Exploring Platte River State Park In The Off-Season

On a recent cool, gray spring day, I took the kids to Platte River State Park in search of a waterfall.

Platte collageWM

I needed some fresh air and a change of scenery, and the kids needed some place to run and explore.

Farley poking around a fallen tree trunk.
Farley poking around a fallen tree trunk.

I can’t recall the last time I’d been to this park, if I ever had. I know now, we’ll be back.

We parked in the first lot by the park entrance, the sign “waterfall” in view. Off we went, following an easy, flat trail of dirt and bridges.

The start of the easy hike to the waterfall at Platte River State Park. I see my daughter has my patient look.
The start of the easy hike to the waterfall at Platte River State Park. I see my daughter has my patient look.

The hike to the little waterfall was not long and can be walked by the smallest of kids. Or ran as is usually the case.

Spring’s not quite here in Nebraska, but even with the gray surroundings, the park’s setting is remarkable this time of year.

Regardless of the season, I have a feeling this park is pretty year-round. It's pretty peaceful, at least.
Regardless of the season, I have a feeling this park is pretty year-round. It’s pretty peaceful, at least.

It’s peaceful and you feel very much like you have the park to yourself.  My kids and I enjoyed being silly on the trail.

You can hear the waterfall before you see it. The anticipation of exactly how big it will be grows.

Found the waterfall!
Found the waterfall!

OK, I’ll admit it’s no Smith Falls. The kids wanted to keep walking so we didn’t spend much time by it.

If you keep on the trail heading toward the river, you’ll encounter a steep climb. I let the kids lead and, naturally, they headed for the hill. It’s manageable for most abilities.

Going up, up, up on our loop hike at the Platte River State Park.
Going up, up, up on our loop hike at the Platte River State Park.

Once at the top, there’s a clearing with some campsites and picnic tables. You can complete a loop back to the trail to your parked car in under an hour easily.

I think we’ll be back once things are greener and warmer. The park has paddleboats I’d like to take the kids on, and certainly more trails to explore.

Platte River State Park meets the kids' approval.
Platte River State Park meets the kids’ approval.

Your turn: Have you been to Platte River State Park? Where do you recommend us exploring next?

My Nebraska Bucket List

Good ol’ Nebraska. It’s my home state, I’m pretty protective of it. Fly over it if you must, but you’re missing out. There’s a lot to do Nebraska. I’ve gathered all the things I still need to explore in the state to create this ultimate Nebraska Bucket List.

UPDATED: This post was first published in 2014 and has been updated in November 2019. To help keep this post current, please let me know if anything needs additional updates! This post may contain affiliate links.

Nebraska Bucket List - The most iconic things to see and do in Nebraska

1. See Nebraska’s Ultimate Landmark. Chimney Rock is Nebraska’ ultimate icon, our claim-to-fame in pioneer history. It’s probably time I see it in real life.

Chimney Rock, one of Nebraska's most recognizable landmarks. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Related post: 101 Things To Do In Nebraska

2. Go Western. I’d like to do the whole Fort Robinson experience thing.

A trail ride near Fort Robinson State Park in Nebraska
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Ride the Fort Robinson Express stagecoach, maybe go on a horseback trail ride, see the buffalo and longhorn cattle herds and take part in a campfire singalong.

UPDATE: We visited! Here’s my review of the state park including one thing I didn’t know about: Off-road jeep tours!

The Fort Robinson Express. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

3. Stay at a ranch, maybe do some ranch things. I’m not sure what that would be – probably ride a horse and herd cattle. I should watch “City Slickers” again to refresh my memory.

Here are a few guest ranches that I could see myself channeling my inner cowgirl: Ponderosa Ranch and Rowse’s 1 Plus 1 Ranch. And by channel, I mean, I do about 10 minutes of hard work and then relax the rest of my stay.

4. See a Native American pow wow. Long ago, I was an exchange student in Spain and my host family thought it was all pow wows in Nebraska. Not so much. But, I feel like I owe it to my host sister and her obsession with Native Americans and go to one of these finally.

Fort Robinson holds the Inter Tribal Pow Wow every year. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Fort Robinson is known for a big one, the Intertribal Gathering and Pow Wow, in June. There’s one in north Omaha held each September, the Fort Omaha Intertribal Powow, on the same grounds here Ponca Chief Standing Bear was once imprisoned.

5. Walk along strange land. Ever since I saw a picture of Toadstool Geologic Park (the Oglala National Grassland), I’ve been fascinated by the strange rock formations.

People say they look like toadstool mushrooms or the lunar surface.

Toadstool rock formations in western Nebraska should be on everybody's Nebraska bucket list.
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

UPDATE: We did it! You can see a picture of our visit in this Western Nebraska/South Dakota road trip recap post.

6. Watch paleontologists at work at Ashfalls Fossil Bed State Historical Park.

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Ashfalls is a working dig site in Nebraska.

Things to do in Nebraska - Visit Ashfalls Fossil Beds in Nebraska. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

7. See Nebraska’s archaeological hidden gem. Toadstool isn’t too far from the Hudson-Meng Research and Education Center where there’s an excavation of a 10,000-year-old bison bone bed going on.

8. Take an airboat tour. I’ve seen airboats glide along the Platte River and it just looks fun.

I’ve seen that river countless time from a car and the lookout tower at Mahoney State Park, so I want to see it from a different view now.

Sunset on the Platte River. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

9. See the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island. I haven’t been to the state fair since I was child – back when it was in Lincoln. I don’t even remember it. It’s probably time I go back.

And I suppose I ought to bring the kids.

The Nebraska State Fair in 2011. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

10. See the Scottsbluffs National Monument. This part of Nebraska is iconic, but not exactly easy to get to from Omaha, so I’ve never made the trip.

Scotts Bluffs National Monument. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

The Nebraska Tourism Commision released a list of 10 of the state’s top attractions and events and this was one of two I haven’t been to (see #1 on this list for the other). So I must go there. I’m a completist.

11. Celebrate Cinco de Mayo, Omaha style. South Omaha has a large celebration every year, and every year I think I ought to check it out (former exchange student sense of duty).

Cinco de Mayo festivities in South Omaha. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

12. Enjoy a dinner paired with the right wine at the Boiler Room in Omaha’s Old Market. While this isn’t the new darling on the Omaha dining scene anymore, it’s one of those restaurants that I’ve been meaning to check out and never do. I’ve heard the wine list is divine.

13. See one of the College World Series championship games in its new home, TD Ameritrade Park. I’ve been to many CWS games at Rosenblatt Stadium, never one of the championship ones, though.

The College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

For more ideas on where to go in Nebraska, consider a quirky book like Nebraska Off the Beaten Path®: A Guide To Unique Places or Nebraska Curiosities: Quirkly Characters, Roadside Oddities & Other Offbeat Stuff .

Your turn: What’s on your Nebraska bucket list? And what’s missing from this list?

Plan a trip to Nebraska using the ultimate Nebraska bucket list! From outdoor adventures like horseback rides in Western Nebraska to airboat river tours, this post suggests a lot of things to make a Nebraska vacation memorable. #Nebraska #USA #Guide #Midwest #Outdoors

More things to do in Nebraska

So now you know the bucket list of things I want to do and see in my home state, Nebraska. I’ve already seen and done a lot in the state, so here are some of my top picks for you to consider for your own Nebraska Bucket List:

10 Unique Places To Stay In Nebraska

25+ Nebraska Festivals & Events Worth The Road Trip

10 Unforgettable Things To Do In Nebraska This Summer

Guide To Nebraska State Park Cabins

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3 Places To See Changing Leaves Near Omaha

If you’re a hiker, you likely have a favorite nearby spot to see the changing leaves. If you’re not, I’ve got you covered.

Maybe you don’t want to take a hike; maybe you’ve been on Pinterest too much lately and you’ve found a bunch of leaf projects to do with your kid. Maybe you just want to take pictures of your cute kid.

Cute kid with fall foilage.
Cute kid with fall foilage.

Whatever your reason, here are a few suggestions for all thing leafy in the Omaha area:

Fontenelle Forest

For a less rugged hike, you can’t beat the boardwalk at Fontenelle (though you can hit trails there, too). I’m pretty sure, though, that leaf collecting is discouraged there, so look but no touchy. There’s a lot to see and do at Fontenelle in addition to immersing yourself in nature. There’s a fun play area that kids adore, and there’s the temporary exhibit Green Evolution you’ll want to see before it leaves.

Wrong season, but you get the idea that Fontenelle Forest has a lot of leaves, right? Side note, if you get a guided hike there, Kate is an entertaining guide (that's her head poking out up front giving us a "Quit dawdling" glare).
Wrong season, but you get the idea that Fontenelle Forest has a lot of leaves, right? Side note, if you get a guided hike there, Kate is an entertaining guide (that’s her head poking out up front giving us a “Enough lollygagging” glare).

Cost: $8 per person; children 2 and younger are admitted free.

Hitchcock Nature Center

It’s no secret my family loves afternoons at Hitchcock. This time of year is great to go since you’re not sweating profusely as soon as you get out of the car. Stop by the visitors center to check out a kids backpack full of fun “tools” to the hike and then grab a map and hit the trails (some are more strenuous than others so pick the right path for your family’s ability… unless you like hauling a 28-pound toddler up a steep incline).

Cost: Park admission per car is $2; annual permit is $10; backpacks are free to check out.

Hummel Park

Was summer camp ’87 the last time you ventured to Hummel Park in northeast Omaha? It’s time to come back. Time your visit right and you might catch a fun activity on a Saturday afternoon.

Cost: Free

Tips For Husker Game Parking

parking meter
Photo courtesy Nahh

Gretchen over at Odyssey Through Nebraska gets around. The state, that is. She travels a lot with her family and likes to share her findings with readers. She just wrote some great tips for getting around Lincoln, such has where to find cheap Husker game day parking and details on the parking situation near the new Pinnacle Arena. I added my two cents with regards to Omaha parking. Leave it to me to have committed to memory where all the free parking spots are in downtown Omaha.

Check out the post here: Odyssey Through Nebraska: Park It

If you are a history buff or you like your family outings to have some educational value to them, Odyssey Through Nebraska is a blog to follow. She likes exploring our state’s past and present, as well as its heritage.

Greeley Irish Festival

This weekend, my family will be decked out in green, celebrating all things Irish. Yeah, that’s right, we half-way to St. Patrick’s Day.

Greely Irish Festival at dusk.
Greely Irish Festival at dusk.

Greeley, Neb., is the only town in the state I know of that throws a huge half-way to St. Patrick’s Day party. The annual Greeley Irish Festival is this Saturday, and people have been getting prepped for it since, well, probably March 18. The all-day celebration draws a lot – and I do mean A LOT – of Irish and wanna-be Irish (last year, people came from about 40 counties). I think the town at least triples in size this one day a year.

You'll spot lots of children at the festival. Here's a cousin's daughter back in 2008.
You’ll spot lots of children at the festival. Here’s a cousin’s daughter back in 2008.

Kid-friendly and yet beer-drinker friendly, there’s live music, dancing, kids’ arts and crafts, storytellers, and green, lots of green. I can’t say I’m an expert on what goes on at the event – we’ve only made the three-hour trek to the festival just few times – but it is a highly anticipated event for those who’ve been before, and once you’ve been to the party, you’re hooked. Fun, not sloppy, that’s kinda how the day is.

Mr. Wonderful and Iat our first Irish fest back in 2008. We were pretty cool, as you can tell.
Mr. Wonderful and I at our first Irish fest back in 2008. We were pretty cool, as you can tell.

We’re heading up to Greeley this year after taking a few years off. It’s a good chance to catch up with Mr. Wonderful’s extended family since many are from the area. This will be Farley’s second festival (though he was too young to remember the first), and it will be Mooch’s first. They’ll both likely lose their minds, dancing, running around and eating junk food. I might do the same, that’s sounds fun.

I know what you’re thinking. You don’t have family in middle Nebraska, why would you go to this small town? If you’re the type to go all out in celebration on March 17, then you should go at least once (bring some friends). The whole town and its hundreds of visitors get into the party spirit. It’s like being at the biggest beer tent in Omaha on St. Patrick’s Day, only people are much friendlier and there are kids there.  

Things to know if you go:

  • Bring lawn chairs, sunscreen and warm clothes for the evening
  • The Husker game will be on TVs there, they have a tent dedicated to it
  • Cost is $20, kids 12 and younger are admitted free (it’s a little cheaper to buy tickets ahead of time, so next year, plan ahead and buy early)
  • There are no hotels in Greeley. You can camp, or opt for lodging elsewhere. Grand Island isn’t terribly far and makes for a good option; between the cities lies St. Paul for another option.
  • Food vendors will be there

Greeley, Neb., is pretty easy to navigate, but here' s a map just in case. Pretty much, on the day of the Irish fest, just follow the people in Green. You'll find it.
Greeley, Neb., is pretty easy to navigate, but here’ s a map just in case. Pretty much, on the day of the Irish fest, just follow the people in Green. You’ll find it.

 

A Tale of Two Parks Near Omaha

I might have overdone it this summer bringing my family to so many events that were packed with people. It’s easy to find something that’s free and family-friendly every weekend in Omaha, but you have to keep in mind that 5,000 of your neighbors are headed there too. 

We had to get out of town and get some fresh air recently. Here's Mr. Wonderful carrying Her Royal Highness, Mooch, at Schramm.
We had to get out of town and get some fresh air recently. Here’s Mr. Wonderful carrying Her Royal Highness, Mooch, at Schramm.

So, recently, my family decided to get out of Dodge, so to speak. Just for a few hours. One Saturday we ventured to a family-favorite, Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa. It’s about a 20-minute drive northeast of Omaha. Another weekend, we visited Schramm Park State Recreation Area, which is about 6 miles south of west Omaha. It had been a very long time since our last visit.

Our visits couldn’t be more different. I could go on a rant about how funding makes all the difference (Hitchcock wins), but I’ll just try to focus on what we liked at each.

The Hidden Gem: Hitchcock Nature Center

The view from one of Hitchcock's trails.
The view from one of Hitchcock’s trails.

We visit here most seasons, it’s so easy to get to. What’s to love about this place? A lot.

The visitor’s center is a great place to start off your visit. There are interactive displays that my children love, from making animal footprints to touching pelts and trying to run off with stuffed animals. You can learn what animals and tracks to look for on your hikes. If you have youngsters, be sure to check out one of the free Adventure Packs. It’s a backpack with fun things to help your hikes, my son’s favorite was the magnifying glass.

A pint-sized Farley loved the view from the tower at Hitchcock back in the day. (He still does, but he won't let us recreate this awesome picture, so I'm going with this one)
A pint-sized Farley loved the view from the tower at Hitchcock back in the day. (He still does, but he won’t let us recreate this awesome picture, so I’m going with this one)

Next to the visitor’s center is a lookout tower, popular among raptor watchers (in fact, they have Hawk Watch you can take part in). Take in the view, then get on your way exploring.

The trails are clearly marked with difficulty levels. Some spots along the trail will have a Trailcast sign, these are Hitchcock specific podcasts designed to enhance your visit, they change with the season).

A quiet walk in the park.
A quiet walk in the park.

Even with its proximity to Omaha, Hitchcock feels like an undiscovered gem. The trails are not packed. Offerings that will interest your children, besides that cool visitor’s center, include a playground, archery, geocaching and earthcaching, and an abundance of educational offerings. Camping is available, and there are a few cabins.

The Forgotten Park: Schramm Park State Recreation Area

Yes, look at this magnificence.
Yes, look at this magnificence.

Our trip to Schramm Park State Recreation Area was impromptu. I’d read some friends’ Facebook posts on hiking there and when the time came one weekend to decide what we should do, I remembered Schramm.

I’m not too familiar with the park since it’s been a few years and given the spontaneous trip, I hadn’t looked into what we could do there. I figured we’d have a picnic and let the adventure unfold on its own. That always works out well with kids, the not-planning thing.

Part of the beauty found at Schramm were the colorful flowers and lily pads in the otherwise stagnant water.
Beauty.

We parked near the fish hatcheries and decided that we’d picnic before our hike. The manmade ponds weren’t necessarily the most scenic of views, but we did find beauty there.

Checking out the fish hatcheries.
Checking out the fish hatcheries.

Once filled with fuel, we set off on a hike. We passed a trailhead on our quick tour of the park in our car, but decided that from the hatcheries, we’d surely hit a trail. Not so much.

A fish hatchery.
A fish hatchery.

We walked a board walk along the hatcheries for a ways, quickly stumbled onto a playground (that was too hot to play on that day), and then continued trying to locate a trailhead.

Farley finds the park, with playground equipment surfaces slightly cooler than the surface of the sun. Gotta love Nebraska summers.
Farley finds the park, with playground equipment surfaces slightly cooler than the surface of the sun. Gotta love Nebraska summers.

We should’ve just packed the kids back in the car and drove to the trailhead we knew existed, but Mooch has been putting up epic fights whenever I have to strap her into her carseat and I just wasn’t up for that.

Exploring rocks at the geological display at Schramm.
Exploring rocks at the Geological Display at Schramm.

So we gave up the search and walked down the road to take in the view of the Platte River. On the way, we stopped at the Geological Display.

Amazing how excited a kid can get about a big rock. I guess if you put a big rock on a ring a woman sometimes gets that way.
Amazing how excited a kid can get about a big rock. I guess if you put a big rock on a ring and women sometimes gets that way.

Farley liked this area of the park the most, I think, even if there wasn’t much to it. We spotted some fossils in the rocks and picked up some trash, then continued on to the river.

The Platte is a very sandy, shallow river and people were wading out into it that day, but one we weren’t about to venture into just yet. The view is nice, though, so I’m glad we took a minute to check it out.

Checking out the Platte River.
Checking out the Platte River.

Schramm is known for its Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium, which we didn’t visit (Right after our visit, it was announced that admission was now free). I think there must be another entrance to Schramm, another section of the park, that we missed. Where we were, all we saw was the closed museum that was once the state’s first fish hatchery in 1882. I have this suspicion that there is a “New Schramm Park” out there that my friends all love.

This museum has seen better days.
The closed Gretna Fish Hatchery Museum.

There were many visitors at Schramm on the day we visited, proving it is a destination. My kids ultimately ended up getting the most joy picking up sticks and driving me insane by running around with the biggest, pointiest ones they could find.

A favorite pasttime of my kids': Running with big sticks.
A favorite pasttime of my kids’: Running with big sticks.

I guess you don’t need modern facilities to capture a child’s imagination. Still, I’d love to see this park get some TLC.

A Treat After Your Park Visit

Christy Creme, a Council Bluffs tradition.
Christy Creme, a Council Bluffs tradition.

We stopped for ice cream after visiting each of these parks. After a visit to Hitchcock, we like to drive south on Old Lincoln Highway, where you’ll come across a Council Bluffs’ favorite, Christy Cream, on the north end of Council Bluffs. They’re known for the special sherbet flavor of the day, but I’m a chocolate kind of girl.

After Schramm, we went into nearby Louisville, Neb. Head down the main street and you’ll find two ice cream options. Every stinking time we go to Louisville, I’m determined to check out the old fashion soda fountain at Blake’s Pharmacy, and every time it’s closed (Sundays, man). This trip, we all enjoyed cheap twist cones at Dari Crème.