June 12, 2017

7 Reasons To Visit Platte River State Park

Platte River State Park is one of the closest state parks to the Omaha and Lincoln metro areas. There is an abundance of fun things to do with kids, especially during the summer.

Yet, I think it gets overlooked for flashier, newer parks. But, with the addition of glamping, I think this park is going to become very popular soon.

Here’s are seven reasons why you should plan a visit the park. Bringing kids along? Don’t miss this guide to taking kids to Platte River State Park.

Great Hiking Trails

This waterfall at Platte River State Park is my favorite destination of any Omaha metro trail.

I’m guilty of thinking of another state park near Platte River for day trips first (ahem, Mahoney), but when I want to immerse myself and kids in nature, few places nearby can top Platte River State Park.

The trails at Mahoney have nothing on Platte River. First off, there’s a waterfall that’s incredibly quick and easy to get to at Platte River State Park.

For those looking for more of a challenge, Platte River State Park’s terrain will satisfy you.

It’s still the Midwest, so you know, it’s not mountainous, but it’ll do.

Horseback Trail Rides

My son right before we began our trail ride at Platte River State Park.

Your family can ride horses at Platte River State Park. The cutoff age is one year younger than Mahoney’s (age 6). They do a great job matching your ability to the right horse.

The route takes you past a creek, over a bridge and through some inclines in the forest. In all, you’re on your horse for about an hour.

Naturalist Programs

The kids spent more time than I could have imagined trying to catch tadpoles during the naturalist program held at Crawdad Creek at Platte River State Park. The creek is a new feature at the park in 2017.

This is the first summer we’ve really taken advantage of the programming offered at a state park, perhaps because all of our stays in the past have been off-season. At least through June 30, there are daily activities for kids.

Some teach fishing; others might instruct them on creek ecology. There’s a small nature center with aquariums of native Nebraska species. One naturalist program let kids get up close to some of them to learn more about their characteristics.

Tip: If you stay over Memorial Day Weekend, you may even find a special event on that Friday night. When we were there, the kids got to learn some archery, try out an air rifle, and learn about Dutch oven cooking.

Movie Screenings

Saturday nights through the summer, you can go to the park’s little amphitheater to watch a family-friendly movie for free. We brought snacks and drinks, and since it was early summer still, a blanket.

There is bench seating, so you don’t have to bring a chair.

Fun Lake

Paddle boats and fishing are the popular activities at this lake at Platte River State Park.

The lake at Platte River State Park is a lovely one surrounded by tall trees. There’s a marina where you can get a variety of food and cold treats, as well as rent a paddle boat for a half-hour.

Tip: You can check out fishing poles for your kids for free (bait is extra).

Near the lake you’ll find Crawdad Creek. It’s a new addition to the park, and the kids loved it. It features three ponds with little waterfalls flowing from one to the next. There’s a naturalist program at the creek, during which a guide helps kids look for tadpoles and other critters and bugs.

Cheaper Cabins

The camper cabin at Platte River State Park offers beds with bedding, A/C, and a refrigerator like other modern cabins, but it lacks one biggie: Water. You’ll have to walk if you want to take a shower, use the restroom or wash your hands.

Having stayed about both Mahoney and Platte River state parks, I can affirm Platte River has cheaper options, including teepees if you’re so inclined. The options are cheaper because Platte River State Park has things like camper cabins, which has some amenities of a typical cabin (A/C, refrigerator, beds) but not all of them (no water or bathroom).

Having spent a few nights in a camper cabin, I’m cool with spending a few more bucks to have a bathroom next time.

Proximity to other fun stuff

The view from my lounger at the Mahoney State Park aquatic center. The pool has an annoying schedule, and is closed over dinner time; however, if you go when it’s open for those few hours after dinner, you’ll find a much less crowded pool.

The great thing about Platte River State Park is that it’s near places like Mahoney State Park, so you can stay (cheaply) at Platte River, and then take the 10-minute drive to the other park to enjoy what’s there as well.

I’d recommend heading to Mahoney to the aquatic center, which is much larger than Platte River’s little pool, plus it has water slides and a kids area. If it’s a rainy day, nothing beats letting the kids run wild in the indoor play area at Mahoney, too.

If you go

Platte River State Park

Where: 14421 346th St., Louisville, Neb.

Cabin & Camping Information

Visiting in the off-season? Read this post on what to do at Platte River State Park in the winter.

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July 29, 2014

Exploring Platte River State Park With Kids

There’s a lovely state park halfway between Omaha and Lincoln with lookout towers offering views of a river, lush hardwood forests, paddleboats and a pool. If you’re thinking Mahoney State Park, think again.

Platte 6

Platte River State Park is a quick 20-mile drive (give or take) from Omaha. It’s not usually the first park to come to mind when we decide to get some fresh air, but after this past weekend, it’s moved up in the pack. I’d visited the park one time before this, but it was the off-season and we didn’t explore nearly as much. You can read about it in the post Exploring Platte River State Park In The Off-Season.

We didn’t stay in a cabin, so I can’t offer much overnight details (other than tent camping isn’t allowed… but there ARE teepees).

A view of the Walter Scott Jr. Lodge and nearby tower.

A view of the Walter Scott Jr. Lodge and nearby tower.


What to expect

Most of my outings involve two young children, so here are a few reasons families will like this park:

Scenery – The hiking trails are pretty extensive in the 418-acre park, with the bonus appeal of offering a waterfall (a small one, but still nice destination for a young family). There some trails that are steep, but most are easy. There are also mountain bike trails but we’re not quite there yet with the kids as far as ability level is concerned. Or ourselves.

Platte collage 2WM

Pool – There is a small pool that opens at 1 p.m. in the summer. Other than a diving board, it doesn’t have much to rival the bigger state park nearby. What it probably does offer is a less crowded place to cool off.

Horseback rides – These rides are guided and open to anyone 5 and older. There are fees, naturally.

Paddleboats – Paddleboat rentals are $8 for a half-hour, plenty of time to explore the small lake at the park. They have sparkly ones, which may not be a selling point to you, but for every kid on the dock that morning we were there, it was a huge one.

Platte collagewm

Ducks – Working downtown, I’m no stranger to watching people feed ducks. It’s just something people love to do. There are a handful of ducks and geese at the park and, for a quarter, you can get a small handful of food to feed them. Kids love that stuff.

Feeding ducks at Platte River State Park.

Feeding ducks at Platte River State Park.

Equipment rentals – You can rent sporting equipment (like tennis rackets or fishing gear for catch-and-release fishing) for FREE. This is the case at most state parks, just so you know.

Lookout towers – Platte River State Park has two lookout towers, a smaller wooden one and a tall metal one. My kids have never met a tower they didn’t have to climb.


This tall tower provides a great view of the Platte River.

This tall tower provides a great view of the Platte River.

Craft center – I haven’t been inside their craft center, but if you’re staying for a few days at the park, it’s a nice diversion.

Outdoor Heritage Education Complex – For pretty low fees, you can try out archery or slingshots, or break out the firearms and test out the firearm and shotgun range.

They also have a good education program there. During our visit, there was a park employee with different animal pelts on display sitting at a table near the marina.


What’s to eat there?

It’s a state park, so there are ample spots for a picnic, which I’d recommend. If you’re staying a cabin, it’s nice to see they have firepits (not something you see at Mahoney).

The Owen Landing marina has a snack bar with the expected usual concessions, including ice cream.

The Walter Scott Jr. Lodge Restaurant is less casual than the snack bar, though we still ate there after sweating through a long hike. The building is dated, but it has an inviting appeal to it, kinda like visiting your grandma’s favorite restaurant. The service was incredibly friendly. We went on a Sunday, when they only have a buffet to offer. For the price (kids 3 and younger are FREE), it was a good choice for us. If you’re vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions, it may be limiting.

Brunch at the lodge at Platte River State Park. Fried chicken was king with the kids.

Brunch at the lodge at Platte River State Park. Fried chicken was king with the kids.


What’s near the park?

It’s not far from Schramm Park and Mahoney State Park, if you want added hiking trails and all the attractions found at Mahoney (see my post on some of our favorites, including the activity center).

It’s also located near Ashland, Neb., where you can visit the Nebraska Wildlife Safari and Strategic Air & Space Museum.

If you’re a fan of wineries, it’s not too far from Soaring Wings Vineyard in Springfield, Neb., and Cellar 426 Winery in Ashland, Neb.


Looking ahead

The park shows movies in its amphitheater every Saturday night in the summer. They have a lot of benches to sit on, so I’m not totally sure if you have to worry about bringing your own seating. Here are the remaining movies in the 2014 series:

“8-Below” Aug. 2

“Shrek” Aug. 9

“Finding Nemo” Aug. 16

“The Jungle Book” Aug. 23

“Charlotte’s Web” Aug. 30


You may also like:

Nebraska Wildlife Safari With Kids

Mahoney State Park For Families

Ultimate Nebraska Adventure This Summer