The Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum has created a space for children of all ages to explore STEM ideas (that’s science, technology, engineering, and math).
The new Children’s Learning Center opened last weekend. It consists of 10 interactive stations designed as an out-of-classroom experience for children to experiment and learn about science, technology, engineering, and math and the physics, forces, and technology of flight. Families can easily spend an hour here, especially if the children get into building structures at a couple of the stations.
I explored with my preschooler and first-grader and they had as much fun as the older kids there. Some activities were better suited for the limited patience of little ones than others, but with the help of an adult, they could build and experiment alongside the big kids.
Thank you to the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum for the complimentary passes so I can visit and get some great pictures. It was a fun day!
What you’ll find at the Children’s Learning Center
Bernoulli Blower: Discover the principles of airflow and how air speed and pressure effects objects, like beach balls.
KEVA Planks: Create structures and gain first-hand experience with balance, leverage, geometry and the principles of physics.
Make-it-Tables: Experience the engineering design process by building machines or structures using materials provided.
Interactive Kiosk Station: Explore the four forces of flight.
Wind Trainer: Learn about the science and technology of flight in terms of aircraft roll, pitch and yaw.
Dual Test Track: Learn how friction, drag, weight distribution, and gravity affect the design and operation of aircraft and other vehicles.
Innovation Station: Create inventions, environments, and activities with large scale foam blocks that encourage teamwork and imagination.
Quake Table: Design structures and explore the phenomena of earthquakes and their effects.
Tennis Ball Launcher: Explore the effects of gravity on different sized and massed objects.
Twin Air Blaster: Experience how airflow impacts aircraft design.
What else is for kids at the museum?
If your kid loves planes, you’re set. This place has a ton of them, and many that you can peek inside. There’s also an area dedicated to Nebraska’s astronaut, Clayton Anderson, who’s from Ashland, Neb.
There are a few items that are an additional cost to admission, but can be a big hit with kids. When they were younger, it was the 50-cent rides. Now, they’re all about the flight simulators.
The museum also regularly has traveling exhibits now. Read about those and other things to do with kids at the museum in this post about what’s new at the museum.
If you go
Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum
Where: 28210 West Park Highway, Ashland, Neb. (about 30 miles west of Omaha)
When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., 7 days a week; 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve; closed: New Year’s Day, Easter, Thanksgiving & Christmas
Cost: Adults, $12; senior citizens, military, $11; children (ages 4-12), $6; FREE for children aged 3 and younger
Extras: Fight simulators, 2D rides are $9 for members $10 for non-members, and 3D rides are $12 for members $13 for non-members.
We recently visited Simmons Wildlife Safari in Ashland, Neb., (about 20 minutes west of Omaha).
It was my dad’s first trip to the attraction, so we were excited for him to enjoy it with the kids.
What to expect
Grab that map they hand at the admission gate. Not because you’ll get lost – the kids love it.
You’ll be driving at a maximum speed of 7 mph, so hang on, partner! You want to go slower, really, to catch all the wildlife. You’ll notice each area is separated by gates akin to the ones you remember from “Jurassic Park.” Scare the kids and put a water glass on your dashboard and recreate the T-Rex scene.
You’ll see deer, elk and an assortment of birds at the start. It’s pretty tranquil.
Then you’ll drive around some wetlands, featuring photogenic waterfowl.
You can get out of your car at this point. A lot of people just drive on by, so expect minimal crowds.
Your next stop is shortly after that. Definitely get out, because there’s the Hands-On Corral (AKA petting zoo) your kids will like.
Near there is a little play area with picnic tables, as well as an old Rosenblatte tower you can climb for a nice view.
Venture over to the bald eagles and then double back to walk an inclined trail to see owls, bears, wolves and further afield, toads.
We accidentally timed our visit to coincide with feeding time and the 1:30 p.m. enrichment talk.
It was a fortunate accident! I think Mr. Wonderful and I were more enthralled by the feedings than the kids, but whatever.
Back in the car, you’ll get to drive past some pretty birds on your way to the big attraction: American bison.
These free-roaming creatures get near your car, making for some impressive photos.
Be sure to stop back at the visitor center. There are more animals to see inside and outside, as well as a small playground and a group of sculptures kids seem to like climbing on.
Timing a picnic
There are a couple picnic tables near the petting zoo that aren’t very shaded. More tables are located near the visitor center.
If you didn’t bring food, you can purchase snack bar items, ice cream and other goodies at the visitor center.
It pays to time your visit! Feeding time is prime animal viewing time. On Saturdays and Sundays it’s at 1:30 p.m., and includes interesting talks with the keepers. While were were there, the keeper said the 3 p.m. feeding time is the best since that’s when she gives the bears and wolves the most food. I can’t find that time listed anywhere online, so I can’t confirm that it is the exact time to catch a second feeding.
It’s really the best chance to see these beautiful creatures up close. In past visits, the wolves and bears have been far from the fences.
If you go
Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari
Where: Take Exit 426 off Interstate 80, 16406 N. 292 St., Ashland, Neb.
Hours: Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through October.
Cost: Even though you’re driving in a single vehicle, you have to pay admission for each person. $6.50, adults 12 and older; $5.50 military adult $4.50 children, 3-11; $3.50 military child; $5.50 seniors, 65 and older; FREE children 2 and under; $40 household season membership
They creep and crawl, dangle and fly…come discover what else bugs can do on Saturday, Aug. 9, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fly over to Wolf Canyon to check out bug displays, learn about their important role in nature and participate in buggy crafts. Before leaving the area, be sure to explore the area and see what type of creepy crawlies you can find on your own. Event activities are free to Wildlife Safari Park members or with paid Park admission.
Sounds of Fall
Become an animal detective for a day. Learn to identify animals by their sounds, tracks and evidence they leave behind at Wildlife Safari Park during the Sounds of Fall event on Saturday, Sept. 6, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Enjoy touching and feeling animal artifacts, participating in crafts and enjoying other special activities at Wolf Canyon. Event activities are free to Wildlife Safari Park members or with paid Park admission.
Go on a haunted hike, take a spooky ride, enjoy a hot dog supper, roast marshmallows and play ghostly games for candies in the great outdoors from 6 to 9 p.m. at Wildlife Safari Park on Friday, Oct. 10, and Saturday, Oct. 11. Event does not include general Park admission during the operating hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The Wildlife Safari Park offers family classes throughout the summer. Check their website for updates.
You may be interested in posts about attractions near the safari:
Eugene T. Mahoney State Park is a fun day-trip from Omaha or Lincoln. There are a lot of free things to do, and a lot of seasonal fun that costs extra, from horseback riding and swimming in the summer, to ice skating in the winter. There’s so much to do, I recommend planning at least staying overnight if not longer.
COVID-19 Update: Mahoney State Park is open for day use, fishing, and recreation. Game and Parks will continue to keep open state park and recreation areas grounds and trails. Playgrounds, activity centers, are not open. Overnight camping and staying in the lodge and cabins are prohibited through Friday, May 8, with a possible extension. All events are canceled through May 31.
UPDATE: This post was first published in 2013 and updated in 2020 with information of new activities at the park and closures due to COVID-19. If I’ve missed any new additions, please let me know!
In this post, I share all the things families can do any season while visiting Mahoney State Park. I include tips on things I’ve learned first-hand while visiting with my kids. I also include suggestions for staying overnight at Mahoney, including prices to help you decide whether you should camp or stay in a cabin or lodge.
Where to stay at Mahoney State Park
The park offers camping/RV parking, a hotel, and cabins. Depending on your budget, your accommodations can be inexpensive or cost as much as a hotel would (or more!).
We have yet to camp with the kids, but there are nice campgrounds near the main lake (the paddleboat lake, as I’ll call it for simplicity’s sake). Some sites are reservable in advance, while others are first-come, first-served. Campsites are $25 to $35 a night.
If you stay at the Peter Kiewit Lodge, expect your rooms to be about $90 to $95 a night. All rooms come with a mini-fridge, microwave, coffee pot, AC and heat, wireless Internet, telephone, TV, and a private bath. More than half the rooms have a balcony.
For cabins, your options include two-, four- and six-bedroom cabins. We opted to stay at a two-bedroom cabin and a treetop cabin. I’d recommend. the treetop cabin.
There are also ultra-modern cabins that can fit up to people.
How much are cabins at Mahoney State Park?
Prices vary greatly for cabins at Mahoney State Park. For the most basic accommodations, you’ll pay between $170 and $190. If you stay in the off-season, there is a discount.
The larger, six-bedroom cabins can fit up to 20 people can run more than $450 a night.
Mahoney State Park cabins have AC, appliances and dishware, bathtubs, grills, and for those who like going to a state park but not going outside, they have satellite TV. They also all have housekeeping.
If you’re ready to go camping or to reserve a cabin, click here to check availability.
Tip: Cabins become available to reserve one full year in advance. If you plan on booking a cabin during the summer, try to reserve it as early as possible.
Mahoney State Park’s Activity Center
My kids’ favorite place to visit at Mahoney State Park is the Activity Center. It doesn’t matter what season it is, the Activity Center should be a stop during your visit. It’s especially great to visit in the winter.
The Activity Center has an indoor play space that’s good for kids ages 10 and younger. There are several slides, tubes, and ball pits. Cost to enter is $3 for kids ages 3-12 and $2 for anyone over 12 years old. Kids under 3 years old are FREE.
Connected to the Activity Center is a rock climbing center called Venture Center. It has a 42-foot wall. While it looks high, my kids climbed to the top when they were ages 6 and 8.
The rock climbing center allows for free climbing, as well, though there is a minimum age requirement.
The costs for climbing is $11 for adults and $10 for children age 12 and younger. There is no time limit.
There is an outdoor ice skating rink open seasonally. Admission to the Activity Center includes admission to the ice skating rink; however, skate rentals are not included. Skates are $3.
About that pool at Mahoney
The Mahoney State Park aquatic center has two water slides, wave pool and an area for small children.
It’s a very popular summer spot, open from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The hours are noon to 5 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. daily from late May to mid-August. Hours are reduced from mid-August to Labor Day (including being closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays).
Tip: They will kick you out of the pool for that evening break.
The cost to enter the pool is $10 per adult, $8 per child (ages 3-12), and FREE for children 2 and younger. They offer season passes if you think you’ll be going frequently.
Mahoney State Park Ropes Course
The Go Ape! Treetop Adventure opened April 28, 2018. This course includes Treetop Adventure and Treetop Junior, so it’s an outing suitable for kids and adults. There is a height requirement of a minimum of 4 feet 7 inches, and there is a maximum weight limit of 285 pounds. The course includes zip lines, obstacles, and a ropes course, and expect it to last two to three hours.
The cost is $49 for ages 16 and older and $39 for children 15 and younger. There must be a supervising adult age 19 or older to accompany children. Reservations are suggested.
More great family activities At Mahoney State Park
Basically, everything at the Mahoney State Park is family-friendly; what will be the most fun depends on the age of your children. Mine are happy running across a bridge or collecting rocks. Your older kids might require a little more to thrill them.
There are several, including a huge indoor play area (it has an admission fee but it’s awesome). The biggest one is near the swimming pool – it has a separate jungle gym for smaller kids.
My kids love walking around the gardens, especially the conservatory at the state park. It’s not very large, but stop by and see the water feature there.
Horseback rides & pony rides
Read more about trail rides at Mahoney here. You must be 6 or older to ride a horse. The cost is $18 per person.
The pony rides are for kids ages 3-9. The cost is $7 per kid. Rides are weather permitting and run daily through Aug. 13, and then they’re only on Saturdays and Sundays.
Tip: Trail rides are very popular at Mahoney State Park. If they are full the day you want to ride, consider checking another nearby park, Platte River State Park, because there will often be open spaces.
Paddleboat rentals are down by the Owen Marina. They are $10 per boat for a half-hour rental.
It’s not the most scenic place to paddleboat.
Several fishing clinics are planned during the summer. Most people fish at Owen Marina.
We visited the park during a special event in the winter and park rangers taught the kids how to ice fish.
Explore the marina
For me, includes exploring the ice cream shop there. This is also where all the arts & craft stuff is. The cost of the projects varies by size and medium.
Please note, the arts & craft center is only open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays in the off-season (which is mid-October through April).
Mahoney State Park is not great for hiking. My favorite trail runs from the lookout tower to the southwest end of Margre’s Village. Overall, though, the trails at this particular park are few, short, and not overly scenic.
The highlight for my kids is that the trail near the lookout tower gives you the best chance to spot a passing train.
Mini golf is $3.50 per person. There’s also a driving range, and it’s $3 for a bucket of balls. The putt putt golf course is open daily (weather permitting).
It’s a tall one with a great view, and climbing it is a useful tool for tiring out little ones.
Kountze Memorial Theater
Melodramas are often performed here. Usually there are two or three show options.
Tickets are $7 per adult and $5 per child (ages 12 and younger. The family package, which is two adult tickets and two child tickets, is $20.
Climb the lookout tower for a spectacular view. There are a few clinics this summer sponsored by the Omaha Astronomical Society & Prairie Astronomy Club, who will bring telescopes. Check here for dates.
I’ve tried the paved trails with my kids. If they aren’t confident riders, don’t ride here. It seems fairly flat but don’t be fooled. There are a few slopes and turns that were difficult for my novice riders.
I can’t say if the mountain bike trails are kid-friendly or not. I haven’t tried them…yet.
The park offers about several free programs, including ones focusing on horses, native reptiles, insects, prairie and hummingbird workshops, archery, nature hikes and fishing clinics.
The archery program was a hit with my kids.
For hours and fees on activities, visit this link. Park’s phone number is 402-944-2523.
Restaurants at Mahoney State Park (and nearby)
To be honest, it’s pretty slim pickings as far as high-quality restaurants go around Mahoney State Park.
The lodge is home to Caddy’s Parkside Grill, which is open year-round and is known for brunch and their wings. I dare you to try the ghost pepper chicken wings. The restaurant does have a kid’s menu.
The Activity Center has a variety of snacks like nachos, hot dogs and popcorn, plus they serve Valentino’s Pizza. The good news is, if you like that pizza, you can have it delivered to your cabin, campsite or the lodge.
Tip: You cannot bring outside food into the Activity Center.
Outside the park, you have a few options within about a 15-minute drive. Ashland has a couple of restaurants and wineries.
Heading east on Interstate 80, you’ll come across the Nebraska Crossing Outlets in Gretna. You’ll find a few more dining options there. I recommend Voodoo Taco.
Things to do near Mahoney State Park
Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum: Planes and space exploration stuff. The Children’s Learning Center opened in August 2016, and I wrote all about it here.
The museum has a concession stand on the lower level.
Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park & Wildlife Safari: Drive-through safari featuring native species. This is my favorite side trip from Mahoney. It’s very close to the park!
Ashland: This is the nearest town to Mahony State Park. You’ll find ice cream options and a pizza option. For grown-ups, there is also the Glacial Till Winery Tasting Room (try the cider) and Cellar 426 Wines & Vines.
Louisville State Recreation Area: There are plans to upgrade the park, including adding a water obstacle course! Read this post for details.
Schramm Park State Recreation Area: Trails for hiking and an aquarium with cheap admission. There are plans to upgrade the park! Read this post for details.