My kids are just starting to get to the age where they’re going to start asking to go to haunted houses. While our speed has been Cobweb Castle as far as scares go, there are a lot bigger, scarier haunted houses around Omaha. Here’s a list of the haunted houses in Omaha, and nearby.
COVID Update: Some haunted houses will not open in 2020, especially the ones that are only indoors. Those with outdoor space will have social distancing measures in place and likely a changed experience for fans of past haunted houses. Check each individual website or call ahead as the situation changes frequently.
Haunted houses in Omaha (and nearby)
1. Haunted Hollow Scream Park
Where: 12501 Old Giles Road, La Vista, Neb.
Dates: Opens Sept. 18 through Oct. 31
What makes it unique: Haunted Hollow is reportedly certified haunted. You can read about it soon in a post I’m writing about urban legends of Omaha.
2. Scary Acres
Where: 17272 Giles Road, Omaha
Dates: Runs Sept. 18 through Oct. 31
What makes it unique: There are three attractions at Scary Acres: the Master’s Castle, the House on the Hill, and the Haunted Woods.
3. Ranch of Terror Haunted House and Haunted Hayrack Rides
Where: Bellevue Berry Farm, 11001 S. 48th St., Papillion, Neb.
What makes it unique: The Eagle Hollow haunted house is expanding its outdoor offerings in 2020 by expanding the outdoor walking path, Darklands, and the bus ride to get visitors there. Due to COVID restrictions, Luminon and Night Terrors will be closed for 2020.
10. Roca Scary Farm
Where: 16531 S. 38th St., Roca, Neb.
When: Open Sept. 25 through Oct. 30.
What makes it unique: A pumpkin patch by day, a scary farm by night.
Haunted road trips
If you want to get out of town for your scares, I recommend heading to Kansas City, Mo., for Halloween Haunt at Worlds of Fun.
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut when it comes to Omaha and hiking trails. We don’t really have an abundance of options – though, we have quite a few great trails. That I keep going back to over and over again. It was time to find a new-to-me place to hike. And that’s why I ended up at Neale Woods in northern Omaha one summer morning.
It’s a very short drive from Interstate 680, making it conveniently accessible while still remaining a hidden gem.
What to bring for a hike
The basics to always bring for a hike include plenty of water, sunscreen, and bug spray. I packed a snack for the trail. I wasn’t planning on being there long enough to need a picnic lunch, but you may want to.
The park is well-marked with signage, so a compass isn’t totally necessary.
If you’re as clueless as me when it comes to flora and fauna, you may want to bring a guidebook to help you identify plants.
For one, there is an admission to access the trails. It’s minimal, but bring a few dollars with you. Fees help cover the cost of maintaining the trails. In 2020, the price was $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $3 for children ages 2-17.
Of course, if you have a Fontenelle membership, it’s free to access either site. I feel a little foolish having had a Fontenelle Forest membership for years and yet I still had never been to Neale Woods.
Unlike trails you might encounter at state parks, Neale Woods (and Fontenelle) do not allow pets on the trails. So, the perk is there are no hidden piles of poop from dogs or horses. The downside? No dogs or horses.
Neale Woods rules
You’ll find some posted signage at the entrance to Neale Woods with clear instructions on how to be a responsible visitor. There are also the following rules printed on the map for Neale Woods:
Stay on the trails
Leave all plants and animals undisturbed for others to enjoy, no collecting
No hunting, fishing, camping, jogging, bicycling, smoking or fires allowed
Leave all pets at home, including horses
Motorized vehicles are not permitted beyond the parking lot except for disabled persons’ access
Carry your trash out with you
Use caution when crossing North River Road to the floodplain trails
What you’ll find there
There are about 9 miles of trails that span the 600 acres of Neale Woods. Trails pass through forest, woodland and prairie landscape.
I found the trails to be very well-maintained and well-marked, and no trail was too challenging. (Which, I suppose, may be a bad thing if that’s what you were hoping for)
Hiking and wildlife viewing are the main reasons to visit. There is a nature center (temporarily closed due to COVID-19). There are some places to sit, though you won’t find benches once you’re further into the trails.
This place was completely new to me so I had no planned route when I started. So, I just started in whatever trail tempted me from the parking lot. Luckily, the route I took passed through a variety of scenic areas, including woodlands and prairie.
Here’s my route (it took about an hour, since I stopped frequently to photograph flowers and butterflies):
Take Gifford Trail north for a brief hike before connecting to Neale Trail. Follow Neale Tail until you see a sign to head west on the wooded Wagon Trail.
For a short hike, just continue on Wagon Trail until you hit the parking lot.
But, for a good hike, you’ll tun west onto Raccoon Hollow Trail, which is a moderate trail in the forest. Take Raccoon Hollow Trail north until you get to Owl Trail. It’s a short, somewhat moderately challenging trail that connects with Hilltop Trail.
If you’re lucky, you’ll encounter wildflowers and lush prairie as you traverse Hilltop Trail. Head south along Hilltop Trail until you connect with Gifford Trail. You can hike the Gifford Trail loop, if you desire, or just head back to the parking lot.
Like everything else in the world, summer 2020 at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium is going to look a lot different than normal. Reopening June 1 with several measures in place, I asked the zoo to share what’s different so you know what to expect:
Zoo areas that are currently closed
The zoo is reopening in phases. Phase 1 is pretty cautious with the following closures and restrictions in place:
All buildings are closed, including exhibits like the aquarium, Desert Dome, and the indoor rainforest. Other buildings that house restaurants and the gift shop are closed, too.
The Lozier Giant Screen Theater will be closed.
Outdoor areas that are closed include the Bay Family Children’s Adventure Trails or Scott Alaskan Adventure Splash Park.
Animal feeding opportunities will not be available.
There are no behind-the-scenes tours.
Things to know about admission to the zoo
Don’t expect to waltz in with a wave of your membership this summer.
Reservation for a time to enter the Zoo must be made online before visiting. Make a reservation here. IDs and online reservation receipts will be checked. Members will not be able to transfer their membership to non-members.
Reservations can be made up to two days in advance of visit. There don’t seem to be any exceptions.
Admission tickets are discounted at $20.95 for guests ages 12 and over, $13.95 for children ages 3 to 11, and $19.95 for seniors ages 65 and over.
AZA reciprocal zoo admission program is suspended at this time.
Timeslots are available every half hour between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. daily. Good news for members: From June 1-7, there is a Members Only hour from 8 to 9 a.m.
There is a separate entrance for entering the zoo and exiting the zoo. Park accordingly. The Main Gate is for entrance to the zoo. The North Gate for exiting the zoo.
What it’s going to be like at the zoo in Phase 1
With buildings closed and a single entrance point and a single exit point, the zoo has created a walking path that’s about 1.8 miles.
The walking path is one-way traffic only. No backtracking is permitted.
You have to be prepared to walk it, as there is no tram service available. You can rent strollers, wagons, ECVs, and wheelchairs, though (limited supply).
Drinking fountains and water refill stations will not be available. Bring your own water.
Things you can do at the zoo during Phase 1
You can purchase tickets to ride Sue’s Carousel (with appropriate spacing and sanitizing).
You can buy concessions, but menu offerings will be limited to expedite lines. The Souvenir Cup refill service will not be available.
There will also be vending machines available, which will be cleaned hourly.
There will be retail items available for purchase at outside venues.
You have access to outside restrooms.
There is an outdoor nursing area.
Know that there will be signs throughout as reminders and help keep 6 feet between groups in lines.
Precautions you can take while at the zoo this summer
This goes without saying: Wash your hands frequently. This wasn’t on the zoo’s list.
Face mask usage by guests is strongly encouraged.
Guests are strongly encouraged to remain in their vehicles until their reservation time. Officials request guests not stand at the entrance plaza to meet others.
My thoughts on Phase 1
I was disheartened to read so many negative comments to their social media announcement on reopening. It is what it is, friends.
Have patience. These are strange and uncertain times.
I’m glad they’re able to open in a responsible manner. It’s not going to be business-as-usual for many months.
Will I be going any time soon? Maybe not right away. Many of my favorite places, and certainly my kids’ favorite places, will not be open. Nor should they be – they’re popular for a reason (and therefore draw a crowd).
But I miss the zoo. I want the zoo to continue to grow and succeed. So I will be back.
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There’s nothing like a ropes course to change your mood and confidence level while giving you a good workout. I recently spent a few hours at TreeRush Adventures, a ropes course near Omaha, where you climb, swing, and zipline. Read on to learn about it!
Side note: I hesitated to write this post right now. There are turmoil and heartache in our country and city. I believe this break from screens and news updates was what my family needed. I’m guessing some of you need a little break, too.
Disclosure: I received complimentary passes to TreeRush Adventures in order to write about my experience. This post contains affiliate links. All thoughts, opinions, and typos are my own.
COVID-19 Update: TreeRush Adventures has adopted some additional operational guidelines in response to the pandemic.
What you need to know:
Bring a mask, even for kids. They’ll provide a mask if you don’t have one. Wear it when you’re on the ground. Some people continue to wear it on the course, but that is optional since social distancing is pretty easy up high. If you don’t have a reusable homemade one, buy a bulk supply of disposable face masks ahead of time.
Bring your own protective gloves. They will not provide the “community gloves” like before. The kids and I used Mud Gloves, which were purchased originally for gardening, but they worked well on the course.
Bring your own water. There is a cooler of bottled water for free, but I’d just recommend bringing your own.
A lot of the TreeRush’s safety measures already create social distancing. They require one person on an element or obstacle and only three people on a platform (and all three must be in the same group, not strangers).
You can read more details about TreeRush’s cleaning and safety procedures here.
Where is this ropes course in Omaha?
TreeRush Adventures is located at Fontenelle Forest, which isn’t actually in Omaha (we like to refer to it as “Omaha area”). It’s located at 1111 Bellevue Blvd. N, in Bellevue, Neb.
For those unfamiliar with the Omaha metro area, Bellevue is just south of Omaha. For those of you familiar with Omaha, it’s close enough, right?
The entrance to TreeRush Adventures is separate from Fontenelle Forest’s entrance.
Who can go to TreeRush Adventure?
Here’s the cool part: I was there with my two kids, ages 10 and 8. At the same time, I spotted a couple on a date, a group of women together, and a solo man.
So, pretty much everyone goes to TreeRush Adventures: Families, friends, couples, solo explorers.
For kids ages 4-6, there’s KidRush Adventure Park, a low-to-the-ground ropes course that’s just challenging enough for kiddos to feel a part of the action.
TreeRush Adventure Park is for ages 7 and older. We started on the easiest course with my kids, the Meadowlark yellow course, which was still challenging for my youngest.
By the time we finished that course, she was eager to try the next skill level up. It was the most incredible experience watching her confidence level increase as we went along that green course.
How long does it take?
Your reservation allows for two hours on the course, whether it is TreeRush Adventure or KidRush.
The whole experience is longer, though, since you’ll be fitted for a harness and go through safety training, and practice. In all, it’s about three hours.
Tip: Regulars at TreeRush can test out of the safety training.
You go at your own pace, so you can take as many breaks as you need to just keep plowing through the courses. Most courses take less than 30 minutes.
I liked TreeRush Adventures because of the variety. We’ve been on other courses that were one long series of challenges, not divided by skill level, and those were exhausting.
TreeRush’s design eases you into things and motivates you to return to try harder courses. My 8-year-old has already requested we return when she’s 10 so she can do the blue courses. (Right now, she’s only allowed on yellow and green courses, the least challenging ones).
Two hours was long enough for me and my 10-year-old. My youngest probably could’ve gone another hour, she was loving it so much.
Hours are seasonal, naturally. Who wants to zipline in sub-zero temperatures?
What should you bring or wear for a ropes course?
You want to be comfortable out there, so dress for the weather. However, if it’s hot, short shorts are not advisable because…harnesses, man.
Make sure your shirt is long because moving and climbing with those harnesses on make shirts ride up easily.
Wear close-toed shoes. You’ll climb a lot and sandals just aren’t practical or safe.
Other key things to bring:
Bug spray. Lots and lots of bug spray.
Your own gloves.
Water. You can wear a Camelback backpack. Otherwise, you’ll have to leave your water bottles on the ground.
What’s the staff like?
They’re incredibly helpful and great with kids, for the most part (isn’t that the case everywhere?). Everyone was alert and attentive, so I felt pretty safe the entire time.
The staff doing the harness fitting and safety training were incredible with my kids. They were patient and funny.
Kenny, who taught our practice course, was one of the summer camp teachers my daughter had last year. I rank summer camp teachers up with my kids’ regular teachers. They’re heroes. How they have the patience, energy, and kindness to be with so many kids all day is beyond me.
Another super friendly staff was Christy, who invited my family to TreeRush Adventures. She went around the course with us, offering tips and encouragement. While my experience wasn’t the norm, you can just yell “Staff!” when you’re stuck, and they’ll come over and talk you through things (or climb up and rescue you).
How much does it cost?
General admission is $46 for ages 12 and older, $39 for ages 7 to 11, and $12 for ages 4 to 6.
You do not have to pay if you’re just going to watch your friends or family.
There are some discounts.
10% off for military (active or retired), seniors, and Fontenelle Forest members.
Do you get into Fontenelle Forest if you have a ticket for TreeRush Adventures?
The short answer is no. TreeRush Adventure is separate from Fontenelle Forest (same parking lot, though).
You are fully immersed in the forest, though, as you’re climbing, crawling, and zipping around. We had one of the last reservations of the day, and the peaceful calm of dusk at the forest was awe-inspiring.
I had to pause to take it all in. I highly recommend that evening experience.
Right now, only members have access to Fontenelle Forest trails, so if you are a member, you can tack on time on the trails before or after your zipline, operating hours permitting.
Tip: If you are a Fontenelle Forest member, you get a 10% off discount on TreeRush Adventure general admission tickets!
We arrived at Fontenelle Forest about an hour before our TreeRush reservation to get a little trail time in. I really wanted to check out Fontenelle’s new nature backpack (I’ll be writing about that soon!).
One hour at Fontenelle wasn’t enough time, though.
Next time, I won’t try to do both in one outing. The forest and ropes course are both worthy of an individual trip.
Tip: If you only have a limited number of days in Omaha, and want to do both, I’d allow one to two hours for a hike. You’ll be sore the next day because that’s a lot of activity.
We’re almost halfway through 2020 and what a year it has been! Here’s a roundup of the year’s most popular posts. The takeaway from this post: Readers love Omaha restaurants and they love daydreaming of bucket list type trips!
Top Posts Of 2020
Here are the most-visited posts on Oh My! Omaha in 2020.
There’s a 26-acre ranch that has long been Omaha’s best-kept secret. Scatter Joy Acres is a working farm and petting zoo tucked among trees in the middle of Omaha. I’ve only recently “discovered” it, but it turns out, many of my friends have already known about it and loved it.
What is Scatter Joy Acres
Joy Bartling started Scatter Joy Acres in 2005/2006 as a rescue for abused and neglected animals. Its original name was Soby Ranch Ministries. It grew and relocated to its current location in north Omaha.
Scatter Joy Acres is now a working ranch with more than 100 animals including pigs, horses, goats, alpacas, peafowl, cows, emu, sheep, and a pretty interesting camel. Animals are kept in pins that visitors are allowed to let themselves into (except for a few areas that are well-marked).
While you’ll encounter most of those animals at the petting zoo, some are involved in therapy sessions for developmentally-disabled, seniors, at-risk children, and veterans.
We talked with a volunteer at the farm who introduced us to the porcupine who is often used in teaching kids. The porcupine looked pretty intimidating, but it turns out, she’s rather friendly. She might even crawl into your lap!
I didn’t cuddle a porcupine during our visit, alas. But she did eat a turnip out of my hand, so that was a win.
Why go to Scatter Joy Acres?
The last few months have been stressful for everyone, so the idea of visiting a farm, with its wide open spaces and cute baby animals, really really appealed to me. It turned out, it was the prescription my whole family needed.
We finally felt at ease. There was room to roam. There were animals to pet.
I can think of many reasons to go to Scatter Joy on top of just needing a break from pandemic hysteria:
It’s educational. Think of it as a field trip.
It’s therapeutic. Just try not to smile back when a camel grins at you.
It’s supporting a good cause. Many of these animals are rescue animals that get a new life now as therapy animals.
Is there food available at the farm?
The main reason my family left before we felt totally ready to leave was that we were hungry (OK, the main reason was they were closing for the day and ready to kick us out, but the second reason was that we were hungry).
This place is more farm than attraction, so you won’t find a snack shack or concession stand. There is a vending machine.
We were pretty thirsty by the end of our visit and the water fountain wasn’t working, so I’d suggest bringing a bottle of water or being prepared to buy one.
The farm during COVID-19
Here’s is Scatter Joy’s statement in regards to the pandemic:
“Scatter Joy Acres is proactively working to protect the health of our guests and our animals. We remain open and events are continuing as scheduled. SJA will modify our response to the situation as needed. Our plan regarding Coronavirus includes closely monitoring national, state, and local health authorities for recommendations regarding safe operations.
“SJA will follow the recommendations regarding safety and precautionary measures issued by the CDC, Douglas County Health Department, Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services. All volunteers have been asked to help prevent the spread of disease by taking steps to reduce the transmission of infectious disease in the workplace.
“The best strategy remains common sense; frequent hand washing with warm, soapy water for a minimum of 30 seconds; covering your mouth whenever you sneeze or cough; and discarding used tissues in wastebaskets.
“SJA has always provided hand sanitizer for volunteers and guests and will continue that practice.”
“SJA volunteers are asked not report to work while they are ill.
“Guests are asked not to come while they are ill.”
Volunteers do not wear masks at Scatter Joy, so if that concerns you, it would be best to wait to visit.
The acreage is spacious so it’s pretty easy to practice social-distancing, as long as you are patient entering and leaving a pen. A few spaces are narrow, especially in the barn near the rabbits, so it’s harder to practice social distancing if someone is already in that space.
Just have patience.
Hours and admission
For the general public, you’ll want to keep tabs on tithe petting zoo hours. For the spring and summer (March 1 to Aug. 31), the hours are Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m.
Tip: Spring is a good time to visit because of all the baby animals. When we were there, we saw baby emu and puppies.
The fall petting zoo hours (Sept. 1 to Oct. 31) are Tuesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday from noon to 3 p.m.
Winter Hours (Nov. 1 to Feb. 28 or 29) and Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
We went on a Sunday and had no problem seeing all of the animals in about two hours. Of course, we could’ve spent more time there, so I’d recommend planning to spend three or four hours there.
We left only because we were hungry and had missed lunch…and well, they were trying to close.
Admission is $7 per person on weekdays and $10 per person on the weekend. Children younger than 2 are admitted FREE.
Where is Scatter Joy?
Interestingly enough, I lived fairly near Scatter Joy Acres for years without knowing it. I moved this spring and only after I moved further away from it did I finally visit. You don’t have to be like me.
Address: 4966 Newport Ave., Omaha
There’s plenty of parking, though I imagine once the secret gets out, that might not always be the case.
Where to find more animals in Nebraska
Can’t get enough of animals with a single visit to a farm? Here are more places to find animals throughout Nebraska:
Omaha – Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. While there isn’t a petting zoo per se, there are places with animal encounters, including goats at the Children’s Adventure Trails, sting rays at Sting Ray Bay, and starfish and other sea creatures at the aquarium.
Ashland – The Nebraska Wildlife Safari is primarily a drive-through safari, but there is a chance to stop and visit a petting zoo with goats and chickens (though, it is temporarily closed due to COVID-19).
Lincoln – Lincoln Children’s Zoo has many opportunities to see animals up-close. This zoo is made with kids in mind.