June 7, 2016

3 Places To Hike In The Loess Hills

The Loess Hills Scenic Byway in Western Iowa is a beautiful drive, especially in the fall. I recommend getting out of the car, though, and trying a hike in the Loess Hills. There are several parks to explore, each with kid-friendly trails I can vouch for. Here are a few trails through the Loess Hills I recommend, and each are less than two hours from Omaha.

This post was first published in 2016 and updated in July 2019 to mention new trail recommendations and links.

A sign for the Loess Hills in Preparation Canyon State Park.
A sign for the Loess Hills in Preparation Canyon State Park.

Iowa Parks With Loess Hills Trails

Below you’ll find three parks to visit, each with trails to hike that are suitable for families (some trails are longer than others, so grab a map before setting out).

These trails are in Western Iowa, so if you’re looking for something closer to Omaha, read this post about my 7 favorite trails near Omaha.

Looking for Iowa hiking trail recommendations? Here are three great trails through the Loess Hills of Western Iowa, including Preparation Canyon. Each park on this list includes kid-friendly trails! #hiking #outdoors #nature #trails #familytime

Hitchcock Nature Center, Honey Creek, Iowa

We’re regulars here, enjoying all four seasons.

OK, let’s be honest, I avoid parks in the winter…

But most of the year, you can find my family here.

Places to hike in Western Iowa - A quiet walk on a trail at Hitchcock Nature Center in Pottawattamie County.
A quiet walk in the park in the spring at Hitchcock.

Trails here vary in degrees of difficulty, but we have yet to find one we can’t manage with our kids, who’ve hiked here with us since they were 2.

There is a barrier-free trail into the woods, making this park wheel-chair accessible. Camping is available and there are a few cabins.

Hitchcock Nature Center in Iowa has accessible trails. Here's a boardwalk found in the park.
The boardwalk at Hitchcock makes nature accessible for a lot of people.

Be sure to check out the nature center and lookout tower. The nature center has hands on displays and interactive areas, plus you can check out a nature backpack for free. These backpacks have helpful tools for kids to further enjoy a hike.

Hitchcock is located in the flight path of raptors, so the lookout tower is a prime spot to look for the large birds.

The view of the lookout tower at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa, as seen from a trail.
The tower at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

There is a modern playground inside Hitchcock. There is some hike-in camping spots as well as a few cabins.

Distance from Omaha: 20 miles

Preparation Canyon State Park, Pisgah, Iowa

A hiking trail that leaves the scenic outlook at Preparation Canyon State Park in western Iowa.
A trail that leaves the scenic outlook at Preparation Canyon State Park in western Iowa.

We ventured here without a map and without a clue. My son was really psyched to see a canyon, and even without much knowledge of the area, I knew he’d be disappointed.

I know in his mind he was picturing the Grand Canyon. Grand, this canyon is not.

We picked a trail from a picnic shelter, venturing down a steep slope to a lagoon. It was rough going back up, but our children and dog managed just fine. 

A steep trail at Preparation Canyon State Park in Iowa
They don’t call them the Loess Hills for nothing. Don’t expect a flat hike at Preparation Canyon State Park.

We hiked in the spring and a large portion of the trail was underwater, so beware.

The highlight was actually outside of the main park area, the scenic lookout point with a view of the Loess Hills Forest. Follow the signs on the road, it’s definitely worth the drive.

A sign at the Preparation Canyon State Park scenic outlook.
The sign’s right, this is “The Spot” to get a good view of the Loess Hills Forest.

There’s a large deck offering a beautiful view of the Loess Hills. A well-worn trail leads you along one ridge.

There are a handful of hike-in campsites, and a nature study area is located in the eastern area of the park.

Distance from Omaha: 60 miles

Stone State Park, Sioux City, Iowa

This state park is located within city limits of Sioux City, but it feels very much removed from city life.

A hike in the late spring at Stone State Park in Sioux City, Iowa.
There’s an easy trail from the nature center to a nature play area at Stone State Park in Sioux City, Iowa.

We visited on a winter day, taking a short hike from the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center to a lookout, passing by a sweet wooden play area for children.

Playing at the nature playscape at Stone State Park. It's near many trails.
They say this nature area at Stone State Park is for kids, but I don’t think so.

Time your visit well so you can peek inside the nature center. This one also has hands-on exhibits for children and a 400-gallon aquarium with native fish.

There are more than two-dozen campsites as well as cabins with AC/heat (but no bathrooms).

Distance from Omaha: 110 miles

Looking for things to do in Western Iowa? Go for a hike in the Loess Hills! Here's a guide that recommends parks with scenic trails that are also kid-friendly. #Iowa #hiking #outdoors

Your turn: Where do you like to hike or camp in the Loess Hills?

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March 29, 2016

10 Outdoor Adventures Near Omaha

Updated: Aug. 26, 2018

Great outdoor adventures are less than an two hours away from Omaha.

Here are my 10 favorite spots to go and why they’re so fun:

Outdoor adventures near Omaha

Glenn Cunningham Lake

Standup paddleboards on the shore of Lake Cunningham in Omaha.
Standup paddleboards on the shore of Lake Cunningham in Omaha.

Where: Omaha

Distance from Omaha: In the city limits

Cost: Free to go to the park; $12/hour to rent a paddleboard or $40 for the day

What’s not to miss: Rent standup paddleboards from The Neighborhood Offshore Outfitters and have fun exploring the lake with your older children. Younger kids can stay with an adult and play at the small beach. Note the Cunningham Lake may be closed due to zebra mussels, so check before going.

More about standup paddleboarding at Cunningham

Fontenelle Forest

Playing at Fontenelle Forest.
Playing at Fontenelle Forest.

Where: Bellevue, Neb.

Distance from Omaha: 9 miles

Cost: $11 for adults, $10 for seniors, $8 for children (ages 2-17), and FREE for children younger than 2 and members

What’s not to miss: If you’re hiking with small kids, make sure you include plenty of time to play at Acorn Acres.

More about Fontenelle Forest

Lake Manawa State Park

Where: Council Bluffs, Iowa

Distance from Omaha: 14 miles

Cost: $3 per person enter the beach area, plus extra cash for renting a canoe or kayak.

What’s not to miss: This is one of the closest lakes to Omaha that has a swimming area roped off from the rest of the lake, which is busy place in the summer with boats. You can rent a canoe or kayak there, as well. I steer my kids to Dreamland Park, though. It was pretty much designed by engineers who asked kids what they’d love to have in a park and then they built it. It looks like a giant splinter waiting to happen, but the kids survive and love it.

Hitchcock Nature Center

The tower at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.
The tower at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

Where: Honey Creek, Iowa

Distance from Omaha: 21 miles

Cost: $2 for a daily pass or you can buy a year pass for Pottawattamie County Parks

What’s not to miss: Check out a free backpack from the nature center. It provides kid-friendly supplies like a magnifying glass and animal ID chart to enhance your kids’ adventure in nature.

More about Hitchcock

Side note: If you have older children, plan a stop at nearby Mt. Crescent Ski Area, which has a zipline for the truly adventurous.

Schramm State Recreation Area

Distance from Omaha: 25 miles

Cost: A Nebraska State Park Permit is required to enter this park area (an annual permit is $31).

What’s not to miss: Find the trail that takes you to the suspension bridge. Kids love crossing it.

Related post: What’s New at Nebraska State Parks Near Omaha (Schramm’s getting a new aquarium!)

Mahoney State Park

One of the lakes at Mahoney State Park.
One of the lakes at Mahoney State Park. It’s pretty even in the dead of winter.

Where: Ashland, Neb.

Distance from Omaha: 27 miles

Cost: A Nebraska State Park Permit is required to enter this park area (an annual permit is $31).

What’s not to miss: Horseback trail rides for 6 and older (pony rides for the youngins); train-loving kiddos will like the short hike near the lookout tower that gives them a decent view of passing trains.

Related post: Plan a family getaway to the park with the post Mahoney State Park with kids

Platte River State Park

A short hike at Platte River State Park is all it takes to find one of the few natural waterfalls close to Omaha.
A short hike at Platte River State Park is all it takes to find one of the few natural waterfalls close to Omaha.

Distance from Omaha: 28 miles

Cost: A Nebraska State Park Permit is required to enter this park area (an annual permit is $31).

What’s not to miss: The little waterfall that you can usually walk across and the teepee.

Related post: Learn more about Exploring Platte River State Park with kids

Great Tree Adventure

The Great Tree Adventure has a trail lined with bird cutouts. You can make a game looking them for with kids during your hike.
The Great Tree Adventure has a trail with two bridges, some climbing structures and lots of areas to explore.

Where: Nebraska City, Neb.

Distance from Omaha: 45 miles

Cost: Adults are $8, kids 3-12 are $6 and kids 2 and younger are FREE. Hayrack ride is extra.

What’s not to miss: Take the hike into the woods and try to find all 50 wooden bird (and one squirrel) cutouts, and enjoy the foot bridges over the creek.

Related post: The Great Tree Adventure and other fun things to do in Nebraska City

Branched Oak State Recreation Area

Playing on the beach at Branched Oak Lake.
Playing on the beach at Branched Oak Lake.

Where: Raymond, Neb.

Distance from Omaha: 68 miles

Cost: A Nebraska State Park Permit is required to enter this park area (an annual permit is $31).

What’s not to miss: The sand beach and boating

Related postCamping at Branched Oak

Indian Cave State Park

Indian Cave, one of the attractions of this Nebraska state park.
As close as you’ll get to the cave at Indian Cave State Park.

Where: Shubert, Neb.

Distance from Omaha: 92 miles

Cost: A Nebraska State Park Permit is required to enter this park area (an annual permit is $31).

What’s not to miss: You thought I was going to say Indian Cave, but that “cave” isn’t what you’re expecting. Hit the trails and the living history cabins for a more memorable experience.

Related postExploring Indian Cave State Park With Kids

Family-friendly outdoor adventures near Omaha, including beaches, trails and SUP. #Omaha #Nebraska #Iowa #outdoors #familytravel

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