The Stunning Chapel Overlooking Interstate 80

Have you noticed the little chapel standing on a bluff overlooking Interstate 80 near the Gretna, Neb., exit?

The Holy Family Shrine is part religion and part art. The glass-enclosed chapel allows visitors an opportunity to spend time praying, meditating, or just admiring its beauty.

Ever wonder what that amazing structure on the hill over Interstate 80 in eastern Nebraska? Here's a look at the Holy Family Shrine in Gretna! Learn about the history behind the chapel and why the architecture is so significant. This is one of the most unique hidden gems in the Midwest!

COVID-19 Update: The Holy Family Shrine is temporarily closed on Sundays. Masks are required, and hand sanitizers are placed throughout the grounds. There is a limit to how many people can be inside the chapel at one time.

Inside Holy Family Shrine’s Chapel

The chapel is an architect’s dream. With glass walls, the chapel was designed to reflect life on the plains.

Close-up of the woodwork on the chapel at Holy Family Shrine in Nebraska

Nearly 50 feet tall, the chapel’s red cedar arching wood and trim resemble grain waving on the prairie.

Inside, an altar and about a dozen rows of pews await you. Sit and spend time with your thoughts or just admire the beauty.

Exterior of Holy Family Shrine along Interstate 80 in Nebraska

Behind the altar, an etching of the holy family – Mary, Joseph, and Jesus – appears on the southern panel. When illuminated, the chapel and the etching create a beautiful sight.

While the chapel is Catholic-based and hosts a mass each Saturday morning, it’s open to everyone regardless of faith. It is a place where people can pray or meditate at their convenience.

Altar of Holy Family Shrine in Gretna, Nebraska

Related post: Looking for more chapels with unique architecture in the Midwest? You have to see the gorgeous Chapel in the Hills in Rapid City, S.D.

History of Holy Family Shrine in Nebraska

Opened in 2002, the chapel was the dream of a priest in the early 1990s that eventually brought together four strangers, who worked to make that dream come true. Unknown to each other, they felt a mission to create a special place along the interstate where people could come to pray and practice
their Catholic faith.

Exterior of Holy Family Shrine chapel in Nebraska. You can see trucks on Interstate 80 in the background.

Once together, they spent two years working to find the perfect spot on Interstate 80 to become home for the chapel.

The chapel, itself, is a story of collapse and rebirth. Breaking ground in 1997, according to Fast Company, a wind storm destroyed it in 2000.

Undeterred, organizers rebuilt it, and it stands strong today.

What you’ll see at the Holy Family Shrine

Your visit to the Holy Family Shrine includes a tour of the visitors center, with artwork and biblical artifacts that help tell the story of Jesus Christ and the crucifixion. A dozen storyboards describe the history of the shrine.

Interior of the visitors center at Holy Family Shrine  in Nebraska

Representing the shroud of Jesus falling to the ground after his resurrection, a sculpture hangs from the ceiling in the middle of the visitors center.

A stream guides the path from the visitors center to the chapel, and then on to a cross showing Jesus at his crucifixion equals the distance that he traveled, carrying the cross on his march along the Stations of the Cross.

Visit the statue of Jesus at the Garden of Gethsemane at the beginning of the trail, then follow the path to the chapel. South of the chapel, standing about 40 feet tall, the cross recognizes Jesus’ sacrifice for people. The statue of Jesus on the crucifix is 8 feet tall and faces the interstate to share his sacrifice with passersby.

Surrounded by a small garden, the site includes a bench for visitors to sit and reflect.

If you go

Holy Family Shrine

Where: 23132 Pflug Road, Gretna, Neb.

The shrine is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday. A gift shop offers religious-themed items.

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8 Nifty Things You Need To Know About Schramm Park

Schramm Park State Recreation Area, or simply Schramm Park as it’s more commonly known, is a diamond in the rough that’s easily overlooked due to its proximity to more flashy parks in southeastern Nebraska. I was unimpressed with our first visit there, but I’m so glad I returned with the kids because it has become one of our annual outdoor getaways near Omaha.

COVID-19 Update: The Education Center is temporarily closed at Schramm Park. For updates, visit the Nebraska Game and Parks website.

Looking for a beautiful, off-the-beaten-path park near Omaha? Check out Schramm Park State Recreation Area. Learn about the trails, Education Center, fossil dig site, and more! #Nebraska #outdoors #familytimr

Here’s are a few key things to know about Schramm Park to plan a visit:

Where is Schramm Park?

Schramm Park is located in Gretna, Neb., about 30 miles from Omaha. Its address is 21502 West Highway 31.

What to bring to Schramm Park

A few key things to bring if you’re visiting Schramm in the summer (or any Nebraska parks, for that matter):

  • Bug spray is a must.
  • Sunscreen
  • Water bottles. The Education Center has a water fountain to refill them.
  • Old shoes, because the trails can be muddy and if you climb around the geological site, you’ll get pretty dusty.
  • Snacks or a picnic. There aren’t a lot of restaurants nearby, so if you get hungry, plan on a little drive to find food.

What to do at Schramm

When we head to Schramm Park, our main intention is to hike. OK, scratch that, my main intention is to hike. My kids are at the age now where they speak their minds and prefer other things.

Ponds at the Schramm Park hatchery

OK, but the hiking is great. For a good woodlands trail hike, Schramm offers a nearly 1.5-mile loop to a cool suspension bridge. It’s just the right length for families.

There are a few uphill parts, but mostly, it’s not too challenging for most skill levels.

The trail leads to a suspension bridge, which for us, is a good turn-around point.

A suspension bridge at Schramm Park near Omaha,  Nebraska

You can go beyond the bridge for a longer hike, about 3 miles total.

Schramm is home to Nebraska’s first fishing hatchery. It’s now a museum, but I’ve never seen it actually open.

You can walk around the hatchery area, though. It’s picturesque and there is a machine to get some fish food for a quarter.

Fish hatchery at Schramm Park in Nebraska

Nearby ponds, still a part of the hatchery area, attract a lot of waterfowl. On our last visit, we saw goslings.

If you ask my kids, the biggest draw is the geological display, or what we just call the “dig site.” At the dig site, the kids climb and search for fossils. Expect dirty and excited kids afterward.

Tip: You can’t actually dig there, so don’t bring chisels or any tools like that.

The geological display at Schramm Park in southeastern Nebraska. You can find fossils there.

There are also picnic areas, a playground, and plenty of bird watching to be done there. The park is located near the Platte River, and there is an access point there if you have your own canoe or kayak.

Can you camp there?

No. This is a day-use park only.

It’s not too far from Louisville State Recreation Area, Platte River State Park, and Mahoney State Park, though. All three offer camping, and the latter two also have cabins.

Related post: Guide to Nebraska State Park Cabins

Does it cost money to go?

A state park permit is required for vehicles. The Education Center is an additional fee (see the next section for details).

A boy on a trail at Schramm Park in Nebraska

Is the Education Center worth the admission?

You might remember old school field trips to Schramm, visiting the Aksarben Aquarium there. Well, in 2019, the aquarium and Education Center got a multi-million dollar upgrade.

New additions include:

  • Aquariums featuring Nebraska’s natural aquatic habitats: Cool water streams, rivers, reservoirs, and farm ponds. Some tanks include some of Nebraska’s smaller, lesser-known fish species.
  • Live animal tanks featuring Nebraska’s reptile and amphibian species.
  • A reading nook, maker’s space, bird watching area, and pre-school play area with a little slide.
  • Interactive activities including a digital topographical map, interactive wayfinding maps, touch screens focusing on the species of the area.
  • Virtual reality mountain biking experience.
Pre-school play area at the Schramm Park Education Center

Now, with all the updates and additions, admission is $10 for adults (ages 13+), $7 for children and seniors, and FREE for children age 3 and younger. For our family of four, that’s $34. Was it worth it?

It is certainly impressive, but I thought the admission price was a little steep for the experience. Granted, I’ve traveled quite a bit and have visited some equally unique education centers were included with the price of park admission, so I’m seeing things through that lens.

Racing on the virtual mountain bikes at Schramm Park SRA

My kids loved it, though. The touch tank could’ve kept my daughter occupied for an hour alone.

And I had fun “racing” my kids on the virtual mountain bike experience.

But, you will learn a lot about Nebraska, and on a hot summer day, it’s a nice place to cool off. And on a cold winter day, it would perfect to hunker down with the kids for a few hours to play, read, and create. So, maybe you will feel like it is worth the price of admission.

Touchscreen at Schramm Park Education Center

Can you really find fossils there?

Yes, we’ve found small fossils at the geological site. Fossils found in the limestone and shale are Paleozoic marine fossils like brachiopods or corals.

I’m pretty sure my kids’ dream of finding a fully-intact dinosaur fossil someday.

Dream big, kids, dream big.

Looking for fossils at Schramm Park  in Nebraska

What’s near Schramm Park

While Schramm Park can take a few hours to explore, you may want to combine visits to two parks to really tire the kids out (especially if you’re already making a long drive to get out there).

Here’s a sample of what you can do at other nearby parks, which don’t forget, require a state park permit to enter:

Louisville State Recreation Area floating obstacle course
  • Louisville State Recreation Area: For an extra fee, you can tackle the inflatable water obstacle course. There’s also a nearby beach.
  • Platte River State Park: Hike to a small waterfall, fish, climb up the lookout tower, and for an additional fee, play in at the spray ground or go horseback riding. There are also paddle boats.
  • Mahoney State Park: A lot of things at Mahoney State Park are an additional fee, like horseback riding, paddle boats, putt-putt golf & driving range, and the indoor activity center with rock climbing and huge play area. The big draw is the awesome aquatic center with waterslides. But, for free, there are some great playgrounds, a lookout tower, toboggan run in the winter, a conservatory, fishing, and paved trails.

If you didn’t pack a picnic for your Schramm Park visit, there are a few options for food nearby. Check out Around The Bend Steakhouse in Ashland, Neb. (home of the Testicle Festival), or for ice cream, go toward Springfield, Neb., and grab a seat at the old-fashioned soda fountain inside Springfield Drug (one of the most unique ice cream shops in Nebraska).

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Plan a fun day trip to Schramm Park   near Omaha, Nebraska. Here's what you need to know about the park, including what to bring, what the trails are like, and if the admission to the Education Center is worth it. #Nebraska #statepark #hiking #daytrip #familytravel