15+ Things To Know About Wabash Trace Trail (Plus Taco Ride Tips)

Omaha has a pretty decent amount of paved and mountain bike trails, but every so often, we come across a trail that outshines the others. I’m talking about the Wabash Trace Nature Trail, which yes, isn’t in Omaha, but it’s close enough. Let me tell you about this long trail in southwestern Iowa.

Related post: 15+ things to do in southwest Iowa with kids

Where is the Wabash Trace Nature Trail?

The Wabash Trace Trail is a rails-to-trail path in western Iowa stretching from Council Bluffs to Blanchard. It’s 63 miles of crushed limestone and, for the most part, it’s pretty straight and flat (being a former railroad route and all).

Girl riding a bike in the fall on the Wabash Trace Trail in Iowa

Most people that I know, ie. those living in the Omaha metro area, start in Council Bluffs. The access point in Council Bluffs is on the south end of town, not far from Iowa School for the Deaf. There’s a park near the trail where you can leave your car, as well as a Lewis Central School District school parking lot.

I’ve biked this trail mostly, but there are quite a few runners and walkers on the trail, as well.

A few things to know about the trail

This trail is maintained by two nonprofits and volunteers, not taxpayer money. So, it’s extremely important to pay the minor trail pass fee so surfaces and bridges can be maintained.

And so trees and debris can be removed from the path.

A fallen tree blocks the path on the Wabash Trace Trail in southwest Iowa

The last I’d checked, the fee is $2 per day for anyone between the ages of 12 and 64, or an annual pass of $20. You simply drop your fee or donation in the collection poll at any trailhead. Annual bike passes are available at local bike shops.

The northern half of the trail, where I’m most familiar with, offers vistas of the Loess Hills. I’ve yet to make cover the entire distance. If you want to, there are places to stay overnight, making it a manageable overnight or weekend trip.

Must-stop on the trail: Mineola

Most Omaha bikers of any skill level can make the out-and-back trip to Mineola. It’s not easy — it’s nearly 20 miles in all — but it can be done.

Why Mineola? It’s the first town stop on this trail when you depart from the Council Bluffs trailhead. And it’s home to one of the first restaurants that’s a short ride off the trail: Tobey Jack’s Mineola Steakhouse.

Exterior of Tobey Jacks Mineola Steak House in Iowa

It’s located at 408 Main St., so about a block or so from the trailhead in Mineola. The town isn’t huge, so it should be fairly easy to find.

What to like about it? Outdoor seating and lots of it!

We ordered a few appetizers to split, but there’s also a kid’s menu and much heartier fare to choose from.

Riding with kids on the Wabash

There is a Wabash trail map you can check online to see the distances between each stop. We rode the Council Bluffs to Mineola leg of the trail with two kids ages 7 and 9.

Mom and daughter on the Wabash Trace Trail in southwestern Iowa

My kids are fairly seasoned bikers for their young age, so the 9.6-mile one-way ride wasn’t too difficult, but it did require us a stop to rest each way.

The good news about that route:

  • – It’s mostly shaded. I love a good route with towering trees.
  • – There are a few bridges to cross, which are always fun for kids. There’s also a tunnel.
  • -It’s pretty straight and flat, so kids who aren’t that sure on their two wheels don’t have sharp turns or steep downhills to worry about. While it looks flat, you will occasionally notice a slight incline, though.
  • – I enjoyed the scenery. It’s very easy to feel removed from the rest of the world and yet you’re not very far from the city.
  • – There’s at Mineola restaurant called Tobey Jack’s to look forward to at the turnaround point. You can order food or get a frozen treat out of the cooler. Grown-ups, there is also beer on the menu.
Boy biking on a bridge on the Wabash Trace Trail

The bad news about that route:

  • – The path is made of crushed limestone, so if you own a road bike, you’re not going to want to take it on this trail.
  • – My kids became bored with the trail being so straight.
  • – The route does involve crossing a few country roads. They aren’t busy roads, at least, but you just have to be ready to stop occasionally to look both ways for cross traffic.
  • – Water fountains are not found along this route. We refilled at our mid-way point.
  • – Bathrooms are also not a given on this trail. You may just have to use the great outdoors, mostly. We did find a port-a-potty at Margaritaville, a funny little picnic area not too far from Mineola. If you can hold it, wait until you get to the restaurant in Mineola, though.
Wabash Trace trailhead

The popular Taco Ride on the Wabash Trace Trail

Perhaps you’ve heard of a Thursday night bike ride called The Taco Ride. It’s the exact same route I took with the kids, from Council Bluffs to Mineola.

Margaritaville during the day is just a quiet picnic area to rest on the Wabash Trace Trail. During the Taco Ride, it's packed with people.

This popular weekly event draws hundreds and sometimes thousands of cyclists, and it’s a lot of fun. While you may just breeze by Margaritaville on a day trip, it’s a must-stop during the Taco Ride.

It’s been going for decades now, and the Taco Ride got its name because the original restaurant you’d stop at offered discount tacos and beers on Thursday nights. The name stuck even when it turned into a steakhouse.

There is no set-in-stone start and end time, but most people head to the trail shortly after work ends on Thursday. Consider it the bike rider’s happy hour.

An Iowa microbrew beer served at Tobey Jack's Mineola Steak House

Is it kid-friendly, you might wonder? Well, I’ve been on the ride a few times in my younger days with friends and rarely saw a kid riding with a parent. I’d say kids wouldn’t be shunned, it’s just not the scene I’d want to bring a kid to.

But if you do want to bring kids, go early in the evening and head back before dusk.

The first view of Mineola heading south on the Wabash Trace Trail

There are some risks to the Taco Ride, if you aren’t prepared. Here are a few tips:

  • – The trail is not lit with street lights, so the bike ride back from Mineola is super dark. Bike lights are a must. Be on the lookout for those without bike lights. While you’re at it, don’t wear dark-colored clothes at night.
  • – Wear a helmet.
  • – It is pretty common for people to bring beers for the ride and/or partake in a few drinks in Mineola. Expect a few people to not be riding the straightest line.
  • – Warn others behind you of fallen tree limbs and cross streets.
  • – The Taco Ride in the summer can be pretty hot, but other times in the year, the temperatures will drop after the sunset. Bring layers.
  • – Bring water for yourself. And for others.
  • – Bring a repair kit for your tires and others who may encounter bike troubles along the way.
Link to more stories about Iowa

Find more things to do in Iowa by reading a few of my favorite posts:

14 Unique Trails In Iowa

101 Things To Do In Iowa

10 Things You Must Do In Council Bluffs In The Fall

Tips for biking the Wabash Trace Trail in southwest Iowa, a dirt path running more than 60 miles. What to expect if you bring kids, where's a good place to stop for lunch, and what's the big deal about the Thursday night Taco Ride. #Iowa #outdoors #Midwest #bikeride
Explore rural southwest Iowa with a bike ride along the Wabash Trace Trail. It's a kid-friendly trail, but this post includes tips for what to expect if you take kids. And if you haven't heard about the popular Taco Ride, this post explains what that is, too. #Iowa #bikes #familytime #trails #Midwest #ThisIsIowa

20+ Awesome Road Trips From Omaha

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!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking the link, I receive a small referral stipend.

COVID-19 update: Please check current CDC guidelines prior to travel. Double-check your destination to make sure 1) you’re not traveling to a hot spot; 2) it’s even open and what the new hours may be; and 3) what the local mandates are.

Road Trips From Omaha

These getaways are just a car ride away. Read on for destinations to consider for your next overnight or weekend trip.

Find more inspiration for road trips

Sky’s the limit on these bucket list for Midwest destinations:

Nebraska Bucket List

Iowa Bucket List

Missouri Bucket List

South Dakota Bucket List

Kansas Bucket List

I pin a lot of road trip ideas so if you don’t already, please follow me on Pinterest! I have boards for each Midwestern state, plus a special board just for family trip tips.

Inspiration for day trip and weekend getaways in Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Missouri, Minnesota and Kansas! All  trips are less than a day's drive from Omaha. Summer vacation is just a car ride away. #Midwest #FamilyTravel #RoadTrip

Everything You Need To Know About Hitchcock Nature Center

Hitchcock Nature Center is a beautiful destination in the Loess Hills of southwest Iowa. For more than a decade, it’s been my family’s go-to spot for hiking near Omaha. No matter the season, you’ll find a lot to love about Hitchcock!

COVID-19 Update: All indoor spaces, including all public restrooms and the Loess Hills Lodge Exhibit Gallery, cabins, and playground facilities at Hitchcock Nature Center are closed to the public. All camping, including tent and RV and backcountry, is closed. Closures will remain in place until April 30 at which time they will be reevaluated & possibly extended. Outdoor spaces in the parks currently remain open for public use.

Experience all four seasons of the Iowa outdoors at Hitchcock Nature  Center near Council Bluffs, Iowa. Get  tips on when to visit, what to do, and which trails to try at Hitchcock. This is a great place to explore the famous Loess Hills! #guide #hiking #Midwest  #Midwestisbest #outdoors

Where is Hitchcock Nature Center?

Hitchcock is located in Honey Creek, Iowa, a small town just to the north of Crescent and Council Bluffs, Iowa. Its exact address is 27792 Ski Hill Loop, Honey Creek, Iowa, and it’s about a 20-mile drive from Omaha.

The Loess Hills Lodge at Hitchcock Nature Center in the winter with the observation tower in the background

Honey Creek is home to Mt. Crescent, the area’s only ski resort. For food options, you best bet is Stanley’s Snack Shack, a seasonal burger and ice cream joint you’ll pass on your way to the nature center. It’s ran by the folks who operate Honey Creek Creamery, so things like the ice cream are actually made with goat’s milk from the goats raised at the creamery.

And it’s delicious. (PS: It’s also of Iowa’s must-visit restaurants)

What’s so special about the Loess Hills

Loess soil (pronounced “luss”) is a pretty unique landform found only in the Loess Hills in the Midwest along the eastern edge of the Missouri River Valley and China. The hills were formed by winds carrying silt and glacial material and depositing them into massive drives.

Kids walking along one of the ridges at Hitchcock Nature Center

Today, those drifts are sculpted into steep ridges and rolling hills. Due to its unique nature, the Loess Hills supports rare plants, animals, and biological communities.

Things to know about visiting Hitchcock

Hitchcock is part of the Pottawattamie County Parks, so to visit, you will need to purchase daily admission or annual membership. It’s $3 per vehicle (pay by exact change or check) or $20 for the membership.

The park is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

How many trails are there?

Hitchcock is 1,268 acres and has about 10 miles of trails. I didn’t really count, but they’re connecting trails with varying degrees of difficulty. We can easily spend a few hours here on a hike.

Summer at Hitchcock Nature Center

If you’d like to experience the trails with a guide, plan on attending one (or more) of the evening Hitch Hikes. Held several times a year, it’s an educational series that’s included with park admission. Reservations are not needed and they are weather-permitting.

The 2020 Hitch Hikes are:
May 19, 7 p.m.
June 16, 7 p.m.
July 21, 7 p.m.
Aug. 18, 7 p.m.
Sept. 15, 6 p.m.

How difficult are the trails?

There are three levels of trail ratings at the Hitchcock: Easy, Moderate, and Difficult.

Hitchcock Nature Center trail in the early spring

Easy trails: Boardwalk on Hawk Ridge (a wheelchair- and stroller-accessible boardwalk); Fox Run Ridge; Bluestem Meander; Heritage Trail; Hidden Valley; Wildwoods; Hawk Ridge; and Dozer Cut.

I’m skipping Moderate because, to be honest, they aren’t too much more difficult than Easy trails.

Difficult trails: The Chute; Shea Way; Legacy Loop; Westridge; Cookie Crumbs.

“Difficult” in this part of the country is not to say prohibitive from taking kiddos. It’s almost inevitable that my family winds up walking up The Chute.

If you want more difficult trails in the Loess Hills, read this post about some other nearby hikes in Iowa.

When’s the best time to visit?

Each season has its perks.

Winter: If you want to feel like you have the place to yourself, visit in the winter. Bring your own snowshoes or rent them from the visitor’s center (they even rent kid-sized snowshoes). Rentals are $6 per day.

Kids, and kids at heart, can bring sleds and tackle The Chute. It’s a bit too fast for me, but my kids love it.

Wearing rented snowshoes at Hitchcock Nature Center in the winter

Spring: On the first few warm weekends of the year, my family always has to make a trip to Hitchcock. Granted, in March, things are still quite dead-looking, but it’s refreshing and not too crowded.

Then, when you get a little further into spring, the wildflowers start popping up and the leaves sprout on trees.

Summer: If you go early in the morning, before humidity and high temps strike, it’s a lovely time to hike. Trails like Hidden Valley are nicely shaded and feel slightly cooler than up on the ridges.

Bring insect repellent.

Fall: Hitchcock really shines in the fall. With cooler temperatures, changing leaves, and migrating birds, it’s a prime season to visit.

Wildlife you may spot there

Maybe it’s just because I’m typically hiking with two (or more) very loud children, but we don’t see a ton of wildlife at eye-level. We do encounter snails and other small creepy crawly things.

However, the bulk of the wildlife we spy tends to be birds of prey. Hitchcock is an excellent location for migrating birds. In fact, each year from September to December, they hold Hawk Watch where the public is invited to help count how many passing birds can be recorded. Find out which raptors and birds to watch for and when during Hawk Watch.

One of the best places to look for birds is the 45-foot-tall observation tower.

The tower at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

Camping and cabins at Hitchcock

One things I have yet to do at Hitchcock Nature Center is stay overnight. They have a couple rustic cabins with A/C and heating, and a few other nice conveniences like a refrigerator, microwave oven, and tables and chairs. However, they do not have running water or bathrooms (those are nearby).

The prices are pretty reasonable.

There are also camping and RV options here. For camping, they have both modern and backcountry camping.

For rules or to reserve a cabins, visit the Hitchcock site.

Tips for bringing kids

Hitchcock is the perfect place to inspire curiosity in nature. Here are a few things to know about bringing youngsters to the trails:

Young boy looking through the Adventure Pack at Hitchcock Nature Center
  • – Plan on visiting the visitor’s center. There are several play areas to explore and learn about the wildlife and flora & fauna of the Loess Hills. It’s pretty well done!
  • – While at the visitor’s center, go to the reception desk to check-out an Adventure Pack for your kid. The packs include animal ID cards, track cards, cloud ID chart, binoculars, kaleidoscope, bug box, compass, thermometer, and nature books. They’re FREE, but you do need to fill out a form and leave behind your car keys as collateral.
  • – You can geocache at Hitchcock Nature Center. If you don’t have your own GPS unit, you can borrow one at the reception desk.
  • – If your kiddo is not so steady on uneven trails, start first with the Boardwalk Trail.
  • – There are often special weekend events at Hitchcock with activities geared toward children. Check the calendar to see if you can time a visit for one.
The boardwalk at Hitchcock makes nature accessible for a lot of people.

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Hitchcock Nature Center is part of the Iowa’s 99 awesome county parks. I written extensively about the parks you an explore in Western Iowa, particularly Lake Icaria.

Guide to Hitchcock Nature Center in the Loess Hills of Iowa - Learn about the trails, special events, and wildlife found in this southwestern Iowa preserve. It's a beautiful place to hike and explore in Iowa!

35+ Great Hiking Trails Near Omaha

Now that my kids are a little older, we’re starting to venture beyond Heron Haven and other easy trails near Omaha that we’ve loved. There are a lot of hiking trails in Nebraska and Iowa that are within two hours of driving for us, so we won’t run out of new-to-us trails for a while.

Yes there are great hikes in the Midwest! Here are some great hiking trails in Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa, all within 2 hours of Omaha.

Trails Near Omaha - Within 30 Minutes

Looking for a quick hiking getaway from Omaha? Below is a list of trails that are within about a 30-minute drive from the city.

Lewis and Clark Monument Park

Where: Council Bluffs, Iowa
Details: 5 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 15 minutes
Learn more about this park

Fairmount Park

Where: Council Bluffs, Iowa
Details: 3 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 15 minutes
Learn more about this park

Vincent Bluff State Preserve

Where: Council Bluffs, Iowa
Details: 1 mile of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 15 minutes
Learn more about this state preserve

Folsom Point Preserve

Where: Council Bluffs, Iowa
Details: The Nature Conservancy does not maintain trails but hiking permitted throughout. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 15 minutes
Learn more about this preserve

Schramm Park State Recreation Area

Where: Gretna, Neb.
Details: 4.5 miles of trails. Schramm is also home to an archeological dig site (free) and an educational center (additional fee).
Distance from Omaha: 20 minutes
Learn more about this state recreation area

Fontenelle Forest

Where: Bellevue, Neb.
Details: 19 miles of trails. Also home to the Raptor Woodland Refuge and TreeRush Adventure.s
Distance from Omaha: 20 minutes
Learn more about this forest

West Oak Forest

Where: Oak, Iowa
Details: 3 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 20 minutes
Learn more about this forest

Hitchcock Nature Center

Where: Honey Creek, Iowa
Details: 10 miles of trails. Has a great visitor's center and lookout tower. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 25 miles
Learn more about this nature center

Pony Creek Park

Where: Pacific Junction, Iowa
Details: 2 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 25 miles
Learn more about this park

Platte River State Park

Where: Louisville, Neb.
Details: 17 miles of trails, including one that leads to a small waterfall.
Distance from Omaha: 30 minutes
Learn more about things to do at this state park

Mile Hill Lake

Where: Glenwood, Iowa
Details: 1 mile of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 30 minutes
Learn more about this county park

Glenwood Archaeological State Preserve

Where: Glenwood, Iowa
Details: 3 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 30 minutes
Learn more about this state preserve

Hikes Within A One-Hour Drive From Omaha

Once you've explored all the nearby trails around Omaha, time to venture further afield to these trails. Included in this list are a lot of trails throughout the beautiful Loess Hills.

Old Town Conservation Area

Where: Missouri Valley, Iowa
Details: 10 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 35 minutes
Learn more about this conservation area

Sawmill Hollow Wildlife Area

Where: Missouri Valley, Iowa
Details: 1 mile of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 40 minutes
Learn more about this county wildlife area

Murray Hill Scenic Overlook & Brent’s Trail

Where: Little Sioux, Iowa
Details: An 8-mile route through Loess Hills State Forest ending at Gleason-Hubel Wildlife Area (a half-mile is on county land at the northern start of Brent's Trail). Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 50 miles
Learn more about this trail, one of the newer ones to open in the Loess Hills in recent years.

Loess Hills State Forest

Where: Pisgah, Iowa
Details: 38 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 50 minutes
Learn more about this forest

Willow Lake Recreation Area

Where: Woodbine, Iowa
Details: 6 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 55 minutes
Learn more about this county recreation area

Pawnee State Recreation Area

Where: Lincoln, Neb.
Details: 6 miles of trails
Distance from Omaha: 55 minutes
Learn more about this state recreation area

Pioneers Park Nature Center

Where: Lincoln, Neb.
Details: 8 miles of trails. The nature center has small animals on exhibit, but the bison and elk on the preserve are the highlights.
Distance from Omaha: 55 minutes
Learn more about Pioneers Park

Indian Cave State Park in southeastern Nebraska has 22 miles of hiking trails.

Trails That Are One To Two Hours From Omaha

Pack some road trip snacks before taking off to these trails. They're more than an hour's drive from Omaha, so at least two hours round-trip. But, I've been to some of these trails and they're worth it!

Branched Oak State Recreation Area

Where: West Oak, Neb.
Details: 2 miles of trails, plus the Hans Burchard Arboretum. It's a little generous to call these hiking trails, but the lake is pretty, at least.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour
Learn more about Branched Oak, including what to expect if you camp there.

Waubonsie State Park

Where: Hamburg, Iowa
Details: 7 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour
Learn more about this state park

Preparation Canyon State Park

Where: Moorhead, Iowa
Details: 6 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour
Learn more about Preparation Canyon State Park.

Whiting Woods Recreation Area

Where: Castana, Iowa
Details: 2 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Learn more about this county park

Southwood Conservation Area

Where: Smithland, Iowa
Details: 3 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Learn more about this county conservation area

Fowler Forest Preserve

Where: Smithland, Iowa
Details: 1 mile of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Learn more about this preserve

Sioux City State Prairie Preserve

Where: Sioux City, Iowa
Details: 2 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Learn more about this prairie

Bacon Creek Park

Where: Sioux City, Iowa
Details: 3 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Learn more about this park

Curtin Timber

Where: Anthlon, Iowa
Details: This county park is a 210-acre undeveloped public wildlife area with abundant wildlife and wildflowers. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Learn more about this park

Oak Ridge Conservation Area

Where: Oto, Iowa
Details: 5 miles of trails. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Learn more about this conservation area

Indian Cave State Park

Where: Shubert, Neb.
Details: 22 miles of trails, and home to an interesting living history area that features re-enactors on seasonal weekends.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 30 minutes
Learn more about this state park

Mount Talbot State Preserve

Where: Sioux City, Iowa
Details: No actual maintained trails, but hiking is permitted throughout. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 40 minutes
Learn more about this state preserve

Stone State Park

Where: Sioux City, Iowa
Details: 11 miles of trails. This is a unique state park located in a city and home to the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center, a great place to visit with kids. Don't miss the outdoor nature playscape. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 1 hour and 40 minutes
Learn more about this state park

Ponca State Park

Where: Ponca, Neb.
Details: 22 miles of trails
Distance from Omaha: 2 hours
Learn more about the trails at Ponca State Park

Five Ridge Prairie State Preserve

Where: Westfield, Iowa
Details: No actual maintained trails, but hiking is permitted throughout. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 2 hours
Learn more about state preserve

Broken Kettle Grasslands Preserve

Where: Westfield, Iowa
Details: The Nature Conservancy does not maintain trails but hiking is permitted. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 2 hours
Learn more about this preserve

Knapp Prairie

Where: Westfield, Iowa
Details: The Nature Conservancy does not maintained trails but hiking is permitted. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 2 hours
Learn more about this prairie

Hillview Recreation Area

Where: Westfield, Iowa
Details: Five miles of trails, though the Nature Conservancy does not maintain trails but hiking is permitted. Part of the Loess Hills.
Distance from Omaha: 2 hours
Learn more about this county park

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Hiking trails aren't far from the Omaha metro! Here are dozens of options within a two-hour drive from the city. Trails include those in the Loess Hills (like Preparation Canyon and Hitchcock Nature Center) and those in Nebraska state parks like Indian Cave, Schramm and Platte River. #Nebraska #Iowa #hikes #hiking #midwest #guide #outdoors

Iowa’s Hidden Gem: Hotel Pattee

Earlier this year, we had a weekend getaway in Iowa to ski and hang out with friends. Our destination: Perry and Boone, Iowa, too small towns with big personalities. Our home base was in Perry, where we stayed at the historic Hotel Pattee.

Inside the historic Hotel Pattee - This unique Iowa hotel in Perry, Iowa, has its own bowling alley, spa, and themed rooms to inspire families who stay there. #familytravel #thisisiowa #Iowahotel

Disclosure: My family’s stay was hosted by the Hotel Pattee, though our food, bowling, and spa experience was on our own dime. All thoughts, opinions, and typos are my own.

Hotel Pattee is temporarily closed due to the national pandemic. The hotel is closed until April 1, and will re-evaluate at that time when it is safe to reopen.

Where is Hotel Pattee?

Since 1913, Hotel Pattee has been a grand presence in the town of Perry, (about 130 miles from Omaha).

Exterior of Hotel Pattee in Perry Iowa

Perry is a town of about 7,700 people and is considered part of the Des Moines metro area. One thing to note is that the hotel is near quite a bit of interesting public art. I took a stroll with the kids (a brief one because it was, well, winter) and found some fascinating stuff.

Public sculpture alleyway in Perry, Iowa

Next to the hotel is an alleyway that you should just stroll through to see. There were some statues, tributes to local notable people, and large scale metal sculptures.

What are the rooms like in the Hotel Pattee?

The hotel has 40 individually-decorated and themed guest rooms, which definitely was a highlight for us. Our room was a junior suite with a travel theme (perfect, right?).

A junior suite is perfect for families. They include a king-size or queen-size bed and an adjoining room that either has a bed and trundle bed, or bunk beds.

The travel theme junior suite at Hotel Pattee had a separate space for kids that included a bed with a trundle bed beneath it.

The nice thing about the junior suites is that the adjoining room is separated by sliding doors. Both rooms have their own televisions.

Bed in the travel-themed junior suite at Hotel Pattee

Other options include a full suite, which includes a sitting room, premier rooms, and classic rooms.

The thing about these theme rooms is that if you have a specific one you want, you’ll need to call to book it. You can’t request specific rooms through online booking.

What are the hotel amenities?

Being a historic hotel, I wasn’t really going to expect a large pool or anything to entertain my kids. It’s usually a requirement for wherever we stay. However, Hotel Pattee has some unique offerings to make up for lack of splashing pool time.

Bowling alley at Hotel Pattee

First, the hotel has a small bowling center that’s pretty unique. There is an additional fee to bowl.

The hotel has a dining room and lounge, which sells some local beers for those who are interested.

Our large group had breakfast at Harvey’s inside the hotel one morning. It had a railroad theme, a nod to the town’s history. While the wait was a bit long when youngsters were involved, the food was delivered promptly and warm.

Dining room at Harvey's inside Hotel Pattee

Just a note: There is no kid’s menu, so our kids ordered off the regular menu and no child finished their meal. Think about splitting dishes.

The dads of the group spent one happy together at the lounge one evening, and the moms got the next night in the lounge for a late dinner.

Cheeseburger and fries

Sure, there were salad and healthy options in the lounge. I went with a massive cheeseburger instead. We also tried some unique appetizer, like buffalo cauliflower.

The highlight, for us moms anyway, was the full service spa in the basement of the hotel. Copper Door Spa offered massage, and while we waited for each mom to have her turn, we alternated between sitting in robes in the lounge and sitting in robes in the sauna. (We forgot swimsuits or we would’ve totally taken advantage of the hot tub near the spa)

Spa at Hotel Pattee

Is it kid-friendly?

Absolutely. But, not in the traditional sense, where my kids spent most of their time in a pool. There is no pool.

Evening cookies at Hotel Pattee

But when I asked them what they liked best about the hotel, here’s what they said:

  • – There’s a self-playing piano in the lobby that fascinated them.
  • – Each night, the staff puts a plate of warm cookies on a table on each floor. There may have been more than one cookie eaten by each kid.
  • (And each adult.)
  • – My kids noticed, and appreciated, how each room was uniquely decorated. Like I said before, our room had a travel theme. The other rooms in our party had rooms with a storybook theme and a Swedish theme.
Stairwell at Hotel Pattee in Perry, Iowa

What’s nearby?

We stayed at the hotel in February for a weekend ski trip. That’s right – a ski trip in Iowa. And you know what? It was awesome and we’ll probably be doing it with the same group of families next year, too.

Girls skiing at Seven Oaks Recreation in Boone, Iowa

Hotel Pattee is not located next to a mountain. It’s still Iowa. But, it is about a 30-mile drive to Boone, where you can find the rather hilly terrain of Seven Oaks Recreation. Seven Oaks also offers summer recreation, which I think we’ll try out later this year (river floats).

Now, Boone also happens to be home to another warm-weather activity a few of you might like: Train rides. The Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad departs from a small station in town. We went on a train ride with the kiddos a few years ago.

It is scenic, but it can be rather long for younger kids. Pack entertainment, just in case, or opt for one of the themed rides.

If you stay in Perry, you are also near one of my favorite Iowa State Parks: Ledges State Park. It’s about 30 miles from the hotel. I wrote about our quick visit there when we were taking our Great Iowa Road Trip.

Ledges State Park in Iowa
We looked for rocks in the shallow river that flowed through Ledges State Park.

If you want to stay at Hotel Pattee

Where: 1112 Willis Ave., Perry, Iowa

Reserve a room: If you want to reserve a specific themed room, call 515-465-3511. Otherwise, you can reserve a room online on at hotelpattee.com.

Looking for a unique place to stay in Iowa? Check out Hotel Pattee in Central Iowa. The hotel has 40 themed rooms, a small bowling alley, and plenty of local character. #familytravel #midwest #Iowa #IowaHotels

Winter Fun At Seven Oaks In Iowa

I wanted a winter ski trip but I didn’t have time to go too far away from Omaha. Plus, my kids were absolute beginners and I didn’t want to spend too much money at some mountain resort where they may not leave the bunny hill. Our best option ended up being in Iowa: Seven Oaks Recreation in Boone. Read on to see what our weekend was like!

Disclosure: We were hosted by Seven Oaks Recreation. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Iowa winter vacation idea: Skiing at Seven Oaks Recreation in Central Iowa (northwest of Des Moines). This is a great beginner skier destination in the Midwest. #Iowa #ThisIsIowa #wintervacation

What to expect at Seven Oaks Recreation

Seven Oaks Recreation is a few miles outside of Boone, a small town in Central Iowa. It’s right off U.S. Highway 30, so it’s pretty easy to find.

The funny thing about Seven Oaks is that for most of your drive, you are wondering to yourself “How on earth can there be skiing in the middle of these fields?” And then, out of seemingly nowhere, you see the slopes rising.

Ski Iowa - Seven Oaks Recreation in Boone Iowa has 11 trails

It’s not a mountain range by any stretch of the imagination (it is Iowa, after all). But the terrain is hilly enough for 11 ski and snowboard trails.

The trails are short runs, but for the beginners in our group, they were the right length. There are two ski lifts that seat three people, as well as two surface lifts.

The trails are well marked, and like I said, short, so it was difficult to take a wrong turn and end up on a difficult course. I also felt comfortable enough to let the kids ski ahead while I stayed back to help whoever fell the most recently.

One thing I want to point out was that the staff at Seven Oaks Recreation was extremely helpful, for the most part. The kind people running the free beginner ski lessons were patient and alert. And from the first aid skiers on the slopes to the chairlift operators, we encountered the Midwestern attitude of friendliness.

Kim conquering the beginner slope at Seven Oaks Recreation in Iowa

Tip: Seven Oaks offers free beginner ski and snowboard lessons!

Our only hangup was near the end of our day, when we tried to buy tubing passes for the six kids in our group. Snow tubing is very popular at Seven Oaks and they have to regulate how many people are on the tube slope at at time. Unfortunately, that meant they were only going to let five more people on the slope at that time.

After a few minutes of pleading and bargaining, the moms in our group managed to talk the lady into allowing three kids to go for a half-hour and then the other three to go for the second half-hour. So, it all worked out in the end.

When is the ski season at Seven Oaks?

The Seven Oaks Recreation skiing and snowboarding season runs from December to mid-March. Because Midwest weather can be fairly unpredictable, Seven Oaks has snow-making machines to ensure snow is always on the slopes.

How much does it cost

The price is the great thing about Seven Oaks. If you’ve ever skied, you know how things can add up. You need a ski lift ticket, you may need to rent skis and boots, you may need to buy food.

The Seven Oaks room to rent gear like skies and boots has benches and storage lockers.

At Seven Oaks, the price for a kid’s ski lift plus rental gear (skis, poles, boots) was $50. Add a helmet rental for $8 and an hour of tubing for another $5… and the total cost was $63. It’s a bit more for adults, but not too much more.

As with a lot of seasonal attractions, prices can change depending on when you go, and there is a lower rate if you plan on skiing in the evening.

There are small lockers to store personal belongings. Bring quarters for one.

Are there ski lessons?

Yes! Seven Oaks Recreation has free beginner snowboard and ski lessons. They last about 30 minutes or however long it takes for you to feel comfortable on the slope without an instructor in front of you.

Beginner lesson at Seven Oaks Recreation in Boone, Iowa

We took advantage of this and my kiddos learned how to fall and get back up, and how to slow themselves down on the slopes. While they didn’t learn all that they should know before flying down a mountain, they were prepared enough to survive.

I liked how the instructors took the time to help each individual, sometimes skiing backward in front of the beginner to guide them.

There is also the option to purchase private lessons.

What else can you do at Seven Oaks in the winter?

I never mentioned that there is snowboarding at Seven Oaks, but I think that kinda goes without saying, right? I’m not a snowboarder so it’s not even on my radar. But there were a few slick courses just for snowboarders.

I never mentioned that there is snowboarding at Seven Oaks, but I think that kinda goes without saying, right? I’m not a snowboarder so it’s not even on my radar. But there were a few slick courses just for snowboarders.

The snow tubing hill at Boone, Iowa ski resort Seven Oaks Recreation

The other draw to Seven Oaks is the tubing park. It was certainly a big hit with our kids. You pay by the hour and the nice thing about Seven Oaks is that there is a surface lift to drag you and your tube up to the top of the hill.

Tip: Avoid a long wait for the tubes and/or not even getting a chance to tube by opting to snow tube first thing when you arrive to Seven Oaks Recreation.

Is there a restaurant at Seven Oaks?

Inside the lodge, you can find Snow Joe’s, a fast food counter to buy food like  sandwiches, fries, pizza, and cookies, as well as soft drinks and hot chocolate.

Snow Joe's food counter at Seven Oaks lodge

There’s also Coal Creek Lounge, where you can purchase domestic, imported and locally-brewed beers and mixed drinks.

Patrons are allowed to bring in picnic-type food as long as you’re not bringing in crockpots or food from a competing restaurant. We opted to bring our lunch and a cooler of drinks and dined outdoors because it was a wonderfully warm winter day when we were there.

Interior of the lodge at Seven Oaks Recreation in Iowa

At the end of the day, we bought snacks for the kids and hot cocoa at Snow Joe’s.

Off-season at Seven Oaks

There really isn’t an off-season, as there are activities in the summer and fall, as well. I’m looking forward to returning someday (some warm, summer day) and doing one of the river floats on the Des Moines River. From May through October, Seven Oaks offers full-service canoeing, kayaking and river tubing.

There’s also paintball, if that’s your thing.

Where to stay near Boone, Iowa

There are a few lodging options in Boone, including a couple that have partnered with Seven Oaks Recreation for a ski and stay package.

We were traveling with a group and one family had stayed at Hotel Pattee in the past and highly recommended we all stay there for the ski trip. It was a great choice! Hotel Pattee is located in Perry, about a 30-minute drive from Seven Oaks Recreation.

If you go to Boone later in the year, when the weather’s warmer, look into a steam train ride on the Boone & Scenic Valley Railroad.

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Winter fun at Seven Oaks Recreation in Iowa | Ski, snowboard and snow tube at this Central Iowa destination near Boone, Iowa | Here's what you can expect if you plan a family trip in the winter to Seven Oaks. #Iowa #familytravel #skiing #beginnerskiing #Midwest