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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Looking For A Farm Near Omaha? Check Out Nelson Produce Farm

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.

Sign at Nelson Produce Farm in Valley Nebraska

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.

Picking strawberries at Nelson Produce Farm

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.

The exterior of The Market at Nelson Produce Farm in Nebraska

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.

Feeding a sheep at Nelson Produce Farm

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.

Petting a rabbit at Nelson Produce Farm in Valley, Nebraska

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.

Baby chick at Nelson Produce Farm

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.

Running on hay bales in Nebraska

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.

Tire mountain at Nelson Produce Farm

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.

Looking at the chicks at Nelson Produce Farm

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.

Watermelon slices at Nelson Produce Farm

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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Looking for a farm experience near Omaha, Nebraska? Here's what it's like at Nelson Produce Farm in Valley, Neb. From animal encounters and berry picking, there's a lot to do that will keep kids busy for an afternoon!
Have a fun day on a farm at Nelson Produce Farm near Omaha, Nebraska. Get the details on things to do with kids, what's included and what costs extra, and what animals you'll find on the farm.

14 Awesome Iowa Road Trips For The Summer

I’m always up for a weekend getaway, and Iowa has become my reliable, go-to state. Iowa cities provide an inexpensive vacation, and all within just a few hours from Omaha. Here are a few of my favorite, memorable vacations in Iowa, plus recommendations from Iowa travel bloggers.

Is it a day trip or a weekend trip?

So, good question. How far away are these places from Omaha? And should you plan just a day or a weekend? I almost always plan overnight trips, even to nearby towns in Iowa.

I typically plan overnight stays for anything more than a two-hour, one-way drive from Omaha. But, to help you decide, here are the distances from Omaha:

Elk Horn – 65 miles from Omaha

Audubon – 80 miles from Omaha

Lake Icaria – 85 miles from Omaha

Sioux City – 100 miles from Omaha

Des Moines – 135 miles from Omaha (so much to do, I’d recommend more than a day)

Estherville – 190 miles from Omaha

Okoboji – 200 miles from Omaha (definitely an overnight – but you’ll want a whole weekend there)

Ottumwa – 220 miles from Omaha (definitely an overnight trip)

Clear Lake – 250 miles from Omaha (definitely an overnight trip)

Decorah – 330 miles from Omaha (definitely an overnight trip)

Summers are for road trips! If you're looking for a Midwestern destination, here's where to road trip in Iowa, with tips on what to do in each city and what to see. Iowa has wide-open spaces, amusement parks, and quirky attractions.

Closer Iowa road trips

Looking for places closer to Omaha for a quick getaway? I recommend exploring southwest Iowa. Here are a few notable places and things to do:

Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek

Hikes in the Loess Hills in southwestern Iowa

14 unique trails in Pottawattamie County, Iowa

Wabash Trace Nature Trail in southwestern Iowa

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Need an inexpensive but fun summer getaway? Here are 13+ Iowa road trips this summer, with tips on what cities to visit, what to do, where to eat, and what's not-to-miss.

How To Step Up Your Nature Game At Fontenelle Forest

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.

Related post: 10 Must-Try Bellevue Restaurants

Boardwalk at Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue, Nebraska

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.

Fontenelle Forest COVID-19 guidelines

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.

I’ve used similar backpacks at Hitchcock Nature Center or DeSoto Wildlife Refuge and loved how they added a lot to our hikes!

We used a backpack on our recent visit to Fontenelle Forest. We checked it out before hitting the ropes course at TreeRush Adventures.

My 8-year-old was eager to sort through the backpack to see everything available.

Girl using binoculars from the Family Backpack at Fontenelle Forest

She was immediately drawn to the binoculars and magnifying glasses.

Each backpack comes with a lot of items and activities – some items are yours to keep.

Items include:

  • Map and activity sheets
  • Cloud identification guide
  • Guide to common birds of Fontenelle Forest
  • Flashcards to common trees at Fontenelle Forest
  • Guide to common spring and summer plants at Fontenelle Forest
  • Don’t touch flashcards with photos of plants you want to avoid (super helpful!)
  • A pair of kid’s binoculars
  • Five magnifying glasses
  • One bug box
  • And to keep: Crayon pucks, pencils, construction paper, stickers
Girl with Fontenelle Forest's Family Backpack

While the backpack itself is pretty large, it’s not too heavy for a kid to carry.

How long can you use the backpack?

Bags are to be checked out for two hours, and in my opinion, there’s no way you’ll get through all activities in one backpack in two hours.

And I think that’s the point. These bags would be great for multiple visits.

Think of it as having easy-to-plan, themed field trips this summer.

Girl with magnifying glass at Fontenelle Forest

Do the backpacks cost money?

Yes. A backpack costs $10 for two hours. You’re going to call ahead to reserve the backpack at 402-731-3140. It’s a first-come, first-served basis.

Be sure to return the backpack within two hours. You will be charged another rental fee if you keep the backpack beyond your allotted time.

Are the backpacks safe during COVID-19?

Fontenelle Forest stresses the fact that they sanitize each backpack and everything in it after every use.

The items that they cannot sanitize were ours to keep.

Planning a trip to Fontenelle Forest, near Omaha Nebraska? Here's a way to learn about the plants and wildlife you'll see there! #outdoors #Nebraska #familytime #Midwest #hiking

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8 Nifty Things You Need To Know About Schramm Park

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.

COVID-19 Update: The Education Center is temporarily closed at Schramm Park. For updates, visit the Nebraska Game and Parks website.

Looking for a beautiful, off-the-beaten-path park near Omaha? Check out Schramm Park State Recreation Area. Learn about the trails, Education Center, fossil dig site, and more! #Nebraska #outdoors #familytimr

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.
  • Sunscreen
  • 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.

Ponds at the Schramm Park hatchery

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.

A suspension bridge at Schramm Park near Omaha,  Nebraska

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.

Fish hatchery at Schramm Park in Nebraska

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.

The geological display at Schramm Park in southeastern Nebraska. You can find fossils there.

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.

Related post: Guide to Nebraska State Park Cabins

Does it cost money to go?

A state park permit is required for vehicles. The Education Center is an additional fee (see the next section for details).

A boy on a trail at Schramm Park in Nebraska

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.
Pre-school play area at the Schramm Park Education Center

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.

Racing on the virtual mountain bikes at Schramm Park SRA

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.

Touchscreen at Schramm Park Education Center

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.

Looking for fossils at Schramm Park  in Nebraska

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 floating obstacle course
  • 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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Plan a fun day trip to Schramm Park   near Omaha, Nebraska. Here's what you need to know about the park, including what to bring, what the trails are like, and if the admission to the Education Center is worth it. #Nebraska #statepark #hiking #daytrip #familytravel

Awesome Things To Do In Des Moines On A Weekend Getaway

Des Moines, Iowa, is one of those cities that I take for granted that it’s so near. We’ve visited the city just a handful of times since I started this blog, and each time, we discover something new and exciting. It’s probably time I compile some of the greatest hits of our DSM adventures for you!

COVID-19 Update: Businesses in the state of Iowa is opening at a limited capacity, so double check before your visit to see what the restrictions are. Either contact the restaurant or attraction or see if there is an update on Catch Des Moines, the city’s official tourism website. Check the Iowa Department of Public Health for the latest health updates.

Plan a weekend getaway using this list of fun things to do in Des Moines,  Iowa. List includes attractions, must-try Des Moines restaurants, and tips  on what to do with kids. #Iowa #DesMoines #DSM #Midwest #Travel #familytravel

Des Moines Attractions

Discover Des Moines attractions, museums, and restaurants to visit on your next weekend getaway. Here are a few of my favorites, as well as a few that are on my to-visit list for our next trip.

Sample family-friendly weekend itinerary for Des Moines

We’ve “done” Des Moines in two different ways: As an extended pitstop on a longer road trip through Iowa, and as a dedicated weekend ‘o fun.

Based on both experiences, and on my experience of always stopping at a particular restaurant in Des Moines every.single.chance. I get, here is my suggested itinerary.

Day 1

Spend the day in downtown Des Moines. If it’s a Saturday and it’s summer, stroll through the farmer’s market. Sample a few foods as you make your way down the street to your first destination: The Science Center of Iowa.

After a few hours there, you’ll be hungry. Lucky for you, Fong’s Pizza is on the same block. Get the crab rangoon pizza. Just trust me.

If your kids are, somehow, still full of energy, have them run it out at the Pappajohn Sculpture Garden. If you’d rather be indoors, head to the state capitol building for a tour.

End the night with a crazy huge burger at Zombie Burger in the Historic East Village.

Slice of crab rangoon pizza at Fong's Pizza  in Des Moines, Iowa

Day 2

Hope you’re rested. Today you can choose between thrills at Adventureland or history and cows at the Living History Farms. Either way, you’ll be walking a lot and probably really hot by the end of the day.

If you’re at Adventureland, just plan on eating in the park for lunch.

At the Living History Farms, you’re not farm from the Machine Shed. The servings are huge, so I hope you’re hungry.

For dinner, pick something off Megan’s list of the best restaurants in Des Moines. And, um, take a shower before you go.

Slice of chocolate cake at the Machine Shed in Des Moines, Iowa

Where to stay in Des Moines

To be honest, I don’t have a favorite hotel in Des Moines, but I can recommend a few that are near some attractions, and maybe that will be enough of a deciding factor.

If you are planning to spend a day or two at Adventureland, I wrote about the hotel that’s super close to the amusement park.

If your plans take you to West Des Moines (or further), we stayed at the Wildwood Lodge in Clive. This one had a pretty cool lodge theme to it and the kids loved the pool.