High gas prices, expensive airfare, airport headaches, and pricey car rental fees make travel planning a little more difficult this summer. But a postcard-worthy family vacation is just one gas tank away thanks to picturesque resorts and parks located within a short road trip from Dallas-Fort Worth. Some offer poolside cocktail service in a luxe hotel setting while others feature quaint cabins in a woodsier environment. All provide something for every family member, from swimming pools, spas and lake activities to arts and crafts and museum visits. Pack your bags, fill up the tank once, and hit the road.
Hot Springs, Arkansas
While this destination might push the limit for a tank of gas round-trip, Hot Springs is still an easy road trip for a quick family getaway. Located about 300 miles from DFW in the Ouachita Mountains, Hot Springs is known for its naturally heated springs in Hot Springs National Park. But there’s so much more to keep families busy, including a visit the Mid-America Science Museum, which sits on 21 wooded acres in the Ouachita National Forest. Permanent exhibits include the "Marvelous Motion Gallery," the "Light Bridge" with its mesmerizing prisms, and the hands-on "Workshop Gallery." Also on display through August 20 is "Expedition Dinosaur: Rise of the Mammals," which features several interactive stations and life-size animatronic dinosaurs. The area is also home to an alligator farm, mini golf and go-cart rides, and nearby Lake Catherine State Park and Lake Ouachita State Park. Stay at the new DoubleTree by Hilton Hot Springs, opened in 2020 and located on Lake Hamilton. The property features a boat dock and there are pontoon rentals nearby. Both the pool and the hotel restaurant overlook the lake. Rates start at a reasonable $101.
Lakeway Resort & Spa, Lakeway, Texas
This refreshing Austin-area getaway (located just over three hours from DFW) flies under the radar of more widely known family-friendly Hill Country resorts, and that’s not a bad thing. Think fewer crowds and more room to spread out. Lakeway Resort & Spa is the only resort property located on Lake Travis, which provides for idyllic, stress-relieving views — even with busy kiddos in tow. Let them burn off energy at the kids’ pool, where they get their own waterslide and splash pad with a lifeguard on duty during peak times. There’s also a family pool where guests young and old can sit and relax or partake in a volleyball game. Mom and Dad can take turns sneaking away to the adults-only pool, which features a swim-up bar with cocktails like the Lakeway Limeade with lime vodka topped with bubbly, and the Lake Travis On the Rocks Margarita. Or book a service at the spa, which features floor-to-ceiling windows that induce a feeling of floating over the water. Excursions include sailing, boating, fishing, and water activities, from jet skiing to scuba diving, all available right on Lake Travis. Plan for nightly fireside s’mores provided by the resort. Rates start at $202 for the current season.
Beavers Bend State Park, Broken Bow, Oklahoma
A longtime mountain retreat known for its trout streams, pine trees, and peaceful seclusion is Beavers Bend State Park, located between Broken Bow and Hochatown in Oklahoma a little over three hours from DFW. The region has exploded with tourism and development over the last decade, drawing more families for an easy getaway with lots of options for activities. Inside the park, summertime must-do’s include swimming at the Riverbend sandy beach, riding the mini train (the conductor is a real hoot), and fishing the wadable the river waters. Outside the park, there’s a mini golf course, petting zoo, a gemstone and fossil mining experience, and several restaurants and breweries. While hundreds of cabins are available to rent via Airbnb and VRBO, the state park itself offers 47 rustic cabins of its own. Each comes equipped with a full kitchen and outdoor fire pit, and rates start at $115. (The state park is also home to a 40-room lakefront lodge, which is currently under renovation with plans to reopen late this fall.) Note that because the region has boomed significantly in recent years, restaurants stay busy and wait times are common. Plan for early dinners or even cooking out at the cabin — both options provide for less stress and more fond memories.
Margaritaville Lake Resort, Lake Conroe, Texas
Searching for that lost shaker of salt? It might be at this Caribbean-inspired resort on Lake Conroe, about an hour north of downtown Houston and only three-and-a-half hours from DFW. Named for Jimmy Buffet’s iconic song about his favorite frozen concoction, the still-new property (it opened in the COVID-y summer of 2020) encourages guests to get on island time. That means flip-flops, breezy lakeside views, and swim-up bars are all on tap. But while there’s “booze in the blender” available at every one of the resort’s seven restaurants and eateries, parents can feel good about bringing the kiddos because the entire property is family-friendly. There are five pools here, but only one is adults-only. Even the attractive main pool with the swim-up 5 o’Clock Somewhere Bar is open to kids (although they don’t let them actually sit at the bar). There’s also a three-acre waterpark with winding slides, a lazy river for inner-tubing, a private beach for sandcastle creations, and complimentary 18-hole mini golf. For parents looking for their own summer break, there’s a spa, an 18-hole golf course with putting green and driving range, lots of live music, and recreational lake activities including a twice-daily party barge. Rates start at $299 and Texas residents get a 5 percent discount.
Horseshoe Bay Resort, Horseshoe Bay, Texas
Located on Lake LBJ a little over three hours from DFW, Horseshoe Bay is one of the Hill Country’s most upscale family-friendly resorts. Long recognized for its prestigious award-winning golf courses (there are three of them here), the complex feels like a real vacation getaway upon arrival. Maybe it’s the cocktail service at the Yacht Club Pool near the sandy lakeside shores, or the limo golf cart shuttle service that transports guests around the property. The resort is continually adding to its amenities and activities list. Most recent is the brand new waterfront beach Aqua Park, open through September 6 and comprised of 100 feet of inflatable obstacle courses and slides. Or wander the lush grounds to discover dozens of exotic birds, like Macaws, kookaburras, and cockatoos, then meet them up close at the resort’s interactive children's show. Activities also include a putting course, lawn games, and seasonal snow cones and s’mores. Book a session for the kids to play on their own at Jungle Kids Club, which features a two-story jungle gym, a rock-climbing wall, and arts and crafts activities. Rates continually vary as accommodations range from hotel rooms and multi-room villas to condos and full home rentals. Several different packages and special offers (including 15 percent off for Texas residents) are available on the website.