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Heron Haven Guide: Omaha’s Wetland Sanctuary

Heron Haven isn’t really a hidden area in Omaha, unless you count the nature reserve as being hidden in plain sight. Located at 11809 Old Maple Road, Heron Haven is in the heart of Omaha, Nebraska, and yet many residents have never heard of it. Read on to find out why you may want to plan a visit soon.

A forested trail at Heron Haven in Omaha

What makes Heron Haven nature reserve so special?

I wrote about Heron Haven years ago after my first awe-filled visit. As you might have guessed by the name, herons and other birds are a big draw to this place. My kids were little on our first visit though, so we spent more time looking for snails and toads than bird watching.

A child uses a stick to poke at a snail

Truth be told, there was no bird watching to be done that visit. They were toddlers.


Heron Haven is special for other reasons, though. It’s considered an urban sanctuary and that’s pretty accurate. You’ll hear a steady hum from Maple Street traffic, but you start to tune it out the longer you walk around.

Inside Heron Haven you’ll find one of the last riparian oxbow wetlands of the Big PapioCreek within Omaha’s city limits. That’s to say, it’s a curving wetland next to streams and lakes.

It’s free to visit this spring-fed wetland, and you can explore it along trails that show off the natural beauty of Omaha you don’t typically get to encounter in the middle of this city. They aren’t very long trails, sure, but if you’ve got kids in tow, they’re just the right length. It’s one of my favorite kid-friendly trails in Omaha.

The 17-acre property is managed by Papio-Missouri Natural Resources District.

Trails at the wetland sanctuary

There are a few trails at Heron Haven. The Main Trail is just a quarter-mile long that heads east of the Nature Center, and from there, you can head south on the Boardwalk Trail or continue East along the Photo Blind Trail. Most trails are accessible for wheelchairs and strollers, except for Upland Trail.

A child walks up to a bird blind at Heron Haven on Old Maple Road in Omaha

The Photo Blind Trail is aptly named, since you’ll find two along the way. The first faces the Oxbow Wetland, and the second, the Al Werthman Photo Blind, is an enclosure with benches. I’ve had the best luck at that spot for bird watching.

Nearby is the short Upland Trail. If there’s been any sort of precipitation, that particular trail can get muddy. It is not handicap accessible.

Bird-watching & a closer look at the wildlife at Heron Haven

For the bird watchers and photographers visiting Heron Haven, you can hope to find Kingfishers, Green Herons, Great Blue Herons, wood ducks, Canada geese, and hummingbirds at different times of the year. Peak migration times in the spring — perhaps around March — would be a good time to visit.

Heron Haven Spring Boardwalk

You’ll also find painted turtles and butterflies, the latter are especially drawn to the butterfly garden near the entrance to Heron Haven. There’s a gate to enter the garden, but it’s easy to access. I particularly like visiting the butterfly garden in late spring/early summer.

Plants at Heron Haven

Nature lovers will encounter a diverse plant sanctuary at Heron Haven. There is a prairie meadow, Dragonfly Pond, as well as a boardwalk trail that leads Among the plants there are Blueflag Iris, Arrowheads, Cattail, Duckweed, Sedges, and Swamp Milkweed.

A snow-covered trail at Heron Haven

The prairie meadow is particularly fascinating if you want to see what native Nebraskan prairie grass looks like. There are more than a dozen plots in the meadow, each with a different species of prairie grass.

Educational programs to learn more about wildlife and flora & fauna

There are opportunities to learn more about the wetland and the plants and animals that are found there. Groups can schedule a program with a naturalist online at the sanctuary’s website. Or, families can attend nature programs held on the second Saturday of every month.

The Wetland Festival is one of the best times to visit. It’s held on the second Saturday in September, and features animal shows, activities, and other learning opportunities.

All educational programs are free.

Tips for visiting Heron Haven & the rules to know

Heron Haven is open from dawn to dusk, and there isn’t a whole lot you need to prepare for you visit. I’d recommend bringing bug spray, but other than that, you can have a pretty impromptu excursion at any time, any season.

Heron Have on a winter morning with iced over wetlands

There’s a picnic table at Heron Haven, but as noted below, there is not trash cans so be ready to carry leftovers with you.

There are a few key rules to know:

  • No pets allowed, even your best-trained dog needs to stay home.
  • No bikes, scooters, ATVs or other wheeled vehicles allowed. You can bring strollers, walkers and wheelchairs.
  • Don’t feed the wildlife.
  • Do not hunt or fish at Heron Haven.
  • Don’t pick flowers or remove any plants.
  • You won’t find a trash can at Heron Haven, so it’s “carry in and carry out.” Littering is not cool.

My best advice for a good experience at Heron Haven: Be quiet and practice stillness. You’ll spot more wildlife that way.

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