August 15, 2019

14 Great Places To Get Nebraska Donuts

Nebraska might not have an official donut trail like Ohio, but we have some excellent donut shops. I created this post to feature donut shops throughout Nebraska, in large cities and small towns. And, because I’m inspired by that Ohio donut trail, I created my own version of a Nebraska Donut Trail at the end of the post. Enjoy!

14 must-visit donut shops in Nebraska - Tour the state by visiting bakeries and trying what they're famous for! Donut shops are all locally-owned and found in large and small towns. #Nebraska #Doughnut #Guide

Why some Nebraska donut shops didn’t make the list

The criteria to be on this Nebraska list included A) the donut shops needed to be locally-owned shops and B) they needed to sell donuts, obviously. In some cases, the bakeries were more famous for other pastries (and I’ll point those out later), but still, donuts have to be available at the bakery in order to be included.

In cities that had more than one locally-owned donut shop, I used two methods to decide on which to include.

For Omaha, I went with my favorite since I have compared the options (and there are a lot of great options). I’m more of a traditional donut fan, so cake donuts without a lot of frills are my favorite, and thus, Olsen Bake Shop was picked over something like, say, Bob’s Donuts.

In Lincoln, I looked at various review sites plus this story about Lincoln donut shops. Since websites kept ranking a chain as the top donut shop, I selected the highest ranking locally-owned shop.

Side note: I nearly included all the Daylight Donuts that popped up in a few Nebraska towns. But, it’s a chain, and not even a Nebraska chain, so please don’t point out that the lone donut shop in your town was left off this list if it’s a Daylight Donuts. 

Where to find great donuts in Nebraska

Ready to explore the state one donut shop at a time? Here are some of the best places to find donuts in Nebraska! Whenever possible, I included fans’ feedback on the bakery.

So, if you are a fan and want to chime in about your favorite bakery, leave me a comment.

Bluffs Bakery

Where: 1520 Broadway, Scottsbluff

About: According to the Bluffs Bakery Facebook page, the Bluffs Bakery bakes its products from scratch and uses all fresh ingredients. “We make every item from scratch. We also try to buy as many local ingredients as we can. That includes Robinson Honey from the honey farm in Scottsbluff, NE.”

Bluffs Bakery is owned by Ron Ahlers, Sr., a master baker, and Chris Ahlers. The bakery’s Facebook page said Ron was one of the first 500 certified bakers in the United States. Two other bakeries on this list are connected with the Ahlers (Gering Bakery and Rolling Pin Bakery).

What readers say: Jessica H. said both Gering Bakery and Bluffs bakery both have cute cookies and an assortment of cakes and donuts but that Bluffs bakery has a larger assortment of cookies, bagels, and muffins, and so many donuts doughnuts. “Bluffs also had Italian sodas (not great) and other breakfast and lunch items.”

Delight Donuts

Where: 818 S. 13th St., Norfolk

About: To be honest, not much is out there about this bakery in Norfolk. From what I can see in photos, though, this donut shop sells giant donuts.

What readers say: According to Jill T. “I can’t be in Norfolk without stocking up on Delight donuts!!! Best donuts and most amazing owners! Definitely a Norfolk staple! Nothing beats seeing that pink box on the break room table.”

Gering Bakery

Where: 1446 10th St., Gering

About: Gering Bakery, along with Bluffs Bakery and Rolling Pin Bakery, is owned by Ron Ahlers, Sr., and Chris Ahlers.

What readers say: Amanda C. grew up in Gering and said “The Gering bakery has delicious donuts and cookies. They also make absolutely incredible cabbage burgers! 🤤 I miss that bakery!”

Katie M. puts it simply: “I love the Gering Bakery!”

Jessica H. said between Bluffs Bakery and Gering Bakery, she prefers Gering Bakery. “Gering Bakery and Bluffs bakery both have cute cookies and an assortment of cakes and doughnuts. Gering has a better and larger assortment of doughnuts and a little bit of bagels. Bluffs bakery has a larger assortment of cookies, bagels, and muffins, but not as large of an assortment of doughnuts. I like Gering’s cookies better.”

Jim And Connie’s Blair Bakery

Where: 132 S. 17th St., Blair

About: Located not too far from Omaha, Jim and Connie’s Blair Bakery has a lot of fans here. They sell more than donuts, including pfeffernusse at Christmas time.

What readers say: Jim R. has childhood memories at the Blair bakery and said they have the best glazed donuts. “I always recommend to friends and coworkers to stop by there and get a glazed donut when they are in the area.”

Susan L. and Annie R. is also fans of their glazed donuts. Annie mentioned something about being sure to get them when warm, because, yeah. “Jim and Connie’s Blair Bakery is the BEST. I drive from Omaha to get their glazed donuts.”

Kelli K. is a big fan, too. “Love love love Jim and Connie’s in Blair!!!! Get the donuts, long johns, bear claws, okay there isn’t any of their pastries that are not delicious. I’ve had co workers in Omaha offices specifically request jim and Connie’s donuts they are so good!! Get there early on Friday, though – it is Blair tradition the high school kids bring donuts to share in homeroom on Friday.”

And, the bakery’s donut holes gets a recommendation from Katie W. “Jim and Connie’s glazed donut holes are one in a million. My coworkers from Omaha request for me to stop quite often and they are never disappointed!”

Kimball Bakery

Where: 124 S. Chestnut St., Kimball

About: Not much is out there about this small town bakery, other than they have the most unique of offerings (I’ve seen the picture): A glazed donut man.

What readers say: Jessica H. said her visit was rather disappointing at Kimball Bakery, but she did let me know they had a cute glazed man.

Kimmel Orchard & Vineyard

Where: 5995 G Road, Nebraska City

About: Kimmel Orchard has been around since 1925. Being an orchard, the draw is all-things-apples. So, obviously, you get the apple donut.

The apple donuts are made fresh every Monday, Wednesday and Friday (seasonally).

What readers say: Maureen Q. said “Best donuts ever!! It’s been too long since I’ve had them.”

Olsen Bake Shop

Where: 1708 S. 10th St., Omaha

About: It’s easy to miss this donut shop just south of the Old Market – it’s a true hidden gem. Olsen donuts are fresh and no frills, just great tasting. It’s near the zoo and botanical gardens if you want a place to walk off the donut calories.

What readers say: “I only eat Olsens bakery donuts. Best in town,” said Jephrey M.

Dan H. agreed, saying “They’re the best I’ve ever had, period. Try other donuts when I’m out of town and nothing ever compares.”

Nebraska Doughnuts - Find some of the best in the state at Olsen Bake Shop in downtown Omaha.

Randy’s Donut Shop

Where: 201 Capitol Beach Blvd., suite 5, Lincoln

About: Randy’s competes with a popular regional chain with Nebraska’s only location (ahem, Hurts Donuts). However, from the reviews I’ve read online, Randy’s has a following.

According to the Lincoln Journal Star “Another family-owned local establishment, Randy’s lauds freshness, hand-made quality and cost as indicators of its success. Staff member Amanda Ryan said that Randy’s price of 85 cents for a doughnut is the lowest in town. Options include the ever-popular original glazed raised doughnut as well as other raised options and multiple cake doughnut choices.”

Rolling Pin Bakery

Where: 2044 10th Ave., Sidney

About: The Rolling Pin Bakery is the third of the Ahlers’ great bakeries in Nebraska. Learn more about their approach to baking in the Bluffs Bakery “About” section.

Am I missing a hidden gem of a donut shop in Nebraska? Leave a comment and let me know!

Rosie’s Deli & Rolls

Where: 1519 M St., Ord

About: Rosie’s is more than only a donut shop – it’s a full deli. A lot of fan reviews online point out that not only is the food great, it’s all reasonably priced.

Sehnert’s Bakery and Bieroc Cafe

Where: 312 Norris Ave., McCook

About: Sehnert’s has been around since 1957 and run by the same family. While this is the place to go to try the famous bieroc of Nebraska, it’s included on this list because they also have tasty donuts.

It’s worth pointing out that this is the lone Nebraska bakery that can say they have a James Beard America’s Classic Award, which they earned in January 2019.

What readers say: Want donut recommendations? Stacy W. has a few. “Sehnert’s is an institution in my hometown. Anytime people come back to town this is a must stop. For donuts the sundae donut and apple fritters are a big draw. My personal favorite item are the peanut butter brownies.”

Monica J. pretty much convinced me that I need to try one of everything off their menu. Here’s what she said about Sehnert’s: “The buttercream frosting is the BEST! I remember my mom ordering cakes from there ever since I was little ❤️ I’ve found no buttercream that compares. With that being said, the chocolate Sundae is freaking the best ever. Also- the cream horns are to die for. Every Holiday season they also make Stollen bread- ridiculous. I can’t even explain the goodness that happens in your mouth after eating a piece of warm Stollen from the oven. I’ve never had anything like it. You can just taste all of the homemade goodness.

Another item I’ve ordered since I was young is the Delaware Doughnut! It’s a cheese and sausage filled “doughnut”- no icing. 🤤🤤 And last- the bieroc (runza). I order dozens of these to take home. There’s just nothing like the homemade “bread” flavor. I personally LOVE the hamburger/cheese/sauerkraut. I can’t eat Runza’s runzas because I grew up on these and they’re that good.”

Nebraska Donuts - Sehnert's Bakery and Bieroc Cafe is in McCook, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Tor Olson – Olson Photography

Sunrise Bakery

Where: 419 Court St., Beatrice

About: This long-time bakery celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2017 – and it’s stayed in the family (current owner Clayton Replogle is the great-great-grandson of the original owner).

According to the Beatrice Daily Sun “The donuts, the bread, the cakes, the puddings and creams: everything but the fruit filling is made from scratch in the kitchen.”

What readers say: Samantha M. brought Sunrise Bakery to my attention. She said “My family loves their rolls and when we moved away whenever we visit our grandparents we stop in to get their buttered rolls and donuts!”

Amanda V. agreed, and said “Still trying to find a place in Omaha that even comes close to comparing!”

Verdigre Bakery

Where: 405 S. Main St., Verdigre

About: Verdigre, Neb., is billed as the kolache capital of the world. Soooo, here’s a bakery where you’re probably better off ordering what they’re famous for (kolaches).

But, this is a donut list, so fear not, Verdigre Bakery has donuts.

What readers say: I didn’t get a lot of reader responses about donuts here because – big surprise – kolaches kept coming up.

Beth L. said “We love the kolaches at the Verdigre Bakery!!”

While kolaches are their specialty, Andrea N. said she prefers to order the rohliky there (and if you’re curious, Andrea said the kolaches made by the Methodist church in town during Kolache Days are the best). “Rohliky is the thing at Verdigre’s bakery. I get that every time I go back. … Donuts are good there too! But I nearly always just get rohliky.”

LeAnna B. is another one who has a preference to kolaches made elsewhere (her in-laws’ recipe). She was disappointed with the kolaches there. “I had much higher hopes than what we ate from the bakery.”

Wahoo Bakery

Where: 544 N. Linden St., Wahoo

About: Like any great Nebraska bakery, Wahoo Bakery sells cakes, cookiesand rolls in addition to donuts (and of course, kolaches).

Check ahead of time to see what their donut of the month is. They’ll sell the specialty flavor on Saturdays.

Guide to the best (and locally-owned) donut shops in Nebraska! This post includes the Nebraska Donut Trail, with stops throughout the state, including the Panhandle and cities like Omaha and Nebraska. #doughnut #guide #Nebraska #USA

The Nebraska Donut Trail

Now that you’ve got a list of Nebraska donut shops, why not go visit them? Grab a map and loosen your belts, I created a donut trail for the state.

The Nebraska donut trail starts and finishes in Omaha. The round-trip nature of the trail allows for people to start at any point. The route I have mapped out is a little more than 1,200 miles.

Nebraska Donut Trail - 14 places to get fresh donuts in Nebraska

Here are your stops:

  1. Olsen Bake Shop, Omaha
  2. Kimmel Orchard & Vineyard, Nebraska City
  3. Sunrise Bakery, Beatrice
  4. Randy’s Donut Shop, Lincoln
  5. Wahoo Bakery, Wahoo
  6. Bluffs Bakery, Scottsbluffs
  7. Gering Bakery, Gering
  8. Kimball Bakery, Kimball
  9. Rolling Pin Bakery, Sidney
  10. Sehnert’s Bakery and Bieroc Cafe, McCook
  11. Rosie’s Deli & Rolls, Ord
  12. Verdigre Bakery, Verdigre
  13. Delight Donuts, Norfolk
  14. Jim And Connie’s Blair Bakery, Blair

Many bakeries on this list are known for something other than donuts. It’s forgivable if you show up at one of them and buy something else to eat instead of a donut. I won’t tell anyone.

Like this post?

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing family travel ideas, giveaways and more! Subscribe here.

August 9, 2019

101 Things To Do In Nebraska

Born and raised Nebraska girl here. I love my home state and want to encourage everyone to explore it. I’ve rounded up a huge list of things to do in Nebraska – a list for foodies, outdoor adventurers, fans of the weird, and animal lovers. Nebraska has something for everyone!

Did I miss something? Leave a comment and tell the world!

The ultimate list of things to do in Nebraska - 101 landmarks, restaurants, outdoor adventures, and unique experiences to have in Nebraska #guide #Nebraska #USA

Tanking

This is cattle country, so you’re going to find a few things on this list influenced by, well, cows. Like tanking.

Close to Omaha, you can tank down the Elkhorn River with the aptly named outfitter Tank Down The Elkhorn. Experience taking in the Sandhills with outfitters Sandhills River Trips, taking tankers down the Middle Loup and Dismal rivers. Dusty Trails will take folks tanking in North Platte.

Eat a bieroc

Runzas are essentially a bieroc, beef and sauerkraut-stuffed bun. One of the most famous places to get it in Nebraska is at Sehnert’s Bakery & Bieroc Cafe in McCook. The bakery is a James Beard Foundation 2019 American Classics Award Winner.

Try a Runza sandwich

Runzas are essentially a bieroc, just produced on a much larger scale and sold in a regional fast food chain restaurant. You’ll find locations of this fast food restaurant throughout Nebraska.

People who grow up and leave Nebraska often complain about the lack of Runzas elsewhere in the world. It’s sad. And true.

See bison up close (if you’re lucky)

Nebraska’s only drive-thru safari, Nebraska Wildlife Safari, includes a section through the Bison Plains. You’ll see a lot of North American animals during the 4-mile drive, actually.

Dine at a quirky restaurant

Nebraska is home to many quirky restaurants. Start with the some of the standouts like Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse & Lounge in Paxton, home to stuffed wild game on display; Around the Bend Steakhouse in Ashland, Neb., which is known for its annual Testicle Festival; and Alpine Inn in Omaha, where diners watch raccoons through large windows as they dine on discarded chicken bones.

Related post: 15+ Quirky Restaurants in Omaha

Ride a horse

Outdoor Nebraska activities - Horseback riding is popular at state parks including Platte River State Park in Louisville.

Several Nebraska state parks offer guided horseback rides, including Buffalo Bill State Historical Park in North Platte; Chadron State Park in Chadron; Eugene T. Mahoney State Park in Ashland; Fort Robinson State Park in Crawford; Indian Cave State Park in Shubert; Niobrara State Park in Niobrara; Platte River State Park in Louisville; and Ponca State Park in Ponca.

Trek an indoor rain forest

The largest indoor rain forest in the U.S. is found at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. It’s two levels, so don’t skip walking around the dirt path on the lower level – it’s the best part.

Little tip: There are free-flying bats and they starting being really active at around 4 p.m. and later.

Related post: Experts’ Tips For Visiting Omaha’s Zoo

Go on an off-road jeep tour

101 things to do in Nebraska - Take an off-road jeep tour at Fort Robinson State Park in western Nebraska.

Jeeps…it’s a bumpy ride, but you’ll love it. Try the off-road jeep tour at Fort Robinson State Park. The views can’t beat!

Attend a concert at a stunning concert hall

I always tell friends that if their favorite band or musician has a concert booked for the Holland Performing Arts Center, they MUST go. The state-of-the-art concert hall is acoustically like no other in the state. Plus, it’s just stunning to see.

Attend a cultural festival

Pick your mother land: Whether you descended from Irish, Czech, Greek, Swedish, Mexican or just wish you did, there’s a festival for you. Find about a dozen annual festivals that celebrate the heritage of our forefathers on this Nebraska Festivals post.

Observe working archeological dig sites

Visit Ashfalls Fossil Bed State Historical Park and watch paleontologists at work. Another spot you can watch an active dig is called Hudson-Meng Research and Education Center where there’s an excavation of a 10,000-year-old bison bone bed is on-going.

Find fossils of your own

Things to do in outdoors in Nebraska - Look for fossils at Schramm State Recreation Area

My kids are a bit more hands-on when it comes to dig sites, so simply watching others do the digging just doesn’t cut it for them. I get it. It’s more fun to get your hands dirty.

Head to Schramm State Recreation Area in Gretna, where there’s a small fossil dig site. You can’t bring actual digging tools or anything like that, but if you spend just a little time looking closely at the surfaces of rocks, you may luck out and find a fossil to keep.

Find the Typewriter Poet

Omaha’s Old Market is home to many types of buskers, typically the musical kind. But there’s also Britny Cordera Doane, AKA, the Typewriter Poet.

I haven’d had the luck of finding her, yet. If you do, she’ll tap out a poem in about 10 minutes for you.

Make music on the stairs

The stairwell at Omaha Children’s Museum is musical. You’d be surprised how many times the adults are more amused by the stairs than their children.

Broadways shows

Nebraska’s largest cities, Omaha and Lincoln, bring in Broadway touring productions each year. Catch them in the Orpheum Theater in Omaha and the Lied Performing Arts Center in Lincoln.

Go to an art museum

Museums of Nebraska - There are several art museums with free admission, including Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha.

One thing to love about Nebraska is that there are a lot of art museums that are free. Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha is large and has a lovely collection of Native American and Western Art (though I’m partial to the Impressionist gallery and my kids would tell you the Art Works play area and the fountain outside are the not-miss things).

Other museums include the Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney and Sheldon Museum of Art in Lincoln.

Venture into a cave

Nebraska isn’t known for its caves, but there are a few notable ones. There is the Happy Jack Peak and Chalk Mine in Scotia and Indian Cave State Park near Shubert.

A little piece of advice, Indian Cave sounds a lot cooler than it really is. Keep your “Goonies” idea of caves in check.

Hikes

As soon as you start seeking out trails in Nebraska, you’ll realize the state isn’t all that flat. Find unique terrain to hike in western Nebraska, including Chadron State Park and Toadstool Geological Park.

In eastern Nebraska, trails at Indian Cave State Park can be fairly difficult, too.

Try the state salad dressing

Dorothy Lynch is the salad dressing of my childhood. My grandparents had it on the dinner table at every Thanksgiving. The orange, sweet dressing originated in Nebraska. You’ll find it on the menu of many restaurants, particularly in more rural parts of the state.

Try unique ice cream flavors

Ice cream

I’m absolutely biased, but Omaha has the best ice cream in the state with several locations offering unique, rotating flavors. My picks? Coneflower Creamery and Ted and Wally’s.

Coneflower even makes its own waffle cones, so there’s the extra temptation. If you’re lucky, they’ll have sweet corn ice cream.

You’ll also find tasty and quirky flavors at Ivanna Cone in the fun Haymarket District in Lincoln.

Visit the state capitol building

The Nebraska state capitol building is located in downtown Lincoln. You can take a guided tour or look around yourself. There are impressive paintings and murals to see, plus you can go to the observation deck on the 14th floor the building.

Visit the Nebraska’s Fourth of July City

Seward is home to one of the biggest Independence Day celebrations in the state. Over a period of a few days, more than 40,000 people attend the festivities.

Nebraska celebrates big, so see even more Nebraska Fourth of July events here.

Old time-y photo opps

It’s not done going back in time? Go to Winston to explore the Boardwalk Back in Time, featuring replicas of early storefronts and school. Or head to Ogalalla to see Front Street, which looks like a Old West town from the 1800s.

See living history reenactments

101 things to do in Nebraska - Learn about Nebraska history by watching historical reenactments, like the ones that occur at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park in Fort Calhoun.
One of the first rooms you’ll likely enter when you first get there is the Colonel’s office.

I’m most familiar with Fort Atkinson State Historical Park in Fort Calhoun, where actors reenact life in the 1800s on the first weekend of the month six months out of the year.

Other places to see living history include Rock Creek Station Historical Park in Fairbury; Fort Kearny State Historical Park in Kearney; Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park in Burwell; and Homestead National Monument of America Education Center in Beatrice, which holds unique events including Homestead Days and Living History Extravaganza.

To see what life was like on a farm, head to York to see re-enactments at Wessels Living History Farm.

Visit a Nebraska winery

Grab yourself a Nebraska Wine Passport and start visiting one of more than two-dozen wineries in the state. Most wineries are in central and eastern Nebraska.

James Arthur Vineyards, is in Raymond and one of the larger wineries to visit. It’s a scenic place to visit.

Like music and a view with your wine? Look up the live music schedule at Soaring Wings Vineyard in Springfield.

Visit a brewery

Nebraska has at least 40 craft breweries scattered throughout the state. A few favorites of mine that I’ve tasted include beers from Infusion Brewing Co. in Omaha, Nebraska Brewery Co. in LaVista, and White Elm in Lincoln.

Glamp

Fun places to stay in Nebraska - Try glamping. Slattery Vintage Estates & Tasting Room in Nehawka has glamping tents.

Sure, you can camp throughout the state in gorgeous park settings, but few places offer glamping. Glamping (or glam camping) is offered at Slattery Vintage Estates & Tasting Room in Nehawka and Platte River State Park in Louisville.

Due to limited glamping tents, reservations at both locations fill up quickly, especially weekend dates.

Zipline & rope courses

Zipline courses and rope courses are a starting to pop up, particularly in eastern Nebraska. The first to open up was Go Ape Zip Line & Treetop Adventure at Mahoney State Park in Ashland.

Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue recently opened TreeRush Adventures, which includes seven ziplines, suspended platforms, and ropes courses to navigate.

Wall climb

There are no mountains to climb in Nebraska, so we turn to walls. Try your luck at wall climbing in Ashland at Mahoney State Park (find the walls in the Activity Center) or in Omaha at Approach.

See the Sandhill crane migration

Every year, more than 600,000 Sandhill cranes stop along the Platte River valley during the migration. The prime time to see them is between late February to early April.

Kearney is an excellent resource for finding public viewing spots. Also, look into going to Rowe Sanctuary to get an up-close experience.

Bike the Cowboy Trail

This 195-mile rails-to-trail takes cyclists from Norfolk in the east and westward to Valentine.

Stomp grapes

Things to do in the fall in Nebraska - Try a grape stomping competition at a winery like Soaring Wings Vineyard

Remember the wineries I mentioned above? Some have fall festivals, and some venture into “I Love Lucy” territory and have grape stomps.

One to try is at Soaring Wings Vineyard in Springfield. You race against other teams to stomp grapes.

I tried it. All I can say is: Beware of the bees.

Go to a waterpark

Want water slides, wave pools or a lazy river? We have that in Nebraska. Island Oasis in Grand Island has all three, as does Fun Plex in Omaha.

In Ashland, Mahoney State Park has a wave pool and water slides. In Columbus, Pawnee Plunge Water Park has water slides, a lazy river, and Nebraska’s only FlowRider (simulates surfing with real water).

Chuckwagon dinner

There are chuckwagon dinners in the summer at two Nebrasksa State Parks. In western Nebraska at Fort Robinson State Park, you can buy tickets to buffalo stew and steak cookouts.

At Niobrara State Park, their chuckwagon dinners include cowboy poets and storytellers as entertainment along with their buffalo cookouts.

Yoga outside of a yoga studio

Ready for a change of scenery for your next yoga session? Head to Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo to try yoga in the aquarium or go to Bellevue to try yoga at Fontenelle Forest.

In the spring/early summer, try a goat yoga session led by Prairie Arts Yoga Studio at Victory Hill Farm in Scottsbluff.

Canoe the Niobrara

Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Nebraska has the most miles of river than any other state, and my favorite water trail is Niobrara River. It’s a scenic, easy route to paddle or tube. On the weekends, it can get a little busy.

The thing to do is plan a stop at Smith Falls State Park, which is right along the river.

Visit Big Mac

Big Mac is the popular name for Lake McConaughy located in Ogallala. Featuring more than 100 miles of shoreline, it’s a popular weekend getaway for boaters, windsurfers and beach campers.

See the Kites and Castles

Speaking of Big Mac, each July the annual event Kites and Castles is held at the lake. The competition includes teams and solo builders.

See Nebraska’s iconic landmark

Chimney Rock National Historic Site is quite possibly the state’s most recognizable landmarks. The land around Chimney Rock hasn’t changed much since pioneers on the the Oregon, California and Mormon trails passed by it (though now there is a visitor’s center).

Find Chimney Rock in Morrill County in western Nebraska.

Visit Nebraska’s “Badlands”

Most interesting terrain in Nebraska - Head to Nebraska's Badlands, Toadstool Geologic Park.
Let’s play “Spot the trail” in this picture at Toadstool.

Toadstool Geologic Park (the Oglala National Grassland), has fascinating rock formations the look like another planet. It’s like a much smaller version of South Dakota’s Badlands. You can hike it in a short amount of time.

Attend a Native American powwow

The Winnebago Homecoming Powwow and Celebration is more than a 150-year tradition in Winnebago. It’s held in July and includes traditional songs, dancing and drumming.

I attended the Fort Omaha Intertribal Powwow, held in September at Metropolitan Community College’s Fort Omaha Campus in North Omaha. Various tribes from Nebraska and the region include Ponca, Omaha, Santee Sioux and Winnebago.

These powwows are open to the public. If you’ve never been to one, here’s a 10 things to know about attending a powwow.

Take an airboat ride

It’s not the Everglades, but you can take an airboat down the Platte River. Bryson’s Airboat Tours is based out of Fremont.

Nebraska State Fair

Whether you’re there for the Midway rides, live music, or the animals, the Nebraska State Fair fairgrounds in Grand Island are a lively place to be for about 10 days each summer.

I recommend checking out the Nebraska Games and Parks exhibit, and obviously, getting some sort of food on a stick.

Attend a College World Series game (or at least tailgate for one)

Photo courtesy Visit Omaha

The greatest show on dirt is the NCAA Men’s College World Series, held each June in Omaha at TD Ameritrade Park. It’s a spectacle in the ballpark and in the streets nearby.

Here’s the essential guide to College World Series, which is especially good for first-timers.

Scotts Bluff National Monument

Nebraska at its finest. That’s the area around Scott Bluff National Monument near Gering. The monument is a landmark many pioneers passed on their journeys along the Oregon, California and Mormon trails. If you’re lucky, you may even find old wagon ruts.

Catch a parade

Some of the most entertaining parades include the Cinco de Mayo parade in South Omaha the first Saturday in May and the AppleJack Festival parade in Nebraska City each September.

Attend a game at Memorial Stadium

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln Huskers football team has had sold-out games for years and years, each time making the population at Memorial Stadium as large as the state’s third largest city. Being in that sea of red is an experience like no other.

Attend a Husker volleyball game

One of the most impressive sports team in all of Nebraska is the UNL Women’s Volleyball team. They’ve won national championships and continue to dominate NCAA Div. I competitions.

Catch a home game at the Devaney Center in Lincoln.

Ride in a stagecoach

Head out west for this one. At Fort Robinson State Park, there are inexpensive stagecoach tours.

Watch a rodeo

Bucking broncos or trick ropes sound interesting to you? Catch a rodeo at NEBRASKALand Days in North Platte every June. Or, on a smaller scale, see one of the weekly rodeos held at Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford.

Burwell is known as the Outdoor Rodeo Capital of Nebraska, and holds Nebraska’s Big Rodeo each July.

Ride in a covered wagon

Up near Niobrara State Park, you’ll find Kreycik Elk & Buffalo Ranch where guests ride a covered wagon to see the wild animals (and sometimes, you can feed the them).

Cross a suspension bridge

Find a suspension bridge in Nebraska - There's one at Schramm State Recreation Area in Gretna

Find a small suspension bridge hidden in the forest at Schramm State Recreation Area in Gretna. The hike to it is just long enough hike to tire out little ones.

Stay overnight in a teepee

Platte River State Park in Louisville offers the unique experience in its Teepee Village. It’s fairly inexpensive, and just a notch above camping in a tent.

Related post: 10 Unique Places To Stay In Nebraska

Stay in a caboose

While it’s not as cozy as a cabin, the cabooses at Two Rivers State Recreation Area in Waterloo do have water and air conditioning. They sleep up to six people.

See Nebraska’s largest indoor Christmas tree

Every year, a ginormous REAL tree is placed inside The Durham Museum in downtown Omaha and decorated with ginormous ornaments and lights. It’s on display from Black Friday until early January.

For a real treat, attend the tree lighting ceremony held the Friday after Thanksgiving.

See Santa scuba dive with sharks

Unique Christmas tradition in Nebraska is the scuba diving Santa at Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium.

This is one of my favorite holiday traditions! Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo has scuba divers swim in the shark tank a few mornings each December. They’re dressed as Santa, elves, and other holiday characters.

It can get crowded in the tunnel to see the characters, so I recommend arriving early and securing a spot.

Stand under a waterfall

We don’t have many waterfalls, but we have some beauties. Head to Smith Falls State Park to dip your hand (or if you’re brave, your whole body) into the waterfall – it’s the state’s tallest waterfall.

It’s cold and pounds your body, so, yeah, perfect for a summer day.

Snake River Falls, the state’s biggest waterfall (by volume) is in the same county, and it’s worth the hike to see. However, you’re not permitted to actually wade near it.

Take a riverboat cruise

River City Star is an excursion boat offering public cruises along the Missouri River leaving from Omaha. These cruises range from an hour to 90 minutes, and some include food.

If you’re over 21, they also have themed party cruises.

Trek to Carhenge

Nebraska’s off homage to Stonehenge is the delightfully quirky Carhenge, located in Alliance. Exactly what it sounds like, there are old cars arranged to look like the original.

Admire classic cars

If you prefer your cars kept in pristine condition, visit one of Nebraska’s museums dedicated to automobiles. There’s Classic Car Collection in Kearney, Museum of American Speed in Lincoln and Chevyland USA in Elm Creek.

Conquer the inflatable floating obstacle course

Water fun in Nebraska - One of the popular summer activities to do is play on the inflatable floating obstacle course at Louisville State Recreation Area.

In a small(ish) state recreation area called Louisville SRA (in Louisville…go figure), you’ll find the state’s only floating inflatable obstacle course. It’s very popular and limited to the number of people per session.

Don’t just drop your kids off to do 90 minutes of slides, jumping and swimming. Do it with them! It’s a killer workout.

Hot air balloon festivals

The Old West Balloon Fest in Scotts Bluff County is a biggie, with about 90 balloons each year now that it incorporates the U.S. National Hot Air Balloon Championship. It’s held in August each year.

Like wine with your hot air balloons? In Elkhorn, there’s the annual Nebraska Wine & Balloon Festival (also in August).

Compete at the Testicle Festival

Eating competitions in Nebraska - Try competing in the Testicle Festival's competition held every June at Round The Bend Steakhouse in Ashland.
Photo courtesy Round the Bend STeakhouse

I mean, you could just go to Round The Bend Steakhouse and order an appetizer of fried testicles any old day, but where’s the fun in that?

Every June, the restaurant in Ashland holds the popular Testicle Festival. During said festival and there is an eating competition to see how many you can eat in a set time limit.

Good luck with that.

Join in the world’s largest chicken dance

Each July, Wayne is home to the Chicken Show. Over the course of a weekend, there is a general festival feel to things, but of course, there are a number of activities inspired by chickens. One you should participate in is the world’s largest chicken dance.

Of course, if you’re not a team player and would rather hog all the glory to yourself, they have competitions all weekend, too. I recommend doing the National Cluck-Off (there’s prize money to be had).

Look for Warren Buffett

Omaha’s most famous billionaire has been known to be spotted from time to time, often with celebrity friends. And come to think of it, often he’s spotted with ice cream. Most recently, he was with Bill Murray at Ted and Wally’s ice cream shop, and a few years ago, it was Paul McCartney at eCreamery.

Straddle the Nebraska-Iowa state line

The Bob, the popular name for the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge spanning the Missouri River, has the quintessential photo opp waiting to happen. The state line between Nebraska and Iowa is painted on bridge. Find it in Omaha.

It’s not a long walk to get to it, either, so you need not fear breaking (much) of a sweat to reach it.

Eat some steak

This is Nebraska, after all. The Blind Goose in Llewellyn is said to serve the best ribeye in the Panhandle of the state. Looking for hearty fare? I hear The Drifter Cookshack in Crawford is the place to go for it. Want steak a different way? Try the steak nachos at The Steel Grill in Gering.

Try bison

Why stop at steak? You can find Nebraska restaurants that serve bison, including Sandstone Grill in Burwell.

Pet an alpaca

You can get up close to alpacas at Alpacas of the Heartland in Fort Calhoun during National Alpaca Farm Day in September.

Visit Alpacas of the Heartland in Fort Calhoun on National Alpaca Farm Day (held in September) and get your chance to pet an alpaca. At Butterfield Alpaca Ranch near Republican City, you can request a tour. And in case you’re wondering, they celebrate National Alpaca Farm Day, too.

See the “Disneyland” of pumpkin patches

A visit to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch in Gretna is an all-day affair (or at least a half-day). Sprawling, you’ll need a map to find everything and to keep track of all the shows.

The great thing is most activities are included with admission. Add-ons include pony rides, chucking apples, and that bucket of chocolate chip cookies you know you’re going to buy.

Take a selfie with a woolly mammoth

OK, not a living mammoth, obviously. Find Wooly Mammoths in the Hall of Mammoths at Morrill Hall on campus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Officially, I believe the exhibit is called “Paleontology of Nebraska.”

This is also the best place in Nebraska to see fossils and impressive natural history displays.

Get a treat at an old-fashioned soda fountain

Springfield Drug and The Durham Museum are two I’m most familiar with since one’s in Omaha (Durham) and one’s nearby (in Springfield). Both are completely charming!

Head to Central Nebraska for the Atksinson soda fountain called R F Goeke Variety.

Peep petrified wood

What started as two brothers’ collection has grown to Petrified Wood Gallery in Ogallala. The collection contains ancient woods and fossils plus Native American artifacts.

Walk over Interstate 80…safely

The Archway in Kearney spans across Interstate 80, giving you a chance to not only learn about the history of the state, but to walk across the interstate (technically, over the interstate).

See all the trains

North Platte is home to the largest railroad yard in the world, Bailey Yard. Open 24 hours, seven days a week, about 14,000 rail cars are handled on the 17 receiving and 16 departure tracks.

See mini trains

If miniature trains are more of your speed, head to The Durham Museum in Omaha. On the lower level, find a fantastically large O-scale model train set.

Also in Omaha, the Model Train Garden at Lauritzen Gardens is a must-see for miniature train lovers. G-scale trains run through a gorgeous setting of naturally-constructed elements. Around the holidays, the trains are moved indoors and runs throughout the poinsettia display.

Drink in a speak-easy

Why go through a regular doorway to get to a bar when you can enter through a secret passageway behind a bookshelf? Omaha’s speak-easy is called The Wicked Rabbit and Lincoln has one, as well, called The Other Room.

See a church built from baled straw

The appropriately named Strawbale Church was in Arthur was built in 1928 out of baled straw. Eventually, it was plastered inside and out and still stands today. I think it goes without saying that this thing is one of a kind in the U.S.

Visit to small’s courthouse ever built in U.S.

Guess what? Arthur is also home to the smallest courthouse. Not bad for a town with population a little more than 100 people.

See Boys Town

The National Historic Landmark Boys Town was started by Father Flanagan in 1921 for a few orphaned boys near Omaha. Today, you can visit the campus near Omaha, making stops at the Hall of History, Flanagan’s home and the Visitor’s Center, which happens to have the world’s largest ball of stamps.

Catch a AAA baseball game

No, we don’t have a pro team, but we do have the Minor League Baseball team the Omaha Storm Chasers. The activities and promotions surrounding the game are almost more fun than watching it.

If you bring kids along with you, be sure to check out the Family Fun Zone. And be sure to read these Storm Chasers fans’ tips before you go.

Be in chocolate heaven

One of the state’s most well-known candy makers is called Bakers Candies, located in Greenwood. Want someplace with a lot of options? Want a variety? There’s The Chocolate Bar in Grand Island. How about artisanal? In Omaha, I’m partial to the works of (chocolate) art at Choclat Abeille and in Lincoln, try Lulubee Chocolates.

See pro soccer

OK, the pro team isn’t up and running in Nebraska yet, but it will be! Omaha announced its own USL team in 2019, and it’s looking like they’ll play a league game some time in 2020.

Feed a giraffe

Why not, right? The state’s two largest zoos, Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Lincoln Children’s Zoo, offer this add-on experience.

Be a ninja

Active things to do indoors in Nebraska - Try a ninja course in Omaha

You’ve seen “American Ninja” and thought, I could do that. Haven’t you?

See how you do on a ninja course. In Omaha, you’ll find a tough one at Urban Air Trampoline and Adventure Park. I tried this course and it made me re-evaluate my sense of strength.

In Lincoln, a miniature ninja course recently opened at the Lincoln Children’s Museum. Obviously, it’s geared toward a younger age set.

Eat where Reubens were invented

The state is pretty adamant that the Reuben sandwich was invented din Omaha. The city even has a Reuben Festival.

If you miss the festival, no biggie. You can always go to the neighborhood where it originated (The Blackstone) and order the class at Crescent Moon.

Find a sanctuary

The Holy Family Shrine isn’t a church, though this little chapel overlooking Interstate 80 has a sacred feel to it. Visit for a little peace or if you’re a religious person, attend mass.

Religious or not, this building is just a marvel to see up close.

See the “floating cars”

If you happen to be in Grand Island, head down Fourth Street to look for G.I. Body Shop. The display of vehicles held high in the air is totally worth the side trip.

Go on a barn quilt tour

It’s the Midwest after all. Head to Dawson County to seek out these unique barn quilts. The scenic drive is off Interstate 80 and Highway 30. Get a map at CozadChamber.com.

See the national monument to Homesteaders

Homesteaders were the folks from around the world who sought the free land provided by the Homestead Act signed in 1862. In Beatrice, you’ll find Homestead National Monument of America. It’s at the site of Daniel Freeman’s property, who was thought to be the first homesteader to request a claim.

Swing on World’s Largest Porch Swing

I’ve been to Hebron to see this swing, and it’s ridiculously large. It seats more than 20 adults! Find it in the city park.

Learn about Nebraska authors

Nebraska is home to several notable authors. Find Willa Cather’s childhood home in Red Cloud. Learn about Mari Sandoz at the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center in Chadron (located on the Chadron State College campus).

Watch an Old West shoot-out

The Crystal Palace Revue in Ogallala is a summer-time western theater production with songs and dance…and a nightly shoot-out.

Go on a junk hunt

Consider Junk Jaunt the largest neighborhood garage sale ever. For one weekend each September, people travel around more than 500 miles to find hundreds of garage sales along Loup River and Sandhills Journey scenic byways. In recent years, there have been between 300 and 400 vendors, or garage sales to peruse.

“Junk” is loosely used here. You’ll find antiques, collectibles and knick knacks.

Climb into a cockpit

Places to visit in Nebraska - Strategic  Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland

Not all the planes will be open for you to climb into at Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum in Ashland, but there are enough to satisfy your dream to reenact “Top Gun.”

Plus, if you really want to feel like you’re flying, the museum has a flyer simulator ride (for an additional fee).

Visit the Klown Doll Museum

More than 4,700 clown dolls are on display at the Klown Doll Museum in Plainview. It’s not for everyone.

Watch turtles race

Head to the Sandhills of Nebraska for this annual event held in August. The Starving Stallion Saloon hosts the Sandhills Turtle Races in Ericson.

See a sod house

Many pioneers in Nebraska built their homes out of sod, since trees weren’t abundant in this part of the country. You can see one still-standing sod house in Comstock – the Dowse Sod House.

Comstock was once considered the Sod House Capital of the World, FYI.

Shop at the best roadside shop

It’s a guilty pleasure of mine to stop at Fort Cody Trading Post in North Platte. It’s kitschy, sure, but you can find great souvenirs (especially for kids). Plus, you’ve got to see the miniature Buffalo Bill Wild West Show.

See a show at the largest community theater in the U.S.

Omaha Community Playhouse is, indeed, the nation’s largest community theater. With performances on two stages – ranging from musicals to dramas – there’s usually something for every taste each season.

The long-running “A Christmas Carol” is presented annually at the theater, and it’s one show you should see at least once there.

Huge list of things to do, places to see and unforgettable experiences in Nebraska! #Guide #Nebraska #USA #USAtravel

Nebraska road trip ideas

The list above is just the beginning. Visit my Nebraska Pinterest board full of road trip ideas, city itineraries and outdoor destinations in the state.

Like this post?

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing family travel ideas, giveaways and more! Subscribe here.

July 23, 2019

25+ Nebraska Festivals and Events Worth The Road Trip

How does one even begin to list all the unique annual festivals and events in Nebraska? Well, you can’t. Nebraska has a ton of festivals. So, I created this post to include the best festivals that I think are worth the drive or are so quirky, you have to go to it at least once.

Unique and quirky, ethnic festivals and rodeos, here are 25+ Nebraska festivals. Some of the more unique annual events include the Wayne Chicken Show, Half-Way To St. Patrick's Day and NEBRASKAland Days, as well as many foodie festivals. Events on this list are in all seasons, so there's always something to see and things do in Nebraska.

This post is divided into sections to help you narrow down your list. First, I included the biggies, the festivals that are incredibly popular that I think should be on your radar. Then, I’ve got categories for quirky Nebraska festivals, ethnic festivals and other random themes I came up with.

Finally, at the end of the post, I wrote about which part of Nebraska all these festivals are, in case you’re not sure where some towns are located on a map.

If you think there’s a Nebraska festival that should be on this list, leave me a comment or send me an email!

5 Nebraska festivals you should go to at least once

Must-see Nebraska festivals - Railroad Days is held each year in July in Omaha and in nearby Council Bluffs

AppleJack Festival – Every September, 60,000 to 80,000 people flock to Nebraska City for a weekend of, well, apples. Think apple cider donuts, candy apples, apple pie…you get the idea. The AppleJack Festival also a craft fair, parade, carnival. and more.

MAHA Music FestivalMAHA Music Festival is Omaha’s largest multi-day music festival. Some of the biggest names currently touring play on the MAHA stages each August.

NE SciFest – For most of April each year, locations around Nebraska hold special events as part of Nebraska Science Festival. Some of geared toward kids, like Lil’ Scientist Day, some are for adults (usually involving chemistry and booze), but overall, most events are for the entire family.

NEBRASKAland DaysNEBRASKAland Days is part music festival, part rodeo. Held each June in North Platte, the weekend is packed with the usual fair events like a parade, as well as big name music acts and the Buffalo Bill Rodeo.

Railroad DaysRailroad Days celebrates the Omaha metro’s connection to the railroad (Ground Zero started across the river in Council Bluffs, Iowa). Several cultural venues and museums plan activities to celebrate, including music, mini train rides and the chance to tour each location and get up close to trains. I update the events each year on the blog.

Quirky Nebraska festivals and annual events

Quirky Nebraska Festivals - Kool-Aid Days is held each August in Hastings, Nebraska
Photo courtesy of Kool-Aid Days

Avoca Duck Races – On the last Saturday in January, the town of Avoca holds the annual Avoca Duck Races as a fundraiser for the volunteer fire department. Being January in Nebraska, the race is on ice. That’s right, real ducks race across ice.

Wayne Chicken Show – The Wayne Chicken Show is held on the second weekend of July in Wayne, Neb. The theme is always chickens, and from that, all things are planned (with a lot of humor). There’s an unusual egg judging contest, the world’s largest chicken dance, and the Wayne Chicken Show National Cluck-Off…to name just a few things planned. It’s an entire weekend of festivities.

Kool-Aid Days – Since Kool-Aid was invented in Nebraska, it makes sense that we’d celebrate it each year. Kool-Aid Days is held the second full weekend of August each year in Hastings, Neb., and it features an assortment of fun events and games like a Kool-Aid drinking contest, rides, and the world’s largest Kool-Aid stand.

Nebraska Prairie Chicken Festival – Male prairie chickens are known to do a pretty interesting dance to attract a mate. So, obviously, there needs to be a weekend dedicated to it. The festival takes place every April in Burwell, and as you can imagine, involves quite a bit of bird-watching.

Testicle Festival – Held every Father’s Day weekend at the Ashland restaurant, Around The Bend, the Testicle Festival is a big event. Featuring live music and a beer garden like any decent festival, with the real draw being a chance to try fried bull testicles. For the daring, you can take part in the ball eating contest.

Experience the world at Nebraska ethnic festivals

Ethnic festivals in Nebraska include the annual Cinco de Mayo celebration in South Omaha.
Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

†††Wilbur has a festival called Czech Days in August. It’s self-proclaimed the Czech Capital of the U.S.A. Another “capital” is the Danish Capital of Nebraska, Dennebrog, where they celebrate the town’s heritage one weekend in June during Grundlovsfest.

For a taste of Germany, Henderson is home to the German Smorgasbord every March. GermanFest is held in Syracuse in July. Okotoberfest is big in Omaha, and you can find celebrations at Crescent Moon and the German-American Society. Find other Oktoberfest celebrations in Norfolk.

For more than 90 years, Bridgeport has held an annual Greek Festival every August. In Omaha, St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church puts on a Greek festival for three days every August.

There are a lot of Irish in Nebraska, so you can bet there are big Irish celebrations. What can you expect from the Irish Capital of Nebraska, O’Neill? O’Neill has a huge St. Patrick’s Day festival with the claim to fame of having the world’s largest shamrock and their own 13,410-pound O’Neill Blarney Stone. Nearby Greeley, also celebrates St. Patrick’s Day…six months in advance. The town has the Half-Way to St. Patrick’s Day Festival every September and it’s so popular, the population nearly quadruples for the day.

There’s just one festival to keep in mind if you want to experience Mexico: South Omaha’s Cinco de Mayo festival. This huge event the first weekend in May is popular and includes a very popular parade and carnival.

Nebraska has its fair share of Swedish descendants. Enjoy the Swedish Midsommar Festival in Strombsburg, Swedish Days in Holdrege or the Scandinavian Midsummer Festival in Omaha. June is the time for these Swedish festivals.

Two towns have festivals celebrating the Czech and Slovak dessert, kolache or kolach. There’s the Kolache Shoot-Out in Elba every February and the Kolach Days each June in Verdigre.

There’s a unique festival celebrating Sister Cities, rather than a single country. Each year on two Sundays in August, families can visit Omaha’s Sister Cities from Ireland, Mexico, Lithuania, Japan, China and Germany. The WorldFest is held at Omaha Children’s Museum.

Top festivals in Omaha

Top festivals in Omaha - Every June, the Omaha Summer Arts Festival is held in downtown Omaha. The Children's Fair at the festival includes the opportunity for kids to buy art.

Holiday Lights Festival – Christmas lasts six weeks in Omaha. The Holiday Lights Festival kicks off on Thanksgiving night with a tree lighting ceremony in downtown Omaha and a free concert at the Holland Performing Arts Center. Then events and activities are held around downtown Omaha, including outdoor ice skating, a free family festival on the first weekend of December and fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

Note: Due to construction in downtown Omaha, the tree lighting will be held in the Old Market in 2019.

Omaha Summer Arts Festival – It’s not summer without this arts festival. Held during a weekend in June in downtown Omaha, the Omaha Summer Arts Festival includes juried art displays, live music, a children’s fair, and plenty of food options.

Omaha Restaurant Week – Every September, Omaha’s best restaurants participate in Omaha Restaurant Week. Restaurants offer a pre fixe menu making it very affordable to try some of the best in the Omaha food scene. As a bonus, a portion of Omaha Restaurant Week proceeds will go to Food Bank for the Heartland.

O Comic Con – Celebrate pop culture and comics with fellow fans at O Comic Con. Enjoy meet and greets, demonstrations, children’s activities, and more during this two-day event. Originally, the annual event in June was held in Omaha but now it’s just across the river in Council Bluffs (but it still counts as an Omaha festival, right?).

Omaha Film Festival – Since 2005, Omaha has had its own film festival. It’s grown so much, Omaha Film Festival been named one of MovieMaker Magazine’s 2019 “50 Film Festivals Worth the Entry Fee.” The festival is held every March.

Taste of Omaha – A festival celebrating the food scene in Omaha, Taste of Omaha is a June outdoor event with vendors, live music, and demonstrations. It’s not unusual for it to take on a carnival atmosphere, as there are typically some rides, as well.

Explore Nebraska one festival at a time - From the Chicken Show and Kool-Aid Days to Avoca Duck Races, Nebraska has a variety of festivals and annual events for families and those seeking the quirkier side of the state. #Nebraska #festival #guide

Like this post?

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing family travel ideas, giveaways and more! Subscribe here.

July 17, 2019

5 Things To Help You Pick Where To Stay In Okoboji

If you’re planning a trip to Okoboji, Iowa, you’re most likely in need of a hotel or other type of accommodations for your family. Okoboji is not a one-day kind of region to visit. We spent three days exploring the area and still didn’t get to a few places on our list. This guide should help you narrow down where you’ll want to stay during your trip to Okoboji!

Disclosure: We were hosted by Vacation Okoboji, which provided some complimentary experiences and hotel stays. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

With several lakes and towns making up the Lake Okoboji region, it's hard to figure out where to stay in Okoboji. Here's a guide to help you figure out the best hotel, resort or other lodging option for your family. #Iowa. #Guide #LakeOkoboji #FamilyTravel.

Where do you want to stay in Okoboji – near the action or away from it?

When I write about Okoboji, I’m referring to a region of Iowa’s Great Lakes, and not just the town of Okoboji. With several lakes (West Okoboji, East Okoboji, Upper Gar, Lower Gar, Minnewashta and Spirit Lake), you can easily find a location that suits your preference of being near the action or away from it.

A lot of restaurants and attractions my family visited during our weekend in Okoboji were near Arnolds Park and Okoboji. I would recommend looking for lodging near those two cities if you want to be near shops, Arnolds Park Amusement Park, beaches, and a ton of restaurants.

The downside to being in Arnolds Park and Okoboji is that you will encounter significantly more traffic and noise.

If that’s not what you’re looking for, consider staying further from the center of activity on the western side of the lakes, like Wahpeton or West Okoboji.

Where to stay in Okoboji - There are a variety of lakefront hotels throughout the region,  including Crescent Beach Family Resort.

Our resort, Crescent Beach Family Resort, was in Milford (near Wahpeton), which was a quiet region that was still less than 10 miles from all attractions. It’s near Gulf Point State Park.

The downside to Crescent Beach’s location was there weren’t a lot of dining options nearby for a quick bite to eat. The upside (if you’re into doing so while on vacation) was that our suite had its own kitchen to prepare meals.

Is lakeside lodging important to you?

Of course the lakes are a big for vacationers in Okoboji! You’ll find more than 20 hotels, campsites and resorts that are lakeside.

If you are on a budget, look “inland” for accommodations. The perk with these inland hotels will be that you’re more likely to find a pool there, which for traveling families, is almost a required amenity.

Paddlers paddling near lakeside hotels and vacation homes in the Iowa Great Lakes Region of Okoboji.

There are also cabins, bed & breakfasts, and camping options.

What amenities do you want in your Okoboji hotel?

While typically when traveling with two kids, I just need a place with enough beds and a pool. In Okoboji, the pool was not necessary since we had beaches at our disposal.

What are you looking for in a beach vacation hotel? Okoboji accommodations range from bare minimum motels to spacious resorts that include use of watercraft into their price.

The two-floor, lakeside suite at Crescent Beach Family Resort is one style of lodging option found in Okoboji, Iowa.

Crescent Beach Family Resort is a mid-range resort that offered regular rooms and suites. We stayed in a two-floor suite with lake views, a kitchen, and two bathrooms. It’s ideal for families.

Beyond the amenities in the room, the resort offered free use of kayaks, SUP boards, paddle boats and putters for its mini golf course.

Plus, it had a large playground, fire put, on-site bar and restaurant, and a complimentary continental breakfast.

If that type of resort appeals to you, check out the options for the region at Vacation Okoboji. You’ll find there’s everything from a resort with an indoor waterpark, plus lakeside resorts with pools, hot tubs, and some in-suite jacuzzis.

Are you looking for a kid-friendly resort or hotel?

Okoboji is an incredibly kid-friendly destination. Most Okoboji hotels will be suitable for families, and some have suites available.

At the Crescent Beach Family Resort, you’ll notice right away that they cater to families – the big playground gives it away.

Crescent Beach Family Resort in Milford, Iowa has a large playground and faces West Lake Okoboji.

However, it’s the more subtle amenities that reaffirms its family-friendly atmosphere. They provide kid-sized life jackets when guests check out a watercraft.

Crescent Beach also has a big box of beach toys on the sandy beach. Since I didn’t pack buckets or shovels for the kids for our trip, it was a particularly great find for us.

My daughter spent every chance she had on the beach, digging through the sand and wading into the cool water (it was late May and the water hadn’t warmed much).

If you’re looking for a kid-free getaway, consider staying at a bed & breakfast, which typically cater more to couples and adults looking to stay somewhere quieter.

Do you need an Okoboji rental or hotel large enough for a group?

I think Okoboji would be a great family reunion destination – it’s affordable, it has both indoor and outdoor activities, and it’s in the center of the U.S.

Many resorts are large enough to have rooms or suites for families.

There was a family reunion staying at the Crescent Beach, while we were there. The family had rooms at this resort and met nightly on grassy lawn for a cookout and games.

Crescent Beach Family Resort is an Okoboji resort that can accommodate a large group gathering, including a family reunion.

Crescent Beach does have larger suites and cottages, including one that sleeps 12. You can see in the picture above that the cottage is in the background.

Do your research to find accommodations that suit your group’s needs. If you like the idea of everyone staying in one big home, there are Airbnb options that accommodate 20-30 people.

Start looking for Okoboji hotels

Hopefully, you have an idea of what you’re looking for now and are ready to start planning your trip to Lake Okoboji! Here’s where to find the best lodging for you:

Okoboji Hotels, Motels & Resorts

Lakefront Lodging Options

Cottages & Cabins

Bed & Breakfasts

Campgrounds

Lake Okoboji is a popular destination in Iowa for summer vacation consisting of several lakes and towns. Here's how to find a hotel that's best for you - from determining if you want to be near all the attractions, do you want lake views, and if you need a hotel that's kid-friendly. #Iowa #FamilyTravel #VacationOkoboji

Plan your Lake Okoboji trip

Want to plan an Okoboji trip for your family? Start with this guide to Okoboji in the summer (with kids) and get more inspiration from my Iowa Bucket List.

Once you’re thoroughly inspired, check out these posts that go into more details about things to do in Okoboji:

Best Okoboji Restaurants For Families

Everything You Need To Know About Arnolds Park

The view from Crescent Beach Family Resort facing West Okoboji Lake in north Iowa.

Like this post?

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing family travel ideas, giveaways and more! Subscribe here.

July 1, 2019

15+ Things To Do In Southwest Iowa With Kids

Southwest Iowa is full of day trip adventures for families in the Omaha metro. One county that’s has a lot to offer is Pottawattamie County, which includes cities like Council Bluffs, Walnut and Crescent. Here’s a list of attractions, activities and other fun things to do with kids in Pottawattamie County.

Related post: Did you know Pottawattamie County is the Trail Capital of Iowa? Read about 14 trails you can find there!

Water activities in Pottawattamie County

If your kids are like mine, it’s always best if it involves water. Walnut is home to a cool splash pad that is up and running.

If you guys are pool purists, the Oakland Pool is big, with a short diving board and plenty of room for friends. If you are more about zero-depth and water slides, check out the Splash Aquatic Center in Avoca, complete with a dog park next door for your furry friends.

Pools in Pottawattamie County in southwest Iowa - The Oakland Pool has a diving board and spray ground play area.

Related post: Family-Friendly Outdoor Activities Near Council Bluffs

Indoor things to do in southwest Iowa

If you’re looking for rainy day activities or your children are more the indoor history-buff type, do the Highway 59 museum tour.

Indoor things to do in Pottawattamie County - Learn about Iowa history with a stop at the Pioneer Trail Museum in Macedonia.

Head to Macedonia to visit the Stempel Bird Museum and the Pioneer Trail Museum, then on to Oakland to see the Nishna Heritage Museum. The Nishna Heritage Museum has dolls, tools, and clothing from the early 1900s – complete with a jail cell! 

From there, you can visit the Sweet Vale of Avoca Museum, which has a taxidermied bear in it. And if the sun is shining, be sure to check out the musical garden at the Avoca Public Library, it’s new and fun.

Special events in southwest Iowa

Pottawattamie County is also home to great summer events. Catch the Carson Rodeo Aug. 1-3. Thursday night during the rodeo is the kids’ night, including a chance to mutton-bust. (No worries, moms, they can just watch, too.) They also have a parade that Saturday of the rodeo.

Special events in Pottawattamie County Iowa - Parades are held each summer, including a Fourth of July parade in Oakland.

Speaking of parades, Avoca and Oakland both have Fourth of July parades with plenty of candy to last the whole summer. Underwood also has Fourth of July festivities with a downhome feel. 

Rural Pottawattamie takes fairs seriously. Swing through the East Pottawattamie County Fair from July 18-21 for plenty of animals to pet, a tractor pull to watch, and art in the park. 

WestFair kicks off July 24-29 in Council Bluffs with livestock shows and carnival rides for everyone!

Summer events in Pottawattamie County - There are two county fairs to attend in July, East Pottawattamie County Fair and WestFair.

Best free thing to do in Pottawattamie County

One of the most interesting, educational whole family activities I know of is geocaching. Pottawattamie County has a lot of spots including one outside Oakland, one in Carson, and one near Crescent. 

Get a little time in nature and feel the excitement of a treasure hunt with geocaching.

Best southwest Iowa parks

You can’t beat the parks in Pottawattamie County! Double check the one you want to visit is open, as a few are closed due to flooding in 2019. Here are a few you can visit:

– The Shelby Trail has historic architecture and ends at the world’s largest corn stalk. 

– Neola has brand-new playground equipment put in May 2019. Arrowhead Park has fishing and camping.

Best parks in southwest Iowa - Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa, has scenic trails and a tall lookout tower to view raptors and other migrating birds.

– The grand-daddy of them all parks in Pottawattamie County is Hitchcock Nature Center. It’s is worth the hike. The view is amazing and they have programming year-round.

Tip: Hitchcock Nature Center is part of the 99 Parks campaign in Iowa. Read all about it in this post.

Whatever you’re looking for, it’s only a short drive away in Pottawattamie County.

Passing through Iowa on Interstate 80 or planning a trip to southwest Iowa? Here are some kid-friendly and fun places to visit and things to do there! This post covers parks, pools, museums in Pottawattamie County. #familytravel #Iowa #Guide

About the guest blogger

This post was written by a good friend of mine, Erica, who I met when she was a blogger but now she’s the director of Western Iowa Development Association. Have any questions? You can email Erica at EricaForWIDA@gmail.com. She also suggested you all check out the upcoming events at www.WIDAIowa.org.

Like this post?

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing family travel ideas, giveaways and more! Subscribe here.


June 26, 2019

Everything You Need To Know About Arnolds Park

Arnolds Park Amusement Park is a nostalgic gem in the heart of Iowa. This historic attraction has played a lead role in memories for many people in Iowa and Nebraska who’ve vacationed in Okoboji. I’ve never been until I became a parent, but now I can finally check it off my list.

Headed to Okoboji? A visit to the Great Lakes of Iowa isn't complete without a day at Arnolds Park Amusement Park. Here's everything you need to know to plan a visit  - prices, best time to visit, and the best tips. #guide #Okoboji #iowa #thisisiowa

Want to plan a visit with your family? Read on for my tips on the park, plus all the important things you need to know about Arnolds Park should you be planning your first visit.

Disclosure: My visit was hosted by Vacation Okoboji and I received complimentary passes. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

What is Arnolds Park?

First off, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about Arnolds Park. There is the town of Arnolds Park in north central Iowa and then there’s Arnolds Park Amusement Park. The amusement park is commonly referred to as Arnolds Park, though.

Things to know about Arnolds Park Amusement Park in Iowa, USA - It's home to the 7th oldest wooden roller coaster in the U.S.

The amusement park dates back to its first water slide into West Lake Okoboji in 1889. Its most famous ride, the wooden roller coaster called The Legend, opened in 1930. Still in operation, it’s the seventh oldest wooden roller coast in the U.S. and the 13th oldest in the world.

Today, there are about 24 rides and attractions at Arnolds Park Amusement Park. It’s on the small end of amusement parks but I think that’s what adds to the charm. You’re not exhausted by the visit.

Plus, it’s FREE! Well, technically it’s free, but if you want to ride any rides, you’ll need to get a wristband. More on that below.

Hidden gems of Arnold Park

My kids will tell you everything is a gem there. However, there are some hidden gems you should seek out during your visit.

Right outside the amusement park and right in front of a line of souvenir shops, you’ll find Harmony Park. The park has several musical instruments to play.

Things to do near Arnolds Park Amusement Park - Play the instruments at Harmony Park. It's a free park right next to the amusement park!

If your child has sensory overload from all the rides, this is a nice place to sit and chill out. It’s rather calming to play the xylophone and bells.

You may have seen pictures of the huge Arnolds Park slide. My husband remembers the slide from his childhood. It’s no longer in the amusement park itself, but you can find it nearby.

Historic Arnolds Park wooden slide - The slide is found inside Arnolds Park Museum located near Arnolds Park Amusement Park.

The slide is located inside the Arnolds Park Museum (which I found by going through the Maritime Museum). Because we had day passes to the amusement park, we could ride the slide as much as we wanted.

Both museums are interesting to wander around, but good luck doing that with young kids. Most will be more interested in the slide or going back to the amusement park.

What’s the best age to go to Arnolds Park Amusement Park?

When I visited, my kids were ages 7 and 9 and that was, in my view, the start of ideal ages to go. They were tall enough to go on all of the rides, including the thrill rides.

The height requirement for a few was 48 inches to ride alone. The Legend being the only one that required a ride be 48 inches to ride with or without an adults. My youngest only needed me to ride with her on the bumper cars since she wasn’t tall enough to drive.

Roll-O-Plane thrill ride at Arnolds Park Amusement Park near West Okoboji Lake in Iowa

And they were small enough to not feel too self-conscious if they wanted to go on kiddie rides. It was perfect!

If your children are younger than grade school age, there are fewer rides for them. But, you don’t want to skip some of the non-ride attractions like the Mirror Maze and the Tipsy House.

Tip: For the best views of the West Okoboji Lake, ride either the Ferris wheel or The Legend.

Arnolds Park hours and prices

Being an amusement park in the Midwest, you can imagine that Arnolds Park operates seasonally. Arnolds Park opens in mid-May through September.

The hours vary, with the peek operating hours being in June and July. Starting the Friday before Memorial Day, the park starts opening daily at 10 a.m. The closing time varies between 7 to 10 p.m. Check the calendar to plan your visit.

If you want a tip about timing the visit, let me tell you, we went on the Sunday before Memorial Day and it was great! The summer crowds hadn’t arrived yet, so we had minimal waits for rides.

In fact, for my kids’ two favorite rides, The Legend and the Rock-O-Plane, they were able to stay seated and ride a few times before having to exit.

Rock-O-Plane at Arnolds Park - One of the popular thrill rides at the Okoboji amusement park in Iowa

Like most summer tourist attractions, weekends are going to busier than weekdays.

Admission is offered by day pass and season memberships. Day passes are $29.95 if purchased online and two-day passes are $49.95.

Tip: The Sunset Pass is only $24.95 and is good for rides during the last two hours of the day.

You can choose to get some add-ons to your day pass, such adding a ride on the Queen II boat or get the Ultimate Pass that includes a $10 food voucher and $20 in game tickets.

Tip: From experience, the Queen II boat ride is tough for young kids to sit through. The excitement dies down after 3 minutes and then you have about 57 minutes to spend trying to entertain them.

Tip: Not totally unrelated to the previous tip…the Queen II does have a bar. For the kids. I mean, you can get soda and popcorn or candy for the kids. And maybe something for yourself.

The only thing not included with the day pass or membership are the Raceway rides on the Family Track and Slick Track. The Family Track requires riders to be age 9 and older. The Slick Track has the height minimum of 54 inches tall.

Also, if you don’t have a season pass or a day pass, the slide at the Arnolds Park Museum is $1 per ride.

Food at Arnolds Park

Expect to find the typical amusement park concessions at Arnolds Park Amusement Park. Food available includes hamburgers, hot dogs, and popcorn.

Food in Arnolds Park - The iconic Nutty Bar Ice Cream shop is within walking distance of Arnolds Park Amusement Park.

Since you can come and go from Arnolds Park Amusement Park whenever you feel like it, there is the option to leave the park. We left twice during our day there to get food.

Tip: I recommend getting ice cream at Nutty Bar, an iconic ice cream stand located across the street from Arnolds Park Amusement Park.

Arnolds Park events

My visit was a bit early for all the summer events Arnolds Park Amusement Park has each year, but you can plan your vacation to coincide with some great (and sometimes free) events!

Ferris wheel at Arnolds Park Amusement Park - For a good view of West Okoboji Lake and all the happenings at the amusement park, take a ride on this ride.

Among the events are:

Live at the Lake: A free concert series at Arnolds Park Amusement Park. These are held on select weekend nights all summer long. Concerts start at 7:30 p.m. at Preservation Plaza.

Jazzed Up Big Band: Tuesdays from mid-June to mid-August are nights for swing music at Arnolds Park. Music is performed by a 16-piece band.

Movies at the Park: Every Wednesday night is a different free, family-friendly movie screening. They start at sunset at Preservation Plaza.

Rock The Roof: Thursday nights are set aside for music and dancing, starting at 6 p.m. Cost is $8 or $15 per couple. Season passes are available.

Roof Garden Concert Series: This is a ticketed concert series held inside the iconic Roof Garden concert venue. Concert dates, start times and ticket prices vary.

Guide to planning a family vacation to Arnolds Park, a historic amusement park in Iowa. Get all the details on rides, food, prices and the best time to visit. #Guide #Okoboji #Iowa

Plan your Okoboji trip

Want to plan an Okoboji trip for your family? Start with this guide to Okoboji in the summer (with kids) and get more inspiration from my Iowa Bucket List.

Coming soon! I’ll go into details of some of our favorite things in Okoboji in these posts:

Best Okoboji Restaurants For Families

Where to stay lakeside in Okoboji

Like this post?

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing family travel ideas, giveaways and more! Subscribe here.