Around this time last year, we embarked on our first blended-family road trip to the Grand Canyon.
We packed up the minivan and the kids, ages 11, 8 and 2, and drove to Flagstaff, Ariz., where we encountered a snowglobe-worthy setting. The first thing the kids wanted to do was go sledding in the powdered snow, so we bought a couple of sleds near the hotel and ventured out to a suggested state park.
Unfortunately, by the time we got there, the park was closed. The park ranger winked and pointed west. “Go down there between these two mile markers and turn right,” he said. “You’ll find the best sledding hill — and it’s free.”
He was right: What we found was a winter wonderland of sledding. It was priceless local advice, and it reminded me that you don’t have to go hundreds of miles away to capture that wintry mix of merriment and wonder. As the recent icy blast that has hit North Texas has proved, sometimes, it’s best to stay at home. Although North Texas may not have snow-capped mountains or secret sledding hideaways, there are a few nearby treasures that will give you a taste of winter wonder.
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Let it snow
So you may be sick of ice, but what about snow? An added attraction at the Gift of Lights at Texas Motor Speedway gives the kids a chance to play in 100 tons of the white stuff. The Snow Village has a tubing hill, play area and, of course, the requisite photo opportunity on Santa’s lap. Start your visit with a drive through the holiday lights display.
Good to know: Proceeds benefit Goodwill Industries of Fort Worth and the Tarrant Area Food Bank.
Where: 3545 Lone Star Circle, Fort Worth
When: Through Jan. 5
Cost: $50 for a family of five; includes Gift of Lights Holiday display and the Snow Village
Where to stay: On the southeast corner of Interstate 35W and Texas 114 is one the best-bang-for-your-buck deals. In 2009, Motel 6 opened the first of its “Phoenix” design properties with a modern decor. The property gets 3.5-plus ratings on travel sites, plus kids can stay free. Rates start at $49.99 per night. motel6.com
Where to eat: Downtown Roanoke has become a foodie find with an eclectic mix of restaurants from fine dining ( The Classic) to casual dining (Twisted Root Burger Co.). However, you must go to the original Babe’s Chicken Dinner House, if only to do the Chicken Dance.
Each year, the Gaylord Texan Resort in Grapevine transforms into a Christmas town. You won’t even have to go outside to enjoy the dazzling holiday displays, the 54-foot-tall rotating Christmas tree or The Nutcracker-themed ICE! exhibit. Families find plenty to gawk at and do, with 2 million pounds of ice sculptures and slides, a new interactive display that transports visitors to the sights and sounds of New York City, and Kung Fu Panda snow tubing.
Good to know: It’s a chilly 9 degrees in the ICE! exhibit. Bring your coats and gloves or use the provided calf-length, hooded winter coats to keep you warm while you walk through it.
Where: 1501 Gaylord Trail, Grapevine
When: Through Jan. 4
Cost: Combo pricing for ICE! and 10 snow runs is $39.95 for age 13 and older, $28.95 for 12 and younger.
Info: 817-778-1000; christmasatgaylordtexan .com
Where to stay: Of course, you could make it a true staycation and stay at the resort. Holiday packages, starting at $259 per night, include one night of accommodations, tickets to ICE! and a souvenir family photo.
Where to eat: For a fun family brunch, try the Madagascar-themed brunch at the Gaylord. Prices are $34.95 for adults, $19.95 for children. For casual fare, check out Main Street in Grapevine or head to Grapevine Mills mall.
The new outdoor ice skating rink at Fort Worth’s Panther Island Pavilion is a great place for beginning skaters. The covered rink, at the Coyote Drive-In movie theater, is small and cozy, and snacks and cocoa are plentiful at the adjacent Coyote Canteen, which has ample covered seating. If the kids aren’t worn out by skating, a few hours spent scampering up Panther Island’s great rock wall area will do the trick.
Good to know: You don’t need to buy a ticket to the drive-in to enter.
Where: 223 N.E. Fourth St., Fort Worth.
Cost: $10 per person, includes skate rental
Where to stay: Stay in downtown Fort Worth, where you can explore a slew of shops and restaurants and enjoy the newly-opened Sundance Square Plaza. The Omni Hotel in Fort Worth is offering an “Elves and Eggnog Package” that includes a two-night stay, eggnog, cocktails and breakfast. Check the website for rates. omnihotels.com
Where to eat: Explore the many options for Mexican fare on and near Main Street. Everyone knows about Joe T. Garcia’s, but sister restaurant Esperanza’s Bakery and Cafe is a great brunch option, too. joets.com