I recently found a beach getaway that’s about an hour drive from Omaha (and by beach, I mean sand lake). It took until me the end of summer to discover it – and even longer to tell you about it. Sorry. Just tuck this little post in the back your mind for Summer 2016. My family recently camped at Branched Oak State Recreation Area, a large park about 20 miles north of Lincoln, Nebraska.
UPDATED: This post was first published in 2015 and has been updated in 2023
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It’s far enough to feel like a getaway but if you’re not a huge fan of being in remote areas, it’s really close to civilization. And it’s near wineries (James Arthur Vineyards, Windcrest Winery, Junto Wine). So win for all of us.
What to expect at Branched Oak Lake
The big draw is Branched Oak Lake, which is the largest in Eastern Nebraska. This place is a huge draw for boaters. Bring your own or rent one to join the fun. You can also rent canoes and kayaks. Visit Branched Oak Marina for more details.
There are two sandy beaches. We stuck to the beach at Liebers Pointe because the waves were big by Nebraska standards. We drove by the other beach and it looked pretty calm.
The marked off swimming area at Liebers Pointe is rather shallow, allowing even my 5-year-old to walk out with me to the buoys. By the way, “sandy” means the kind you find on the playground and mud.
That sounds negative, but I don’t mean it to be – we liked it, actually. The kids could build sand castles and dig tunnels for the water. I just wanted to give you a clear expectation of things.
Camping at Branched Oak
There are nine areas designated for camping at Branched Oak, some you can reserve online ahead of time and some you can get the day of starting at 10 a.m., for a total of 280 sites. We went on a holiday weekend, which requires reserving for three nights.
I can only vouch for the Middle Oak Creek Loop (AKA Area 4), which is the original campsite of Branched Oak before it the other camp areas were added (it even includes an equestrian area). Our little patch of the park had a new playground and access to boat docks.
There were tons of RVs there, though we stuck to our tent. Love our easy-to-assemble Coleman Instant Cabin. Our site had a fire pit where we grilled dinner, plus we brought a portable stove like this one. All fresh food that needed to stay was brought in a cooler like this one.
There are clean bathrooms and showers (well, “camping clean” – you’ll still find bugs and spiders there). There are two in the area, though we only found the one. It was located far from our campsite; so if you’re camping with kids, plan ahead and reserve a spot near there if you don’t have an RV. We had to establish a policy with the kids that last-minute dashes to the bathroom were not going to work.
South Shore Campground (AKA Area 1) sounds like it has the same setup as Middle Oak Creek Loop, with caved campsites, RV hookups and tent sites. I heard Area 2 at the lake has no bathrooms.
If this kind of camping isn’t your thing, check out the “glamping” sites that recently opened at Platte River State Park.
Other activities to enjoy at Branched Oak
This isn’t like a state park with an abundance of things to do, so bring the fun with you. That said, there are a few options.
Horse riding – There are equestrian trails, so bring your horse. We all have one, right?
Fishing – There are plenty of fishing spots, and people there are hard core about their fishing. We took the kids to the dock at the marina to give fishing a try.
The marina is located on the northeast portion of the lake.
Mr. Wonderful doesn’t fish much and I don’t at all, so this was a pretty short excursion. Still, the kids enjoyed it. Even if we didn’t catch a thing besides weeds. You can purchase worms at the marina (as well as coffee and ice, I discovered).
Enjoy the views – The Boat House Bar & Grill is a dining spot with a view of the marina. There’s a large, unshaded deck.
Going with kids? There is a kids menu with pretty good prices and fresh fruit to boot. With only 12 tables, it can be a packed place, especially during Husker games. And if you’re dying to stay connected to the outside world, ask them for their wifi password.
Run or bike – This isn’t really a place for hiking, though there is a nature trail and arboretum. We skipped those since it was, by all appearances, a lawnmowed trail in the grasslands. It is pretty flat and we saw our share of runners out there, as well as bicyclists. We spent some time working on the kids learning how to ride their bikes near our campsite.
If you go
Branched Oak State Recreation Area
Where: 12000 West Branched Oak Road, Raymond Neb.
Costs: A Nebraska State Park Permit is required to enter this park area. Camping? Campsites can be reserved starting at $20 a night.
Word of caution: We had trouble navigating the area and finding our campsite, as did those visiting us over the weekend. Pretty much disregard the directions provided on the Nebraska State Park’s Reserve America site. The signs weren’t much help either. So bring patience.