Who doesn’t love a good road trip? You don’t have to go too far from Omaha to have a fun getaway. I’ve collected some of my favorite Midwest destinations for this post to give you a variety of options near and far. All road trips from Omaha on this list are within a day’s drive, and most are much closer than that. Happy travels!
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Home to one of my favorite places to hike in the Loess Hills of Iowa, Honey Creek is my go-to destination on a sunny weekend day. Hike at Hitchcock Nature Center, visit the goats and try goat yoga at Honey Creek Creamery, or try the zipline at Mount Crescent Ski Resort (or if it's winter, you know, go ski there).
Tip: Don't skip the visitor's center at Hitchcock Nature Center. It's full of interactive exhibits for kids. In the winter, you can rent snowshoes there. It's next to the lookout tower.
Home to the Sarpy County Fair in the summer and just south of Omaha, Springfield is an easy day trip for Omaha families. I usually pair a visit to Springfield with a trip to a nearby state park. You could visit Louisville SRA for water time at the beach and inflatable obstacle course and end the day at the old-fashioned soda fountain at Springfield Drug for ice cream. Or, hike Schramm Park and then sip the afternoon away at Soaring Wings Vineyard & Brewery.
Tip: Soaring Wings often has live music, especially on the weekend. Pack a picnic and lawn chairs, and then buy a bottle of wine to enjoy an evening overlooking the vineyard.
Enjoy a mix of history and nature on a visit to Ashland, Neb. Exit 420 off Interstate 80 will take you to three of the state's big attractions: Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum, Wildlife Safari Park, and Mahoney State Park. Just beyond those attractions, you'll find Platte River State Park (look for the waterfall!).
If you're visiting in the summer, Mahoney State Park offers a full day of activities, including horseback trail rides, an aquatic center with a wave pool and water slides, and putt-putt golf.
Tip: Ashland is home to two great wineries. My favorite, Glacial Till, has a tasting room on the main street of town. Try the cider.
It doesn't matter the season, Nebraska City is a favorite day trip for my family. We'll spend a few hours at an apple orchard like Kimmel, and a few more hours at Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure. You can also tack on a visit to Arbor Lodge to explore the historic mansion.
Tip: Have a blast exploring the Treetop Village treehouses tucked inside the Tree Adventure.
Most Nebraskans make the trek to Lincoln at least once, if only to attend a University of Nebraska-Lincoln Huskers football game. The city has a college town feel to it, with affordable local restaurants, charming shops, and plenty of museums.
Learn about Nebraska's unique history and see giant Mammoth fossils at Morril Hall. If traveling young kids, a stop at the Lincoln Children's Zoo and Lincoln Children's Museum is a must.
For such a small town, Brownville packs in a lot of history and arts. Bookstores, galleries, and one excellent winery can found in the town of a population just over 100, as well as a vibrant seasonal music and theater scene.
Tip: Brownville is pretty close to Indian Cave State Park, which has horseback riding, great hiking trails, and an interesting little living history area.
For a relaxing lake getaway, Lake Icaria near Corning, Iowa, is a well-known secret to Omaha families. This is the place for fishing and water fun in the summer. The cabins are affordable, but RV and tent camping is also available.
Tip: Food trucks stop by on the weekends, seasonally. We lucked out and found a barbecue truck on the Saturday we were there.
Sioux City has two of my favorite things: A gorgeous state park in town, and museums. Stone State Park has wonderful trails and is near the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center, which has a great nature playscape. For museums, families with young kids will want to go to LaunchPAD Children’s Museum. Art lovers should check out the Grant Wood corn room at Sioux City Art Center. And music lovers should check out the memorabilia scattered throughout the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
Tip: Don't leave without a visit to Palmer’s Old Tyme Candy Shoppe, home to the Twin Bing.
Indoors or outdoors, Des Moines has a lot for young (and young at heart) to enjoy. Favorites of my family include the Science Center of Iowa, Adventureland, and Living History Farms.
Tip: One location of my favorite Des Moines restaurant, Fong's Pizza, is within walking distance of the science center. If you time it right, the large Des Moines farmer's market takes place in front of Fong's too in the summer.
Boone is your winter and summer destination for activities, and the Hotel Pattee in Perry is where you'll want to stay. We've been to Boone in the summer to wander around the beautiful Ledges State Park and ride on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad. In the winter, we had a blast skiing and tubing at Seven Oaks Recreation.
Tip: Hotel Pattee's rooms are all themed, and you can request specific family suites with fun themes.
My family has had many great adventures to Kansas City, from wild rides at Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun, to hours on end spent at Science City and Nelson-Atkins Art Museum. Oh, and the barbecue is pretty tasty too!
Tip: The City Market is a lively year-round farmer's market that's free to explore. While there, stop at the Steamboat Arabia Museum, another free attraction.
I found Excelsior Springs more of a couples or friends getaway than a family destination. Why? The gorgeous Elms Hotel has a fantastic spa with a grotto where you'll just want to relax the hours away.
The hotel is within walking distance of two great stops: A great barbecue joint that offers live music on some summer evenings and the excellent microbrewery, Dubious Claims Brewing Co.
Tip: There are a couple of wineries near Excelsior Springs, including Van Till Family Farm Winery. Order one of their artisan pizzas and a bottle of wine and grab a table on their covered patio for a low-key date.
I have so many childhood memories of canoeing the Niobrara River in north-central Nebraska. This calm river flows through some scenic cliffs that will surprise you, plus the state's famous Smith Falls. I dare you to stick your head in the falls!
This is a popular river for tubers and can take on a bit of a rowdy, party atmosphere on some weekends. Which may or may not appeal to you.
Tip: Valentine is one of the closest cites to use as a homebase. Alternatively, outfitters often offer campsites along the river.
A collection of interconnected lakes, you can have as relaxing or active of a getaway as you want. You want to waterslide into the lake at a waterfront bar? You can find it there. Want to sit on a beach by a firepit watching the sunset? There's a place for it.
Our favorite activities we did at Okoboji included a trip to historic Arnolds Park Amusement Park, a bike ride, kayaking, and playing at Dickinson Country Nature Center.
Tip: The Arnolds Park Funhouse Museum is home to the large wooden slide that used to be in the amusement park. You can take all the rides down you want if you have the day pass or just pay per ride.
Clear Lake is best known for the Surf Ballroom, the last place Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens performed. Once you explore the music history of the ballroom, now a museum, you've got to hit the lake and one of several sandy beaches around it.
Time your visit for the Fourth of July for a small-town celebration you won't forget.
Tip: Want a lakeside dining option? Try PM Park. We had a delicious breakfast indoors and then returned later during our trip to have lunch at the outdoor tiki bar. Yes, tiki bar.
Located along the Mississippi River and split between Iowa and Illinois, the Quad Cities are a getaway for families. We visited on a particularly rainy weekend, so we spent a fun weekend indoors at Putnam Museum and Science Center, the Family Museum, the John Deere Pavilion, and Figge Art Museum, which has a wonderful space for hands-on art activities for kids.
Tip: There’s a surprising amount of hands-on opportunities at the hidden gem, Fryxell Geology Museum, in Rock Island, Ill. And, bonus, it's free.
As much as I want to tell you all to go to Decorah for the outdoor experiences, the awesome dining there almost trumps the outdoors. I know!
OK, first the outdoors. Bike, climb a little waterfall, or kayak down one of the most scenic rivers in the Midwest. For food, get a taste of the Norwegian cuisine the city is known for at Ruby's or have delicious wood-fired pizza on a farm where the ingredients were grown and raised (experience it at called Luna Valley Farm).
Tip: Decorah is home to microbreweries that bring in beer aficionados from around the Midwest, including Toppling Goliath. I particularly enjoyed having a beer after a long bike ride at Pulpit Rock Brewing Co.
If all my destinations could be as bike-friendly as the Twin Cities, I'd be a happy mama. One memorable place to bike around the park at Minnehaha Falls. Indoor fun includes Can Can Wonderland, Science Museum of Minnesota, and the hidden gem, the Bakken Museum.
Oh, and there's a little place called Mall of America. Perhaps you've heard of it.
Tip: One of my all-time favorite brewery experiences was at Surly Brewing Co, where we had dinner and beer with friends. The large brewery is surprisingly family-friendly and if the weather is nice, you can enjoy the immense patio and green space.
Perhaps you remember old family trips to Mount Rushmore, with a stop at Evans Plunge, the indoor water park that uses mineral water from nearby thermal springs. It's still open after all those years (with several updates) in Hot Springs!
Hot Springs is a less touristy stop in the southern Black Hills. Nearby, visit Mammoth Site is a must-visit.
Tip: Hot Springs is a short drive from two beautiful parks, Wind Cave National Park (10 miles away) and Custer State Park (20 miles away). Don't skip Sylvan Lake and the begging burros at Custer!
It's the quintessential summer experience: Road trip to Mount Rushmore. Head straight there or make stops along the way, as we did on our exciting western Nebraska and South Dakota road trip.
We explored everything from the fascinating Toadstool Geological Park in Nebraska to Reptile Gardens in Rapid City. Other stops on this road trip included Wall Drug, Badlands National Park, Mammoth Site, Chadron State Park, and Fort Robinson. It's a long trip and the distance below doesn't factor in the extra stops.
Tip: Everyone has to stop at Wall Drug, if only for the photo ops, right? While you're there, don't forget to order one of their fresh donuts.
Distance: 545 miles to Mount Rushmore
Find more inspiration for road trips
Sky’s the limit on these bucket list for Midwest destinations:
I'm a mom, wife, writer & coffee addict. I love my hometown, Omaha, but cannot resist the thrill of travel. Life is best spent discovering the extraordinary at home and on the road. With any luck, I'll inspire you to think the same. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org