How To Step Up Your Nature Game At Fontenelle Forest

I love hikes and finding new outdoor spaces to explore, like trails near my home in Omaha. However, when hiking with my kids, I hear a lot of questions I don’t have answers for (unless I bust out my iPhone to Google it). Fontenelle Forest has created a non-tech solution: Family Backpacks.

Disclosure: I’m a member of Fontenelle Forest, so my admission was free, and for this post, the forest provided a complimentary backpack to check out.

Where’s Fontenelle Forest?

Before jumping into what’s in the backpack, for those unfamiliar with Fontenelle Forest, this lovely nature center is located in Bellevue, Neb., just south of Omaha.

Related post: 10 Must-Try Bellevue Restaurants

Boardwalk at Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue, Nebraska

It’s a beautiful place to take the family. There are miles and miles of trails, plus a long boardwalk, making it accessible for wheelchairs and strollers. There’s also the Raptor Woodland Refuge to explore and a fun nature playscape.

COVID-19 update: Although Fontenelle Forest buildings are closed, the trails are open to members, or with the purchase of daily admission. Memberships and daily admission can be purchased online at FontenelleForest.org or by calling (402) 731-3140. The boardwalk is marked with one-way arrows to help with social distancing. The Raptor Woodland Refuge and nature playscape space, as well as all buildings, are closed temporarily.

Fontenelle Forest COVID-19 guidelines

What’s a Family Backpack?

Fontenelle Forest started the Family Backpack Program in May. Each backpack contains guides, activities, and tools to enhance a visit to the forest. Two themes are available: Hiking or birding.

I’ve used similar backpacks at Hitchcock Nature Center or DeSoto Wildlife Refuge and loved how they added a lot to our hikes!

We used a backpack on our recent visit to Fontenelle Forest. We checked it out before hitting the ropes course at TreeRush Adventures.

My 8-year-old was eager to sort through the backpack to see everything available.

Girl using binoculars from the Family Backpack at Fontenelle Forest

She was immediately drawn to the binoculars and magnifying glasses.

Each backpack comes with a lot of items and activities – some items are yours to keep.

Items include:

  • Map and activity sheets
  • Cloud identification guide
  • Guide to common birds of Fontenelle Forest
  • Flashcards to common trees at Fontenelle Forest
  • Guide to common spring and summer plants at Fontenelle Forest
  • Don’t touch flashcards with photos of plants you want to avoid (super helpful!)
  • A pair of kid’s binoculars
  • Five magnifying glasses
  • One bug box
  • And to keep: Crayon pucks, pencils, construction paper, stickers
Girl with Fontenelle Forest's Family Backpack

While the backpack itself is pretty large, it’s not too heavy for a kid to carry.

How long can you use the backpack?

Bags are to be checked out for two hours, and in my opinion, there’s no way you’ll get through all activities in one backpack in two hours.

And I think that’s the point. These bags would be great for multiple visits.

Think of it as having easy-to-plan, themed field trips this summer.

Girl with magnifying glass at Fontenelle Forest

Do the backpacks cost money?

Yes. A backpack costs $10 for two hours. You’re going to call ahead to reserve the backpack at 402-731-3140. It’s a first-come, first-served basis.

Be sure to return the backpack within two hours. You will be charged another rental fee if you keep the backpack beyond your allotted time.

Are the backpacks safe during COVID-19?

Fontenelle Forest stresses the fact that they sanitize each backpack and everything in it after every use.

The items that they cannot sanitize were ours to keep.

Planning a trip to Fontenelle Forest, near Omaha Nebraska? Here's a way to learn about the plants and wildlife you'll see there! #outdoors #Nebraska #familytime #Midwest #hiking

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Complete Guide To TreeRush Adventures Ropes Course Near Omaha

There’s nothing like a ropes course to change your mood and confidence level while giving you a good workout. I recently spent a few hours at TreeRush Adventures, a ropes course near Omaha, where you climb, swing, and zipline. Read on to learn about it!

Side note: I hesitated to write this post right now. There are turmoil and heartache in our country and city. I believe this break from screens and news updates was what my family needed. I’m guessing some of you need a little break, too.

TreeRush Adventures at Fontenelle Forest
Photo courtesy TreeRush Adventures

Disclosure: I received complimentary passes to TreeRush Adventures in order to write about my experience. This post contains affiliate links. All thoughts, opinions, and typos are my own.

COVID-19 Update: TreeRush Adventures has adopted some additional operational guidelines in response to the pandemic.

What you need to know:

  • Bring a mask, even for kids. They’ll provide a mask if you don’t have one. Wear it when you’re on the ground. Some people continue to wear it on the course, but that is optional since social distancing is pretty easy up high. If you don’t have a reusable homemade one, buy a bulk supply of disposable face masks ahead of time.
  • Bring your own protective gloves. They will not provide the “community gloves” like before. The kids and I used Mud Gloves, which were purchased originally for gardening, but they worked well on the course.
  • Bring your own water. There is a cooler of bottled water for free, but I’d just recommend bringing your own.
  • A lot of the TreeRush’s safety measures already create social distancing. They require one person on an element or obstacle and only three people on a platform (and all three must be in the same group, not strangers).

You can read more details about TreeRush’s cleaning and safety procedures here.

Where is this ropes course in Omaha?

TreeRush Adventures is located at Fontenelle Forest, which isn’t actually in Omaha (we like to refer to it as “Omaha area”). It’s located at 1111 Bellevue Blvd. N, in Bellevue, Neb.

For those unfamiliar with the Omaha metro area, Bellevue is just south of Omaha. For those of you familiar with Omaha, it’s close enough, right?

The entrance to TreeRush Adventures is separate from Fontenelle Forest’s entrance.

Who can go to TreeRush Adventure?

Here’s the cool part: I was there with my two kids, ages 10 and 8. At the same time, I spotted a couple on a date, a group of women together, and a solo man.

Smiling boy on ropes course in Nebraska

So, pretty much everyone goes to TreeRush Adventures: Families, friends, couples, solo explorers.

For kids ages 4-6, there’s KidRush Adventure Park, a low-to-the-ground ropes course that’s just challenging enough for kiddos to feel a part of the action.

TreeRush Adventure Park is for ages 7 and older. We started on the easiest course with my kids, the Meadowlark yellow course, which was still challenging for my youngest.

By the time we finished that course, she was eager to try the next skill level up. It was the most incredible experience watching her confidence level increase as we went along that green course.

How long does it take?

Your reservation allows for two hours on the course, whether it is TreeRush Adventure or KidRush.

The whole experience is longer, though, since you’ll be fitted for a harness and go through safety training, and practice. In all, it’s about three hours.

Tip: Regulars at TreeRush can test out of the safety training.

You go at your own pace, so you can take as many breaks as you need to just keep plowing through the courses. Most courses take less than 30 minutes.

Girl on a TreeRush Adventures obstacle
Photo courtesy TreeRush Adventures

I liked TreeRush Adventures because of the variety. We’ve been on other courses that were one long series of challenges, not divided by skill level, and those were exhausting.

TreeRush’s design eases you into things and motivates you to return to try harder courses. My 8-year-old has already requested we return when she’s 10 so she can do the blue courses. (Right now, she’s only allowed on yellow and green courses, the least challenging ones).

Two hours was long enough for me and my 10-year-old. My youngest probably could’ve gone another hour, she was loving it so much.

Hours are seasonal, naturally. Who wants to zipline in sub-zero temperatures?

What should you bring or wear for a ropes course?

You want to be comfortable out there, so dress for the weather. However, if it’s hot, short shorts are not advisable because…harnesses, man.

Kim going through a triangle obstacle at TreeRush Adventures
Photo courtesy TreeRush Adventures

Make sure your shirt is long because moving and climbing with those harnesses on make shirts ride up easily.

Wear close-toed shoes. You’ll climb a lot and sandals just aren’t practical or safe.

Other key things to bring:

  • Bug spray. Lots and lots of bug spray.
  • Sunscreen.
  • Your own gloves.
  • Water. You can wear a Camelback backpack. Otherwise, you’ll have to leave your water bottles on the ground.

What’s the staff like?

They’re incredibly helpful and great with kids, for the most part (isn’t that the case everywhere?). Everyone was alert and attentive, so I felt pretty safe the entire time.

The staff doing the harness fitting and safety training were incredible with my kids. They were patient and funny.

Safety training and practice at TreeRush Adventures at Fontenelle Forest

Kenny, who taught our practice course, was one of the summer camp teachers my daughter had last year. I rank summer camp teachers up with my kids’ regular teachers. They’re heroes. How they have the patience, energy, and kindness to be with so many kids all day is beyond me.

Another super friendly staff was Christy, who invited my family to TreeRush Adventures. She went around the course with us, offering tips and encouragement. While my experience wasn’t the norm, you can just yell “Staff!” when you’re stuck, and they’ll come over and talk you through things (or climb up and rescue you).

How much does it cost?

General admission is $46 for ages 12 and older, $39 for ages 7 to 11, and $12 for ages 4 to 6.

You do not have to pay if you’re just going to watch your friends or family.

There are some discounts.

  • 10% off for military (active or retired), seniors, and Fontenelle Forest members.

Do you get into Fontenelle Forest if you have a ticket for TreeRush Adventures?

The short answer is no. TreeRush Adventure is separate from Fontenelle Forest (same parking lot, though).

Kim and her son on the TreeRush Adventures course

You are fully immersed in the forest, though, as you’re climbing, crawling, and zipping around. We had one of the last reservations of the day, and the peaceful calm of dusk at the forest was awe-inspiring.

I had to pause to take it all in. I highly recommend that evening experience.

Right now, only members have access to Fontenelle Forest trails, so if you are a member, you can tack on time on the trails before or after your zipline, operating hours permitting.

Tip: If you are a Fontenelle Forest member, you get a 10% off discount on TreeRush Adventure general admission tickets!

We arrived at Fontenelle Forest about an hour before our TreeRush reservation to get a little trail time in. I really wanted to check out Fontenelle’s new nature backpack (I’ll be writing about that soon!).

One hour at Fontenelle wasn’t enough time, though.

Boy on the swing obstacle at TreeRush Adventures
Photo courtesy TreeRush Adventures

Next time, I won’t try to do both in one outing. The forest and ropes course are both worthy of an individual trip.

Tip: If you only have a limited number of days in Omaha, and want to do both, I’d allow one to two hours for a hike. You’ll be sore the next day because that’s a lot of activity.

Looking for adventures near Omaha Nebraska? Check out TreeRush Adventures at Fontenelle Forest! This ropes course (with ziplines) has multiple courses for different ages and skill levels. It's a fun family activity!
The ultimate family outing near Omaha Nebraska - try a ropes course! Here's what to expect if you go to TreeRush Adventures at Fontenelle Forest. #FamilyTravel #Nebraska #Outdoors #Midwest

While you’re in Bellevue

Hungry? You can grab a meal at one of these great restaurants in Bellevue, Neb.

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10 Must-Try Bellevue Restaurants

While Omaha’s culinary scene may get international attention,  the restaurant scene in Bellevue is nothing to scoff at. From top-contending burgers at Stella’s to impressive cuisine at Umami, Bellevue’s food scene runs the gamut from nice sit down to popular greasy spoons.

Bellevue, Nebraska has a surprising number of great restaurants. Check out 10 must-try restaurants in Bellevue, ranging from sushi and banh mi to gyros and burgers. #Bellevue #Nebraska #eatlocal #restaurants #Midwest #Midwestisbest

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. At no additional cost to you, if you make a purchase after clicking on an affiliate link, I will receive a small compensation for referring you.

Where is Bellevue, Nebraska?

Bellevue, Neb., is a suburban city in southeastern Nebraska just to the south of Omaha. It’s considered part of the Omaha Metro area. Many people move to Bellevue when they get stationed at nearby Offutt Air Force Base.

Usually, when I venture to Bellevue, it’s to visit Fontenelle Forest or Bellevue Berry & Pumpkin Patch (though, if we want to be technical, Bellevue Berry & Pumpkin Patch actually in Papillion…but I digress).

Now, on to food!

Best restaurants to try in Bellevue, Neb.

Stella’s Bar & Grill

Where: 106 Galvin Road S, Bellevue, Neb.

Inside Stella's Bar & Grill in Bellevue, Nebraska, one of the city's most popular restaurants

Possibly the most famous Bellevue restaurant, Stella’s is known for its Stellanator challenge. Six patties and a ton of toppings invites people with big eyes for the challenge. If you finish the Stellanator and a side of fries within 45 minutes, it’s free and you win a T-shirt. Lose, and it costs $35.

Stella’s regular burgers are a treat. You can get a variety of toppings, such as peanut butter, jalapenos, fried egg and cheese. The eatery serves the burgers on napkins. It’s a fun outing for anyone, including families.

Tip: Be prepared for a short wait regardless of when you visit.

Burger and fries at Stella's Bar & Grill in Bellevue Nebraska
Photo courtesy Visit Omaha

Related post: Stella’s is one of the 15+ Quirky Restaurants in Omaha, thanks largely to its unique Stellanator.

Roma Italian Restaurant

Where: 605 Fort Crook Road N, Bellevue, Neb.

Entree at Roma Italian Restaurant, located on Fort Crook Road in Bellevue, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Tim Trudell

Located in a former Sizzler steakhouse on Fort Crook, Roma features classic Italian dishes, such as spaghetti and meatballs and chicken parmesan.

With outstanding appetizers and salads, Roma’s entree portions are large. You may want to consider splitting a dish.

Sinful Burger Sports Grill

Where: 4005 Twin Creek Drive, Bellevue, Neb.

Burger and fries at Sinful Burger, a restaurant in Bellevue, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Tim Trudell

With hearty-sized burgers fashioned after the seven deadly sins, Sinful Burger is an excellent spot to enjoy dinner and watch sports. The family-friendly restaurant also offers the Metro’s only authentic Indian taco, featuring handmade fry bread with taco toppings.

Sinful Burger closes on all major holidays, so employees can enjoy family time.

Lil Burro

Where: 12510 S. 29th Ave., Bellevue, Neb.

Entree at the Mexican restaurant Lil Burro in Bellevue
Photo courtesy Tim Trudell

Using fresh ingredients, including peppers grown in a garden behind the restaurant, Lil Burro’s menu features authentic dishes. From tacos and enchiladas to tamales and burritos, Lil Burro, with its colorful dining room and unique decor, is a popular eatery on Capehart Road, not far from Offutt Air Force Base.

Discover even more unique and quirky restaurants in the book “Unique Eats and Eateries of Omaha.” It’s written by two of my friends, Tim and Lisa Trudell (AKA, The Walking Tourists), and they’ve included and quite a few restaurants on this list, and several more. They provided several photos for this post, too.

Quick Bites Soul Food

Where: 105 W. Mission Ave., Bellevue, Neb.

From gizzards to catfish and po boys, the restaurant on Mission is the place to go for great soul and cajun food. With sides such as candied yams, collard greens, and red beans and rice, Quick Bites has been the place to dine since 2016.

Catfish Lake

Where: 16609 Clay St., Bellevue, Neb.

Catfish Lake entree
Photo courtesy Tim Trudell

Possibly the best spot in the Metro for catfish and other fish dinners, Catfish Lake relocated from its longtime home near Offutt following the 2019 flood to a spot in south Bellevue near LaPlatte.

Open since 1986, Catfish Lake also serves delicious fried chicken and burgers.

John’s Grecian Delight

Where: Inside Southroads Technology Park, 1001 Fort Crook Road N, Bellevue, Neb.

Gyro at John's Grecian Delight

Calling the Southroads home for nearly 40 years,  John’s Grecian Delight ranks among the best places in the Omaha area to enjoy a gyro and other traditional Greek cuisine. During Southroads’ heyday, people stood in line for an opportunity to taste John’s food.

Today, the clientele may be a little different, but the food remains outstanding.

Button to Omaha restaurants archive

Umami

Where: 1504 Galvin Road S, Bellevue, Neb.

Known for its delicious sushi, the popular Asian restaurant on Galvin Road attracts diners from around the area. Besides sushi, Umami’s menu includes Chinese and Thai entrees.

Related post: Umami has such a following, it’s one of the must-try restaurants in the state of Nebraska.

Netties Fine Mexican Food

Where: 7110 Railroad Ave., Bellevue, Neb.

A Bellevue staple since 1987, Netties continues to offer traditional Mexican fare. With its famous chili leading the way, Netties offers entrees such as enchilada and taco combinations. 

Note: Netties is closed Sunday and Monday.

The Banh Mi Shop

Where: 923 Galvin Road S suite 101, Bellevue, Neb.

Vietnamese-style sandwich at The Banh Mi Shop in Bellevue, Nebraska
Photo courtesy Tim Trudell

Just a couple of years old, The Banh Mi Shop on South Galvin Road quickly became popular for its Vietnamese-style sandwiches. With menu items such as shredded pork and cold cut sandwiches, The Banh Mi Shop’s menu features delicious and healthy options.

Tip: A second location of The Banh Mi Shop opened in 2019 at the Inner Rail Food Hall at Aksarben Village.

Bellevue Nebraska is known as being home to Offutt Air Force Base, but it also is home to several great locally-owned restaurants. Here's the scoop on great restaurants in Bellevue, including Stella's, known for having some of the best burgers in Nebraska, and Umami, a popular sushi restaurant. #Nebraska #dining #foodie

With a variety of restaurants to choose from in the Omaha area, Bellevue is home to some of the Metro’s best. So, don’t be surprised if the people at the table next to you drove a distance to enjoy their meal.

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