Kansas ranks ninth-worst in the nation for using earned vacation, with 64 percent of us leaving unused vacation days that added up to nearly 6 million days in 2016, according to Project: Time Off.
That organization, started by the U.S. Travel Association, says its study shows more planning leads to better use of paid time off. It is promoting National Plan for Vacation Day on Jan. 30 to encourage households to set aside time to plan the use of their vacation time for the entire year.
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While the national average shows 55 percent of Americans do not use all the time off they earn, folks living in the Great Plains states — stretching from South Dakota (73 percent) to Oklahoma (69 percent) — fare among the worst in the country.
Grab a calendar and use this list of vacation ideas for each month of 2018 as inspiration. We’ve mixed in road trips to surrounding states and destinations with direct flights from Wichita.
January: Wonders of Wildlife in Springfield, Mo.
Penguin Cove is the first major addition since Johnny Morris’ Wonders of Wildlife National Museum & Aquarium opened in September 2017 next to the world’s first and largest Bass Pro Shop. The 320-000-square-foot attraction showcases 35,000 live fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds along with wildlife galleries and dioramas. It has been nominated for 2017’s “Best New Attraction” award from USA Today. Visit WondersOfWildlife.org or SpringfieldMo.org for more information.
February: Sandhill crane migration in Nebraska
Every year animal behaviorist Jane Goodall visits Nebraska to see what she calls one of the top 10 animal migration spectacles in the world. The annual sandhill crane migration typically begins in late February and runs through early April. During that time, more than 80 percent of the world’s population of sandhill cranes converge on the Platte River valley in central Nebraska to rest and refuel on their way to breeding grounds in Canada, Alaska and Siberia.
Two great viewing locations are Iain Nicolson Audubon Rowe Sanctuary near Kearney and Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center near Grand Island. Reservations for public tours open in early January, and you’ll want to act quickly to nab a spot in one of the strategically placed viewing blinds. Both also offer photography tours and other excursions year-round. Start your research at NebraskaFlyway.com.
March: Spring training baseball in Arizona
For families or baseball fans, the Phoenix area in March can be a dream destination – and two airlines offer nonstop flights from Wichita. The 2018 spring training schedule begins the final week of February and runs through March 27. Nearly 2 million people will attend Cactus League games at 10 stadiums in the greater Phoenix area where 15 Major League Baseball teams, including the Kansas City Royals, prepare for the upcoming season. There are games daily; most are played at 1 p.m. to take advantage of the sunny, warm daytime temperatures, although a few night games are played each week. Check out schedules at CactusLeague.com.
April: Art and rapids in Oklahoma City
“The New Art: A Milestone Collection Fifty Years Later” honors Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s 1968 acquisition of the 154-piece permanent collection of the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, the first art museum in the nation’s capital dedicated to the collection of contemporary art. The anniversary exhibit presents a comprehensive view of the Washington Gallery of Modern Art collection, including rarely shown works in abstract expressionism, post painterly abstraction, color field painting, minimalism and pop art. The exhibit runs Feb. 17 through May 13. Find details at OKCMOA.com. Plan your visit to coincide with the 52nd annual Festival of the Arts (ArtsCouncilOKC.com) celebration of visual, performing and culinary arts April 24-29 in downtown OKC’s Bicentennial Park. The free festival attracts 750,000 visitors.
Add some active fun to your trip by rafting the man-made whitewater at Riversport Rapids (RiversportOKC.org),which opens for its second full season in March. The 11-acre whitewater rafting and kayaking adventure park is near downtown and also offers tubing, river boarding, paddleboarding, flat water kayaking and water slides, along with a variety of land adventures.
May: O’Keeffe exhibit at Crystal Bridges in Bentonville, Ark.
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art is reinstalling its early American art galleries for the first time since opening in 2011 in Bentonville, Ark. In addition to familiar works from the collection, the installation will add 18 to 20 objects on loan from other institutions to offer diverse voice and perspective. If you time your visit for late May, you’ll be able to see the newly designed spaces (slated to open in March) and catch a special exhibit featuring Georgia O’Keeffe and contemporary artists, running May 26-Sept. 3. The exhibition brings together more than three dozen of O’Keeffe’s most important works with the museum’s collection of her works. Remember there is no admission to see the museum’s permanent collection, though occasionally there is a ticket fee to view special exhibitions. Check out CrystalBridges.org for programming and events.
June: Time Traveler coaster debut at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo.
Roller coaster enthusiasts are eagerly awaiting the spring debut of Time Traveler, what Silver Dollar City officials are calling the world’s fastest, steepest and tallest complete-circuit spinning roller coaster. With an investment of $26 million, this will be the biggest attraction in the history of the 1880s theme park in Branson, Mo.
The one-of-a-kind ride combines a variety of coaster elements with Ozarks mountain terrain to top out at 50.3 mph. The track crosses over itself 14 times, reaches heights of 100 feet and includes a 10-story, 90-degree vertical drop – all while the passenger cars spin. Watch for opening day at SilverDollarCity.com.
July: Renovated Space Needle in Seattle
Catch a direct flight to Seattle on Alaska Airlines and check out the renovations at the city’s most recognizable landmark. The Space Needle is undergoing a 360-degree “spacelift” in 60-degree increments so it can stay open. It’s scheduled to be completed by summer and will give you fresh views of the city and Puget Sound. Expect new multi-level, floor-to-ceiling glass viewing experiences; an open-air outdoor observation deck; glass benches that give you the feeling of floating on air; and what officials say is the world’s first glass rotating floor observation deck, lounge and dining experience, which opens up a never-before-seen downward view of the tower. Learn more at SpaceNeedle.com.
August: Snowmass Mountain or Colorado Springs, Colo.
Come August, you might be looking for a cool mountain getaway. Colorado is an easy road trip or hop a flight to Denver from Wichita Eisenhower National Airport or Salina Regional Airport. Two destinations to consider in 2018:
Snowmass Mountain, operated by Aspen Skiing Company, will debut its $10-million on-mountain adventure center for the summer season. The first element of the new Lost Forest opened this winter with the Breathtaker mountain coaster, which will operate year-round, day and night. The other Lost Forest features are summer-focused: zip line canopy tour, aerial ropes courses, climbing wall designed for a range of ages and abilities and expanded hiking and biking trails. Snowmass already offers fishing, paintball and disc golf. Watch AspenSnowmass.com for opening dates.
In Colorado Springs, The Broadmoor luxury resort turns 100 years old. It’s the longest-running Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond property in the world, and plans to throw a year-long anniversary party. The Broadmoor encompasses 5,000 acres and has 784 rooms, suites and cottages among its main resort and its all-inclusive Wilderness Experience properties. There’s plenty to do without leaving the campus: three championship golf courses; a spa and fitness center; tennis; 26 retail boutiques; 20 restaurants, cafes and lounges; and activities such as falconry, guided mountain biking, hiking, rock-climbing tours, fly fishing and paintball. Visit Broadmoor.com for more information.
September: Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty Pageant
Last held in 2015, the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty Pageant is scheduled for Sept. 28-30 in Medicine Lodge, about 80 miles southwest of Wichita.
The pageant commemorates the historical significance of the Treaty of Medicine Lodge, signed in 1867 by the Peace Commission of the United States government and the five tribes of Plains Indians. The main event is the peace treaty reenactment, which squeezes 300 years of history into two hours of entertainment and education in a natural Red Hills amphitheater. The town’s residents produce the pageant, which has been presented 25 times since 1927 and is accompanied by a series of events that include a ranch rodeo, parade, carnival, encampments, concerts and nightly historical reenactments. Find more details at PeaceTreaty.org.
October: World premiere of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in Kansas City
Originally scheduled to close its 60th anniversary season, Kansas City Ballet will instead open its 61st season with the world premiere of “The Wonderful
Wizard of Oz.” The large-scale production is in partnership with Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Colorado Ballet.
There will be nine performances at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts Oct. 12-22. Tickets will be available via 2018-2019 subscription packages beginning in March 2018 and single tickets will go on sale in August. (“Peter Pan,” with world premiere choreography by Devon Carney, will now close the 2017-18 season with a May 11-20 run.) See KCBallet.org or VisitKC.com for details.
November: Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in Medicine Park, Okla.
Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, less than a four-hour drive south of Wichita, is the most visited of the country’s 560 national wildlife refuges. Its 60,000 acres of open mixed grass prairie, forest and rock outcroppings enclosed between two ranges of granite mountains are home to free-roaming herds of American bison, Rocky Mountain elk, white-tailed deer and Texas longhorns. Admission is free.
Volunteers with the Friends of the Wichitas organization lead fall foliage walks on Saturdays every November. They are offered on a donation basis and there is limited space available on the buses that take you to Hollis Canyon, in a part of the refuge not usually open to the public. Reservations are taken by phone starting in early November (580-429-2197, friendsofthewichitas.org).
December: Chickasaw Country in south-central Oklahoma
Plan a weekend in the town of Sulphur in south-central Oklahoma to learn about the Chickasaw Nation. The tribe owns the Artesian Hotel, Casino and Spa, which opened in 2013 as a reproduction of the original 1906 hotel at the same location. Nearby is Chickasaw National Recreation Area, once known as Platt National Park and protected for its mineral-rich springs. The town’s Chickasaw Cultural Center celebrates Chickasaw history and culture by sharing exhibits, demonstrations and events. From Thanksgiving through December each year, the center hosts a drive-through light display and special holiday activities.
Take a detour on the way down or the trip back up to Kansas to see one of the state’s largest light displays in Chickasha, 40 miles southwest of Oklahoma City. Started in 1992, the Festival of Light has been recognized nationally for its 3.5 million lights, 172-foot illuminated Christmas tree, animated displays and computer-animated light show synchronized to holiday tunes. The festival also has a live nativity scene, carriage rides, camel rides, laser tag and more activities. Visit ChickasawCountry.com to learn more.