It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to Omaha and hiking trails. We don’t really have an abundance of options – though, we have quite a few great trails. That I keep going back to over and over again. It was time to find a new-to-me place to hike. And that’s why I ended up at Neale Woods in northern Omaha one summer morning.
What took me so long to visit this place?
Where is Neale Woods
Neale Woods is a conservation area tucked in the Ponca Hills area of Omaha, near Hummel Park and the quirky restaurant, Surfside Club. The park’s address is 14323 Edith Marie Ave.
It’s a very short drive from Interstate 680, making it conveniently accessible while still remaining a hidden gem.
What to bring for a hike
The basics to always bring for a hike include plenty of water, sunscreen, and bug spray. I packed a snack for the trail. I wasn’t planning on being there long enough to need a picnic lunch, but you may want to.
The park is well-marked with signage, so a compass isn’t totally necessary.
If you’re as clueless as me when it comes to flora and fauna, you may want to bring a guidebook to help you identify plants.
The Neale Woods & Fontenelle Forest connection
Fontenelle Forest, that beautiful gem of a park in Bellevue, owns and operates Neale Woods. There are a few similarities between the two nature centers.
For one, there is an admission to access the trails. It’s minimal, but bring a few dollars with you. Fees help cover the cost of maintaining the trails. In 2020, the price was $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 for children ages 2-17.
Of course, if you have a Fontenelle membership, it’s free to access either site. I feel a little foolish having had a Fontenelle Forest membership for years and yet I still had never been to Neale Woods.
Unlike trails you might encounter at state parks, Neale Woods (and Fontenelle) do not allow pets on the trails. So, the perk is there are no hidden piles of poop from dogs or horses. The downside? No dogs or horses.
Neale Woods rules
You’ll find some posted signage at the entrance to Neale Woods with clear instructions on how to be a responsible visitor. There are also the following rules printed on the map for Neale Woods:
- Stay on the trails
- Leave all plants and animals undisturbed for others to enjoy, no collecting
- No hunting, fishing, camping, jogging, bicycling, smoking or fires allowed
- Leave all pets at home, including horses
- Motorized vehicles are not permitted beyond the parking lot except for disabled persons’ access
- Carry your trash out with you
- Use caution when crossing North River Road to the floodplain trails
What you’ll find there
There are about 9 miles of trails that span the 600 acres of Neale Woods. Trails pass through forest, woodland and prairie landscape.
I found the trails to be very well-maintained and well-marked, and no trail was too challenging. (Which, I suppose, may be a bad thing if that’s what you were hoping for)
Hiking and wildlife viewing are the main reasons to visit. There is a nature center (temporarily closed due in 2020). There are some places to sit, though you won’t find benches once you’re further into the trails.
This place was completely new to me so I had no planned route when I started. So, I just started in whatever trail tempted me from the parking lot. Luckily, the route I took passed through a variety of scenic areas, including woodlands and prairie.
Here’s my route (it took about an hour, since I stopped frequently to photograph flowers and butterflies):
Take Gifford Trail north for a brief hike before connecting to Neale Trail. Follow Neale Tail until you see a sign to head west on the wooded Wagon Trail.
For a short hike, just continue on Wagon Trail until you hit the parking lot.
But, for a good hike, you’ll tun west onto Raccoon Hollow Trail, which is a moderate trail in the forest. Take Raccoon Hollow Trail north until you get to Owl Trail. It’s a short, somewhat moderately challenging trail that connects with Hilltop Trail.
If you’re lucky, you’ll encounter wildflowers and lush prairie as you traverse Hilltop Trail. Head south along Hilltop Trail until you connect with Gifford Trail. You can hike the Gifford Trail loop, if you desire, or just head back to the parking lot.
In all, there are 11 trails at Neale Woods.
Related post: Looking for more hikes? Here are my favorite easy hikes near Omaha!