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Family Outdoors

Born To Be Wild

Enjoying family time outdoors at Smithville Lake in Clay County, Missouri

I was grateful for the rain. I knew we needed it. But after a recent week of gray skies, my family was getting a pretty severe case of cabin fever. So, when our local friendly forecaster promised sunshine for the weekend, my husband, Eric, and I jumped into action.

“Where are we going this time?” our 11-year-old son, Drake, asked excitedly when he saw us dragging out the camping equipment.

Eric and I both looked at each other with furrowed brows and laughed. We were so thrilled to be getting out of the house, we hadn’t even discussed where we were going yet.

“Smithville Lake,” I said instinctively.

There’s something special about being on the water, and Smithville Lake is one of my favorite places for finding that perfect balance of peaceful serenity and a splashing good time. “The water should be great for kayaking after all the rain,” Eric added.

A clatter came from the hallway, and I peeked around the corner to find our eight-year-old son, Simon, pulling his sleeping bag and flashlight down from the closet…along with everything else sitting on the shelf. He gave me one of his trademark grins and said, “I’m ready to go, Mom!”

An hour later we were all set, the car packed to the gills with everything we’d need for a weekend at the lake.


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Camp Branch Campground at Smithville Lake was the ideal spot to start our weekend outdoor adventure. With gorgeous lake views from the campsite, a disc golf course, easy trail access and kayak deliveries from Northland Outdoor Adventures, we really couldn’t have picked a better spot.

As promised, the sunshine was beaming down, glistening off the water with only a few puffy white clouds in the sky. Eric and the boys quickly set up our tent and got the campsite feeling homey, while I arranged for kayaks from Northland to be delivered. All around us, the campgrounds were buzzing with the laughter of families and the anticipation of a glorious sunny weekend ahead. The excitement was contagious, and we wasted no time hitting the water as soon as the kayaks arrived.

The lakeshore may have been lively with activity, but as soon as we pushed off from land and paddled out toward the middle of the lake, that sense of peace that comes whenever I’m on the water washed over me. Even the boys seemed to sense it. Simon, who was in the kayak with me, lay back and watched the clouds pass by. "I like it when the water splashes on the side of the kayak," he whispered, pressing his ear against the kayak to listen closer. "So do I, bud." I smiled and let the moment sink in. "So do I."

Hitting the Trail

The next day, we unlatched our bikes from the rack on the car and headed over to Bonebender Trail. Eric is an avid mountain biker and had the boys on two wheels almost as soon as they could walk. I, on the other hand, am a bit of a klutz when I’m not on my own two feet. But I was up for the challenge, and even though the name "Bonebender" sounded intimidating, Eric promised that the trail was actually pretty tame.

Thankfully, he was right, and the six mile-ride combined the right amount of easy riding with an occasional moderate climb, just enough to get my blood pumping.

"Bonebender!" the boys shouted as they sped past me on the trail. We meandered around the eastern shore of Smithville Lake, enjoying the shade of hardwood forests and admiring the sweeping grasslands swaying in the breeze. The views of the lake took my mind off my tired legs, and I practically had to force the boys to stop at one of the lookout points to take in the stunning sight of the tree-lined shores.
I did not, however, have to force them to pull over when I called out, "lunch!" at a covered picnic table along the way. Eric had packed the drinks and sandwiches in his backpack, and we stopped to refuel. As we were finishing up, I began chatting with the mom of another family who had taken a break. She mentioned that they visited Smithville Lake often and suggested we try the equestrian trails.

"Horse rides? Cool!" Drake interjected.

"You have to bring your own horses, though," our new friend told us.

"Maybe Grandma and Grandpa would let us borrow theirs," Eric piped in. His parents own a small farm out in the country and have several horses.

"Yes!" both boys shouted at once.

Looks like we’re already planning our next trip," I smiled at the woman and thanked her for the tip.

A sunset boat ride

After a six-mile bike ride we were all pretty worn out, so we decided a relaxing afternoon of fishing and floating was in order.

We pulled out onto the water with our rented boat and fishing gear as the sun began its slow descent westward. Eric helped Simon cast his first line, while Drake, an old pro, already had his in the water.

I sat back and took it all in - the setting sun, the fresh air, the wide-open water. I was grateful for it all. But mostly, I was grateful for my family and the memories Eric and I were creating with our sons.

Discover more Clay County adventures!.

Produced in cooperation with the Missouri Division of Tourism.
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