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.

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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 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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Inside Fontenelle Forest’s Raptor Woodland Refuge

This summer, my daughter met a bird and fell in love with it because they shared a name.

This bond she formed with a peregrine falcon at the new Raptor Woodland Refuge surely means we’ll be visiting Fontenelle Forest more frequently now.

The entrance to Fontenelle Forest's Raptor Woodland Refuge in Bellevue, Neb.
The entrance to Fontenelle Forest’s Raptor Woodland Refuge in Bellevue, Neb.

The refuge opened this summer.  Have you been? I was invited by Fontenelle Forest to check out the refuge when it first opened. It’s a spectacular addition to the great Omaha metro educational offerings for families.

What’s at the Raptor Woodland Refuge

Inside the Raptor Woodland Refuge at Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue, Nebraska
There are 12 houses for birds of prey at the Raptor Woodland Refuge.

This beautifully designed area is an incredible new home to the birds the organization has rescued. It appeals to kids, I think, because it resembles a treehouse almost. It’s 30 feet above the forest floor.

The two bridges to cross to add to the treehouse appeal.

Bridges at Raptor Woodland Refuge at Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue, Nebraska
There are two bridges inside the raptor refuge, helping create a treehouse feel to it.

The refuge houses 12 species of rescued birds of prey, including owls, hawks and falcons. The refuge just recently added a bald eagle, too. Since these birds can no longer survive in the wild, they have a home at the refuge and provide educational experiences to visitors.

The species on display have their own home, so there are 12 structures to see there. Each one has information about the birds, including where it was rescued and other interesting facts.

The view from below of the Raptor Woodland Refuge at Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue, Nebraska
The view of the refuge from the forest below.

When we were there, volunteers were on hand to answer questions.

About Fontenelle Forest

Fontenelle Forest is a wonderful gem not far from downtown Omaha. I’ve visited with the kids in different seasons, making each visit feel new. There are very short and manageable trails for families, including the accessible boardwalk, as well as more adventurous undertakings. This place is one of our favorite hiking spots near Omaha!

Kids play area at Fontenelle Forest in Bellevue, Nebraska
One area of Acorn Acres has some climbing structures. Elsewhere, kids can play with musical instruments, build a fort, or play around (or in) a water feature.

If you’re visiting with small children, definitely make time to visit Acorn Acres, a 1-acre natural play area where children can explore, climb, make music, and build structures.

Also, don’t skip the visitor’s center. You’ll find a few animals on display on ground level.

Visitor's Center at Fontenelle Forest in Nebraska
Different animals native to Nebraska are on display at the visitor’s center.

We often encounter volunteers inside who bring out different birds to educate visitors.

Fontenelle Forest's Raptor Recovery worker with a bird
Kids can ask questions and view rescued birds up close at Fontenelle Forest.

Head downstairs, as well, to check out kid-friendly displays, puppets and costumes, plus my kids’ favorite thing – a playground. No matter how tired they are from a hike, my kids always insist on playing down there before we leave.

Indoor playground at the visitor's center at Fontenelle Forest in Nebraska
The playground in the basement of the visitor’s center at Fontenelle Forest.

If you go

Fontenelle Forest

Where: 1111 Bellevue Blvd. North, Bellevue, Neb.

When: Fontenelle Forest is open Memorial Day through Labor Day, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Friday; 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends. The Raptor Woodland Refuge is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed on holidays. Trails are open dawn to dusk for members (with a Keyless Access FOB) and visitors entering before nature center closes.

Cost: $11, adults; $10, seniors (62+); $8, children/students (2-17); and FREE for members and children younger than 2


Guide to the Raptor Woodland Refuge at Fontenelle Forest in eastern Nebraska #Bellevue #Nebraska #forest

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