Discover places to go in Nebraska using this category, including itineraries for city visits, tips for kid-friendly destinations and restaurants to try. Learn about things to do in Nebraska State Parks and cities like Lincoln, Nebraska City, Chadron and more.
This is truly the summer of road trips. A few weeks ago, I shared some Iowa road trips and one reader asked if I had a similar round-up of Nebraska road trips. Well, to be honest, no, I hadn’t written one…until now. Here are a few of my favorite destinations in Nebraska, as well as suggestions from other Nebraska bloggers. Happy travels!
Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park is a fascinating Natural Landmark located right here in Nebraska!
See complete skeletons of barrel-bodied rhinos, three-toed horses, llama-like camels, and saber-tooth deer that were entombed in volcanic ash 12 million years ago. These skeletons are preserved for an amazing viewing and discovery experience!
The historical park is located in northeast Nebraska, near Royal.
Brownville is a charming small town that celebrates the arts in a big way. Seriously, they have more than their fair share of galleries and bookstores, as well as a winery and well-known summer theater.
The town has a lovely trail through it, as well. Add to your day trip by visiting Indian Cave State Park, located not too far from Brownville.
There's so much to do at Fort Robinson, one day will not be enough. The state park, one of Nebraska's most popular, offers typical park activities like horseback riding and natural history, as well as some more unique experiences like off-road jeep rides and horse-drawn stagecoach rides.
If you've ever dreamed of seeing a rodeo or attending a chuckwagon dinner, this is the park to go to.
Nebraska doesn't have many national parks, but one that tells the story of our state and the U.S.: Homestead National Monument in Beatrice.
Featuring educational centers, trails, and a Junior Rangers program, you can spend an afternoon here. Read on to learn more about experiencing hands-on history of the 1862 Homestead Act at this monument.
A gorgeous state park near the Missouri River, Indian Cave attracts campers and hikers from around the state. The name derives from the historic cave there, which isn't a cave you enter, that features prehistoric Native American petroglyphs.
This park has a small living history area and is known for its Halloween celebrations each year.
One of our favorite destinations in the state of Nebraska, Lincoln is full of fun things to do. A family-friendly city, don't skip taking the kids to Morrill Hall to learn about natural history, Lincoln Children's Museum, and the Lincoln Children's Zoo.
For food, head for downtown Lincoln and find something inviting in the Hay Market or go to our favorite, Honest Abe's.
You can spend an entire weekend at Mahoney State Park and never leave. There's horseback riding, a huge aquatic center with water slides, and putt putt golf, among other outdoorsy options. Reserve a cabin and have a blast.
But if you did so, you'd miss nearby attractions in Ashland. Consider planning a visit to nearby Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum or the drive-thru Wildlife Safari.
While most people think of Nebraska City as a fall destination to pick apples or meander pumpkin patches, it's also a fun place to visit in the summer.
The Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure is a must-visit for active families. It features trails, the TreeTop Village, and a nature playscape. Take a tour of the acreage and sample some of the rare, heritage apples.
For another orchard experience, go to Kimmel Orchard. While there, don't forget to order fresh apple cider donuts!
Niobrara River, tucked in the beautiful Sandhills of northcentral Nebraska, is a prime spot for canoeing and tubing. Most float trips plan to stop at Smith Falls, a tall waterfall that's absolutely freezing to dip your head into (and welcoming on a hot, summer day).
We stay the weekend for a trip like this, reserving a motel room in nearby Valentine. There are also options to camp along the river with outfitters.
North Platte has two historic sides to explore on a modern-day visit: Buffalo Bill and the railroad. Plan on learning a bit about both when you visit this western Nebraska city.
Home to several museums (including a children's museum) and Bailey Yard, is the largest switchyard in the world, there is plenty for the history buffs and train buffs to enjoy. But if you want just a fun time, plan a stop Cody Go Karts Fun Park.
You'll cover a lot of miles exploring the Panhandle region of Nebraska - it's the entire far northwestern part of the state.
Much of the state's most unique landscapes can be found in the panhandle, including Toadstool Geological Park and Scottsbluff National Monument. The area is also rich with history, from museums exploring pioneers, the fur trade, and Native American artifacts.
The region is also home to one of the state's quirkiest attractions: Carhenge, located near Alliance.
Its waterfall and scenic trails are a big draw, but Platte River State Park's popularity may be due to its proximity to Omaha and other state parks. Plan on a full weekend at the park, fishing, horseback riding, and letting the kids cool off at the sprayground.
Extend the fun by visiting the nearby Louisville State Recreation Area, which has a large inflatable obstacle course.
Plattsmouth is home to one of the state's most charming Main Streets, where you'll find shops, restaurants, and a small museum.
It's easy to pair a stop here with a longer visit to Nebraska City.
How far is this road trip from Omaha?
Nebraska is a lot bigger than you’d think, or at least, it feels really large when driving across it. Almost everything on this list is better enjoyed with, at least, an overnight planned. A whole weekend is even better.
Plattsmouth – 20 miles from Omaha (day trip)
Mahoney State Park – 30 miles from Omaha (day trip, but overnight is better)
Platte River State Park – 30 miles from Omaha
Nebraska City – 45 miles from Omaha (there’s so much, plan for an overnight)
Lincoln – 60 miles from Omaha (there’s so much, plan for an overnight)
Brownville – 75 miles from Omaha (day trip)
Homestead National Monument – 100 miles from Omaha
Ashfall Fossil Beds – 175 miles from Omaha
North Platte – 280 miles from Omaha
Pandhandle – 450 miles from Omaha
Fort Robinson State Park – 460 miles from Omaha
Hudson-Meng Bison Kill Site – 480 miles from Omaha
When writing this blog post, I wondered if I should include Omaha on the list. Certainly, I have a lot of readers outside of Omaha. But, alas, I don’t have just one blog post about a trip to Omaha. Instead, I’ll share several links to help you plan a trip to the city:
Agritourism continues to grow in popularity in the Midwest, and I’m seeing it more in Nebraska each year. Visiting a working farm is an example of agritourism, which not only gets us outdoors and active, but more importantly, to connect us with our state’s roots and food system. Our recent visit to Nelson Produce Farm in Valley, Neb., is a prime example of ag-tourism done right.
A farm close to Omaha
This year, I’ve been seeking close-to-home adventures and hidden gems. I’d heard about Nelson Produce Farm last fall, when social media exploded with pictures of their gorgeous sunflower field.
Months later, I still hadn’t visited so I decided a summer field trip, of sorts, was in order.
COVID-19 UPDATE: The farm currently requires families to pre-purchase tickets for a reserved time at the farm in an effort to keep capacity at 50%. Masks are recommended, and staff will wear them if the temperature is under 85 degrees. It was hotter than that on our visit, so no one had masks on. Also, hand washing stations and hand sanitizer could be found throughout the farm.
Valley is about a 30-minute drive from downtown Omaha, and even closer if you live in West Omaha. It’s not the closest working farm to Omaha, but it still attracts a crowd.
There’s plenty of parking, but it’s all on a field, so if your car isn’t designed for off-roading, don’t go on a wet day.
The food side of the farm
There are two draws to the Nelson Produce Farm: Animals and produce. I’ll start with the produce side since I think it really sets it apart from other farm experiences.
We visited in early summer, so strawberry season. The kids decided to pick strawberries, each getting more than a point of bright, juicy berries.
While half of the group picked berries, the other passed time riding the trikes nearby and shopping in the store.
The Market is a darling little shop selling produce, farm-raised meat, baked goods and a few toys for kids.
Nearby, a concession stand sold hot food, snacks and drinks. It was so incredibly hot, that we opted for a refreshing snack of watermelon slices.
The animal side of the farm
There were plenty of animals on the farm, but there was a distance maintained between guests and most furry friends. This is a different experience than those who’ve been to Scatter Joy Acres in Omaha.
The goats, sheep, horses, and cattle were in their pens when we visited. You can buy food to feed the adult sheep and goats. For an additional fee, you can also bottle feed the babies.
Inside the barn, families encounter more animals like lambs, pigs, and a bunny. One employee on the farm took Solo, the bunny, out of her cage while we were there, so the kids got the chance to pet her.
He also let my kids know it was OK to pick up the baby chicks. I hope that was OK! I kept telling my kids to not do it, and then he OKed it. So, when you go, maybe ask?
You can, however, get close to the ponies and pet them without worry. They were out in the open.
Things the kids will like
So, after animal petting and feeding, and strawberry picking, what else is there to do? Play time.
Here’s where they’ll get messy and – fingers crossed – tired.
The first thing kids want to do when they arrive, and when it’s time to leave, is play on the hay bales near the entrance. Several are lined side by side, allowing for a fun running track for kids.
There’s also a tire mountain to climb. This was where our kiddos spent the most time playing.
Your kids may like the digging area, where a bucket, shovels, and a mount of dirt wait for them. My kids are past the digging stage, so we didn’t hang out there for too long.
There’s also a mini train, but it was not operating while we were there.
How much time should you plan to spend there?
Current requirements at the farm (due to the Coronavirus) state that guests plan on spending two and a half hours at the farm. On a hot day, that was just about all we could stand anyway.
On a nice day? I could see us spending three or more hours there.
How much does it cost?
Admission to Nelson Produce Farm in 2020 was $6 per person (plus a processing fee online). For now, you’ll want to buy your tickets ahead of time, since they are trying to stay at a 50% capacity this summer.
I have some friends who have a membership here, which means they can visit all season long (but they still need to reserve their visit time online ahead of time).
Animal food was $2 per cup; interaction with baby animals was $10 per person. Train tickets were also an additional fee.
Strawberry picking was calculated by-the-pound. Food prices from $6.25 for kids’ meals and $10.99 for adult meals, to treats from $4-$6. The desserts sounded awfully tempting, like strawberry shortcake, root beer floats, and berries and ice cream.
We went the healthy route and opted for gigantic watermelon slices.
FYI: You can buy whole watermelon on the farm to take home. I’ve been told their Black Diamond watermelons are the best.
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I love hikes and finding new outdoor spaces to explore, like trails near my home in Omaha. However, when hiking with my kids, I hear a lot of questions I don’t have answers for (unless I bust out my iPhone to Google it). Fontenelle Forest has created a non-tech solution: Family Backpacks.
Disclosure: I’m a member of Fontenelle Forest,so my admission was free, and for this post, the forest provided a complimentary backpack to check out.
Where’s Fontenelle Forest?
Before jumping into what’s in the backpack, for those unfamiliar with Fontenelle Forest, this lovely nature center is located in Bellevue, Neb., just south of Omaha.
It’s a beautiful place to take the family. There are miles and miles of trails, plus a long boardwalk, making it accessible for wheelchairs and strollers. There’s also the Raptor Woodland Refuge to explore and a fun nature playscape.
COVID-19 update: Although Fontenelle Forest buildings are closed, the trails are open to members, or with the purchase of daily admission. Memberships and daily admission can be purchased online at FontenelleForest.org or by calling (402) 731-3140. The boardwalk is marked with one-way arrows to help with social distancing. The Raptor Woodland Refuge and nature playscape space, as well as all buildings, are closed temporarily.
What’s a Family Backpack?
Fontenelle Forest started the Family Backpack Program in May. Each backpack contains guides, activities, and tools to enhance a visit to the forest. Two themes are available: Hiking or birding.
Schramm Park State Recreation Area, or simply Schramm Park as it’s more commonly known, is a diamond in the rough that’s easily overlooked due to its proximity to more flashy parks in southeastern Nebraska. I was unimpressed with our first visit there, but I’m so glad I returned with the kids because it has become one of our annual outdoor getaways near Omaha.
Here’s are a few key things to know about Schramm Park to plan a visit:
Where is Schramm Park?
Schramm Park is located in Gretna, Neb., about 30 miles from Omaha. Its address is 21502 West Highway 31.
What to bring to Schramm Park
A few key things to bring if you’re visiting Schramm in the summer (or any Nebraska parks, for that matter):
Bug spray is a must.
Water bottles. The Education Center has a water fountain to refill them.
Old shoes, because the trails can be muddy and if you climb around the geological site, you’ll get pretty dusty.
Snacks or a picnic. There aren’t a lot of restaurants nearby, so if you get hungry, plan on a little drive to find food.
What to do at Schramm
When we head to Schramm Park, our main intention is to hike. OK, scratch that, my main intention is to hike. My kids are at the age now where they speak their minds and prefer other things.
OK, but the hiking is great. For a good woodlands trail hike, Schramm offers a nearly 1.5-mile loop to a cool suspension bridge. It’s just the right length for families.
There are a few uphill parts, but mostly, it’s not too challenging for most skill levels.
The trail leads to a suspension bridge, which for us, is a good turn-around point.
You can go beyond the bridge for a longer hike, about 3 miles total.
Schramm is home to Nebraska’s first fishing hatchery. It’s now a museum, but I’ve never seen it actually open.
You can walk around the hatchery area, though. It’s picturesque and there is a machine to get some fish food for a quarter.
Nearby ponds, still a part of the hatchery area, attract a lot of waterfowl. On our last visit, we saw goslings.
If you ask my kids, the biggest draw is the geological display, or what we just call the “dig site.” At the dig site, the kids climb and search for fossils. Expect dirty and excited kids afterward.
Tip: You can’t actually dig there, so don’t bring chisels or any tools like that.
There are also picnic areas, a playground, and plenty of bird watching to be done there. The park is located near the Platte River, and there is an access point there if you have your own canoe or kayak.
Can you camp there?
No. This is a day-use park only.
It’s not too far from Louisville State Recreation Area, Platte River State Park, and Mahoney State Park, though. All three offer camping, and the latter two also have cabins.
A state park permit is required for vehicles. The Education Center is an additional fee (see the next section for details).
Is the Education Center worth the admission?
You might remember old school field trips to Schramm, visiting the Aksarben Aquarium there. Well, in 2019, the aquarium and Education Center got a multi-million dollar upgrade.
New additions include:
Aquariums featuring Nebraska’s natural aquatic habitats: Cool water streams, rivers, reservoirs, and farm ponds. Some tanks include some of Nebraska’s smaller, lesser-known fish species.
Live animal tanks featuring Nebraska’s reptile and amphibian species.
A reading nook, maker’s space, bird watching area, and pre-school play area with a little slide.
Interactive activities including a digital topographical map, interactive wayfinding maps, touch screens focusing on the species of the area.
Virtual reality mountain biking experience.
Now, with all the updates and additions, admission is $10 for adults (ages 13+), $7 for children and seniors, and FREE for children age 3 and younger. For our family of four, that’s $34. Was it worth it?
It is certainly impressive, but I thought the admission price was a little steep for the experience. Granted, I’ve traveled quite a bit and have visited some equally unique education centers were included with the price of park admission, so I’m seeing things through that lens.
My kids loved it, though. The touch tank could’ve kept my daughter occupied for an hour alone.
And I had fun “racing” my kids on the virtual mountain bike experience.
But, you will learn a lot about Nebraska, and on a hot summer day, it’s a nice place to cool off. And on a cold winter day, it would perfect to hunker down with the kids for a few hours to play, read, and create. So, maybe you will feel like it is worth the price of admission.
Can you really find fossils there?
Yes, we’ve found small fossils at the geological site. Fossils found in the limestone and shale are Paleozoic marine fossils like brachiopods or corals.
I’m pretty sure my kids’ dream of finding a fully-intact dinosaur fossil someday.
Dream big, kids, dream big.
What’s near Schramm Park
While Schramm Park can take a few hours to explore, you may want to combine visits to two parks to really tire the kids out (especially if you’re already making a long drive to get out there).
Here’s a sample of what you can do at other nearby parks, which don’t forget, require a state park permit to enter:
Louisville State Recreation Area: For an extra fee, you can tackle the inflatable water obstacle course. There’s also a nearby beach.
Platte River State Park: Hike to a small waterfall, fish, climb up the lookout tower, and for an additional fee, play in at the spray ground or go horseback riding. There are also paddle boats.
Mahoney State Park: A lot of things at Mahoney State Park are an additional fee, like horseback riding, paddle boats, putt-putt golf & driving range, and the indoor activity center with rock climbing and huge play area. The big draw is the awesome aquatic center with waterslides. But, for free, there are some great playgrounds, a lookout tower, toboggan run in the winter, a conservatory, fishing, and paved trails.
If you didn’t pack a picnic for your Schramm Park visit, there are a few options for food nearby. Check out Around The Bend Steakhouse in Ashland, Neb. (home of the Testicle Festival), or for ice cream, go toward Springfield, Neb., and grab a seat at the old-fashioned soda fountain inside Springfield Drug (one of the most unique ice cream shops in Nebraska).
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And yes, I made a list. However, interestingly enough, my son made one, too.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of the book for this post. This post contains affiliate links.
My 10-year-old son is a big reader, and thankfully, has developed a love of travel. I found him reading this book one afternoon and I got an idea: What does a kid think are the must-do things in Nebraska? I’ll do my best to provide background on why he chose what he chose.
About the book
The title “100 Things To Do In Nebraska Before You Die” is a bit of an understatement. Many sections, like “Explore Nebraska’s top park at Mahoney State Park” includes a list of 10 other great parks to explore as well.
So, even for someone like me, who’s made a job out of exploring my home state of Nebraska, there’s something new to learn about in the book. There are even itineraries in the book, including one for families.
Basically, I’ve got some road trips to plan now.
If you want to pick up your own copy of the book, it’s available at major retailers like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
But back to what my son thinks people ought to do if they visit Nebraska.
Kid's Guide To 10 Things To Do In Nebraska
In 10 years, my son has explored more of Nebraska than I have in my first 30 years. He helped me compile this list based on his experiences and his opinion of what families would enjoy most about the state.
Home to the delicious, Nebraska-favorite meltaway chocolates, Bakers Candies is an off-the-beaten-path stop that's worth the distance. We visited the store in Greenwood, Neb., one summer when it was a stop in the Nebraska Passport Program.
My kids remember the free chocolate pieces they received after collecting their stamp. I remember browsing the aisles of brightly wrapped candies and then settling on getting a bag of milk chocolate meltaways for a souvenir.
The fact that my son put Johnny's Cafe on this list surprises me. We've at this classic Omaha steakhouse a few years ago for lunch, and he never mentioned it again.
Yet, here it is on his list. Perhaps it's the time capsule of a restaurant, with its retro decor and unforgettable entrance? After all, it is one of Omaha's oldest restaurants. Or, maybe it was the dessert he had there?
Listed among the most memorable ice cream shops in Nebraska, Springfield Drug is one of the few old-fashioned soda fountains still in operation in the state. It's located in a small-town pharmacy, and it's a delight.
(Click the link to read more about it and the seven other unique Nebraska ice cream shops )
We enjoyed ice cream treats one hot summer day after an afternoon spent tackling the nearby floating obstacle course at Louisville SRA. The staff was friendly.
What makes the place even more memorable were the statues of "The Simpsons" characters. Talk about a photo op. My son's a fan of the series, so the statues may ourank the ice cream sundae he had.
Arbor Day Farm is a sprawling collection of attractions in Nebraska City, including Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, food and wine tasting options, and my family's favorite destination: Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure.
What do we love so much about the Tree Adventure? Wonderful trails, a large treehouse, an apple orchard, tons of spaces to play, and the most recent addition, the Treetop Village.
I knew why I loved Master's Hand, but I had no idea it left a mark on my son. Maybe it was the free chocolate sample they gave him when we visited to get a stamp on the Nebraska Passport? Anyhow, he recommends them.
Master's Hand is part-shop, part-sweet shop, and part-destination in Tekamah. They also recently began shipping cookie decorating kits to entertain families stuck at home.
The Orpheum Theater has a special place in my heart and my family has countless memories from shows we've attended there. (Disclosure: I used to work for O-Pa, which manages the theater). I've taken my son to so many shows, from "School of Rock" and "Shrek: The Musical" to Taiko drummers.
This ornate theater is truly a gem in Omaha, and whether you go for a Broadway show or to see dance or a concert, you won't forget your first visit there.
Go for the rides and funnel cake, stay for the entertainment and exhibits at the Nebraska State Fair. There's something special about going to the state fair, and for kids, there is a full day of activities waiting there.
Held each August (Maybe in 2020? Who knows?), the state fair is held in Grand Island in central Nebraska. It's usually hot and humid, but there are enough indoor spaces to help cool you off.
Where: 501 E. Fonner Park Road, #200, Grand Island, Neb.
You won't find a state park quite like this one anywhere. Fort Robinson is all about adventure and Nebraska history, one-upping the usual park offerings (there are horse rides, for instance). From jeep rides and stagecoach rides to a rodeo and chuckwagon dinner, Fort Robinson brings the West to life.
My kids were little when we last visited and I only had planned for a half-day at the park, so a return is definitely in order for us.
Of course, the state's largest tourist attraction has to be on this list, especially when it happens to be a zoo. It's not just any old zoo, though. Omaha's zoo usually ranks among the top zoos in the world.
My kids have their favorite exhibits to visit, but it depends on the season. In the summer, find us outdoors in the African Grasslands or running around the Children's Adventure Trails. In the winter, we head indoors to the Lied Indoor Rainforest and the Desert Dome.
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!
COVID-19 update: Current CDC guidelines advise against all non-essential travel. But if you do decide to travel, please keep in mind things have changed. 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) the activities you want to do are still running.
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.
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: