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Taking the Kids: This fall, Explore America Off the Beaten Path

By Eileen Ogintz, Tribune Media Services on

Smaco or Smorito? They're a new version of s'mores, I learned when we made them over an open fire at the Outdoor Campus in Sioux Falls, S.D., ( Slather peanut butter on a tortilla, sprinkle with chocolate chips and marshmallows and then either roll up (a smorito) or fold in half (smaco) before wrapping in tin foil and baking (just for a minute) over a campfire. Tip: Write your name on the foil so you know which one is yours. Yum!

The Outdoor Campus, part of the state's Game, Fish and Parks, incidentally, offers all kinds of free programs that encourage families to get outdoors here in South Dakota's largest city. (There is another campus in Rapid City.) Family programs teach archery, paddling, fishing, shooting, etc., for kids pre-K and older.

Sitting outside on a sunny late-summer day, savoring every bite of my Smorito, I was thinking about how much cities like Sioux Falls have to offer families, and how often we miss them.

I was in Sioux Falls ( for the Travel Media Showcase conference designed, in fact, to show off smaller destinations to travel writers. Honestly, before I got there, I wondered what Sioux Falls would have to offer a traveling family.

Then I discovered the Great Plains Zoo (, known for its Rare Rhinos of Africa exhibit. (Did you know rhinos are one of the most endangered animals on Earth?) And the Children's Zoo and the Washington Pavilion of Arts and Science, which is both an interactive science and art museum in a re-purposed high school.

Gaping at the 60-foot-long origami sculpture by South Dakota artist Reina Okawa ( -- more than 4,000 Origami cranes -- I was struck by how much more manageable attractions in smaller cities can be for families, especially those with younger children. They're smaller, less intimidating and often, less expensive.


Take a fall weekend to explore a smaller city or region near your home and you'll be amazed at what you find; especially if you let the kids lead the way. (Check out the new TakingtheKids Guide to Fun Fall Getaways at National Museum Day ( is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 29. And more than 1,400 museums across the country will be participating, offering free admission for two, as long as you print out a Museum Day ticket from the website. (Search on the website for a participating museum near you.) The program is spearheaded by Smithsonian magazine -- Smithsonian museums are always free -- to encourage awareness of museums around the country.

Maybe your family headed west in a covered wagon? Kids can pack their wagon or their mule, for example, in the activity room at the National Frontier Trails Museum ( in Independence, Mo., the jumping off point for those heading West on the Santa Fe, Oregon and California trails.

Got a boarder in the house? They'll like the Need for Speed exhibit at the California Surf Museum ( in Oceanside, Calif., which documents surf culture and history.

See whale skeletons and a huge whaling ship model at the world's largest museum devoted to the historical interactions of humans and whales at the New Bedford Whaling Museum ( in New Bedford, Mass.


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