Kansas City Mayor’s Christmas Tree Lighting
From holiday festivals to playing in the snow – real or fake – there are long-running holiday traditions as well as first-year activities that make excellent winter excursions. We’ve compiled a few ideas to help you embrace the season. Some are an easy day trip from the Wichita area and others make great weekend getaways. Any of these would make great gifts, too.
Snow Creek ski area
For years, Wichitans have been making the trek to Snow Creek, 40 miles north of Kansas City in Weston, Mo. It’s the closest place to ski, snowboard and tube. They use 60 snow guns to make the snow and need several straight days of freezing temperatures to cover the mountain to be able to open. They plan to open for their 32nd season on Dec. 14 and they generally stay open through mid-March. You’ll find 13 trails from beginner to advance, a terrain park and a tube park. They offer lessons and a day lodge with a bar and restaurant. Weekend rates start at $78 for lift and rental, $20 for lessons, $28 for tubing. Visit skisnowcreek.com for a list of lodging partners that offer discount tickets.
Ice Castles in Colorado
There are six Ice Castles locations across North America, and the closest is in the winter playground of Dillon, Colo. Ice artists hand place hundreds of thousands of icicles to build the 30-foot-tall frozen attractions, which include frozen thrones, ice-carved tunnels, slides, fountains and dramatic LED lighting. Weekend tickets start at $14.95. Ice making has started for a predicted opening in late December. Last season, their first, they stayed open about eight weeks. Check icecastles.com/dillon for the schedule.
Theme park festivals
If you want to combine riding roller coasters while celebrating the season, there are a growing number of theme parks within driving distance that are extending their seasons with holiday festivals. In addition to select rides operating, these events offer original shows, strolling performers, parades, elaborate light and tree displays, character visits, family activities, shopping and seasonal food.
Ticket prices can be steep, so plan to arrive when gates open and get the most of your visit.
Silver Dollar City’s Old Time Christmas Festival is open 1 to 9 p.m. through Dec. 30, with extended hours on select days. The event topped 500,000 visitors during its two-month run in 2017 and this year might be bigger. The park opened the $26 million Time Traveler spinning roller coaster earlier this year and it will be operating during the event. One-day tickets start at $65 adult, $54 ages 4-11.
Frontier City in Oklahoma City is staging its first Holiday in the Park event, running 5 to 10 p.m through Jan. 6, with extended hours on select days. Tickets start at $38 per person.
World’s of Fun had a successful launch of its WinterFest in 2017, so they’ve brought it back and added activities such as horse-drawn carriage rides. For a VIP experience, you can rent heated igloos. WinterFest operates from 5 to 10 p.m through Dec. 31, with extended hours on select days. Tickets start at $26, though some activities are additional.
Outdoor ice skating
There’s something magical about ice skating outdoors. Some options this season: Crown Center Ice Terrace in Kansas City, The Ice at Park Place in Leawood, Kan., and WinterFest (see separate listing) at Worlds of Fun in Kansas City, Devon Ice Rink in Oklahoma City’s Myriad Botanical Garden and the 9,000-square-foot ice rink outside the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa. Some stay open until February.
Famous Christmas markets are held across Germany, and their popularity is bringing the Christkindlmarket concept closer to Wichita. These street markets are about food as much as they are about the holidays. Expect to find entertainment, shopping focused on hand-crafted products and plenty of European-inspired food and drink, including traditional holiday mulled wine. Christkindlmarket Des Moines is Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 (christkindlmarketdsm.com). OKM Music Festival’s Christkindlmarket is Dec. 8 in downtown Bartlesville, Okla. (okmmusic.org). The Texas Christkindl Market runs Nov. 23 to Dec. 23 in Arlington, Texas (txchristkindlmarket.com).
Union Station Kansas City
The Kansas City Southern Holiday Express train visits communities throughout the U.S. and is scheduled to stop at Kansas City’s Union Station Dec. 14 to 18. Visit with Santa and tour the six-car train for free. Cars include: a smiling tank car named Rudy; a flatcar carrying Santa’s sleigh, reindeer and a miniature village; a gingerbread boxcar; the elves’ workshop; a reindeer stable; and a little red caboose. Unionstation.org has a full schedule of holiday plays, performances, movies and exhibitions that have already started.
Lake of the Ozarks
Mid-Missouri’s Lake of the Ozarks is a popular holiday destination for shopping, light parks, live performances and a dinner cruise that covers some of the lake’s 1,150 miles of shoreline. Enchanted Village of Lights, a 27-acre drive-through light park, is one of four free light parks in the area. Deck the Docks, a dinner cruise aboard a yacht, includes live music and views of miles of lighted lakefront homes and boat docks. Holiday cruise tickets start at $35 for adults. Find more details at funlake.com.
Midland Railway excursion train
Midland Railway has converted its holiday excursion train to a one-hour re-creation of The Polar Express in Baldwin City. Your golden ticket will be punched onboard, then dancing chefs will serve hot chocolate and cookies. Listen to sounds from the motion picture soundtrack, sing carols with characters and read along with the classic book. Santa visits each passenger for photos, and you’ll leave with a keepsake gift. Only a few dates still have tickets, starting at $45/adult and $35/child. Visit midlandrailway.org.
Snowland at Great Wolf Lodge
The team at Great Wolf Lodge in Kansas City, Kan., has spent weeks cooking and creating a life-size gingerbread house using 600 pounds of dough, 1,300 pounds of sugar and hundreds of candies. You can book a meal in the gingerbread house with the reservation fee going toward a local charity or sign up to make cookies in the house with Mrs. Claus. Snowland runs through Jan. 4 at the family resort featuring an 84-degree waterpark. The holiday event also brings daily snow showers to the lobby, visits from Santa Claus and the chance to earn a snowploma through fun, holiday-themed assignments. Rates vary based on dates, and some activities require an extra fee, check greatwolf.com for details.
Winfield’s Island Park
For nearly 30 years, volunteers have turned Winfield’s Island Park into Isle of Lights, a 1-mile drive-through wonderland of lights. Displays such as Mrs. Claus’ bakery and Santa’s toy factory are synchronized to music. It’s open 6 to 10 p.m. nightly through Dec. 30 and is about 45 miles southeast of Wichita. It’s free, however donations are accepted and have funded the conversion to LED lights. Carriage rides from Broken Spoke Dispatch are available for $5 per person on select nights. Visit isleoflights.org.