adults had in mind for the trip. All they care about is being in the moment. They look at the ground and the trees and the world around them, and they just take it all in. 

This summer, try to get lost in the woods the way a kid would, observing the flora and fauna around you—picking up bugs, running your hand down the bark of a tree, marveling at the sound of unseen squirrels skittering through fallen leaves, dipping your toes into the water. Then share your wonder with whomever you’re with as you make Mary Oliver’s “instructions for living a life” from her poem Sometimes your motto: “Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.”

If you’re new to the wilderness and need tips for where to go, start with Little Sac Woods, or check out our very favorite places in the Ozarks to set aside the chaos of life for a day and just explore this beautiful place where we live.

Sandwich and onion rings at Red's Giant Hamburg on Historic Route 66.
Photo by Sara GenslerGrab a sandwich and onion rings at Red's Giant Hamburg on Historic Route 66. Purchase Photo

Nibble on Nostalgic Foods All Day

Plan a whole day of munching on the summertime tastes that remind you of childhood.

8 a.m.

Grab a donut, the “school is out and sugar is fine” breakfast of champs. St. George's or Hurts would be great places to start.


Slap a legit farmers’ market tomato on some white bread with mayo and call it lunch. Check out the best farmer's markets in the Ozarks to purchase your perfect tomato.

3 p.m.

Sorry, but if you’re not snacking on watermelon, you’re failing summer. Again, see our list of the best farmer's markets in the area.

7 p.m.

Eat a juicy burger with a little history at Red’s Giant Hamburg along Historic Route 66. Or stop off at Millsap Farms for one of the ever-popular pizza nights. You can throw down a blanket in the shade, pop open a bottle of wine (it’s BYO, by the way) and relax under the trees to the sound of live music and kids playing in the distance. It’s a dreamy experience.

Sit and Sip on a Local Patio

Want to make the most of the sunshine? Check out our roundup of the best patios in Springfield and southwest Missouri.


Blackberry slushie
Photo by Brandon AlmsSlushies aren't just for kids. Spike your drink for an extra fun treat. Purchase Photo

Go Pick Berries at a U-Pick Farm

(and turn them into a grown-up slushie)

Plucking a perfect ripe berry from the bush (and eating it while it’s still warm from the sun) makes us smile. Adding gin to the mix, even more so. Check out our list of the best places to pick blueberries, blackberries and strawberries.

Gin-Berry Slush

Serves 4

2 cups frozen berries*
1 cup ice cubes
2 cups lemonade
6 ounces Meadowview 
Botanical Gin 
Mint to garnish

*We recommend blueberries and blackberries. Wash and freeze them at home for this recipe.

To Prepare
1. Puree the frozen berries in a blender. Add ice cubes to the blender and crush them.
2. Place 1/2 cup of lemonade and 1.5 ounces of gin in a cocktail shaker with ice, and shake until cold.
3. Add half cup of berry slush and half cup of lemonade-gin mixture to a glass, gently stir to blend, garnish with a sprig of mint, and serve.

Ride All of the Rides

Ready for a summer thrill? Some people like to cool down by feeling the wind whip through their hair as they zip along the track on speedy roller coasters like Time Traveler, Outlaw Run and Wildfire at Silver Dollar City. Other people prefer a more direct approach and hop onto American Plunge or Mystic River Falls to get splashed with cool water. Either way, it’s a thrill. Check out these local spots for your next fast-paced adventure.

Time Traveler at Silver Dollar City

Time Traveler is a thriller of a roller coaster, and it’s not for the faint of heart. This speedy ride’s cars spin as they fly down the track.

Skyscraper at The Track Family Fun Parks

At The Track Family Fun Parks, the Skyscraper takes riders 170 feet in the air (in seats at the end of long propeller-like arms) as they spin at speeds of up to 60 miles per hour.

The Branson BuzzSaw at Branson Sawmill

This 123-foot-high swing ride lets riders spin through the air with a view of Branson. If spinning isn’t your thing, The Branson Coaster is also on-site and offers a speedy downhill mountain coaster experience.

Fair Rides at Ozark Empire Fair

The 2024 Ozark Empire Fair is scheduled for July 25 to August 3. Take the kids and make the most of the midway games and carnival rides. And come hungry because you can get just about anything on a stick at the food booths at Ozark Empire Fair. If we’re being honest, the food is an experience in and of itself. Just make sure you ride those rides before you indulge. This year’s grandstand concerts include Warren G, Everclear and more for some throwback fun.

Runaway Mountain Coaster at Branson Coaster

This harrowing ride weaves through trees on a hillside in Branson, and you control how fast it goes. Are you brave enough to go all out and let that thing fly down the mountainside? If not, that’s okay. You can just ride the brake.

Kalani Towers Drop Slides at White Water

Get some stomach-dropping thrills (that are also pretty refreshing thanks to all that cold water) on slides that hit 40 miles per hour and drop for 70 feet. Kalani Towers also has a mat racer if you’re feeling a little bit timid. 

Bigfoot Super Sling at Bigfoot Fun Park

Ever wondered what it would be like to be the pebble in a slingshot, being hurled into oblivion? That’s pretty much how this ride works. After being shot into the air, you spin and flip as you fall back down. It all sounds quite intense.

Dad doing a cannon ball into Table Rock Lake
Photo by Anna BurgessJump straight into summer at a local lake.

Cannonball Into the Lake

This summer, do your best cannonball into the waters of your favorite lake—because nothing is more carefree than a good swim that starts with a big leap.

Whether you’re boating or just hanging out on the dock, you can’t let summer pass you by without doing at least one fancy jump into the water. May we recommend our favorite jump, the one that requires you to hollar “Cannonball!” as you fly through the air?

Do you think that’s kids’ stuff? Do you think you’ll look silly to all your fellow adults, who are wearing swimsuits so cute they don’t even bother getting them wet and sipping on cocktails so strong they’re better off staying out of the water anyway? Don’t worry about them. They’re missing out. Take our word for it: Don a life jacket, count to three, race to the edge, tuck those knees, and take off out into the cool water. Bonus points if you splash the naysayers.

If you want to practice your cannonballs from the side of a boat while you cove out, consider renting a vessel from one of the Ozarks’s marinas. On Table Rock Lake, you can find some great options at Port of Kimberling, State Park Marina, Indian Point Marina and many more.

Also read: Your Guide to the Best Lake Getaways in Missouri.

Splash Around in a Local Wading Spot

Cool off this summer at an easy-to-access local spot wading spot.

Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area

Woods Fork—a stream located at Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area—is a great place for wading because of its calm, shallow water. From the Busiek parking lot, there is only a short walk to the stream. There you splash around a bit, skip rocks, spy crawdads and enjoy the scenery. And remember: The waterway can get pretty shallow during dry seasons.

Grand Falls

5685 Riverside Dr., Joplin
Spend a peaceful day at Grand Falls in Joplin, a 163-foot-wide continuously flowing waterfall located on Shoal Creek. Plenty of places are available to sit on the gravel banks and wade in the water. The waterfall provides a relaxing soundscape, and the flat chert areas beside the river are excellent spots for kids to play around outside the flowing water.

Crighton Beach

3100 S. Farm Rd. 193, Springfield
Go to the Crighton Beach access along the James River in Springfield for a beautiful view and a serene experience soaking up the sun. Sitting in a shady area or wading in the water is the perfect way to spend a hot summer day. Pack a picnic too; there are a few tables nearby where you can break for a snack.

Bull Creek

203 Ashland Dr., Branson
If you’re in the Branson area but don’t want to commit to a day on the lake, there’s an option there for you. A great spot for kids and families, Bull Creek offers shallow, clear water that is good for wading or peeping the critters in the river—like crawdads and small fish. You can also enjoy some beautiful scenery while you’re there.

Lower Flat Creek Access

25100-25166 SSR-EE, Cape Fair
This spot provides a peaceful view of Flat Creek with many surrounding trees. Multiple banks are available where you can sit and enjoy the water. You can relax and maybe bring a good book while you listen to the sounds of nature all around you.—Lauren Flynn

Play Backyard Baseball

America’s pastime is a summertime must. And if you can’t go to a game or play with a full team, you get creative. Springfield local, Cory Patton, tells how his family created their own take on baseball—and still play it to this day.

I grew up in a family that had three boys. We liked playing sports and were a tad competitive, but  our odd number did not divide well into teams, so we found creative ways to play variations of sports we enjoyed.

Thus we created the game Move Up, a spinoff of baseball. Each player was the sole representative of their own team and would take turns occupying each of three positions: pitcher, a fielder and a batter.

Each batter would keep hitting until they received three outs, then all players would “move up” to the next position. The fielder would go to pitch, the pitcher would go hit, and the batter would go to the field.

We first started playing Move Up in our grandparents’ yard, which was particularly narrow for a baseball diamond. The yard also came with one ground rule that we had to strictly adhere to: If you hit the house, you are out. On countless occasions one of our parents would come outside to sternly remind us of the rule.

We still play Move Up when our families get together. I enjoy playing the game with my nieces and nephews in my parents’ backyard. They are still a bit young to keep track of scoring, but I have no doubt that we will be counting soon enough.—Cory Patton

Fireworks at Big Cedar Lodge in Branson MO
Photo courtesy Big Cedar LodgeFireworks at Big Cedar Lodge never disappoint.

Ooh and Ahh at Fireworks

Keep an eye on this page to read about the best places in Springfield and the Ozarks to see the sky light up with fireworks shows this Fourth of July.

Cheer on the Cardinals at Hammons Field

Eat ice cream out of a tiny helmet, dunk tortilla chips into neon orange cheese, hop up for the wave—and enjoy every quintessential baseball moment at Hammons Field. Plus, Hammons Field annually celebrates the Fourth of July with a post-game fireworks show. Find the full schedules and tickets.

Go Camping in Your Backyard

This summer, sleep under the stars without the hassle of trekking to a campsite by pitching a tent in your own backyard.

Step 1: Break out that tent! If you don’t have one, Ozark Adventures and Bass Pro Shops in Springfield can both hook you up with the gear. Don’t forget to grab a lantern too!

Step 2: Prep your provisions. You’re going to need snacks. Grab something sweet, something crunchy and something with a bit of protein. Be sure to get marshmallows. You’ll need them for Step 3.

Step 3: Build a backyard bonfire. Now you need flames to create ambiance and—most importantly—roast s’mores. Shop for fire pits at local shops such as Maschino’s, Outdoor Home and Outdoor Rooms by Design.

Step 4: Listen. When you’re ready to tuck in for the night, close your eyes and open your ears to the summer sounds of evening frogs and cicadas as you doze off. (P.S. We’ll pretend there’s no Step 5... that whole “clean-up in the morning” part.) 

Also read: Great Places to Camp in the Ozarks if you'd prefer to get out of your backyard. Or, check out these places to go glamping.

Father and sons catching crawdads in Missouri
Photo by Anna BurgessCatching crawdads is a longtime childhood favorite in the Ozarks.

Catch Crawdads

The crystal clear creeks of the Ozarks are perfect places to turn over rocks and see what critters you can find.

Part of summering like a kid is facing your fear of the creatures you might find icky—picking up worms, catching fireflies and braving the sharp pincers of crawdads. The place to do that last one is in a local stream. Before you reach in to catch the slippery crustaceans, remember that these buggers swim backwards. Reach in from behind to avoid getting pinched and to have a better chance of nabbing one. First, though, you’ll need to find a shallow place to start your search. Read about local swimming holes that are great for wading and snatching up those little guys here. Just don’t forget to release them again when you’re finished.

Lost Canyon Cave at Big Cedar Lodge in Branson MO
Photo courtesy Big Cedar LodgeExplore Lost Canyon Cave in a golf cart to see stunning waterfalls.

Cool Down in a Cave

You don’t have to sweat the summer heat if you have cave exploration in your plans. Underground, it’s usually around 60 degrees. Here are three places to observe some stalactites.

Lost Canyon Cave

A golf cart ride through the Lost Canyon Nature Trail at Top of the Rock includes a visit to Lost Canyon Cave. The big draw here is the Bat Bar, a bar located inside the cave that serves cocktails for grown-ups and cold lemonade for the kiddos.

Marvel Cave

In your rush to the rides at Silver Dollar City, be sure you stop for a walking tour of Marvel Cave—it’s free with your park ticket. You’ll see the Cathedral Room and gorgeous formations as you trek. But beware: There are a lot of stairs!

Fantastic Caverns

Here you’ll take a 1-mile long, one-hour Jeep tour through a cave that holds some interesting Ozarks history in its sprawling caverns and beautiful formations. Your guide will tell you the story of its discovery as you go.

If you want the full roundup of the best caves to visit during the summer, head to our list of the best caves in southwest Missouri to cool off inside.