April 2, 2017

Visiting The Western Historic Trails Center

The Western Historic Trails Center in Council Bluffs is one of those notable historic landmarks within a few miles of Omaha that you know you ought to visit at least once, but you probably haven’t.

Entrance to the Western Historic Trails Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa
The Western Historic Trails Center is located in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

At least, that was my family’s case until recently.

One unseasonably warm winter day, we decided we wanted to get outdoors, but we were tired of going to the same park, the same trails. And then I remembered the paved trails on the Council Bluffs side of the Missouri River. Why not do something new that combined a hike with a bit of local history?

About Western Historic Trails Center

Interactive map exhibit at Western Historic Trails Center in Iowa
Some exhibit pieces at the trails center were interactive, making it more engaging for children and adults.

This small center is dedicated to teaching us about four historic trails that passed through this area: the Lewis and Clark, Oregon, California and Mormon Trails. You can learn about the pioneers who traveled the trails, as well. The National Park Service designed and built the center and admission is free.

The exhibit space includes photos, maps, some interactive pieces sculptures, and my kids’ favorite, audio records (must be the thrill of holding a phone? I dunno). There’s also a small theater space to watch a film. If you want to learn more about the area’s significance, read this.

Audio feature in an exhibit at Western Historic Trails Center in Iowa
What is it about phones? This might have been my kids’ favorite exhibit just because they could listen to people on this audio device.

We didn’t spend a whole lot of time here. Only one child could read, for one thing; for another, they still have a rough concept of time. Everything “old” to my preschooler is 99 years old, no matter what.

Outdoor sculpture near Western Historic Trails Center in Iowa
Outside the Western Historic Trails Center, you’ll find paved and unpaved trails, as well as interpretive sculptures.

Still, it’s worth peeking in before going on to my favorite part of the area: The trails.

Trails By The Western History Trails Center

Paved trail near Western Historic Trails Center in Council Bluffs, Iowa
Flat terrain make it easy to keep an eye on speedy kids.

The paved trails will take you toward the Missouri River for a nice walk, or if you’re on bike, you can take the trails further along north toward two casinos and the Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park, or further south toward Lake Manawa State Park. Part of the trail is unpaved if you’re going to try to get a view of the river.

Pond near the trail by the Western Historic Trails Center in Iowa
We weren’t expecting to find a pond along the way to the Missouri River. The kids loved drawing in the sand.

We were on foot and with our dog, so we opted for the easy walk to the river. We passed by a small pond, which was a nice diversion to explore. It was disappointing to see how much trash has been left in the area.

The view of the Missouri River facing Omaha
That’s the eastern side of Omaha across the river.

In short order, we made it to the river and got a fairly plain view of Omaha (it was winter, after all). Still, your kids should be able to spot some landmarks, including the zoo and the train engines at Kenefick Park near Lauritzen Gardens.

Events at Western Historic Trails Center

Panoramic photo of the interior of the Western Historic Trails Center in Iowa
Inside the Western Historic Trails Center.

This year, the center is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and the theme is Wild West. Events will be held throughout the year, though I don’t have much details on them. So far, I’ve heard of some documentaries screened there as a part of that celebration. The next screening coming up is on April 30 showing the film “American Experience Documentary: Annie Oakley.”

In the past, there have been music jams, live re-enactments along the trail, and holiday events. I recommend following WHTC on Facebook to keep up to date.

If you go

Western Historic Trails Center

Where: 3434 Richard Downing Ave., Council Bluffs, Iowa

When: Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; closed official state holidays

Cost: FREE


Explore the pioneer history of Iowa & Nebraska at the Western Historic Trails Center #familytravel #history

Liked this post?

Get more posts like this delivered straight to your inbox twice a month. Subscribe to the FREE e-newsletter sharing giveaways, new posts, and travel inspiration! Subscribe here.

September 2, 2016

10 Things You Must Do In Council Bluffs In The Fall

Updated: Jan. 10, 2018

Fall is an ideal time to visit Council Bluffs, Iowa. A gorgeous time.

I was recently asked by the Council Bluffs Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to write about the city which inspired this sponsored post. I’m not exactly a local expert but the city has a special place in my heart. I spent about 10 years working in Council Bluffs, and even though my daily commute doesn’t bring me down West Broadway anymore, I return with my family to revisit my favorites.

If you haven’t visited in a while, here’s a list of fun things you must do in the fall in Council Bluffs.

10 things to do in Council Bluffs, Iowa in the fall #Iowa #thisisIowa #unleashCB

Shady Lanes Ranch

Shady Lanes Ranch Inc. has fun hayrack rides that end with your group being dropped off at your own bonfire. We brought friends last year for the first time and had so much fun. The kids enjoyed the hay fights between with passing hayracks.

Ditmars Orchard

It’ll be tough to find a closer apple orchard than Ditmars. My family enjoys the relaxed pace of the orchard, which is perfect for younger children. You can walk out to the orchard or hop on a hayrack to go further into the orchard (if you’re going with little kids, this hayrack ride is a hit). They also have a pumpkin patch for later fall activities. While there, kids will enjoy the playground and corn maze. Before you leave, do not skip the concession stand. You must get the fresh apple donuts. You’ll thank me.

Ditmars is a hot spot in the fall for events. In September alone, there’s the AppleGrass Festival, Fields of Flight hot air balloon weekend, and a kite-flying weekend.

Bayliss Park

Bayliss Park in downtown Council Bluffs is pretty visit any time of day, but the modern fountain lit up at night is a sight to see. The park has a splash ground that’s great for kids on hot summer days, too. The park also has free concerts and movies throughout the summer.

Union Pacific Railroad Museum

View this post on Instagram

So many buttons to push in this place

A post shared by Kim Reiner (@ohmyomaha) on

If you have a train-loving kid in your house, you need to visit Union Pacific Railroad Museum in downtown Council Bluffs. This FREE museum features some interactive displays, and lots and lots of memorabilia.

If you’re kids are really into trains, plan for a second train stop in C.B. at RailsWest Railroad Museum.

Wabash Trace Trail

This long, crushed limestone trail is great for cycling (not with your road bike, mind you) and running. Wabash Trace Trail starts in Council Bluffs and takes a scenic route southward through the Loess Hills and tree-lined fields for 63 miles. It’s an old railroad route so the slopes are never steep. On Thursday nights, hundreds of bike riders take the famous Taco Ride from Council Bluffs to Mineola for food and drinks, and then ride back. It’s a ton of fun! If you try it, make sure your bike lights are working – it gets very dark on the trail.

Dixie Quicks

Few restaurants in the metro area can compare to the creativity and taste of Dixie Quicks and for that alone, you should visit. The cool setting, quirky shop and gallery connected to the restaurant, and the dinosaurs kids can play with while you wait are icing on the cake. Brunch is my favorite time to dine there. Find Dixie Quicks on the historic 100th block of Council Bluffs, a pretty part of the city not to be missed. Update: Dixie Quicks closed in 2018.

Arts Center at IWCC

The Arts Center at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs has two performance spaces where you can see student performances and touring productions. There’s a full season of shows, so it’s not just a fall thing to do. Occasionally a kid-centric show will be presented there, so keep an eye on the schedule.

Lake Manawa State Park

Lake Manawa is definitely busy in the summer with boaters, fishers and swimmers enjoying the beach. In the fall, take advantage of the cooler weather to bike the paved trails or if you’re the adventurous sort, the 8 miles of mountain bike trails. If’ you’re there with younger children, don’t skip Dream Land Park.

Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

Probably one of the top 5 photographed attraction in the metro area, the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge spans the Missouri River, connecting Iowa to Nebraska. The photo opp of all photo opps is straddling the state line. Summer on Council Bluffs’ side can be pretty busy, especially on the green space of the park that’s right near the bridge, Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park. There are concerts and outdoor movie screenings there, especially during Loessfest.

Stir Outdoor Concert Cove

OK, this is more of a summer place to be for live music, but the Stir Concert Cove schedule stretches into the fall so I’m including it. The outdoor music venue at Harrah’s Casino and Hotel brings in some of the best touring bands that come to the metro area. While they are all-ages shows, I usually find a sitter when I get tickets to a show.


Where to eat in Council Bluffs

I can’t limit myself to just 10 great things about Council Bluffs, at least, not if it means I have to cut out some food talk. Dixie Quicks is great, but it’s not the only restaurant in town. If you’re hungry for pizza, head to the local favorite, Pizza King. If you’re at Bayliss Park, my favorite spot for a treat afterward is Ellie’s Deli & Ice Cream Shoppe. Christy Creme is another ice cream place to visit in the summer; we usually stop there after a trip to nearby Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek.

For a filling breakfast a cozy diner, head to Duncan’s Cafe on Main Street. I dare you to tackle the serving of hashbrowns – I swear the plate is the size of a hub cab. See more of my favorites in the post 8 Great Places To Get Breakfast in Council Bluffs.

If you’re in Council Bluffs without kids, my favorite spots I recommend visiting is 1892 German Bier House, 360 Steakhouse at Harrah’s (the best view!), and Cellar 19, and wine bar and deli. There are a few wineries outside of Council Bluffs, too. Check out the list of Wineries Near Council Bluffs.

Places Still On My To-Visit List

For all the years I’ve worked in Council Bluffs, I’m a little embarrassed to say I’ve never been to two of its biggest historical attractions: Squirrel Cage Jail and the Gen. Dodge House. The Dodge House often has events with actors dressed in period costumes and at Christmas time, they have special nights for families. (drips), a new-to-me coffee shop on Main Street, is also a place on my list.

Your turn: What are some of your favorite Council Bluffs attractions and restaurants?

Get Travel Inspiration Directly In Your Inbox

Subscribe to the FREE twice a month(ish) e-newsletter sharing what’s new in the Omaha metro, giveaways, family travel ideas, and more! Subscribe here.

May 15, 2016

Imagination Movers At Loessfest + Giveaway

Disclaimer: I was compensated for this post sponsored by Emspace to promote the Imagination Movers’ concert. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Loessfest is back in Council Bluffs, and its opening night festivities are going to be a lot of fun for families!

Imagination Movers at Loessfest

Imagination Movers playing at Loessfest in 2015. They’re back for the opening night concert on May 28, 2016! Photo courtesy Emspace

The Riverfront Block Party Saturday, May 28, includes live music, a movie, bounce houses, train rides and a lot more at Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park (on the Bluffs’ side of the pedestrian bridge). Admission is FREE!

Loessfest Block Party schedule:

5 p.m. – Festivities start with bounce houses, food, train ride, face painting and more

7 p.m. – The Imagination Movers perform

9 p.m. (or dusk) – “Inside Out” plays on the big screen


Did you catch the Imagination Movers when they played last year? I interviewed one of the band members last year – hear what Rich Collins has to say about the band whose music The New York Times described as evoking “the Beastie Boys or Red Hot Chili Peppers.”

imagination movers - blue

These four guys from New Orleans are a lot of fun for families and their concerts are high-energy. My kids and I had a dance party watching their live concert DVD that came with “Licensed to Move” last year.

We haven’t been to a concert of theirs yet, but I can only imagine how much fun they are!


Imagination Movers Giveaway

Imagination Movers giveaway

Are your kids fans of the Imagination Movers?

I’ve got a prize pack to give to one lucky reader! The pack contains an autographed poster, mouse ears, stickers and a CD. It’s easy to enter!

1. Leave a comment: Make up a name for your kid’s signature dance move.

2. Bonus entry: Check out the Loessfest event schedule – which runs May 28 through June 5 – and leave a comment with which event you’re most looking forward to.

Deadline to leave a comment is Sunday, May 22, at 11:59 p.m. One winner will be randomly selected through random.org. I’ll contact the winner via email within 48 hours and he or she will have 48 hours to respond. Must be 18 to enter.

September 5, 2014

Your Local Kids Quest + Giveaway

UPDATE: April 7, 2019 – Kids Quest at Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs, Iowa has permanently closed.

We all aren’t blessed with babysitters at the ready. I’m lucky to live in the same city as most of my immediate relatives and even I sometimes need to scramble to find a babysitter.

Enter Kids Quest.

KQLogo [Converted] (1)

Never heard of it? It’s the nation’s largest hourly child care provider, but it’s more than what you envision “child care” to be. Think arcade, floor-to-ceiling maze and karaoke. It’s a supervised children’s entertainment center, basically.

Play Time for Kids, Free Time for You!

Our local Kids Quest is located inside Ameristar Casino in Council Bluffs. It’s open seven days a week. For hours and rates – check at www.kidsquest.com.

Spoiler alert: There’s a giveaway at the end of the post!

So, if you’re like me, you get a little uptight thinking with your preconceived ideas of an hourly day care center (in a casino, even). Relax.

Kids quest has CPR and first aid certified staff. Safety is a priority, so a photo ID is required at check-in and check out (there’s a nice video about the process check-in here).

TIP: Speed up your first check-in by pre-registering online. 

They care for children ages 6 weeks to 12 years old. Socks are required, which reminds me of the policy in my kids’ daycare’s infant room.

Let’s talk fun stuff

Check out all the activities inside Kids Quest:

Creative Play

Special areas offer creative crafts, construction and transportation toys, cozy lounges, home living imagination play, colorful costumes and realistic props to set the stage for big adventures.

Indoor Play Piece

Plenty of twists and turns in this floor-to-ceiling maze challenge kids’ bodies and minds while providing vital entertainment and exercise for hours on end.

Arcade Alley

Kids get their game on with the latest engaging (yet non-violent) arcade games where they can compete for high scores!

Quest Café

Your child’s taste buds are tantalized as the simple act of eating is changed into a super savory adventure. Meals and snacks available for purchase.

Tiny Tots

A safe-play environment with soft climbing zones for youngsters that encourage sensory stimulation, interactive play, and toddler-friendly snacks!

Karaoke Star Stage

Here’s a spotlight where kids shine, whether they want a solo song or to sing along with their friends!

iPad® Stations

Over 100 kids games and apps give the perfect tech platform to explore and play on their own or in friendly competition.

Wii® Arena

Wii®, Nintendo® Kinect, and PS3 games get kids moving with the latest in virtual spors, exploration, races, and more!

Arts and Crafts

Kids tap into their deepest creative impulses, which then come to life through drawing, molding, painting, and whatever other colorful crafts they devise!

What else is there at Kids Quest?


From start to finish, our birthday parties create wonderful memories as your child celebrates being one year older. Your child’s birthday party rules Kids Quest, gaining unlimited access to the indoor play piece, creative play activities, video and arcade games, and more!


Time to Play

It’s amazing how so much fun can be packed into 2 hours!

Family-Friendly Staff

No stress setup or teardown.

Designed for You

Design the party theme and activities around your child’s unique interests.


Think your kids would have fun at Kids Quest while you enjoy some free time? We’re giving away two free hours at Kids Quest for two children, two snacks and two beverages! That’s a $40 prize (though the free time you’ll have is priceless, right?)!

It’s easy to enter using the Rafflecopter entry form below. If you have trouble using the entry form, go directly to Rafflecopter.com to enter. Giveaway ends Sept. 21 at 11:59 p.m. I will contact the winner via email; winner needs to reply within 48 hours or another name will be drawn.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck!

October 7, 2013

Apple Picking Near Omaha

Autumn is the time to head to apple orchards, and most people in Omaha think of heading to Nebraska City to get their haul. That’s a fun day trip, but there’s a spot closer to home to consider: Ditmar’s Apple Orchard.

Farley loved getting to pull apples off trees.

Farley loved getting to pull apples off trees.

This orchard on the east side of Council Bluffs, Iowa, doesn’t have all the activities you’ll find at the biggest orchards in Nebraska City, but it also doesn’t have the jammed packed parking lots and herds of people. It has enough attractions to entertain your family for about two hours, maybe more on a nice day.

If all you want from an apple orchard is a bunch of apples, don’t drive any further from home than you have to, right?

Highlights from our recent visit

Farley took the lead in the corn maze, mainly because Mooch was batting 0 for 8 on all guesses on the right path to take. Aunt Amy was  a good sport trekking up and down the maze with us.

Farley took the lead in the corn maze, mainly because Mooch was batting 0 for 8 on all guesses on the right path to take. Aunt Amy was a good sport trekking up and down the maze with us.

The corn maze – I was surprised that my kids got so into it, but my preschooler really enjoyed guessing which path to take. It’s a decent workout (especially hauling a toddler around), to boot.

The food – The small shop has a kitchen where you can buy small treats and sandwich entrees (no meatless). The fried apple pie I’ve raved about was not on the chalkboard menu that day. But, I’ve found a new love because of that – fresh apple donuts.

My family of four inhaled six apple donuts at Ditmar's. I' afraid to see what we would've done to a baker's dozen.

My family of four inhaled six apple donuts at Ditmar’s. I’ afraid to see what we would’ve done to a baker’s dozen.

I’m not a huge fan of donuts, but these are warm, cakey treats that get devoured quickly. They also sell hot apple cider, and they offer wine tastings if you catch an employee near the bar (I believe the first three tastings are free).

Chilling on the hayrack ride.

Chilling on the hayrack ride.

Hayrack ride – My kids’ favorite part of the visit was probably the tractor pulling us up a big hill to get to the orchard. It’s included if you buy an activity band (more on that later). The tractor rides are only available on the weekends.

2013 was a good year for apples in Iowa, apparently. The trees at Ditmar's were heavy with fruit.

2013 was a good year for apples in Iowa, apparently. The trees at Ditmar’s were heavy with fruit.

Apple picking – There are several varieties at the orchard to pick and take home (here’s a list http://www.ditmarsorchard.com/fruits.html). My family kept finding the honey crisps, which wouldn’t you know, cost extra (and apparently, we aren’t supposed to pick – there was a big to-do about it, there’s some sort of tape marking the trees off but most people didn’t notice it until after picking the trees and I didn’t pay attention to it at all).

You've got to make sure you like the apples you take home, right? I feel the need to defend my little gluttons.

You’ve got to make sure you like the apples you take home, right? I feel the need to defend my little gluttons.

My kids enjoyed sampling the apples before placing some in the bag. Is that a no no?

If you go

19475 225th St., Council Bluffs (not far off Interstate 80, take the Iowa Western Community College exit – head east, then take the next left (Hunt Avenue), follow that gravel road a ways and then, bam, you’re there)

Fall hours

Tuesday/Wednesday: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Thursday: 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Friday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Sunday: 11 a.m. 6 p.m.


Saturdays and Sundays: $5 for children (ages 3-18); $2 for adults (ages 18 and older); free for 2 and younger

Weekdays: $3/children (3-18); free for adults

You’re supposed to have a wristband to do the kids’ stuff there – including the corn maze and hayrack ride I mentioned above. There is also a playground there (nothing special) and somewhere there is a corn sandbox, we never came across it. You can skip the corn maze and playground and still have a good time, but it’s worth getting the band for the hayrack ride if you have younger children, they love that stuff. The orchard begins not far from shop so you can just walk to the trees and begin picking.

They hold events through out the year, including a very popular balloon glow.

Mooch love playing on the tractor tire pile during the balloon glow at Ditmar's this summer. Never has there been a filthier girl than my child upon leaving the orchard that night. Congrats, Mooch.

Mooch love playing on the tractor tire pile during the balloon glow at Ditmar’s this summer. Never has there been a filthier girl than my child upon leaving the orchard that night. Congrats, Mooch.

We caught the tail end of it this year, it’s pretty neat.

I don't care how hip you are, when you see hot air balloons, you become as giddy as a school girl. Or a pyro.

I don’t care how hip you are, when you see hot air balloons, you become as giddy as a school girl. Or a pyro.

This weekend, Oct. 12 and 13, you can catch Pumpkin Fest with live music each day from 1 to 4 p.m.

June 11, 2013

Insider’s Family Guide: Council Bluffs

Some of you know that I used to work in Council Bluffs, Iowa, for years. I grew to feel protective of the city and the quirky people who call it home. It’s a neat place once you drive past the casinos and steer clear of the west end of West Broadway (the 100 block, I dig). I invited a friend to provide an insider’s look at the family-friendly scene Council Bluffs offers. Go out and explore it sometime.

* * * * *



Living and loving the CB life

Council Bluffs has been known to get a bad rap. You may have heard the old familiar “Counciltucky.”  But no matter what you hear you will never know the true gem Council Bluffs is until you get out and explore all it has to offer.

I am a mother of a 10-month-old son. Taking him places isn’t always an easy feat (will it ever be?) and finding places that spark his interest and keep him occupied is always on my to do list. One place we love to go visit is Bass Pro Shops. Yes, you read that right; I know, I know … it’s a hunting and fishing store. However, they have a lot more to offer than just kayaks and duck calls for sale.  Bass Pro has an 18,000-gallon fish tank that is sure to mesmerize your little ones. There are all kinds of wildlife animals on display throughout the store and even a carnival like shooting range upstairs for the bigger kids. One of the best things about Bass Pro is all the free family events they hold throughout the year.  They have a Santa’s workshop, visits with the Easter Bunny, Family Summer Camp and many more.  Not only are these events free, but they often include free take home projects for the kiddos and free holiday pictures.  A quick trip to the BP can be a fun learning experience for the whole family!

Ditmars Orchard is another great, quick day visit for the family. Take the kids out for some fruit picking, corn-digging and tractor pull rides. Ditmars also hosts numerous events throughout the year. From their fall time pumpkin patch to live music performances and a hot air balloon festival – it’s always worth it to see what they have to offer!

Tiffany, a Council Bluffs, Iowa, native and mother of an adorable boy, shares tips on where to go in Council Bluffs with little ones in tow.

Tiffany, a Council Bluffs, Iowa, native and mother of an adorable boy, shares tips on where to go in Council Bluffs with little ones in tow.

Council Bluffs has many other amazing locations to check out. If you want to explore history, I suggest the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, Historic General Dodge House, Squirrel Cage Jail or the Lewis and Clark Monument. These locations would make for great learning scavenger hunts if you have older children.

If you want to take in some fresh air and nature, visit one of our amazing parks.  Big Lake is an excellent park to visit – you can fish, have a picnic and play on the kid friendly playground!

Council Bluffs has a lot to offer if you give it a chance and it’s a wonderful place for a family adventure!

– Tiffany is a crafter, diaper changer and recipe maker out to change the world one Pinterest project at a time. Read more by this 30-something first-time mom at http://nestingnations.blogspot.com/.