12 Best Things To Do in Waco With Kids
Best known for Baylor University and home-reno duo Chip and Joanna Gaines, Waco offers top-notch family fun just three hours northwest of Houston, Texas. From quirky museums and a mammoth dig site to inland surfing and a zoo, we’ve hand-picked the 12 top things to do in Waco with kids the next time you're in Central Texas.
Delve into the wonders of local natural and cultural history at the Mayborn Museum Complex, where families can gawk at prehistoric creatures like a 28-foot Pliosaur (an ancient beast that once inhabited the Cretaceous Sea that covered present-day Waco) replica before browsing an 1890s village made up of nine wooden buildings. Kiddos can get hands-on in themed Discovery Rooms and learn about their local landscape in the Backyard Ecology exhibit complete with a water table, climbable honeycomb structure, and more. Little ones (under 5) can play in the soft-play area while older siblings can test to see if they’re stronger than a boa constrictor.
Hawaiian Falls is the perfect hot-weather activity in Waco, photo courtesy @hfalls.
Slip, slide, and splash into the action at Hawaiian Falls Waco, a 10-acre water park that offers sun-filled fun for all ages. Thrill-seekers will have a blast at the Tempest Tower, where you can race down in your choice of a body slide or a covered tube chute. Tots can keep cool at the shady spray ground splash pad, and those just looking to kick back can relax on the 800-foot-long lazy river.
Excavating bones at the Waco Mammoth National Monument. Photo by Rebecca Matheson Ortiz.
The Waco Mammoth Site, which joined the National Parks Service in 2015, is the location where a nursery herd of 16 Columbian mammoths were uncovered along the Bosque River between 1978 and 1990. Six more have since been discovered and are viewable in the monument’s climate-controlled Dig Shelter that invites viewers in to overlook the fossilized mammoth and camel bones as well as a saber-tooth cat tooth—all still in their original positions. Kids can stand next to a life-size painting (14 feet tall!) of one of these behemoths for comparison as they study the enormous tusks of the real things. A shaded dig box filled with shovels and brushes for uncovering fossilized finds awaits near the Welcome Center for youngsters, and those looking to take it a step further can complete a free activity book to be sworn in as Junior Rangers.
Explore seasonal events at Magnolia Market in Waco. Photo courtesy of Magnolia.
Step into the world of HGTV's “Fixer Upper” stars Chip and Joanna Gaines when you visit their market at Magnolia, and find plenty of fun things to do with kids. Browse the shops for farmhouse finds, gardening gear, and more while enjoying one of Jo’s famous cupcakes from the Silos Baking Co. and a dose of caffeine from Magnolia Press. After you get your fill of the shops, spend some family time exploring the play area at Magnolia Seed and Supply and hanging out on the turf lawn, which boasts swings, lawn games, and bins filled with balls, Frisbees, and hula hoops. (Note: It's closed on Sundays. We learned that lesson the hard way.)
Mother and Daughter lionesses Rey and Leia, photo courtesy of the Cameron Park Zoo in Waco.
Sitting on 52 acres of Cameron Park along the Brazos River, the zoo houses more than 1,700 animals comprised of 300 species. The zoo is always a fun thing to do with kids, but here, in the Brazos River they can whiz down a clear slide that runs right through the river otter habitat, or view the depths through the 50,000-gallon aquarium. Between peeks of the elephants, tigers, giraffes, bald eagles, and other critters, children can get active at Grammy Nell’s playground area, where they can hop around a splash pad, journey into the mouth of a giant snake feature, and even see a live animal presentation.
If you need an indoor activity for kids in Waco, step into the world of these larger-than-life Texas heroes, the Texas Rangers, at their namesake Hall of Fame and museum. The history of these legendary lawmen is preserved here in the form of artifacts, documents, and artworks that tell a tale dating back more than 200 years. See weaponry, badges, and more, and pay respect to the 31 Hall of Famers during you visit. For a $35 donation, your child can be inducted into the Junior Texas Rangers, where they’ll get their very own Ranger-signed certificate, toy badge, and four tickets to the museum.
7. Local parks and trails in Waco
The city is home to some 60 parks, but we’ve narrowed it down to two that you won’t want to miss. Located conveniently near the bustling downtown, popular Cameron Park is one of the state’s largest with about 400 acres. A National Recreation Trail system, three playgrounds, and stunning river and cliff views from the Lovers Leap Overlook make this a beloved destination for visitors and locals alike. From Indian Spring Park, on the Brazos River’s west side, sightseers can view the historic Waco Suspension Bridge, a city landmark completed in 1870, as well as the “Branding the Brazos” statue series featuring the Chisholm Trail Cattle Drive via huge bronze sculptures of three saddle-sitting cowboys and their herd of 25 longhorns.
Make time to see the Baylor Bears … and no, we don’t mean the college students or athletes. Two American black bears, Judge Joy Reynolds, “Joy,” and Judge Sue Sloan “Lady,” are part of a long line of mascots who have called the University home since 1914. Visits to see these large girls are free to the public daily, though guided tours with the habitat keepers may be booked in advance. Weighing in at more than 260 pounds each, these furry sisters enjoy snacking, climbing, swimming, and napping. Lucky fans may get to catch a smile from Joy or Lady using her paw to make Baylor’s sic’em hand sign.
9. Waco Lake
Public boat ramps, fishing spots, swimming access, and camp grounds make Waco Lake an ideal destination for nature lovers. Tack on some hiking, wildlife sightings, and a playground, and you’ve got the perfect locale for an outdoor family adventure. Get out in the fresh air and splash in this reservoir, known for being the largest lake in the U.S. located fully inside the boundaries of one city.
Affectionately called the “Jewel of Woodway,” the Carleen Bright Arboretum is filled with flora and fauna spread out amongst its 16 acres right next to the city of Waco. Cactuses, roses, and herbs blossom throughout lush botanical gardens, and the Todd Willis Nature Trail takes hikers of all ages and skill levels through native woodlands. Take some time for tranquility at the Massey Meditation Grove or watch the mesmerizing fish swim in the koi pond. The venue also is a certified Monarch Butterfly Waystation, so keep your eyes peeled for the black and orange flutters of butterfly wings among the milkweed plants.
Photo courtesy of the Dr. Pepper Museum, a unique thing to do with kids in Waco.
At this unique museum, visitors can learn the history of Texas’ beloved soft drink. Known for its 23 flavors, Dr Pepper is a Lone Star staple that originated right here in Waco in the 1880s. Learn the “science of soda pop” during the Museum’s Liquid Lab demos, sample fizzy sips, or even craft your own concoction (with a reservation). Children also can learn valuable economics lessons through a program that features the soft-drink industry as a business model. Admission includes a free drink, so belly up to the soda fountain after a tour for a cold glass of classic Dr Pepper, or branch out with a fun variety like the Berries & Cream flavor. A Dollop of Blue Bell ice cream upgrades your drink to a float for an extra sweet treat.
12. BSR Cable Park
It’s not in every (landlocked) town that you can find a beach with some righteous swells. Grab your surfboard—or rent one there—and paddle out in the surf lake, which uses PerfectSwell Infinite Ocean technology to generate top-notch sets. The renowned cable park pulls wakeboarders (ages 6 and older) up to 16 mph across smooth water for an awesome ride. For more chill and less thrill—and free admission for kids on weekdays—float the lazy river or (for moderate thrill) swoosh down the Royal Flush water slides. For a snack break, guests can fuel up on pizza, burgers, drinks, and more at the on-property eateries and bars.