7 Awesome Outdoor Things To Do In Kearney

Snuggled right up next to Interstate 80, smack-dab in the middle of Nebraska, you’ll find Kearney, a city of about 34,000 people. If you’ve driven through the state a number of times, you might know it better by the giant, sunset-colored Archway that sprawls over the interstate lanes, connecting the city to the Platte River. 

While I’d highly recommend a trip to the Archway (it’s actually a fantastic historical museum in addition to something fun to drive under), this article is focused on stiff breezes, open air, and fun activities spent outdoors! Kearney is home to many well-maintained, diverse parks, an epic hike-and-bike trail, and a few surprising local gems — enough to keep the whole family busy for a quick day trip or a weekend away! 

Cottonmill Park

Although there are many great parks in Kearney, Cottonmill Park is by far my family’s favorite. With a beautiful, 43-acre lake at the center, you can enjoy plenty of water-centric activities like fishing and no-wake boating, or you can simply have a lakeside lunch at one of the picnic tables by the water.

There are paddle boats available for rental during the summer season, and if you’ve got a paddleboard (and a good sense of balance!) the small lake is perfect for floating leisurely. 

Fountain at Cottonmill Park in Kearney Nebraska
Photo courtesy Kearney Parks and Recreation

Our family’s favorite feature is the 18-hole disc golf course that sprawls across a good chunk of the park — it’s a challenging course and a good hike, and is a great 2- to 3-hour family activity. 

In addition to the disc golf course, the park sports hiking trails, a swimming hole, nature barn, outdoor amphitheater, playground equipment, and sand volleyball courts.

Cottonmill is also the trailhead of Kearney’s 13.1-mile hike-and-bike trail, so it’s an awesome place to start the weekend!

Nielsen Kids U-Pick Pumpkin Patch

When the air cools down and fall starts whispering in everyone’s ears, a pumpkin patch is the perfect way to celebrate! Located just southwest of Minden — about a 45-minute drive from Kearney and very near Pioneer Village — the Nielsen Kids U-Pick Pumpkin Patch is a great option for a fall family frolic. 

With popcorn, themed activities, and an extensive corn maze, this pumpkin patch is a great mix of affordable, no-frills pumpkin hunting and a whimsical, seasonal getaway for everyone. 

Rowe Sanctuary

One of the things Kearney is most famous for is the annual Sandhill Crane migration. Thousands of people, er, flock here every spring to see the incredible numbers of Sandhill Cranes as they rest and feed on the Platte River.

A pair of Sandhill Cranes at Rowe Sanctuary in Kearney, Nebraska.
Photo by Richard Derevan

The epicenter of this travel phenomenon is Rowe Sanctuary, a center “dedicated to the conservation of Sandhill Cranes, Whooping Cranes and other migratory birds, and their habitat along the Platte River in south-central Nebraska.”

Rowe Sanctuary isn’t just a spring hot spot, it’s open year-round and is a wonderful place to hike the trails, learn about ecosystems, and experience the beauty of the Platte River in conjunction with the local wildlife. 

The World Theatre Drive In

The World Theatre is a beloved Kearney gem that continues to showcase community spirit and a devotion to the arts, even during a global pandemic. Once a Vaudeville theater in the ‘20s, the World was renovated and reopened in 2012 through a community-driven fundraising campaign spearheaded by Kearney native and NBC’s “The Blacklist” creator Jon Bokenkamp. 

Cars parked at The World Theatre Drive In located in Kearney, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Bryce Jensen

When theaters across the nation were forced to close their doors in the spring of 2020, The World went to work, trying to figure out how to navigate the new normal. In early summer, The World Theatre Drive In was debuted at the Buffalo County Fairgrounds, and has been showing beloved classics like “Back to the Future,” “The Goonies,” and “Footloose” (and providing concessions) every weekend since. 

The World plans to show movies into mid-October of 2020, and is hoping to bring it back in the summer of 2021. 

Yanney Heritage Park

Kearney really does have some unforgettable parks, and Yanney Heritage Park is one that will keep your whole family busy for hours. With attractions ranging from multiple splash grounds to a well-stocked fishing lake, rentable swan-shaped paddle boats, a gorgeous labyrinth, and a lookout tower that gives you a sprawling view of the entire city, there’s something for everyone. 

Swan-shaped paddle boat at Yanney Heritage Park in Kearney, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Kearney Parks and Recreation

At certain times throughout the year, the outdoor stage hosts a variety of different performances, including theatre and concerts. It’s also a stop on the hike-and-bike trail, providing a beautiful halfway point for a quick lunch or a place to stretch your legs. 

Apple Acres Orchard

Looking for the perfect fall photo op for your family? This small, family-owned orchard 8 miles west of Kearney is just the ticket for fresh, local produce and a fantastic place to snap a few Instagram-worthy pictures of the kids with pink noses and fluffy fall scarves. 

With a small orchard store on the property, you can also bring home local honey, caramel-drizzled apples, and fresh cider, pressed onsite with hand-picked apples.

Apple Acres Orchard is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 1 to 5 p.m. on Sundays. 

Fort Kearny State Historical Park

Fort Kearny is another local gem with many different features! Originally built as a protection/resting place for travelers on the Oregon and California trails, this historical site has been reconstructed for recreational and education purposes.

Historic market at Fort Kearny with the fort in the background.

With rebuilt historical structures and an interpretive center, Fort Kearny is a great place to have fun and learn some local history! 

One of the biggest draws to Fort Kearny, though, is the State Recreation Area attached to it. Located at the east end of the Kearney hike-and-bike trail, it’s a popular haven for camping, RV-ing, fishing, and swimming in both the Platte River and the recreation area’s swimming hole. 

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About the guest blogger

Lauren Bonk, owner of the Curtain and Pen, hails from Kearney, Neb., where she works as a freelance copywriter for small businesses, startups, and even larger corporate entities in need of professionally-written marketing content for their businesses and organizations.

With a background in both Theatre and English, Lauren loves to help companies find a voice, fine-tune it, and authentically utilize it in written collateral like blog posts, website copy, and social media content.

You can typically find Lauren drinking coffee, listening to music that’s probably a little too loud, and daydreaming about drinking more coffee the next morning.

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Headed to Kearney, Nebraska and looking for things to do? Here's a great list of fun outdoor activities and places to visit!

5 Delightful Corn Mazes Near Omaha

As the weather starts to turn cooler and days become a little shorter, you know it’s beginning to look a lot like corn maze season. Test your navigation skills as you work your way through mazes – both easy and challenging – and enjoy a day on the farm with friends or family. The Omaha area has several
excellent places to explore corn mazes.

COVID-19 Update: Please check each attraction’s website or Facebook page for its restrictions and requirements in regards to Covid-19.

Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and Apple Orchard

Where: 12102 S. 180th St., Gretna, Neb.

Known for its gigantic pumpkin patch and all the fun and games that make the pumpkin patch among the most popular in Nebraska, Vala’s Pumpkin Patch and Apple Orchard has a corn maze that is both fun and challenging to explore.

Family using the lookout platform to find a way out of Vala's corn maze

Included with your admission to Nebraska’s largest pumpkin patch, the
4-acre corn maze features a new design each year, to increase the challenge of finding your way through it. It’s best to visit the corn maze early into the season, which starts Sept. 18 and runs through Nov. 1.

The maze tends to get beaten down toward the end of the pumpkin patch season. Vala’s also features other corn activities, including corn wagons and corn playbox.

Related post: 5 Must-Try Food At Vala’s Pumpkin Patch

Bellevue Berry and Pumpkin Ranch

Where: 11001 S. 48th St., Papillion, Neb.

Entering its fourth decade, Bellevue Berry and Pumpkin Ranch will challenge your inner GPS as you find your way through its corn maze. The attraction, included with your admission, is family-friendly and a safe venture for everyone.

As you walk down the rows of corn taller than six feet, you’ll have fun as you
run into a dead-end, or anticipate clearing the maze, only to find you took a wrong turn a dozen stalks earlier.

Bellevue Berry Farm and Pumpkin Ranch, which runs from mid-September until the end of October, also offers several rides and games, including hayrides and haunted forest excursions.

In the middle of a corn maze in Nebraska

Skinny Bones Pumpkin Patch

Where: 3935 State Highway 133, Blair, Neb.

Kicking off its 13th season, between Omaha and Blair, Skinny Bones Pumpkin Patch offers more than just pumpkins. Among the attractions, its corn maze annually scores as a favorite.

Located on 10 acres, the corn maze will challenge your skills as you search for the exit. Take a punch card along on your adventure and find uncover the hidden punch stations. Complete the card and you’ll score a prize.

Skinny Bones also has a corn maze for younger children. While at the patch, check out other corn fun and games, including a corn pool. Skinny Bones is open Sept. 11 through Oct. 31.

Ditmars Orchard and Vineyard

Where: 19475 225th St., Council Bluffs, Iowa

The challenge, if accepted, will be to find the bell and ring it loudly for the other corn maze enthusiasts. Ditmars Orchard and Vineyard’s 5-acre corn maze ranks as one of its most popular attractions. With a new design each year, you’ll face one of the most fun activities at Ditmars.

While the corn maze is a fun activity for the entire family, younger children are encouraged to have an adult with them.

While at Ditmars, try some of their apple treats and a cup of apple cider.

Boy walking through corn maze at Ditmars Orchard in Council Bluffs, Iowa

Camp Fontanelle Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze

Where: 9677 County Road 3, Fontanelle, Neb.

Located in rural Dodge County, about 42 miles north of Omaha, Camp Fontanelle Pumpkin Patch and Corn Maze is worth the drive. Not only do you take in Nebraska’s attractive farm country, but the corn maze will also blow you away.

With a themed design, each year – 2019’s design honored Nebraska’s first responders for their handling of the Nebraska floods -you’ll find yourself working to navigate your way through the 10 acres oof tall corn stalks.

Additional activities at Camp Fontenelle include rope climbing trees, a zipline, and a petting zoo.

Camp Fontenelle, open mid-September through late October, also has hiking trails you can explore.

From custom-designed corn mazes to ones aimed for younger children, the Omaha area is ripe for some fun exploration. While some corn mazes offer a payoff, such as ringing a bell or winning prizes, each one provides a fun outing for families, friends, and couples. And, of course, you know that each attraction will have plenty of seasonal treats and drinks available.

Safe travels and good luck finding your way through the maze.

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A classic family-friendly fall activity is visiting a corn maze. Here are five favorite corn mazes near Omaha Nebraska to explore this season!

4 Things to Know About Homeschooling in Nebraska

Homeschooling in Nebraska, whether you’re new to the community or a seasoned home education pro, offers fantastic educational opportunities beyond a purchased curriculum. Nebraska communities provide engaging experiences for kids to try out something new, learn with other youth in their area, as well as follow their own educational curiosities.

Here are four things to know about homeschooling in Nebraska to help enhance your child’s home education.

1. Experts are everywhere

While the education of your child is ultimately your responsibility, it doesn’t mean you have to have all the answers. Part of the beauty of homeschooling is getting out in the world and letting your kids meet people in their community.

Glass blowing demonstration at Hot Shops in Omaha, Nebraska.

Hot Shops is a wonderful place in Omaha to talk to artists and see hot shop demonstrations. Both UNO and UNL at Morrill Hall frequently provide educational opportunities for the community.

Seek out tours at places like banks, bakeries, and farms. Think about what you want to teach and see if there is a supplemental field trip you can plan with a local business or expert.

While in the checkout line at Walmart I met the owner of a local apiary near us in southwest Nebraska.

2. Join groups and clubs

Nebraska has several homeschool groups, especially in eastern Nebraska. Groups offer playdates, learning co-ops, or even field trips together.

Girl Scouts, Scouting and 4H are all alive and well in all areas of Nebraska and give kids a chance to learn new skills while having fun.

Child holding a chick on a farm in Valley, Nebraska.

Look for clubs that might interest your kids, such as Boys and Girls Club, a running club, or even the YMCA. Astronomy, archery and geology clubs are also out there.

Do an online search for your club or group type of choice to see if it exists, reach out to friends, and/or start your own club or group if you can’t find what you’re looking for. Chances are, there are other people looking for the same thing.

3. Take day trips

Visiting museums, other towns or cities, state parks, national monuments, and so many other things is one of my favorite parts of homeschooling.

Learning about heirloom apples at the Arbor Farms Tree Adventure in Nebraska City.

Here are a few of our favorite outings:

Related post: 20+ Awesome Road Trips From Omaha

4. Attend events and festivals

Annual events are easy to keep on the schedule and get excited about. NESCIFest, Kool-Aid Days, Shakespeare on the Green, and Jazz on the Green are all things our family look forward to every year.  

Historic reenactors at Fort Atkinson in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska. These ladies in the kitchen at Fort Atkinson will be the first to tell visitors women weren't allowed in the fort back in the day, though. They're part of the re-enactments to give insight to what life was like outside of the fort.

Keep up cultural and social education by attending local PowWows, historical reenactments, or ethnic/heritage festivals in your area.

Visit Nebraska has a listing of events and festivals across Nebraska. Festivals and events celebrating food, culture, arts, sports, science, and more.

Check out the Things to Do tab on Visit Nebraska site for some ideas that will either give you some family fun when you need a break from the schooling, or some things to do to enhance the topics you’re learning about at home.

Humanities Nebraska is another place to find educational programs for the whole family.

No matter how you choose to homeschool your child, if you’re in Nebraska don’t forget to include some of these fun educational additions to your curriculum.

Please share more of your favorite Nebraska experts, groups, day trips, or events in the comments. Our knowledgeable, helpful community is the best part of being a homeschooler in Nebraska!

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About our guest blogger

Mary Juett has been homeschooling her two girls in Nebraska for the past decade. She spent 23 years in central Nebraska before moving to Omaha and starting a family with her husband. After 15 years in eastern Nebraska her family moved to southwest Nebraska, where they currently reside. Mary loves learning, cooking and creating recipes, crocheting, and exploring Nebraska. She writes at homeschoolantic.com.

New to homeschooling in Nebraska or looking for new ideas on things to do? A local mom shares tips and what she's learned after homeschooling for more than a decade.

32 Awesome Farm And Food Experiences Near Omaha

Picture yourself in a place with wide open spaces, fresh air, and perhaps, adorable animals. That, my friends, is what I’ve been seeking lately: Outdoor farm experiences near Omaha. There’s a term for it. Agritourism. If you’re interested in some farm experiences (and maybe a little food or drink), read on!

What Is Agritourism

Agritourism is a growing type of travel that combines agriculture and tourism. That’s simple enough, right? But, what does it mean? Let’s use the National Agricultural Law Center for a better definition:

Sign at Nelson Family Farm in Nebraska

“Simply stated, agritourism could be thought of as the crossroads of tourism and agriculture. Stated more technically, agritourism can be defined as a form of commercial enterprise that links agricultural production and/or processing with tourism in order to attract visitors onto a farm, ranch, or other agricultural business for the purposes of entertaining and/or educating the visitors and generating income for the farm, ranch, or business owner.

“Regardless of the exact definition or terminology, any definition of agritourism should include the following four factors:

• combines the essential elements of the tourism and agriculture industries;

• attracts members of the public to visit agricultural operations;

• is designed to increase farm income; and

• provides recreation, entertainment, and/or educational experiences to visitors.”

Farms Near Omaha

If a farm has animals, it’s a hit with my family. Here are a few of our favorites! The listings are based on proximity to Omaha, starting with the closest.

Milking a goat near Honey Creek Creamery in Iowa.
  • Scatter Joy Acres (4966 Newport Ave., Omaha) – Scatter Joy Acres is all about animal encounters, from goats, cows and horses to more exotic species like peacocks and a porcupine.
  • Alpacas of the Heartland (7016 County Road 39, Fort Calhoun, Neb.) – Make a reservation to visit this small non-profit one morning, as you’ll get a bag of carrots to feed more than 30 alpacas. Hours are limited.
  • Nelson Produce Farm (10505 N. 234th St., Valley, Neb.) – Pick produce off the plants (or buy from their farmstead), plus check out adorable animals at Nelson Produce Farm. You can buy food to feed some of them. This farm has a small cafe where you can buy lunch, or treat yourself to a large watermelon slice or a tasty strawberry shortcake.
  • Honey Creek Creamery (25593 Old Lincoln Highway, Honey Creek, Iowa) – My first introduction to Honey Creek Creamery was early spring one year when they started hosting goat yoga sessions. It was more cuddle time with the babies than serious stretches, and I loved it. It’s located next door to Stanley’s Snack Shack, where you can buy ice cream made with goat’s milk. If you’re lucky, they may show you how to milk one of the goats!
  • Degroots Backyard Petting Farm (1244 St. F32, Harlan, Iowa) – Think of Degroots as more like visiting relatives who have a farm rather than a small business. Low-key, FREE, and with plenty of friendly animals, this is a great little place to visit if you’re up for a drive.
  • Gifford Farm (700 Camp Gifford Road, Bellevue, Neb.) – I’ve been wanting to visit Gifford Farm for ages, but COVID has made their hours all sorts of wonky. We went for a Halloween event, finally, and I have to say, it’s a lovely, quiet little farm. It’s designed more for school groups, and I’m thinking special events are more geared toward young children, but definitely a nice escape not too far from Omaha. (PS: Bring cash)
  • Other farms – Hansen’s Dairy (8461 Lincoln Road, Hudson, Iowa)
A selfie with an alpaca at Alpacas of the Heartland in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska.

Farm-To-Table Experiences

Another sub-group in the farm category are the ones that involve eating good food or wine straight from the farm. While having fresh watermelon at or goat’s milk ice cream is one thing, the following take the food experience to the next level.

Luna Valley Farm in Decorah, Iowa.
  • Weekends at Slattery Vintage Estates (8925 Adams St.,  Nehawka, Neb.) – Come for the wine tasting (during non-COVID times) and wood-fire pizza, stay for the live music outdoors. The setting is absolutely charming (though, technically, the ingredients for the pizza weren’t grown there). We spent a night in one of their glamping tents, making it an easy walk to dinner and entertainment that night.
  • Farm to Table (Nelson Produce Farm at 10505 N. 234th St., Valley, Neb.) – One weekend a month, the farm hosts a dinner on Friday and Saturday nights with a fresh menu. Dates are up for August and September, with October to be determined still.
  • Farm to Fork (Central Avenue in Nebraska City, Neb.) – I’ve been eyeing this annual event in Nebraska City and have never been able to snag tickets. They go on sale in March/April and sell out long before the event in August. Each year, the multi-course, family-style dining experience features “dishes created by regional restaurateurs utilizing locally-sourced products complemented with regional wine.” Sounds amazing.
  • Luna Valley Farm (3012 Middle Sattre Road, Decorah, Iowa) – This is the farm that started an obsession for me. I had wood-fire pizza at a farm one weekend in Decorah and I’ve never forgotten it. The ingredients were grown and raised on the farm. And they had live music and beer to pair with it. Heaven. Note: I’ll be the first to confirm this is not close to Omaha. But if you’re in that part of Iowa, make an effort to go!
  • More options: Pizza on the Prairie at Wallace Centers of Iowa (2773 290th St., Orient, Iowa)

Living History Farms

See what life was like on a farm a century (or longer) ago at these living history farms.

Family walking around Living History Farms in Urbandale, Iowa
  • Living History Farms (11121 Hickman Road, Urbandale, Iowa) – This giant, open-air museum is probably the most well known living history farm for Iowans and Nebraskans. It’s so well done, and covers several Midwestern eras of farming. My kids loved the hands-on nature of it and the knowledgable staff.
  • Other living history farms: Wessels Living History Farm (5520 S. Lincoln Ave., York, Neb.); Carstens 1880 Farmstead (32409 380th St., Shelby, Iowa)

Orchards Near Omaha

Whether you choose to pick your own apples or berries, or buy them straight from the farmer who grew them, these are the orchards to visit in Nebraska and Iowa. The listings are based on proximity to Omaha, starting with the closest.

Apple picking at Ditmars Orchard in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
  • Ditmars Orchard (19475 225th St., Council Bluffs, Iowa) – I’ve loved this charming little orchard for years now. It’s never crowded, it’s a super close orchard to Omaha, there’s a good variety of apples and they have a fun play area for kids. Oh, and they have the most delicious apple cider donuts. And wine. Don’t forget their wine.
  • Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure (2611 Arbor Ave, Nebraska City, Neb.) – Picking apples is just a small part of the fun activities at the Tree Adventure. However, one of the unique things about this orchard is the chance to pick and taste heirloom apples.
  • Other orchards – Bellevue Berry Farm & Pumpkin Patch (11001 S. 48th St., Papillion, Neb.); Trees, Shrubs & More (3803 Cornhusker Road, Bellevue, Neb.); Small’s Fruit Farm (1844 194th St., Mondamin, Iowa); Union Orchard (2405 S. Highway 75, Union, Neb.); Kimmel Orchard & Vineyard (5995 G Road, Nebraska City, Neb.)

Pumpkin Patches Near Omaha

Pumpkin patches have grown to be more than strolling through a field of pumpkins. The whole-day experiences. The listings are based on proximity to Omaha, starting with the closest.

Vala's Pumpkin Patch & Apple Orchard in Gretna, Neb.
  • Vala’s Pumpkin Patch & Apple Orchard (12102 S. 180th St., Gretna, Neb.) – It’s not fall until my family has been to Vala’s. Some people (myself included) refer to it as the “Disney of Pumpkin Patches” because there is so much to do there, it takes an entire day. The apple orchard is fairly new. Don’t leave without trying a slice of pie or hard apple cider.
  • Other pumpkin patches – Welch’s Pumpkin Patch (17676 Sunnydale Road, Council Bluffs, Iowa); Pioneer Trail Orchard & Pumpkin Patch (21534 Chestnut Road, Council Bluffs, Iowa); Skinny Bones Pumpkin Patch (3935 NE-133, Blair, Neb.); Bloom Where You’re Planted Farm & Pumpkin Patch (911 108th St., Avoca, Neb.); McCurdy’s Pumpkins (intersection of Highway 71 and Highway 6 on the east edge of Atlantic, Iowa); Poppy’s Pumpkin Patch (55275 837th Road, Norfolk, Neb.); Uncle Bill’s Farm (244 400th Ave., Grinnell, Iowa) 

Flower Maze

There are gardens and botanical gardens, and then there’s something called a flower maze.

Picking out flowers for a make-your-own bouquet at A-Mazing Flowers & Studio in Prague, Nebraska.
  • A-Mazing Flowers & Studio (103 W. Center Ave., Prague, Neb.) – This small-town attraction is gaining a lot of attention for its unique claim to fame: The world’s only cut flower maze. You’ll learn a lot about flowers as you make your way through the maze, pointing to the flowers you want to add to your very own bouquet. You’ll want to book your tour far in advance. (And if time allows, add a flower-press experience to your visit)

Hay Rides Near Omaha

While many farms and orchards have a variation of a hay ride, if the ride itself is what you seek, rather than picking fruit or petting an animal, then read on.

Tractors lined up for hay rides at Shady Lane Ranch in Council Bluffs, Iowa.
  • Shady Lane Ranch (17744 Shady Lane, Council Bluffs, Iowa) – A great place to combine a hayrack ride with a bonfire, a trip to Shady Lane is a fall favorite of mine. Fun warning: Hay rides usually involve hay fights between passing tractors.
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Tours Near Omaha

Find out where your food and drink comes from, and how things get made, on these tours.

Passport for the Living Loess tour in Iowa.
  • Living Loess tour (various destinations around western Iowa) – This monthly (and seasonal), self-guided tour highlights various destinations in the Loess Hills of western Iowa. Each month, a different destination is featured and hosts activities. On one outing, we went to Harvest Studio, where botanical artist Cynthia Gehrie, works. With her guidance, my family painted nature art. As you visit a destination, be sure to get the stamp on your passport for a chance to win a prize.
  • Other tours – Tassel Ridge Winery Tour (1681 220th St., Leighton, Iowa; see the steps “from vine to bottle”)

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Explore agritourism in Nebraska and Iowa with these farm destinations near Omaha. Farm experiences include farm-to-table dinner, petting zoos, goat yoga, living history farms, u-pick fruits, and more!

The Stunning Chapel Overlooking Interstate 80

Have you noticed the little chapel standing on a bluff overlooking Interstate 80 near the Gretna, Neb., exit?

The Holy Family Shrine is part religion and part art. The glass-enclosed chapel allows visitors an opportunity to spend time praying, meditating, or just admiring its beauty.

Ever wonder what that amazing structure on the hill over Interstate 80 in eastern Nebraska? Here's a look at the Holy Family Shrine in Gretna! Learn about the history behind the chapel and why the architecture is so significant. This is one of the most unique hidden gems in the Midwest!

COVID-19 Update: The Holy Family Shrine is temporarily closed on Sundays. Masks are required, and hand sanitizers are placed throughout the grounds. There is a limit to how many people can be inside the chapel at one time.

Inside Holy Family Shrine’s Chapel

The chapel is an architect’s dream. With glass walls, the chapel was designed to reflect life on the plains.

Close-up of the woodwork on the chapel at Holy Family Shrine in Nebraska

Nearly 50 feet tall, the chapel’s red cedar arching wood and trim resemble grain waving on the prairie.

Inside, an altar and about a dozen rows of pews await you. Sit and spend time with your thoughts or just admire the beauty.

Exterior of Holy Family Shrine along Interstate 80 in Nebraska

Behind the altar, an etching of the holy family – Mary, Joseph, and Jesus – appears on the southern panel. When illuminated, the chapel and the etching create a beautiful sight.

While the chapel is Catholic-based and hosts a mass each Saturday morning, it’s open to everyone regardless of faith. It is a place where people can pray or meditate at their convenience.

Altar of Holy Family Shrine in Gretna, Nebraska

Related post: Looking for more chapels with unique architecture in the Midwest? You have to see the gorgeous Chapel in the Hills in Rapid City, S.D.

History of Holy Family Shrine in Nebraska

Opened in 2002, the chapel was the dream of a priest in the early 1990s that eventually brought together four strangers, who worked to make that dream come true. Unknown to each other, they felt a mission to create a special place along the interstate where people could come to pray and practice
their Catholic faith.

Exterior of Holy Family Shrine chapel in Nebraska. You can see trucks on Interstate 80 in the background.

Once together, they spent two years working to find the perfect spot on Interstate 80 to become home for the chapel.

The chapel, itself, is a story of collapse and rebirth. Breaking ground in 1997, according to Fast Company, a wind storm destroyed it in 2000.

Undeterred, organizers rebuilt it, and it stands strong today.

What you’ll see at the Holy Family Shrine

Your visit to the Holy Family Shrine includes a tour of the visitors center, with artwork and biblical artifacts that help tell the story of Jesus Christ and the crucifixion. A dozen storyboards describe the history of the shrine.

Interior of the visitors center at Holy Family Shrine  in Nebraska

Representing the shroud of Jesus falling to the ground after his resurrection, a sculpture hangs from the ceiling in the middle of the visitors center.

A stream guides the path from the visitors center to the chapel, and then on to a cross showing Jesus at his crucifixion equals the distance that he traveled, carrying the cross on his march along the Stations of the Cross.

Visit the statue of Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane at the beginning of the trail, then follow the path to the chapel. South of the chapel, standing about 40 feet tall, the cross recognizes Jesus’ sacrifice for people. The statue of Jesus on the crucifix is 8 feet tall and faces the interstate to share his sacrifice with passersby.

Surrounded by a small garden, the site includes a bench for visitors to sit and reflect.

If you go

Holy Family Shrine

Where: 23132 Pflug Road, Gretna, Neb.

The shrine is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. A gift shop offers religious-themed items.

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14 Amazing Nebraska Road Trips For The Summer

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!

Nebraska Road Trips

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

Of course, there are many more places to visit, from off-the-beaten path gems in Nebraska to quirky places to stay in Nebraska. For a larger list of inspiration, read 101 Things To Do In Nebraska.

If you’re more inclined to plan a trip around food (you’re my people), here are lists for planning a Nebraska Donut Road Trip or a Nebraska Ice Cream Road Trip.

Planning a road trip to 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:

33 Must-Try Restaurants

Downtown Omaha Hotels & Restaurants

20+ Museums To Visit In Omaha

40+ Expert Tips For Visiting Omaha’s Zoo

Nebraska is full of outdoor adventure and history! Want inspiration for future summer road trips through Nebraska? Here's a round-up of  some of the state's popular attraction, as well as a few historic and scenic hidden gems.

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