Couples Getaway: Sioux City

It’s pretty easy to get stuck in a rut as parents. To recharge yourself, you need a break. Sometimes, it has to be a quick one. Mr. Wonderful and I took a kid-free overnight trip to Sioux City, Iowa. It was a lot of food, drink, comedy and music. Sounds good, right?

SiouxCity

Sioux City was picked because it was just far enough to feel like a getaway – about an hour and a half north of Omaha. Our stay was coordinated by the Sioux City Visitor & Convention Bureau and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.

The second reason I wanted to go there was the entertainment. I was looking for a good concert or show to catch within two hours of Omaha. And at the Hard Rock I found a goodie: Jon Lovitz! Yes!

So, we dropped the kids off with my brother and his family and off we went.

We arrived in Sioux City around lunch time, so I was determined to try one of the tavern sandwiches I’d read about.

Taverns are a loose meat sandwich, akin to the sloppy joe without the sloppy part (no tomato). We headed straight for Miles Inn, the bar recommended by several friends (and winner of the Sioux City Journal tavern showdown a few years ago).

Smiling at Miles Inn.
Smiling at Miles Inn.

It was March Madness time so the place was packed and full of lively regulars. We got our cheap taverns ($3.25 each), and two schooners because…when in Rome.

The schooners of domestic beer were only $3.25 and by all appearances, the one only glass beer is served in. Bottoms up!

They're on to something up in Sioux City. A tavern pairs well with cold beer in a schooner.
They’re on to something up in Sioux City. A tavern pairs well with cold beer in a schooner.

The taverns there had American cheese added and were quite peppery. I liked it, but it wasn’t a favorite of my husband’s.

We were still hungry, so we drove down the street to another recommended Sioux City original: Tastee Inn & Out.

An iconic sign in front of Tastee Inn & Out in Sioux City.
An iconic sign in front of Tastee Inn & Out in Sioux City.

There, we ordered their famous tastee sandwich (a tavern, but without the cheese) and the onion fries and dip.

Onion fries in a cup.
Onion fries in a cup.

Tastee is a drive-thru, so we pulled into the parking lot to eat and compare the two taverns.

(Miles Inn wins)

We headed to downtown Sioux City next. The plan was to walk around but it was a colder day than anticipated. So, we planned two stops: The Sioux City Public Museum and Jackson Street Brewing. The Sioux City Art Museum is super nearby and if we had another hour and a bit more sunshine, we would’ve walked down there too.

The Sioux City Public Museum is a free attraction and worth visiting with or without kids.

Plan to spend about an hour checking out exhibits at the Sioux City Public Museum, as well as 12 minutes watching the intro video.
Plan to spend about an hour checking out exhibits at the Sioux City Public Museum, as well as 12 minutes watching the intro video.

They have a 12-minute movie that gives a good account of the city’s origin and features a neat immersive experience with lighting and projections around the room synced with the movie.

Afterward, you could spend about an hour walking around the colorful museum. There is a lot of interactive areas that kids will like.

A block from the museum is the new Jackson Brewing Company, which opened July 2015.

We picked out four beers to sample in a flight.

You choose the four beers to sample on a beer flight at Jackson Street Brewing Co.
You choose the four beers to sample on a beer flight at Jackson Street Brewing Co.

Flights start at $8.50 and go up if you get high alcohol content beers. Of the four I tried, the maibock was my favorite.

We talked with the bartender and two locals while we were there and got the lowdown on breakfast spots for the next day. Super friendly people.

We checked into the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, located within walking distance of the brewery and museums mentioned above.

The hotel has a music theme (obviously) that’s goal is to make you feel like a rock star. To that end, once you check in, you get a complimentary drink.

You get the choice of a beer or house cocktail at check-in at the Hard Rock Casino & Hotel Sioux City.
You get the choice of a beer or house cocktail at check-in at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City.

Yes please.

If you’re not ready to hit the ground running rock star-style, you can get a drink ticket for later.

We settled into our room – again, feeling all rock star with the décor and music playing in your room as you enter. The exposed brick in the rooms creates a great look when paired with modern touches and concert posters.

I kinda wished we were in the Prince room at the end of the hall. Check out that door. There's always next time.
I kinda wished we were in the Prince room at the end of the hall. Check out that door. There’s always next time.

Then we headed downstairs for dinner, with a short stop at the casino. I’m not a gambler, so not a lot of time or money was spent there. If you’re the same, you can easily spend your hotel stay without entering the casino…unless you’re going to show there, then you’ll have to walk through the casino to get to Anthem, the concert venue.

The hall connecting the hotel to the casino and restaurants is lined with music memorabilia.
The hall connecting the hotel to the casino and restaurants is lined with music memorabilia.

You have a couple dinner options at the hotel, but we wanted a date night experience and had made reservations at Main + Abbey. The restaurant is ranked No. 1 on Trip Adviser, and perusing the gastropub’s menu, it seemed like mine kind of place.

Rather than order entrees, the two of us split several appetizers and order drinks. Wondering what to order? The pierogies were so good, and the poitine while heavy, was very flavorful. And if you’re an Instagrammy kind of person, order the pretzel appetizer – you’ll want to take pictures of it for sure.

We had complimentary tickets to Jon Lovitz’s second show, and were invited to a meet & greet with him. It was the very definition of meet & greet – we met him, greeted him, posed for a picture and moved on.

Funny. The only photo I took with my husband on the trip includes Jon Lovitz.
Funny. The only photo I took with my husband on the trip includes Jon Lovitz.

The show was at Anthem within the casino part of the hotel. From the outside, it looks deceptively small, but this pace can fit more than 900 people. There’s a bar inside Anthem to grab drinks before the show starts.

Lovitz had an opener, and then he entertained the crowd. It was a fun night, and the best part was that we didn’t have to head to our car to get back to our hotel. It was great to leave the show, walk to the hotel part of the building and be back in the room in no time.

Breakfast the next day was up in the air until we had that chat at Jackson Street Brewing. They were quick to recommend the Hard Rock’s buffet, but we asked for where locals would go and they steered us to what they referred to as a great greasy spoon: Horizon Family Restaurant.

So Horizon is was for us. Outward appearances weren’t much, but with a packed parking lot, we figured it couldn’t be too bad.

Not much of an exterior, Horizons is the greasy spoon you seek after a night at the casino.
Not much of an exterior, Horizon Restaurant is the greasy spoon you seek after a late night.

It’s a no-frills diner that was hopping on the Sunday we went. Offerings were pretty typical for diners, and the coffee was great.

To burn off the big breakfast, we headed to Stone State Park located within Sioux City’s city limits. Our timing wasn’t great since everything was leafless from winter, and being Sunday, the Dorothy Picaut Nature Center wasn’t open (it’s open from 1 to 4 p.m. on Sundays).

A late winter/early spring hike near the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center at Stone State Park in Sioux City.
A late winter/early spring hike near the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center at Stone State Park in Sioux City.

Still, we took a nice hike near the nature center and discovered a cool nature playscape. The kids would love this place!

Nature play structures at Stone State Park.
Nature play structures at Stone State Park.

The park and nature center are FREE.

The short getaway over, we headed back to Omaha. Rather than take the quick route via Interstate 29, we drove along the Loess Hills Scenic Biway. If you have time, try it out, especially if you’re itching to take some pretty photos.

If time permits, always take the route with the dirt road.
If time permits, always take the route with the dirt road.

We tried two of the scenic loops – Stagecoach Trail and Wilderness Trail.

It was picturesque in spite of the time of year. We resolved to drive it again when the scenery’s lusher – fall would be perfect.

Fall would be a great time to drive the Loess Hill Scenic Biway, but that's not to say the vistas are bad in early spring.
Fall would be a great time to drive the Loess Hill Scenic Biway, but that’s not to say the vistas are bad in early spring.

Thinking about a getaway? Read more Sioux City stories:

My Sioux City Bucket List (for visits with and without kids)

Rock Star Status At the Sioux City Hard Rock Hotel & Casino

Exploring History At The Sioux City Public Museum

My Sioux City Bucket List

Just off Interstate 29, 100 miles north of Omaha, is Sioux City, Iowa. For me, it’s only been a stopping point on the way to Valentine, Neb., where we can stretch our legs, and fill up on hot dogs at Milwaukee Wiener House or pick up road trip goodies at Palmer Candy Co.

Perhaps for others, it’s seen as a good stopping point on the way to Sioux Falls, S.D.

But what about staying a while? I started to wonder what more I could do there than eat. After scoping the city’s offering, I decided it makes a nice destination for a quick kid-free getaway (though the mom in me made note of what’s there in case we return with the kids… there’s some good stuff!). I only have 24 hours to spend there, so this list below of my Sioux City must-see stuff is not bound by that timeframe or money.

Sioux City Bucket List

My Sioux City Bucket List

Check Out Fourth Street District – This is historic part of the city with brewpubs, breweries and restaurants, all things I love. One that stood out is Jackson Street Brewing.

Forth Street District in Sioux City is known for its restaurants and bars. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City
Forth Street District in Sioux City is known for its restaurants and bars. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

 

Dine at Main + Abbey – My lists always seem to include a lot of eating, so why hold back now? When I looked into the hotel we’d be staying at – Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City – I noticed they had a gastropub. Nice. It has a great beer list, poutine and locally sourced steaks. You can count on casinos in the Midwest having a restaurant that serves good steaks (it’s like a law or something).

Go to Saturday in the Park – This annual music festival sponsored by the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino has been going strong for close to three decades and with powerhouse acts (Aretha Franklin and Foster the People were two acts from last year’s lineup). Did I mention this was FREE? I’d love to go without the kids just because an all-day music festival with kids sounds like I’d hear a lot more complaining from the kiddos them than the good music. However, they have a kids zone with live entertainment of their own, inflatables, carnival rides and a ton of other things to keep them occupied, so this sounds like a totally manageable festival with kiddos in tow.

The mega music festival, Concert in the Park, is an annual free event at Battery Park. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City
The mega music festival, Concert in the Park, is an annual free event at Battery Park. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

Try a Tavern – In my research, I found out that there’s a famous loose meat sandwich called the tavern that originated at Ye Olde Tavern back in the ‘20s (a couple years later, Maid-Rite followed suit). This is not to be confused with a sloppy joe, apparently. Anyway, there’ are a couple places to find a tavern in town, including a bar called Miles Inn, Tastee Inn and Out (a place that’s been called “iconic” on Reddit), and Gus’ Family Restaurant. The Garden Cafe’s tavern made the cut to represent Iowa in Food Network Magazine’s list “50 States, 50 Sandwiches” in 2012.

Try a Burrito At La Juanita – This restaurant’s burritos are apparently so good, they rank in the top 5…according to Esquire Magazine readers a couple years ago. The readers poll released in February 2013 included the Iowa burrito – the only one in the midwest – as one of the 10 “most life-changing burrito in America.”

There are several things I’d like to take the kids to in Sioux City:

Launch Pad – This is the city’s brand new children’s museum – so new, it just opened this year.

Launch Pad, Sioux City's children's museum, just opened in early 2016. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City
Launch Pad, Sioux City’s children’s museum, just opened in early 2016. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

Sioux City Arts Center – This arts center consistently pops up on travelers’ posts about the city. First off, it’s FREE. But, there’s a room there that features all sorts of hands-on activities for children. My kids would love this. Plus, if you visit before May 8, 2016, you can see the temporary exhibition “The Art of the Brick®” featuring large-scale sculptures constructed out of LEGO bricks.

"Art of the Brick" is on display at Sioux City Art Center through May. Photo courtesy brickartist.com
“Art of the Brick” is on display at Sioux City Art Center through May 8, 2016. Photo courtesy brickartist.com

The MIlwaukee Railroad Shops (AKA, the Railroad Museum) – Trains are always a hit with the kids, and this place sounds pretty interesting. If you time your trip right, you can go during a special event – such as Touch a Truck or Train Day, the Halloween event, or Santa’s Whistle Stop Tour at Christmas time. 

Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center – I’m always on the lookout for a good hike or place to explore while on vacation, and this place sounds like I’ve found Sioux City’s best. The nature center has a lot of hands-on ways for kids to explore the Loess Hills’ natural history. It’s located in Stone State Park with hiking trails (note to self: Avoid the trail with the bat house; find the trail that has the Playscape Area).

Get out into nature at the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center at State Park. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City
Get out into nature at Stone State Park, and don’t forget to check out the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center while there. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

Sioux City Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center & the Betty Strong Encounter Center – This looks like a good place to explore a little of our region’s history, and I hear it has hands-on exhibits, which is always good when visiting with kids.

Try a Twin Bing – And we return back to eating. It’s what I do best on vacation. Twin Bing was created in 1923 Sioux City at Palmer Candy Co. While I’ve been to this cool candy shop – you’ll be tempted to take a lot of pictures there – I haven’t tried a Twin Bing, which consists of cherry nougat covered in roasted peanuts and chocolate. I’ll give it a try, even though I hate fruity flavors added to my chocolate.

Everyone finds something they like at Palmer Candy Co. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City
There are Twin Bings and other goodies in the basket at Palmer Candy Co. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

 

Your turn: What’s missing from this list? Share your favorite restaurants, bars, foods and things to do in Sioux City, Iowa? Never been? Then what on this list would you visit?

A Weekend In Franklin County, Iowa

Some unexpected things happened on a recent visit to Franklin County, Iowa. I was expecting farmland, small town friendliness and a vaudeville show.

That all happened according to plan.

Learning about tiling on Roy and Jeanie Arends' farm.
Learning about tiling on Roy and Jeanie Arends’ farm. Google farm tiling – it’s pretty fascinating stuff.

I wasn’t expecting to learn so much.

I wasn’t expecting my son to be so fascinated by a county museum.

Old phones are amusing.
Old phones are amusing.

I wasn’t expecting a microbrewer in a town of 4,000 to make beer that competes with the best of Nebraska’s.

The microbrews on hand at Rustic Brew during our recent visit. Only Slobber Knocker is guaranteed to be there when you visit - the rest rotate.
The microbrews on hand at Rustic Brew during our recent visit. Only Slobber Knocker is guaranteed to be there when you visit – the rest rotate.

And I wasn’t expecting my daughter to become so attached to another blogger’s daughter that she’d cry when we left.

These two were inseparable.
These two were inseparable. Isn’t this chalkboard wall at Rustic Brew fantastic? Great way to entertain kids while we waited.

* * * * *

Halfway between Omaha and Minneapolis, lies the small town Hampton with an unexpected number of things to do. My family were invited to the county seat of Franklin County as guests of Franklin County Farm Bureau and Franklin County Tourism along with four other bloggers and their families – Simplify Live Love, Her Heartland Soul, Midwest Wanderer and The Gingered Whisk.

The 2015 Franklin County Harvest Tour gang.
The 2015 Franklin County Harvest Tour gang.

Due to the uniqueness of the fourth annual Franklin County Harvest Blogger Tour we were on (search Instagram for some great #FranklinCoHarvest photos), it doesn’t make sense to recap the whole weekend for you – it’s not something easy to duplicate without some insider help.

I mean, not many of y'all will get to go to some stranger's field and pick their field corn.
I mean, not many of y’all will get to go to some stranger’s field to help harvest field corn.
And by "help," I mean ride in their combine.
And by “help,” I mean ride in their combine.
And sorry, you probably won't get to help tile a field either.
And sorry, you probably won’t get to “help” tile a field either.
If you're lucky, you might get to meet a farm dog when you visit Franklin County, though.
If you’re lucky, you might get to meet a farm dog when you visit Franklin County, though. Mooch wanted to smuggle this guy home.

Instead, I’ll break down the highlights for you, in case you’re planning a road trip to Minnesota and you need a good stopping point to stretch legs or rest for the night.

Good Eats

Our large group dined at two restaurants in Hampton – Rustic Brew and La Frontera.

Rustic Brew is an inviting coffee shop in the morning, with so much charm and décor you’ll want to linger and look everything over. We ate warm scones – the raspberry and white chocolate was good – and tried a variety of quiches and breakfast sandwiches.

I think my daughter has seen me in "blogger" mode too frequently, as now she's taken up the habit of photographing her food.
I think my daughter has seen me in “blogger” mode too frequently, as now she’s taken up the habit of photographing her food.

There’s a 100-year-old piano you can play, and a chalk wall to pass the time while you wait.

The piano at Rustic Brew in Hampton, Iowa.
The piano at Rustic Brew in Hampton, Iowa.

I returned with a few of the BHs of the group (bloggers’ husbands), and tried one of the microbrews the owner Joel makes above the coffee shop. The “Brew” in Rustic Brew doesn’t just mean coffee. They have about six brews – he recently made a cucumber peppercorn ale.

I tried a brown ale called Bad to the Brown and it was so good. So good. He said the most popular one, Slobber Knocker, is always on tap.

La Frontera is a Mexican restaurant connected to a grocery store that’ fun to browse (writes the former exchange student).

We ate chicken enchiladas and way too many chips scooping up the good salsa.

A Quick Stop

If you’re looking for a place to stop briefly to stretch your legs and get a bite to eat, hit up Rustic Brew and then browse some of the shops on Hampton’s Main Street. I bought the cutest scarf and earrings at Orange Possum and could’ve shopped the clothes there for an hour.

I’ll take one of each. Shopping at the Orange Possum on Hampton’s main strip of shops.

Hampton has eight specialty shops worth checking out. We also went into The Wood Cellar, which had so many quirky and cute things to decorate your home and garden, and Cornerstone Cottage, where Farley bought a coloring book illustrated by a local artists.

A few of the speciality shops you'll find in Hampton, Iowa.
A few of the speciality shops you’ll find in Hampton, Iowa.

Cornerstone Cottage had some darling handcrafted stuff that’d make great gifts. They give you a free book with your purchase (not usually with a coloring book, but they made the exception for us). So we got a new chapter book for Farley – score!

A Longer Stop

If you’re sticking around a little longer than an hour, you have more options. The Franklin County Historical Museum dives into the history of the county. My kids surprised me and really enjoyed this stop on our tour.

Farley was in his element exploring the Franklin County Historical Museum. I guess the kid likes old stuff. Who knew?
Farley was in his element exploring the Franklin County Historical Museum. I guess the kid likes old stuff. Who knew?

From old telephones and toys, to what beauty salons and classrooms looked like, there was a lot to see. The machine shed was pretty interesting to explore, but the outdoor building were particularly fun for the kids.

So I hear. Mr. Wonderful took Mooch out there with a few other parents and kids, while Farley and I made our way through the museum inside. Farley had a lot of questions, and our stop was brief.

We visited another museum that’s way more niche and I’d only recommend setting up an appointment to see if it it’s a definite interest of yours or someone in the family: Power Plant Museum.

Google what a chicken duster is. I dare ya.
Just another day playing with the chicken duster.

The kids got a kick out of the chicken duster (just like what it sounds like – it was a way to clean chickens of mites).

The Windsor Theatre is 102 years old and now screens movies. Our visit was timed so that we could see the annual vaudeville show (first weekend of October).

The Windsor Theatre in Hampton, Iowa.
The Windsor Theatre in Hampton, Iowa.

You’d be surprised – the kids enjoyed it, especially the silent film “You’re Darn Tootin’” (1928), which a orchestra played live accompaniment to.

I liked TownsEnd Winery in nearby Hansell, Iowa. We went there one evening with our group for a potluck and wine sampling. On a warmer night, we could’ve been outside on their nice patio or playing a beanbag game in the vineyard.

A silo at TownsEnd Winery in Iowa.
A silo at TownsEnd Winery in Iowa.

But it was chilly, so we stayed inside and tried elderberry wines and a variety made from northern grapes. My favorite was the cranberry table wine, which will be a nice addition to Thanksgiving dinner this year. The cranberries were the only thing not grown in their vineyard or in Iowa (Wisconsin-grown).

Who wants a sample? I'm never one to pass up a good wine tasting.
Who wants a sample? I’m never one to pass up a good wine tasting.

Lodging Options

There are three places to stay in Hampton, and I will vouch for where we were hosted: AmericInn Lodge & Suites.

Mooch had to pick the apple tree each time we came and went from the hotel.
Mooch had to pick the apple tree each time we came and went from the hotel.

I was skeptical, having stayed in several small town inns that were less than stellar, but this surpassed all expectations. They did a good job making this hotel feel like a lodge when you first arrive.

We arrived late and were warmly greeted with cookies and milk. The rooms are pretty standard hotel rooms: clean, big TV and pretty speedy wifi.

The kids enjoyed the pool and hot tub, I loved that there was always coffee in the lobby.

The pool area also had a sauna, pool table and a couple arcade games.
The pool area also had a sauna, pool table and a couple arcade games.

There’s a breakfast every morning starting at 6 a.m. – even hot breakfast options like biscuits and gravy and bacon.

About our tour

Many thanks to the people made the 2015 Franklin County Harvest Tour possible! My kids made some friendships during our stay there – learning about tiling and riding combines at Arends Farms, and playing with their toys in their Ag in the Classroom goodie bags at Latham High-Tech Seeds.

We learned a lot, and enjoyed the change of scenery. Thanks for inviting us!

 

Exploring DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge With Kids

DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge is about 30 miles north of Omaha in Missouri Valley, Iowa. It’s one of those nearby nature centers you forget about until a niece tells you about her field trip there or someone mentions crane migration.

If you’re really into birds, this is the place to visit. If you’re not, it’s still worth a visit if only to immerse yourself in the great outdoors, take some great photos and spot some wildlife.

 Desoto 3 title

Since it’s spring and we’ve had ridiculously fine weather, I thought we’d go to check out the waterfowl migration situation there. That’s what the place is known for. Mid-March was apparently too early to catch birds and geese on their way back north – they were there, just not in hordes.

The birdies must be hiding (or my kids are too loud).
The birdies must be hiding (or my kids are too loud).

But, it was not a wasted trip. Here’s what my family enjoyed about DeSoto:

 

Visitor Center

Do not miss a stop here, especially if you have children. The wildlife exhibits drew my kids in, as did the interactive ones.

Kids can learn about eagles and then be one.
Kids can learn about eagles and then be one.

 

History buffs will enjoy the historical displays, and especially the Steamboat Bertrand exhibit.

 (The Steamboat Bertrand was thought to be lost after it sunk until it was rediscovered nearly a century later within the boundaries of the DeSoto. Over 250,000 artifacts were uncovered, including many in amazing condition. You’ll see a ton of those artifacts at the visitor center.)

No one should let this kid steer a boat.
No one should let this kid steer a boat.

My kids aren’t history buffs quite yet; dates mean nothing to them since everything happened “just the other day.” They still indulged me a little and walked through the exhibit, letting me look closely at a couple interesting items before moving on.

The visitor center also has a small theater for viewing short films. 

Go a little further into the visitor center for a great view of the river.

 

The visitor center sits by - and on top of - the Missouri River.
The visitor center sits by – and on top of – the Missouri River.

 

Let’s Go Outside Backpacks

You can check out children’s backpacks at the visitors center for FREE – and I highly suggest you do it since it added a lot to our visit.

Desoto 9

Each one is equipped with binoculars, wildlife and cloud ID cards, suggest activities like a scavenger hunt and journaling, and my kids’ favorite, a small cup to collect bugs with a magnifying lid.

Mooch and her cup of dirt.
Mooch and her cup of dirt.

The binoculars alone are worth taking the 30 seconds to check out a bag, but really everything in there was useful.

Desoto 14
The kids took a minute to figure out what kind of clouds were in the sky during visit, thanks to the cloud guide in their backpacks.

 

Who knew my kids were such curious naturalists?

Mooch modeling one of the backpacks we checked out, and Farley trying to catch a beetle.
Mooch modeling one of the backpacks we checked out, and Farley trying to catch a beetle.

Hiking

This place isn’t really a destination for hikers, though there are a couple flat trails, particularly the Cottonwood/Grassland trails. which are ¾-mile trails. They’re very manageable for small kids.

Desoto 4
The Cottonwood Trail at DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge…not exactly picturesque at the end of winter.

 

Other trails include the Bertrand Trail (⅖ mile), Wood Duck Pond Trail (¾ mile) and the Missouri Meander Trail near the visitor center (an accessible 7/8 mile looped trail). Many portions of DeSoto, including some trails, are closed during the winter to minimize disturbance of wintering eagles, waterfowl and some game.

You can identify any animals or interesting fauna along the trails with the guide provided in the backpack (or if you're a former scout or something).
You can identify any animals or interesting fauna along the trails with the guide provided in the backpack (or if you’re a former scout or something).

Word of advice: There are a ton of bugs in the thick of summer – you’re along a river. Mr. Wonderful and I last visited DeSoto when Farley was a baby. We made it about 10 feet onto one of the trails near the river before being swarmed by mosquitoes. Swarmed. Like out of a movie.

 

What else can you do

March 1 through April 14 is a good time to visit and enjoy:

Waterfowl migration observation

April 15 through October 14 is a good time to visit and enjoy:

Fishing

Photography

Boating

Mushroom collecting (April 15-May 31)

October 15 through November

Migrating waterfowl observation (prime time)

Hunting

December and February is a good time to visit and enjoy:

Ice fishing

Hunting season

 

If you go

 

DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge

Where: 1434 316th Lane, Missouri Valley

Hours:  Open daily sunrise to sunset; the visitor center is open daily (except for certain federal holidays) 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Cost: $3/vehicle

 

Special event

150th anniversary of the sinking of the Steamboat Bertrand

When: March 27-29 (actual date it sank was April 1, 1865)

Friday afternoon: Special tours of the Bertrand excavation site and steamboat museum from 2 to 4 p.m.; formal reception starts at 4 p.m. with a social hour followed by formal presentations starting at 5. Keynote speaker is archaeologist and retired National Park Service Superintendent Ronald R. Switzer who will speak about the early preservation of the Bertrand artifacts.

Saturday and Sunday: Show-and-tell with select artifacts, a steamboat photo station, 1860s period play time for kids, waterfowl viewing stations and more. Special talks on Saturday include an encore presentation by Ronald Switzer at 10 a.m. and a presentation on metal artifact conservation by a Gerald R. Ford Center Conservation Technician Megan Griffiths at 1 p.m. Tours of the museum collection and special archeologist-led tours of the Bertrand excavation site will happen on the hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Cost: FREE (no vehicle admission fee!)

Fall At Hitchcock Nature Center

It’s prime season to visit Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa. The nature preserve, about 20 minutes outside of Omaha, is a hawk-watching haven.

If you visit September through December, you’ll likely find a volunteer at the top of the nature center’s tower, binoculars trained at the sky, counting how many feathered creatures pass over the park. Here’s a link to a great site with all the migrating raptors you can look for.

I’ll be honest, bird watching’s not my thing. I’ll look up and appreciate a giant hawk like everyone else, but I can’t tell you what kind it is, what it’s hunting for and where it’s headed. But, the volunteer probably could.

When my family goes to Hitchcock this time of year, we go for a good hike in cooler temperatures. It’s one of my 7 Favorite Trails Near Omaha.

Hitchcock Hike 3 11-10-12 title
Fall at Hitchcock Nature Center

We’ve been bringing the kids here for a few years. Most trails are kid-friendly. The few difficult passes are short, though I still recommend sticking to easy and moderate paths.

This September, we hiked to a lake within the park for the first time.

One trail to it starts as a boardwalk, providing wheelchair access into a beautiful part of the Loess Hills.

Our most recent visit to Hitchcock led to "discovering" this boardwalk. It makes nature accessible for a lot of people!
Our most recent visit to Hitchcock led to “discovering” this boardwalk. It makes nature accessible for a lot of people!

We decided we’ll try to walk every foot of the trails with the kids – we’re sure to discover new things each visit.

Before you hike Hitchcock for the first time, stop by the visitors center. Your kids will find a lot to activity areas to explore and learn about the animals and flora found at Hitchcock and in the Loess Hills.

Hitchcock Nature Center has an annual Halloween event for kids! Get the details on the 2017 event, as well as other Iowa and Nebraska parks here!

You can check out a backpack full of things your kids will like to use on your hike. In one we checked out, there were things like a magnifying glass and ID cards for birds. It’s FREE to check out for the day, too.

A young Farley checking out the contents of the backpack we checked out from the visitor's center at Hitchcock.
A young Farley checking out the contents of the backpack we checked out from the visitor’s center at Hitchcock.

Happy trails! 

More from Oh My! Omaha

Exploring Fontenelle Forest With Kids

Dad-Approved Outings In Omaha

 

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Your Local Kids Quest + Giveaway

UPDATE: April 7, 2019 – Kids Quest at Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa has permanently closed.

We all aren’t blessed with babysitters at the ready. I’m lucky to live in the same city as most of my immediate relatives and even I sometimes need to scramble to find a babysitter.

Enter Kids Quest.

KQLogo [Converted] (1)

Never heard of it? It’s the nation’s largest hourly child care provider, but it’s more than what you envision “child care” to be. Think arcade, floor-to-ceiling maze and karaoke. It’s a supervised children’s entertainment center, basically.

Play Time for Kids, Free Time for You!

Our local Kids Quest is located inside Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs. It’s open seven days a week. For hours and rates – check at www.kidsquest.com.


Spoiler alert: There’s a giveaway at the end of the post!

So, if you’re like me, you get a little uptight thinking with your preconceived ideas of an hourly day care center (in a casino, even). Relax.

Kids quest has CPR and first aid certified staff. Safety is a priority, so a photo ID is required at check-in and check out (there’s a nice video about the process check-in here).

TIP: Speed up your first check-in by pre-registering online. 

They care for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years old. Socks are required, which reminds me of the policy in my kids’ daycare’s infant room.

Let’s talk fun stuff

Check out all the activities inside Kids Quest:

Creative Play

Special areas offer creative crafts, construction and transportation toys, cozy lounges, home living imagination play, colorful costumes and realistic props to set the stage for big adventures.

Indoor Play Piece

Plenty of twists and turns in this floor-to-ceiling maze challenge kids’ bodies and minds while providing vital entertainment and exercise for hours on end.

Arcade Alley

Kids get their game on with the latest engaging (yet non-violent) arcade games where they can compete for high scores!

Quest Café

Your child’s taste buds are tantalized as the simple act of eating is changed into a super savory adventure. Meals and snacks available for purchase.

Tiny Tots

A safe-play environment with soft climbing zones for youngsters that encourage sensory stimulation, interactive play, and toddler-friendly snacks!

Karaoke Star Stage

Here’s a spotlight where kids shine, whether they want a solo song or to sing along with their friends!

iPad® Stations

Over 100 kids games and apps give the perfect tech platform to explore and play on their own or in friendly competition.

Wii® Arena

Wii®, Nintendo® Kinect, and PS3 games get kids moving with the latest in virtual spors, exploration, races, and more!

Arts and Crafts

Kids tap into their deepest creative impulses, which then come to life through drawing, molding, painting, and whatever other colorful crafts they devise!

What else is there at Kids Quest?

BIRTHDAY PARTIES AT KIDS QUEST

From start to finish, our birthday parties create wonderful memories as your child celebrates being one year older. Your child’s birthday party rules Kids Quest, gaining unlimited access to the indoor play piece, creative play activities, video and arcade games, and more!

BOOK YOUR NEXT PARTY AT KIDS QUEST!

Time to Play

It’s amazing how so much fun can be packed into 2 hours!

Family-Friendly Staff

No stress setup or teardown.

Designed for You

Design the party theme and activities around your child’s unique interests.

Giveaway!

Think your kids would have fun at Kids Quest while you enjoy some free time? We’re giving away two free hours at Kids Quest for two children, two snacks and two beverages! That’s a $40 prize (though the free time you’ll have is priceless, right?)!

It’s easy to enter using the Rafflecopter entry form below. If you have trouble using the entry form, go directly to Rafflecopter.com to enter. Giveaway ends Sept. 21 at 11:59 p.m. I will contact the winner via email; winner needs to reply within 48 hours or another name will be drawn.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!