May 17, 2019

Best Things To Do At Lake Icaria

I’ve learned that there are two types of Midwestern people: Those who love Lake Icaria and those who haven’t been there yet. Lake Icaria is an expansive county park in southwestern Iowa with a lot of things to do around (and on) the beautiful lake. It’s a big draw to Adams County, and it keeps improving with new cottages and updates to the current ones. We visited Lake Icaria, as part of Iowa’s 99 Parks campaign, which highlights one park in each of Iowa’s 99 counties. In this post, I’m going to tell you about all the things you can do at Lake Icaria, like all the lake activities, the disc golf, the food options, and what it’s like to camp or stay overnight in a cabin there.

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Iowa Tourism. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

Things to do at the southwestern Iowa park Lake Icaria - Get details on camping and cabins, lake activities, and other kid-friendly things to do at the lake. #Iowa #Midwest #familytravel #camp

Things to do at Lake Icaria

Lake Icaria is located in southwest Iowa near the town of Corning. It’s a quick getaway from Omaha, making it an ideal weekend trip. The big draw is the 650-acre lake, obviously, and the activities you associate with lakes like fishing, water skiing and tubing.

I’m told the lake is bustling in the summer with boats, but not jet skis. There’s even a party cove where boaters will drop anchor to hang out for the afternoon. You’ll find giant mats floating on the water in the summer.

Things to do at Lake Icaria - Play at the sandy beach
The beach is a popular spot at Lake Icaria in the summer. In the spring? Not so much.

Lake Icaria has a small sandy beach and a roped-in swimming area. My kids love playing in the water, so I can see my kids wanting to spend hours there on a summer day. The day we were at the lake, it was about 60 degrees, so we did not get in the water.

One of my favorite things to do at a park is hike, and Lake Icaria has more than 6 miles of trails. You might be tempted to just stroll the lakeshore, but there are paths through prairie, through trees and over bridges.

Things to do at Lake Icaria - Hike one of the wooded trails
One of the wooded trails near the beach at Lake Icaria.

It was raining for most of our visit, so we didn’t do much hiking. When it was dry, however, I tried to get my kids to go on a hike, but they were far more interested in the playground near our cabin. Shortly after we arrived, they found the playground, made friends, and started a game of hide and seek.

Things to do at Lake Icaria - Play at the playground
There’s a small playground near the cabins at Lake Icaria. It was a hit with my kids.

And for those who can throw a frisbee, Lake Icaria has an 18-hole cage disc golf course. I can’t aim a frisbee, so I didn’t even consider trying this activity.

Things to do at Lake Icaria - Play disc golf on the 18-hole course
Lake Icaria has an 18-hole disc golf course.

I printed out the Family Fun Pack and Get Moving Guide from 99 Parks and brought them with us. Each guide inspired several activities for us! The Family Fun Pack had educational activities including a sensory scavenger hunt and a family photo challenge. The Get Moving Guide had more than 15 games and activities. Some required materials so check before your trip so you can bring along what you need.

Lake Icaria fishing

If you fish, this lake is a walleye fisherman’s dream. The lake is also stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill, crappie, wipers or channel fish. Kids can take part in popular fishing contests on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

Things to do at Lake Icaria - Fishing from shore or by boat
Fishing for walleye and other fish is a popular activity at Lake Icaria.

Of all the things we could do at the lake, my kids were most excited about fishing. We fished from the rocky shore, and following the first cast, my son caught a large-mouth bass. It was possibly the smallest baby large-mouth bass ever, but he was still pretty excited.

You can fish from a boat at the lake, so you can bring your own or rent. The marina offers pontoon rentals for $45-$55.

If fishing’s not your thing (yet), download the Fishing 101 Guide from 99 Parks that will not only tell you how to catch a fish, but how to prepare it.

Food trucks & rentals at Lake Icaria

The county parks website is pretty helpful preparing you for what to expect; however, it didn’t mention everything you’d find at Lake Icaria. There was an unexpected (and pleasant) surprise I learned thanks to the helpful camp host. She let us know that every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, you’ll find a food truck near the beach (seasonally). So, if you’re like me, and you struggle getting a campfire started, dinner won’t be a bust. 

Things to do at Lake Icaria - Find the food truck at the beach
There’s a food truck at the beach every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Lake Icaria (seasonally).

I checked the food truck calendar for May, and there was a nice variety! A surprising variety, actually. The food truck hours as of this post were: Fridays, 4 to 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sundays, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. That’s right – they have breakfast options at the park on Sundays!

There was barbecue truck when we were there. My kids preferred roasting hot dogs over a rack of ribs for dinner, but we did get a small breakfast to share at the food truck on Sunday morning. We had a slice of quiche with brisket in it and pancakes.

Depending on your campsite, the beach may or may not be within walking distance. The beach is pretty near the marina which is Lake Icaria’s go-to spot for all the thing you forgot. You can get your fishing license there. The marina is also where you’ll go to rent items, like pontoon boats, kayaks, canoes and stand-up paddle boards.

Camping at Lake Icaria

There are a few options for overnight stays at Lake Icaria: Cabins, family cottages and camping/RVs. First, I’ll tell you about the camping options.

There are two camps sites: Timber Ridge Campground and Lake View Campground. Timber Ridge is shaded by mature trees and is newly renovated with full-service or electric/water sites. It’s drawback is that there isn’t a view of the lake. Lake View features has that view for most campsites (and some waters edge tent sites), plus it has full-service, electric, and all new restrooms and showers. 

There were a lot of RVs the weekend we visited, and I imagine when the weather’s warm, you’ll see more of a balance of tent campers.

Cabins at Lake Icaria

I once thought we were a camping family, but over time, I’ve learned that we are 100% cabin lovers. So, we stayed the night in one of the lakeside sleeper cabins.

Lake Icaria lakeside cabin - The view from the porch of Cabin 14
There are a couple of lakeside cabins at Lake Icaria, some with water and bathrooms, and some without. This is the view of Cabin 14, a cabin without water.

If you’re looking at the staying in a cabin, you have two choices: Full-service cabins with water (i.e., sink and toilet) and sleeper cabins that don’t have water. Other than that bathroom perk, they all have the same accommodations. Both cabin types sleep up to 6 with two bunk beds and a pull-out couch; they also have a fridge and microwave; and they have heat and air conditioning. If you stay in a cabin, you will need to bring your own linens, utensils, and pots and pans. These cabins are seasonal, and not open during the winter.

Staying at a cabin at Lake Icaria - The inside of a sleeper cabin that sleeps 6
The lakeside sleeper cabin is a one-room cabin with two bunk beds and a pull-out couch.

Our cabin was a beautiful lakeside sleeper cabin that felt private and well-situated. The cabin had an amazing view, but the parking lot was further from the cabin, so we had to walk about 50+ yards. Not a huge problem, but if you’ve got a lot of stuff, it can be a trek.

Staying at a full-service lakeside cabin at Lake Icaria means you get water and a bathroom.
The full-service cabins aren’t much bigger than the sleeper cabins, but they do have a second room with a sink and a bathroom.

There is a NEW option at Lake Icaria. The Family Cottages are two new, large, home-like cottages that have their own little cove on the lake. They’re beautiful, sleep a lot of people, and frankly, offer a lot of amenities that I think families are going to love. During our tour of one of the cottages, my 7-year-old daughter described it as “first class.” When we return to Lake Icaria, I’m definitely going to book one of these.

There are two Family Cottages at Lake Icaria. They sleep two to three families and can be booked for a week at a time. They’ll be available year-round starting Memorial Day.

Each Family Cottage is full-service, with linens included and a kitchen that’s ready for you. Unlike the other two cabin types, the cottages have TVs, a dining area, and several sleeping rooms for a little more privacy. The Family Cottages have their own boat dock, as well. The deck, I think, is one of the highlights of those cottages!

While the other two cabin types are open for short-term stays, like a weekend, the Family Cottages are open for week-long bookings from Friday to Friday. A weekend booking might open up, but you’ll only know the week of an available weekend. Family Cottages are open year-round.

Things to do at Lake Icaria - Stay in one of the new Family Cottages that sleeps 2-3 families
The Family Cottages at Lake Icaria have a fireplace, TVs and other comforts not available in the smaller cabins in the park.

After staying in the sleeper cabin and then touring the full-service cabin and Family Cottage, I can say that the cottages are definitely my kind of “camping.” That’s to say, it’s basically staying in a well-furnished home with the perk of having a gorgeous lake outside your door.

To book a cabin or campsite, visit mycountyparks.com.

Looking for a great outdoor getaway in Iowa? Check out this family-friendly guide to Lake Icaria, a popular park for camping, boating and fishing in southwest Iowa. Get details on where to stay, what to do and what kids love best. #Midwest #Guide #FamilyTravel

Exploring more of the 99 Parks

Iowa’s county parks offer an abundance of outdoor adventures, and depending on what you’re looking for — whether you want to fish, horseback ride, relax or hike — there’s a park in Iowa to fit your needs. For Omaha residents, I say you start with looking at the parks in western Iowa, including:

The 99 Parks campaign takes you to a different county park in each of the 99 counties of Iowa. Hitchcock Nature Center is found in Pottawattamie County.
The tower at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

Southwest: Mormon Trail Park in Bridgewater, Lake Icaria in Corning, Fremont County Campground & Golf Course in Sidney, Pony Creek Park in Pacific Junction, Hacklebarney Woods in Villisca, Pierce Creek Recreation Area in Essex, Poe Hollow Park in Mount Ayr, Sand’s Timber Recreation Area in Blockton and Three Mile Lake in Afton

West Central: Littlefield Recreation Area in Exira, Swan Lake State Park in Carroll, Cold Springs Park in Lewis, Yellow Smoke Park in Denison, Nations Bridge Park in Stuart, Willow Lake Recreation Area in Woodbine, Peters Park in Rodney, Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek and Nishna Bend Recreation Area in Harlan

Northwest: Buena Vista County Park in Peterson, Featherstone Memorial Park in Manson, Martin’s Access in Cherokee, Scharnberg Park in Everly, Kenue Park in Okoboji, Tuttle Lake Recreation Area in Dolliver, Joe Sheldon Park in Humboldt, Moorehead Pioneer Park in Ida Grove, Smith Lake Park in Algona, Lake Pahoja Recreation Area in Inwood, Dog Creek Park in Sutherland, Hawkeye Point Campground in Sibley, Lost Island – Huston Park in Ruthven, Five Ridge Prairie in Westfield, Meredith Park in Mallard, Hagge Park in Sac City, Sandy Hollow Recreation Area in Sioux Center and Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center in Sioux City.

If you’re interested in Loess Hills hikes, I suggest parks like Hitchcock Nature Center, Willow Creek Recreation Area and Five Ridge Prairie.

Your turn: Are you planning any trips to Iowa this summer?

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May 13, 2019

14 Unique Trails In Iowa

Whether you’re on the hunt for hamburgers, a sweet wine or perhaps a water trail, there’s a trail in Iowa for it. There’s even something for someone on the hunt for something a little “strange.” You don’t have to drive all over Iowa to find these trails, though. In 2019, Pottawattamie County (the nearest Iowa county to Omaha) was named the official Trail Capital of Iowa, so I decided to investigate what that means.

Disclosure: I was invited on a media tour to visit some of the stops included in various tours in Pottawattamie County. Other than complimentary lunch and a cookie, I was not compensated for this post. (I did gain about a pound learning about the trails, though).

Exploring the county that's know as the Trail Capital of Iowa - A look at the 10+ trails in Pottawattamie County, including a water trail, a wine trail, historic trails and more! Of course there are trails for active adventurers seeking hikes, biking or paddling in Iowa.

Loess Hills National Scenic Byway

If you’re not completely sure what the Loess Hills, they’re pretty unique to the region. The hills are formed by a fine windblown soil at the end of the last Ice Age. You’ll only find loess like this in two places: Along a stretch of 200 miles from Sioux City, Iowa to St. Joseph, Mo., and China!

14 unique trails in Iowa - The Loess Hills Scenic Byway
Fall would be a great time to drive the Loess Hills Scenic Byway, but that’s not to say the vistas are bad in early spring.

Driving through the scenic hills can be pretty amazing, if you time the seasons right. I particularly like stopping to hike through some of the parks in the Loess Hills.

14 unique trails in Iowa - Loess Hills National Scenic Byway takes you through a picturesque region of Iowa. One of the parks in the Loess Hills is Hitchcock Nature Center.
Hitchcock Nature Center is one of the closest parks with trails that take you into the Loess Hills.

Wabash Trace Nature Trail

The Wabash Trace Nature Trail is a great crushed limestone trail made out of an old railroad. So it’s flat. One of its end points is in Council Bluffs (the other is down south in Blanchard). It’s 63 miles long, and while I can only account for about 20 miles of it, it’s a nice trail for families to bike (or walk or snowshoe or whatever).

It’s also home to the Taco Ride, a super fun ride on Thursday nights. Since a lot of people imbibe in some booze at some point during the Taco Ride, take caution on the route, especially at night. It’s not a lit trail at night.

Also, it’s good to note that there is a $1 daily fee or a $12 annual pass to ride the trail. Please pay it since it helps pay for the upkeep of the trail.

What In The World?: On the Trail For Stranger Things

The name of this trail just really gets my attention. I’ve actually done one thing on the list already – goat yoga. You can find it at Honey Creek Creamery and Does and Dairy. It’s a seasonal thing because, well, baby goats are a spring thing. When I did a session at Honey Creek Creamery, we spent more time cuddling the kids and taking selfies, but still, I highly recommend it!

14 unique trails in Iowa - What in the World?: On the Trail for Stranger Things includes stops for curious sites or curious activities, like goat yoga
It’s perfectly acceptable to take a selfie or cuddle a baby goat during goat yoga sessions at Honey Creek Creamery in Honey Creek, Iowa.

Some of the other stops include The Black Angel and Squirrel Cage Jail in Council Bluffs.

Wine Your Way Through The Hills Trail

Pre-kids, I had a goal of visiting every winery in southwest Iowa. I’d sample some wines, maybe buy a bottle, and then just admire the views. If you feel like “wine-ing” your way through this trail, you’ll visit wineries like Loess Hills Vineyard & Winery in Crescent, Breezy Hills Vineyard & Winery in Minden and Prairie Crossing Vineyard & Winery in Treynor.

Related post: Wineries near Council Bluffs

Other stops are related to wine (or sometimes a stretch) but aren’t wineries. They include places to get meats and cheeses, as well as galleries like The Painted Camel in Macedonia, where you might be able to find unique serving glasses or trays.

14 unique trails in Iowa - Wine Your Way Through The Hills Trail takes visitors to wineries, farms and galleries to purchase wine-related items
The Painted Camel is a gallery in Macedonia, Iowa featuring variety of paintings, pottery, textiles and more made by local artists.

More trails in Iowa

I only went into detail about a few of the trails in Pottawattamie County. Additional trails that might interest you include:

14 unique trails in Iowa - Lewis & Clark Trail
Lewis & Clark Monument & Scenic Overlook is in Council Bluffs. In addition to offering a view of the Missouri River and Omaha, the park has some short but nice trails to hike.

B&B Trail: Watta Way to Enjoy Burgers and Beer – This trail sounds particularly good to me. You can bet Iowa is going to have good hamburgers, but guess what? The beer is good too!

California Trail – Trace part of the California Trail, an emigrant trail that crossed the state.

Freedom, Faith and Fellowship – Historic Country Churches Trail – It’s exactly what it sounds like. Learn about the faith of the county’s farming forefathers.

Lewis & Clark Trail – U.S. history buffs, this one’s for you. This trail route in Pottawattamie County takes to some of the spots visited by the historical figures.

Lincoln Highway Heritage Trail – The first transcontinental highway passed through Iowa, and you can trace the route as it passes through Pottawattamie County.

Mormon Trail – Yep, that trail passed through Iowa.

Pioneer Trail – The Manifest Destiny sent pioneers trekking across the country, and their trail passed through this part of Iowa.

Railroad Highway Multi-Use Trail – This trail takes you through smaller communities in the county.

Stars and Bronze Tribute Trail – Throughout the county, you can find tribute projects honoring veterans and public figures, including the “Eagles of Honor” statues and Freedom Rock. Quite a few of the stops are in Council Bluffs, including one that honors Deputy Mark Burbridge, who was killed while on duty in 2017.

West Nishnabotna River Water Trail – I want to canoe this 27-mile trail someday (probably not all at once). This water trail is suitable for kayaks and tubers, too. There are several access points into the river, so you can make your trip as long or short as you want. Find access points in Avoca, Hancock, Oakland, Carson and Macedonia.

A look at the 14 trails that have made Pottawattamie County the Trail Capital of Iowa - Trails include water ways, "stranger things" trail, historic trails, and one that's all about burgers and beer

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May 7, 2019

Best Things To Do In Sioux City

Kim’s note: This is a guest post written by Sioux City local and Oh My! Omaha friend, Lindsay. I asked her to write a local’s guide to Sioux City (and Siouxland, which encompasses the Big Sioux River drainage basin in Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota and Minnesota). She didn’t disappoint!

If you’re like an Omaha version of me, you probably come to Sioux City, Iowa, occasionally, but stick to what to you know. Well, I’m ready to fill you in on our local favorites! Here are my top picks for where to eat, where to play, and what to bring home if you are in Sioux City for a day. You can’t actually do all of them in one day, but you can mix-and-match your favorites to make a perfect day trip to Sioux City for your family!

Local mom shares where to eat, play and explore in Sioux City, Iowa. This guide includes restaurants, tips on where to hike and where to see a show, and the best museums to see if you only have a day to visit. #Iowa #Guide #SiouxCity #Siouxland

Where to eat in Sioux City

Breakfast: Jitters in downtown Sioux City makes the best cake donuts in Siouxland, and they are my top recommendation for a Sioux City breakfast. It made the list of Midwest Best Donuts.

Things to do in Sioux City, Iowa - Eat where the locals eat! Don't skip getting a donut at Jitters.
Sprinkle donut at Jitters in downtown Sioux City. Photo courtesy Siouxland Families

Sunkist Bakery in Morningside (or on Hamilton Boulevard) delights with a wider variety of donuts including yeasted and jam- or custard-filled types. For healthier fare, try to track down the Heartland Coffee and Nosh food truck for one of their breakfast bowls and some lavender lemonade!

Lunch: La Juanita looks like a typical hole-in-the-wall taqueria, but you’ll be blown away by the award-winning flavor of their tacos, burritos (which have been rated as amongst America’s “most life-changing”) and other delicious fare.

Or drive through Billy Boy or Tastee for restro flair and great comfort food. Billy Boy is known for its burgers and ice cream, while Tastee shines with its loose meat sandwiches. Both pair best with root beer, and if you like onion chips, they’re worth the upgrade at both places.

Related post: Read about Tastee and other places Oh My! Omaha visited on a weekend getaway to Sioux City.

Dinner: For a sit down experience, Rebo’s on Fourth Street has amazing fajitas. M’s, also on Fourth Street, makes pasta worth the calories. Four Brothers in the Morningside area of Sioux City (near the mall and Highway 29) serves up delicious gourmet burgers and more.

Prefer carryout? Sioux City residents perpetuate a (good-natured) feud between El Fredo’s Pizza and Jerry’s Pizza. El Fredo’s sauce has delightfully intense zing, while Jerry’s crusts are crisper and the sauce milder. Both are delicious. Sneaky’s Chicken and Diamond Thai are also Sioux City carryout classics that you can’t go wrong with.

Where to play in Sioux City

Hiking: I recommend Stone State Park and the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center. The trails at the nature center connect to the rest of Stone Park if you’re looking for a longer hike. They are fun in their own right if you are looking for a short, kid-friendly walk. The Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center trails lead to a rustic looking outdoor playspace you won’t want to miss!

Five Ridge Prairie north of town also offers a fun hiking experience, with fewer amenities but more impressive views.

Things to do in Sioux City, Iowa - Hike the Stone State Park, a scenic park in the Loess Hills
A hilltop view from a trail at Stone State Park, with trails that take you into the Loess Hills. Photo courtesy Siouxland Families

Pools & water fun: Riverside Park is your best bet – it’s Sioux City’s best public pool, complete with waterslides, a splash zone in the pool area. There are two wheelchair-accessible splash pads on the other end of the park near the Miracle Field adaptive playground. Lewis and Lief Erickson parks also have pools open to the public.

Other outdoor fun: There are more than half-dozen disc golf courses in the Sioux City area, with the newest almost completed at Lief Erickson Park. You can also enjoy a walk or bike ride along the riverfront, play mini golf, or shop at the Sioux City Farmer’s Market to get some fresh air and sunshine (and veggies!).

Live entertainment: Sioux City has two movie theaters, plus other live entertainment at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, the Tyson Events Center, and the Sioux City Orpheum Theater.

Things to do in Sioux City - See live entertainment from concerts to comedians at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
The lobby of the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Sioux City. Photo courtesy Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Sioux City

Tip: Be careful on Facebook, theatergoers! Sometimes it is hard to tell which event posts are for events at your Omaha Orpheum Theater and which are for our Sioux City Orpheum!

Indoor sports: You can get sporty indoors with the rock climbing wall at the Long Lines Center. Check out the Drop Zone Family Fun Center with trampolines, a ninja course and laser tag. Cool off at the IBP Ice Center with indoor ice skating year round.

Museums: Sioux City has a surprising number of museums for a city of this size. Some that I especially recommend to visitors include the Sioux City Art Center (the Grant Wood corn room is a must-see!), LaunchPAD Children’s Museum for little visitors, and the Sioux City Railroad Museum with its brand new grand-scale railroad now open for rides.

Tip: If you belong to a membership that’s part of the Association of Children’s Museum, admission to LaunchPAD Children’s Museum is half off! If you have a Patron level membership at Omaha Children’s Museum, you can take advantage of that reciprocal membership discount.

Things to do in Sioux City - Visit LaunchPad Children's Museum
LaunchPAD Children’s Museum is a fun, kid-friendly place to visit in Sioux City. Photo courtesy Visit Sioux City

Souvenirs from Siouxland

Siouxland’s best souvenirs are mostly edible. Jolly Time Koated Kernels makes delicious popcorn flavored with cheese, chocolate, candy, and more. You can buy them at their factory store as well as at locations around Siouxland.

Things to do in Sioux City, Iowa - Buy treats at Palmer's Old Tyme Candy Shoppe
The truffle display case at Palmer’s Old Tyme Candy Shoppe in Sioux City. Palmer’s Candy Co. is known for creating the Twin Bing in 1923. Photo courtesy Siouxland Families

Or head to Palmer’s Old Tyme Candy Shoppe, which never disappoints with their candy. From factory seconds to gourmet truffles and handmade fudge, you’re sure to find a type (or 10) you and your loved ones will gobble with delight.

Related post: Palmer’s Candy Co. invented the Twin Bing, so when you’re in Sioux City, you’ve got to try it! So much so, it’s on the Sioux City bucket list!

For less perishable keepsakes, try the museum gift shops and Sioux City Gifts. One of the cutest options for kids is a small plush Newfoundland (like Lewis & Clark’s dog!)

Whether you’re visiting family, or in town for work or a kid’s sport tournament, or coming up just for fun, Sioux City loves visitors from Omaha. I hope these tips help you make the most of your time up here. Drop by anytime, neighbors!

About the author

Lindsay is a Sioux City mom of three who loves dramatic earrings, buttercream frosting, hiking with her family, and crafts from hand embroidery to slime making. Lindsay writes about family-friendly fun in Sioux City and beyond at SiouxlandFamilies.com. Her latest venture is a series of YouTube videos highlighting area attractions in a minute each, “Sioux City in 60 Seconds.”

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May 3, 2019

10 Unforgettable Things To Do This Summer In Nebraska

Nebraska Tourism has this slogan, perhaps you’ve heard of it: “Nebraska, it’s not for everyone.” It got some good chuckles when it was announced. If you take the time to explore the state, though, I believe you’ll find something for you. Summer is a great time to travel through Nebraska, so, I created a list to inspire some summertime fun. Here are 10 thing to do in Nebraska that are unforgettable.

Related post: My Nebraska Bucket List

Planning a trip to Nebraska this summer? Here are 10 unforgettable things to do in Nebraska, including Omaha, North Platte, Niobrara and more | Summer fun in Nebraska | Things to do outdoors in Nebraska | Kid-friendly things to do in Nebraska #familytravel #USA

Canoeing

Nebraska has more miles of water than any other state, so you bet there are some opportunities to canoe. One of the most scenic and popular waterways is the Niobrara River in north central Nebraska. The scenic section of the river I’m most familiar with takes about three hours to a half-day to canoe (depending how much you stop) and ends at Rocky Ford. That section takes you right by Smith Falls State Park, where you can park your canoe and walk up to the falls. The outfitter my group has always used is Rocky Ford Camp & Outfitters.

10 unforgettable Nebraska experiences - Canoeing the Niobrara River
Paddlers on the Niobrara River in Nebraska. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

College World Series

The best show on dirt, as they call it, occurs every June in Omaha. The NCAA Division I Men’s College World Series takes place at TD AmeriTrade Park in north downtown. The biggest crowds (and parties) occur that first weekend. If you’ve never been, be sure to check out the Essential Guide To The College World Series.

10 unforgettable things to do in Nebraska this summer - attend a College World Series baseball game in Omaha
TD Ameritrade Park in downtown Omaha is the home to the NCAA Men’s College World Series. Photo courtesy Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau

Off-road jeep ride

I never thought I’d be zooming around cliffs in Nebraska, but I had the opportunity to ride in an off-road jeep tour at Fort Robinson State Park. My kids were pretty young at the time, and they enjoyed the thrill. It’s a bit of a rocky experience, but you can’t beat the views of the buttes.

10 unforgettable experiences in Nebraska - Off-road jeep ride through Fort Robinson State Park in western Nebraska
The Fort Robinson State Park off-road jeep excursion takes riders on dirt trails with outstanding views.

Chuckwagon dinner

I have a love affair with the idea of chuckwagon dinners or cowboy cookouts. Truth be told, though, I’ve never been to one. It sounds like the best kind of cookouts, one with a little entertainment with the fresh air. At Fort Robinson State Park, they offer hayrack breakfast rides as well as buffalo stew and steak cookouts. At Niobrara State Park in the summer, they hold buffalo cookouts with entertainment such as cowboy poets and storytellers. 

Tanking

Why canoe or kayak along a river when you can tank it? Tanking involves cruising in style in a water tank originally intended to keep cattle hydrated. Pack snacks and bring a cooler, and enjoy the quintessential Nebraskan ride.

Re-live Nebraska history

Learn about Nebraska history by actors taking on the roles of the very people who lived it. One of the closest places to Omaha to see living history is Fort Robinson State Park, which has historical re-enactments on the first weekend of the month in the summer. One of the most popular weekends is the one near the Fourth of July. Be sure to cover your ears if you happen to catch them firing a cannon!

10 unforgettable experiences in Nebraska - Watching historical re-enactors fire the cannon at Fort Robinson State Park
The cannon is prepped to be fired at Fort Atkinson.

Other places to catch living history in Nebraska 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.

You can also enjoy interacting with costumed actors at Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island.

Rodeos

The thrills and edge-of-your-seat action are all a part of rodeos in Nebraska. You can catch a weekly rodeo held at Fort Robinson State Park or plan on attending on at NEBRASKALand Days in North Platte or the Pony Express Rodeo in Gothenburg. You can even catch the rodeo in Omaha during AKSARBEN Stock Show & Rodeo.

Horseback riding

There are state parks with trail rides near major metropolitan cities like Omaha and Lincoln, including at Platte River State Park and Mahoney State Park. Those rides will be through wooded areas, mostly. If you ask which I prefer, I’d pick Platte River’s trail.

10 unforgettable Nebraska experiences - horseback riding at Platte River State Park
Even young kids can enjoy the trail ride at Platte River State Park.

For a more rugged experience, head west. Trail rides are offered at state parks in western Nebraska including Fort Robinson and Chadron.

Summer festivals

Nebraska’s Fourth of July town is Seward, where the celebration is spread out over more than one day. Other summer festivals you might want to see include NEBRASKAland Days in North Platte, Oregon Trail Days in Gering, and the celebration of a fried delicacy…the Testicle Festival in Ashland.

Wildlife safari drive-thru

Ever have a bison walk by your passenger window? How about a herd? The Nebraska Wildlife Safari is located half-way between Lincoln and Omaha in eastern Nebraska. See native Nebraska animals up close, including elk, cranes and those bison, as well as wolves, eagles and more.

The road through the Nebraska Wildlife Safari takes you near herds of native Nebraskan animals, including bison.

Midway through, there’s a point where you can park and get out on short trails to see more animals, including some cute goats at the petting zoo.

Best things to do in Nebraska in the summer, including big events & festivals, outdoor adventures like trail rides and canoeing, and unforgettable experiences like tanking and close encounters with bison. #Nebraska #USA #FamilyTravel

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April 1, 2019

My Kansas Bucket List

A while back, my family visited Wichita and had a great weekend. It surpassed expectations. Along the way, we stopped in Lindsborg for lunch and to see, well, a castle. And again, that quick stop exceeded expectations (so much so, that we’re planning to return to Lindsborg this summer). So, given this trend, I figure, there’s quite a bit in Kansas that’s waiting to be discovered. I’ve began a Kansas Bucket List in order to collect my thoughts and start making plans to get to know the state better. If this list inspires you to travel, let me know!

Kansas Bucket List - Unique places to visit, amazing hikes, and great food to eat in #Kansas #bucketlist

Hike in the Flint Hills

The Flint Hills in eastern Kansas is an expansive, hilly region with rocky soil. It’s a unique region because it contains the most dense coverage of intact tallgrass prairie in North America. You won’t find a lot of farms due to the soil. There are several places to hike in the Flint Hills, including Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, Flint Hills National Wildlife Refuge and Konza Prairie Biological Station.

Bucket list of things to do in Kansas -Hike the Flint Hills at Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve trail in Kansas
A trail at the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in Kansas. Photo courtesy Kansas Tourism

Make it to Svensk Hyllningsfest

The biennial festival Svensk Hyllningsfest in Lindsborg celebrates the town’s Swedish heritage. The next festival is Oct. 18 and 19, 2019. My dad’s side of the family is proud of their Swedish ancestry so that’s right up my alley. There’s folk dancing, ethnic music, smorgasbord and entertainment. I took the kids to a Tulip Festival in Iowa one spring, and they enjoyed it, so I could see this festival also being good for them.

Add To Your Bucket List: While you’re in Lindsborg, there’s a nearby “castle” that should be on your bucket list! We stopped at the Coronado Heights Park, and my young kids were amazed at the picnic structure there that looks like a small, medieval castle. It was so memorable, it’s on the 10 Beautiful Midwest Places To Inspire Wonder list!

Bucket list of things to do in Kansas - Celebrate Swedish heritage in Lindsborg
Dancers in Lindborg, a Kansas town that celebrates its Swedish heritage with a
biennial festival called Svensk Hyllningsfest. Photo courtesy Kansas Tourism

Pretend to be an astronaut

Hutchinson is home to Cosmosphere, a museum with displays and interactive exhibits like the Liberty Bell 7, the Apollo 13 command module Odyssey, and a version of Mission Control desk kids (and I) can sit at. So maybe I’m less astronaut than Mission Control, but who’s counting?

Bucket list of things to do in Kansas - Pretend to be an astronaut at the Cosmosphere in Hutchinson
Cosmosphere is a museum in Hutchinson that includes an exhibit with a version of the Mission Control desk. Photo courtesy Kansas Tourism

Hang with cowpokes

Old Cowtown Museum has been on my wish list to visit every since I was planning my Wichita vacation. I still haven’t made it, so my dream of having a chuck wagon dinner or watching the 1880s reenacted remains. I’ll find some similar action at Boot Hill Museum and Front Street in Dodge City.

Experience a cattle drive

There are places in Kansas where you don’t just watch actors re-enact the cowboy experience – you can live it. Some ranches like the Flying W Ranch in Cedar Point let guests experience the cowboy lifestyle with horseback rides, cattle drives, wagon rides and more.

Add To Your Bucket List: Love all kinds of close encounters with animals. Tanganyika Wildlife Park isn’t on my list because I’ve been there, but it’s definitely a worthy bucket list addition for you! Why? Wildlife encounters there include feeding an okapi, lemur or giraffe!

See the out-of-this-world rocks

Mushroom Rock State Park has some of the oddest rock formations I’ve seen in pictures. Guess what it looks like. I just want to see it in person now. Two others I want to see, located in Gove County in Western Kansas, are the Monument Rocks and Castle Rock.

Bucket list of things to do in Kansas - See the unique rock formations at Mushroom Rock State Park
Mushroom Rock State Park in Brookville, Kan., is home to some pretty unique rock formations. Photo courtesy Kansas Tourism

Selfie in front of the book mural

Book lovers, heads up. There’s a beautiful, huge mural on the side of a doctor’s office in Tonganoxie.

Explore Kansas’ Badlands

Yep, Kansas has a Badlands region. In the state’s northwestern corner, a scenic drive, called the Arikaree Breaks Wildlife Drive, takes you through landscape flecked with yuca and prickly pear cactus among the shortgrass prairie. And a new state park, Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park, has even more picturesque views. Little Jerusalem is slated to open sometime in the summer of 2019. Neither place is what I imagine to be Kansas.

Bucket list of things to do in Kansas - see the new state park, Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park
Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park is the newest state park to be added to the Kansas State Park System. Photo courtesy Kansas Tourism

Try unique eats in Kansas

Kansas has plenty of unique food and unique places to eat, I’ve discovered. On my list includes the hidden gem in Beaver, called Mo’s. Pretty much, it’s a microbrewery with a lot of loyal fans (it has a hard-to-come-by 4.9 Google review rating). One newspaper headline called it a piece of “Cheers” on the prairie. Then there’s Wheatfields in Lawrence, a bakery that gets a lot of attention. It’s made a USA Today list for 10 great US bakeries, and it has been featured on the Food Network and History Channel. The Stearman Field Bar and Grill at the little Benton Airport made my Wichita Bucket List, but since I didn’t get to visit it when I was in the area last time, I’m including it on this list too so I don’t forget. Why? Where else can you dine that close to planes taking off and landing?

Bucket list of things to do in Kansas - Eat at one of the nation's best bakeries, Wheatfields, in Lawrence
Wheatfields is a Lawrence, Kan., bakery that’s been named among the Top 10 in the U.S. Photo courtesy Kansas Tourism

Go to the beer playground

In Overland Park, there’s this place called the Brew Lab, and it’s been nicknamed KC’s playground for craft beer lovers. Since this is a bucket list where time and money don’t matter, I’d go here to learn how to brew beer and then brew myself a big ‘ol batch of it. If I’m short on time, I’ll just go and have a pint of someone else’s fabulous concoction and a bite to eat while I’m at it.

See pueblo ruins

The northernmost Indian pueblo in the U.S. is found in Kansas. El Cuartelejo Pueblo near Scott City dates back to 1650 to 1750 A.D., and the ruins of the site can still be seen today. It became a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

Bucket list of things to do in Kansas - Visit the National Historic Landmark, El Cuartelejo Pueblo
El Cuartelejo Pueblo is the northernmost Indian pueblo in the U.S. It’s near Scott City, Kan. Photo courtesy Kansas Tourism

See a sunflower field

It’s not the Sunflower State for nothing. Word is that peak viewing of sunflowers is in late summer, and a great place to find them is at Grinter’s Sunflower Farm near Lawrence.

My Kansas Bucket List - A wish list of things to do and awesome places to see in Kansas | Kansas landmarks and attractions | Best Kansas restaurants | Trails and museums in Kansas #USA

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March 28, 2019

Guide To Nebraska State Parks Cabins

If you love the idea of being immersed in nature but you don’t like sleeping on the ground, cabins are for you. In Nebraska, I always look at the state parks for cabin choices. I’ve stayed at a few that I could recommend, but there are even more in the state I’ve yet to visit. Here are all the state parks cabins in Nebraska (as well as a few other lodging options that don’t involve sleeping on the ground:

Kim’s note: In 2019, 75% of Nebraska countries were impacted by floods. Check the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission website to be sure the park you’d like to visit is unaffected.

Not all state parks in Nebraska have cabins and not all cabins are equal. Here's a guide to staying at state park cabins in Nebraska. Find out what's included in a cabin and what you can do nearby at each state park.

Chadron State Park

Where: Chadron in northwestern Nebraska

Hikers on a trail overlooking Chadron State Park in western Nebraska
A hiking trail at Chadron State Park, the oldest state park in Nebraska. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

About the cabins: Chadron State Park is Nebraska’s oldest state park. We stayed at one of the two-bedroom rustic cabins during a trip through western Nebraska and South Dakota. It was bare minimum and dated, but a pretty inexpensive lodging option. There are 22 such cabins available seasonally.

Exterior of a two-bedroom cabin at Chadron State Park in Nebraska
We stayed at this two-bedroom cabin at Chadron State Park.

Things to do at Chadron State Park: The park offers horseback trail rides, craft center and evening programs. We spent some time at Chadron State Park with the kids, and visited the pool, hiked, and did the paddle boats. The park lies in the Nebraska National Forest with bike and hike trails through the ponderosa pines. Elevation reaches 5,000 feet in the park.

Eugene T. Mahoney State Park

Where: Ashland in southeastern Nebraska

About the cabins: Cabins at Mahoney State Park are notoriously hard to reserve for the summer, especially for weekend stays, so the sooner you pick a date, the better. Reservations may be made up to a year in advance, which is what you’ll need to do for the summer. Winter reservations are much easier to make and, also, cost less. Mahoney State Park has some of the newest cabins in the park system, and they usually are reserved first. I’ve stated at treetop cabins and would recommend them. They’re older, certainly, but pretty comfortable with a “treetop” living room.

Exterior of a cabin at Mahoney State Park in Ashland, Nebraska. Cabins reservations fill quickly. They are among the most popular state cabins in Nebraska.
Here’s an example of one of Mahoney State Park’s older cabins, which is still pretty nice. The newer cabins are even bigger. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

All cabins at Mahoney State Park are fully furnished, include a fireplace, satellite TV, and WiFi. There are 57 cabins, with more under construction. There are 49 two-bedroom cabins, three four-bedroom cabins, and five six-bedroom cabins.

The park also has Peter Kiewit Lodge, which has 40 guest rooms, some with sleeping lofts and electric fireplaces.

Things to do at Mahoney State Park: Summer is peak season at Mahoney. The park has a Family Aquatic Center with two waterslides, zero-depth wave pool and a water playground, plus a traditional pool. There is also a zip line course, horseback trail rides, putt putt golf, fishing, paddle boats, craft center, disc golf, and a live theater. Hiking isn’t the best here, but there are some trails. Don’t skip the conservatory and observation tower. Mahoney State Park has a lot of activities for families.

There’s also a great indoor play area with a climbing walls. In the winter, there is ice skating, sledding, and ice fishing. Here are more things to do at Mahoney State Park in the winter.

Fort Robinson State Park

Where: Crawford in northwestern Nebraska

Riders on horseback at Fort Robinson State Park in Crawford, Nebraska
A horseback trail ride at Fort Robinson, a Nebraska State Park that covers more than 22,000 acres. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

About the cabins: Rather than having individual cabins, this park makes use of the historic fort’s 1909 enlisted men’s barracks for accommodations. This is quite possibly the best park in Nebraska for large family reunions. Accommodations sleep between 2 to 60 people, with 35 different group lodging options to choose from. All options have kitchens, baths and bedrooms. Larger cabins have living rooms.

A historic building at Fort Robinson in Crawford, Neb. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Things to do at Fort Robinson State Park: This park is spread out over 22,000 acres with an abundance of things to do in the summer. Much of what there is to do and see is connected to the outpost’s history when it was in operation during the Indian Wars until after World War II. The park has an enclosed swimming pool; museums; horseback trail rides and pony rides; rides by jeep, stagecoach and hayrack; bike, kayak and tube rentals; hiking trails; and fishing. For food experiences, the park has buffalo stew and steak cookouts and hayrack breakfasts.

When we went to Fort Robinson with young kids, the highlight was definitely the off-road jeep rides (though the ponies were a close second).

Lewis & Clark Lake State Recreation Area

Where: Crofton, Neb.

About the cabins: Lewis & Clark has 10 newish modern lakeside cabins next to Nebraska’s second largest reservoir. All are two-bedroom cabins that sleep up to eight, plus they’re air conditioned. Each cabin has a porch with a picnic table, grill and a view of the lake.

Boater on the lake at Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area in Nebraska
Boating is a popular activity at Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Things to do at Lewis & Clark SRA: This park has an unsupervised swimming beach. There are a total of five recreation areas on the lake that feature hiking trails, mountain biking, and lake access. This lake, as you can imagine, is popular with boaters.

Medicine Creek Reservoir State Recreation Area

Where: Cambridge, Neb.

About the cabins: Medicine Creek has four lakeside, two-bedroom cabins that are available to reserve from April to December. They’re fully furnished with an indoor bathroom and include a deck.

Things to do at Medicine Creek Reservoir SRA: Medicine Creek is among southwest reservoirs that offer quite a bit of water-based activities. This particular state recreation area has an unsupervised beach and boat ramp. Fish for walleye, white bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish, wiper and crappie there. The other reservoirs nearby are Swanson Reservoir SRA, Enders Reservoir SRA, and Red Willow Reservoir SRA.

Niobrara State Park

Where: Niobrara, Neb.

About the cabins: Niobrara State Park has 20 modern cabins, with a mix of two-bedroom and three-bedroom options.

A cabin surrounded by trees at Niobrara State Park in northern Nebraska
Niobrara State Park is near both the Niobrara and Missouri rivers. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Things to do at Niobrara State Park: The park sits on the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri rivers, so you can imagine access to the rivers are a draw for boaters. There are also horseback trail rides, buffalo cookouts, hiking trails and a pool (open mid-June to mid-August). There are two ponds at Niobrara State Park that are stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill and channel catfish. Go to pond 2 for rainbow trout fish in the fall and early spring.

The buffalo cookouts are popular and held on Saturdays throughout the summer. The cookouts include entertainment, which may be cowboy poets or storytellers. Reservations are required, and you’ll need to make them at the park admin office.

Platte River State Park

Where: Louisville, Neb.

About the cabins: Platte River State Park has quite possibly the widest range of accommodations, from absolute bare minimum to the ultimate in glamping. There are 20 modern cabins, including one four-bedroom cabin. Four of those modern cabins have a fireplace. In 2018, the park opened its glamping tents, ultramodern two-person digs that are pretty swanky. They also book very far in advance.

The exterior of a camper cabin at Platte River State Park in eastern Nebraska
The camper cabin at Platte River State Park offers beds with bedding, A/C, and a refrigerator like other modern cabins, but it lacks one biggie: Water. You’ll have to walk if you want to take a shower, use the restroom or wash your hands.

The park also has camper cabins. I’ve stayed at one of these and they’re bare bones, but super affordable. There is no running water and you must use the restrooms/shower facilities with other cabins. Most cabins have air conditioning. Most. There are also teepees at this park.

Things to do at Platte River State Park: Platte River State Park has some great hiking trails, including an easy, kid-friendly trail that passes a little waterfall. The park recently opened a large sprayground that replaces its pool. There are horseback trail rides, paddle boats, naturalist programs, Crawdad Creek, an observation tower and fishing opportunities. This is one of the few parks to have a shooting range for a variety of disciplines, including sling shot, tomahawk throw, rifle, pellet gun, and shot gun. We’ve been there when they’ve offered educational programs, where my kids learned some archery basics.

Ponca State Park

Where: Ponca, Neb.

About the cabins: Ponca State Park opened 10 gorgeous two-bedroom cabins in 2017, which adds to their 15 four-bedroom mini lodges, two two-bedroom “green” cabins, and rustic log cabins (two-bedroom and one-bedroom options). The new cabins are often all reserved early so plan accordingly.

Exterior of a mini lodge cabin at Ponca State Park in eastern Nebraska. The mini lodges at Ponca are among the most popular state cabins in Nebraska.
Here’s what a mini lodge looks like at Ponca State Park. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Things to do at Ponca State Park: I haven’t been to Ponca in years, but it’s a picturesque park situated on the Missouri River, and one of the most popular state park in Nebraska. There is a new aquatic center, as well as hiking and mountain bike trails, kayak programs, and horseback trail rides (Memorial Day to Labor Day). The park also has a nine-hole golf course and a shooting range.

Ponca State Park features one of the state’s most comprehensive outdoor and environmental education programs, with programs held daily Memorial Day through Labor Day and on weekends during the spring, fall and winter. 

Spring is a good time to visit for bird watching. In the fall, they have a popular haunted hayrack ride. There are winter activities, as well, including snowman building contests, sledding, ice fishing, and special events like Christmas in the Woods and Winterfest.

Two Rivers State Park Recreation Area

Where: Waterloo, Neb.

About the cabins: Two Rivers doesn’t actually have cabins. Instead, they call their “cabins” caboose cabins. They have a lot of amenities that you’d find in traditional cabins – air conditioning being one biggie. Each has a kitchen and restroom and sleep up to six people. It’s one of the more unique lodging options in Nebraska.

A row of caboose cabins at Two Rivers State Recreation Area near Omaha, Nebraska
Each caboose “cabin” at Two Rivers State Recreation Area sleeps up to six people. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Things to do at Two Rivers State Park: Two Rivers State Park has sandpit lakes that are popular for catch-and-release fishing. Catfish are stocked in Lakes 3 and 4; Lakes 1 and 2 are stocked annually with catchable channel catfish. Find largemouth bass at Lakes 1-4. Fee rainbow trout fishing is available at Lake 5, as is smallmouth bass. There is unsupervised swim beach, which we visited once. It’s rather small, but the kids liked it. This is not a park for hikers.

Victoria Springs State Recreation Area

Where: Anselmo, Neb.

About the cabins: Cabins are limited here – just two modern, two-bedroom. The cabins have a kitchen (with ranges, refrigerators, tableware, sink), double beds, linens, blankets, shower and toilet. The kitchenettes are furnished. The cabins are seasonal and are typically available from Memorial Day Weekend through mid-November.

Things to do at Victoria Springs SRA: Victoria Springs is one of the state’s oldest parks, and its waters were once renowned for its “healing” qualities back in the heyday of spas. Now it’s just a picturesque getaway in the Sandhills. Fishing is a draw, and the 5-acre pond is stocked with bass, bluegill and catfish. Boating is permitted and paddleboat are available to rent.

How to make reservations for Nebraska State Park cabins

There are two ways to reserve a cabin at a Nebraska State Park. You can reserve them online at OutdoorNebraska.org, which is my preferred method. You can also call 402-471-1414 (they have pretty traditional business hours, Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.).

Over-night stay minimums at Nebraska State Park cabins

There is a two-night minimum for reservations are required if you’re staying at peak season, and weekends. Otherwise, one-night stays are allowed during non-peak season from Sundays to Thursdays.

Want to stay in a yurt?

Nebraska doesn’t have yurts, yet. I stayed at the closest yurt to Nebraska one summer – you can find two yurts in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Looking for a cabin in Nebraska? Here's a list of all the state parks with cabins and what you can do in the park while you're there | Nebraska travel guide | Places to stay in Nebraska | Things to do in Nebraska

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