October 2, 2019

10+ Best Things To Do In Nebraska City

Every fall, my family joins thousands of others making the short trip to Nebraska City. In the past, this was a day trip for us, but this year, we planned a longer stay to see and do more things. Keep reading to find my list of favorite things to do in Nebraska City, especially in the fall!

Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Arbor Day Foundation. All thoughts, opinions and typos are my own.

10+ things to do in Nebraska City - This guide shares the best time to visit, best thing to do and eat, and the best place to stay in Nebraska City. Guide includes what's fun for kids at Arbor Day Farm. #sponsored #ArborDayFarm #Nebraska #guide

Where is Nebraska City?

Nebraska City is the county seat of Otoe County located in southeastern Nebraska. The population is less than 10,000.

Nebraska City is a two-lane highway drive from Omaha. It’s not far, and can be pretty scenic, if you like golden fields in the fall.

Here’s the drive distance to Nebraska City from several metro areas:

  • -Omaha to Nebraska City – 40 miles
  • -Lincoln to Nebraska City – 50 miles
  • -Topeka, Kan. to Nebraska City – 120 miles
  • -Kansas City, Mo. to Nebraska City – 140 miles

Timing a visit to Nebraska City

Very few people are going to argue this: Nebraska City’s prime time is autumn! Home to Arbor Day, trees are treasured in the city, so you can imagine how beautiful things get in the fall.

Sunset view of Nebraska City from Lied Lodge & Conference Center. Early fall is a great time to visit Nebraska City.

Nebraska City is home to popular apple orchards and pumpkin patches, which again, are best to visit in the fall. Apples are ripe for picking in mid-September and pumpkins are ready shortly after that.

Nebraska weather can be unpredictable in the fall, so if you plan a visit, pack in layers. Don’t forget an umbrella! We got caught in the rain on our recent visit.

My second favorite time to visit Nebraska City is in the summer, when the green trees provide ample shade. If you want to see sunflowers — and there is a sunflower field at Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure — you’ll want to visit the last week in August.

Nebraska City hotel recommendations

There are not a lot of options for hotels in Nebraska City. You’ll find a range of motels and moderate-priced hotels, as well as my recommended accommodations: Lied Lodge & Conference Center.

Want to learn more about the hotel and save 10% off a stay? Visit the Lied Lodge & Conference Center website! Be sure to use promo code OHMYOMAHA.

The impressive lobby of the Lied Lodge, my top recommended hotel in Nebraska City

My last stay at the lodge was about 15 years ago, and in the past five years, the Lied Lodge has undergone renovations. It’s gorgeous!

What I love about Lied Lodge is that it’s very family-friendly, focused on sustainability, and it’s within walking distance of our favorite Nebraska City destination: Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure.

Actually, the Tree Adventure and Lied Lodge are all part of the 260-acre Arbor Day Farm, managed by Arbor Day Foundation. Arbor Day Foundation is the largest nonprofit membership organization dedicated to planting trees.

Other notable features about the Lied Lodge:

  • -Indoor Olympic-size swimming pool, kiddie pool and hot tub.
  • -Two restaurants on site, Timbers and the Library Lounge. The Library Lounge is a cozy-looking bar setting with a limited menu.
  • -Kids eat FREE at Timber at Sunday brunch.

Oh My! Omaha readers save 10% if you book a package! Be sure to use promo code OHMYOMAHA. Visit LiedLodge.org for details.

Things to do in Nebraska City

Play in tree houses

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure has had a 50-foot-tall tree house to explore for years, but Treetop Village is a new addition in 2019. It consists of 11 tree houses. I’ve been looking forward to taking the kids to see it!

Things to do with kids in Nebraska City - Visit Treetop Village at Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure.

The Treetop Village’s tree houses are connected by rope bridges. There are a few slides, including a net slide. The highlight is the WonderNet, the first net trampoline of its kind in North America.

Don’t skip the Treetop Village…but expect a possible wait if you go on a weekend. Due to the nature of the bridges, traffic is one-way, so they have to monitor how many people enter the village at a time.

And note that if you go down a slide or step through one of the exits, you have to go back to the start and wait in line again. The wait wasn’t long for us, luckily.

Shop for tree souvenirs

OK, maybe that’s just me. The gift shop at the Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure is packed with gifts and souvenirs inspired by nature, trees and camping. It’s the best place to shop for kid’s stuff.

Another good place to shop is the Apple House Market. It’s a cute decor shop, wine tasting room, and restaurant all in one building, and it’s within walking distance of the Arbor Day Farm Tree Tree Adventure.

Learn Arbor Day history

There are two places to learn more about the early days of Arbor Day and the Morton family. The Discovery Ride, which I mentioned above, as well as a visit to Arbor Lodge State Historical Park

The historic state park is the property where Arbor Day started. J. Sterling and his wife, Caroline, lived there when they initiated their vision and started challenging people to plant trees. On the first Arbor Day, April 10, 1872, they say nearly 1 million trees were planted in Nebraska.

The mansion at Arbor Lodge Historic State Park in Nebraska City.

You don’t need a park permit to enter the grounds of Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, but you will need to pay admission if you want to walk through the 52-room mansion.

In the mansion, you’ll find artifacts from the Morton family, and see beautiful rooms preserved as they once were.

The mansion is a little worn on the exterior, but signs indicated that a renovation is planned. I’m excited to see the mansion restored to its former glory.

Pick apples in Nebraska City

Apple picking is a seasonal activity in Nebraska City, with prime picking being in September (which is why the city holds the AppleJack Festival every year in mid-September!).

We picked a peck during our visit to the Tree Adventure, searching for the best apples among primarily Fuji and Jonagold trees. Your options may vary depending on when you time your visit.

Shelley, the guide during our Discovery. Ride, showed my daughter one of the antique varieties of apples in the Preservation Orchard at Arbor Day Farm.

My family also got to pick apples in the Preservation Orchard at the farm. You have to take the Discovery Ride to get to this special orchard. The apple trees in the Preservation Orchard are heirloom varieties you’ll never find in a grocery store.

It was an exciting chance to taste a Kandil Sinip, Winter Banana and Stern apple.

Pick pumpkins

We didn’t get a chance to pick pumpkins on our recent weekend getaway, but we have picked pumpkins at the Tree Adventure in the past. It’s fun to ride the hayrack out to the pumpkin field and scour the patch for a good one!

Related post: 20+ Things To Do This Fall In Nebraska

Challenge yourself

Quite possibly the most memorable experience we had the entire weekend was climbing a tree. Both kids made it to the top!

Tree climbing is held on select weekend days at the Tree Adventure, and it’s included with admission. It can be popular, and we were lucky to get there early enough to not have much of a wait.

The folks helping with the tree climb were wonderful coaches for the kids. They were also pretty patient trying to help me figure it out. In case you were wondering, it’s ridiculously hard for an adult woman to try to climb a tree!

Take a Discovery Ride

This one-hour ride is a backwoods experience at the Tree Adventure. Part history lesson, part tour, the ride takes you to orchards you don’t usually get to see, including the Preservation Orchard.

Learning about the history of Arbor Day Farm and the Morton family on the Discover Ride at Tree Adventure in Nebraska City.

I liked the opportunity to try the rare apples. My fourth grader loved hearing and about the history he’s beginning to learn this year. For younger kids, the most enjoyable part may have been the chance to touch animal pelts.

Tip: There are no restroom breaks on the Discovery Ride. My youngest learned this the hard way.

Attend a special event

Everyone and their grandma has heard of the annual AppleJack Festival in Nebraska City, but that’s only one September weekend. There’s plenty of special events happening on other weekends.

One of the special events held in Nebraska City is the Living History Weekends held on Saturdays and Sundays seasonally.

Here are a few events to look forward to this fall:

  • -Living History Weekends (Arbor Lodge Mansion, Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 27). On the weekend we visited, my kids loved talking with a man who made beaded pieces and they got a chance to throw a tomahawk.
  • -Harvest Celebration (Arbor Day Farm, through Oct. 31)
  • -Hayrack Ride, Storytelling & S’mores (Tree Adventure, Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 9; reservations are required)
  • -Halloween Pumpkin Party (Tree Adventure, Oct. 26)

Eat good food

For the best dining experience, I recommend Timbers inside the Lied Lodge & Conference Center. We tried dinner there as well as breakfast. Reservations are recommended for weekend dinners and Sunday brunch. I had no problem reserving meals the day before.

Outdoor seating is an option, and the view was wonderful.

Tip: When we were there, Timbers had a sign that advertised that kids eat FREE at Sunday brunch! The brunch is a buffet that starts at 11 a.m. We went before 11, so there was still a buffet, just not as large…and kids were $5 each.

The Timbers at the Lied Lodge and Conference Center in Nebraska City overlooks the property.

If you’ve come for all-things-apple, Nebraska City is your place. Apple pie (with the works) is available at The Apple House Market, as are caramel apples and apple cider.

Looking for apple cider donuts? I didn’t find them at The Apple House Market, so your best bet is to head to Kimmel Orchard, where we got some that were still warm from the fryer.

Porters, a barbecue restaurant attached to The Apple Market House, is also a great option. It’s extremely popular, and I almost always saw a line. We tried brisket, smoked chicken and pulled pork. The baked beans were the best side, IMO.

If you’re wondering about restaurants in Nebraska City away from Arbor Day Farm, I asked around and got quite a few tips. Oh My! Omaha Twitter and Facebook followers shared these Nebraska City restaurant recommendations. Here were their tips: The Keeping Room, Buck Snort, Ladybug BBQ and Tacos El Pueblito.

We had the hardest time finding a place open after 7 p.m. on a Friday night! Our first pick was Tacos El Pueblito but we missed its closing time by 15 minutes. We ended up at El Portal, which had pretty good food. But being one of the few restaurants open after 7 p.m., there was quite a wait.

Sip Nebraska wines

Nebraska wines, like a lot of Midwestern wines, tend to be sweet. My personal preference is to stick to the white varieties. The reds just aren’t robust enough for my taste.

Wine tasting is available at The Apple House Market and Lied Lodge.

Arbor Day Farm offers two places to try wine tastings – daily at The Apple House Market and on Friday and Saturday evenings in the lobby of the Lied Lodge. FYI: Tastings are not free.

I recommend trying the Arbor Day Farm vignoles. If you like super sweet stuff, a lot of people in the tasting room when I visited loved the honey crisp wine.

Enjoy the trails

Our visits to the Tree Adventure almost always include an easy hike through the forest. You’ll find a play area, cute photo opps, and a fun look-and-find game. Be on the lookout for the fairy doors, too!

We had plans to bike the Steamboat Trace Bicycle Trail until we found out the crushed limestone trail had been flooded this year. We’ll return to explore it another (drier) year.

Play outdoors at the Tree Adventure

For my family, Nebraska City is about spending time together outside. The apples, the pumpkins, the hayrack rides…those are all a part of it. But’ nothing beats the pure joy of simply playing. 

Things for kids to do at Arbor Day Farm - Play at the Tree Adventure

Among my kids’ favorite places to visit at the Tree Adventure are:

  • -The Nature Explore Classroom where they can play the marimba and build with blocks, and sit in colorful hammocks.
  • -The little zip line course, huge spider web, and larger-than-life tic tac toe game. They’re all group near each other.
  • -The Treetop Village is a new favorite.

Take a hayrack ride

There are two opportunities for hayrack rides at Arbor Day Farm. You can get a free one while you’re in the Tree Adventure, which will take you to the pumpkin patch and apple orchard.

If you plan ahead–like months ahead–you can reserve spots on the Hayrack Ride, Storytelling & S’mores. The rides are seasonal on Friday and Saturday nights. The ride was full on the one rain-free night we were there, unfortunately.

Save on your Nebraska City stay

If this post has inspired a future weekend getaway, you’re in luck!

One of the treehouses at Treetop Village at the Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure in Nebraska City.

I’m excited to announce that Oh My! Omaha readers can save 10% off their stay at the Lied Lodge & Conference Center in Nebraska City! Be sure to use promo code OHMYOMAHA.

To book a package, visit LiedLodge.org for details.

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Headed to Nebraska City in eastern Nebraska? Here's a guide to fun things to do, including visiting Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure, Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, and recommended restaurants. If you're looking for all-things-apples, from. orchards to apple pie, this post includes where to go in Nebraska City for all of it! #Sponsored #Guide #Outdoors #Nebraska #ArborDayFarm #USA
April 6, 2017

Visiting Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure in Nebraska City has become such a family favorite, we bought a membership. It’s one of my “Happy Places” that I can return to repeatedly and never get bored. That’s nature for you.

What to expect if you visit the Tree Adventure in Nebraska City - Details on the trails, kids' play area, and 50-foot tree house #Nebraska #familytravel #outdoors

We’ve gone every season, though for this post, I’m sharing mostly summer and fall pictures.

Go figure, the snowless, winter pictures just aren’t as beautiful.

Related post: While you’re in Nebraska City, check out these other fun places kids will like there.

What to expect at the Tree Adventure

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure wooden structure to play in
There are a variety of structures at Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure that blend in well with the setting.

At the Tree Adventure, you will find a mix of paved and dirt trails. None are too long for little legs, nor very challenging for tired adults.

Along the paved trail, you’ll find interactive pit stops. Some will ask you to identify the tracks in the pavement, the smells in a box, or to stop and listen to bird calls.

Inside the Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure tree house
The cabin next to the 50-foot tree house has hands-on activities for kids.

Further afield, you’ll find the 50-foot  tree house/lookout tower. Kids will be tempted to race to the top, but try to get them to peek inside the cabin-like room next to the tower first. There are some cool things to see and do in there.

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure outdoor net climber
Pretending to be a spider at Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure.

If you stay on the paved trail, you’ll find a couple more active pit stops for kids. There are things to climb through, climb under, over, etc. It’s great for working on their gross motor skills, but let’s be real. We’re happy to have yet another thing to help tire kids out.

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure outdoor education area
Playing the wooden xylophone at the Tree Adventure.

There’s an outdoor education area (actually two, but we just go to the big one) where families should plan on spending quite a bit of time there, especially if you have a young builder. I’d say skip the area if you’re not visiting with kids, but don’t – you’ve got to try the outdoor xylophone, at least.

There is an apple orchard where you can pick apples in the fall, as well as a pumpkin patch. There’s a hayrack ride offered to drive you out and back for those two activities.

Throughout the year, there are themed activities to spice up your next visit. In March, there’s a gnome hunt that we tried this year. You search for little statues hidden throughout the woods, using clues and a map to help you. There are also weekend events with activities connected to learning about different animals and insects.

You can see upcoming events planned for Arbor Day, Sunset & S’Mores and more here. Some of these events include activities at other Arbor Day Farm properties.

Into the woods

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure dirt trail
It’s worth stepping off the paved path to go further into the woods of the Tree Adventure in Nebraska City.

There is a loop called the South Table Creek Trail that goes deeper into the woods, and it’s less than a mile long. Don’t skip it! You’ll cross bridges, encounter “kissing trees,” chairs built for three bears, and find a little fairy door in a tree.

There’s also an added game of sorts, where you’ll look for wooden cutouts of birds and a squirrel. Granted, some will want to look for the real things, this game has become a competitive sport for my family.

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure bridge
One of the bridges found along the South Table Creek Trail at the Tree Adventure.

The trail through the woods does have some inclines and stairs, so it’s not super stroller-friendly.

About the trees

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure entrance
The entrance to Arbor Day Tree Adventure in Nebraska City.

Being part of Arbor Day Farm, trees are a focus at Tree Adventure. Obviously. You can visit the greenhouse and get your own free tree seedling to plant at home.

In the visitor’s center, you can also learn more about the role of trees by playing some of the interactive exhibits and watching a short movie. We often skip that area when we visit, but if it’s your first time, check it out.

You can take an hour-long discovery ride to learn even more. It’s $5 extra per person.

Food at Arbor Day Farm

There is no restaurant on property of the Tree Adventure, though occasionally we’ve bought lunch from a vendor who’d set up shop outside the Tree Adventure visitor’s center. You can purchase food next door at the restaurant inside the Arbor Day Farm winery/orchard shop. I recommend getting the apple pie a la mode if you go that route.

And sample the wine, if you’re of age.

Usually, though, we pack a lunch and enjoy it on the trail. You’ll find some benches in the forest and at the outdoor education center, as well as picnic tables near the visitor’s center.

If you go

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure

Where: 2611 Arbor Ave., Nebraska City, Neb.

Cost: $8, adults; $6, children ages 3-12; FREE, children 2 and younger; the All-Access Day Pass also includes admission to Arbor Lodge State Historical Park mansion, and costs $15 for adults, $11, children ages 3-12, and FREE for children 2 and younger.

Website

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June 22, 2015

Exploring Nebraska City With Kids

Ever since childhood, Nebraska City has meant apples and trees to me.

You may think you know all there is to know about the small Nebraska city – you know, “Seen one orchard, seen them all” – but I’ve found some spots there during a recent visit that were new to me.

Nebraska City title

If you’ve got a free day coming up, plan a little Nebraska City adventure for your family. It’s only 45 minutes away, after all.

 

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure

The entrance to Arbor Day Tree Adventure in Nebraska City.

The entrance to Arbor Day Tree Adventure in Nebraska City.

The first time we took Farley to Nebraska City, we skipped the Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure, scoffing at the price and the fact we could see apple trees for free elsewhere in town.

We ponied up the admission fee during our last visit and it was totally worth it. Read an extensive post about everything to do there here.

Happy and mud-covered children at Arbor Day Tree Adventure.

Happy and mud-covered children at Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure, amid a race between the tortoise and the hare. Incidentally, doesn’t the forest look like a fake background?

Our favorite spots included:

The Outdoor Classroom

There's plenty of building opportunities in the outdoor classroom.

There are plenty of building opportunities in the outdoor classroom.

And more building

Building…

And some more building

And some more building

Art station

Art station

There are a couple xylophones you can play, as well.

There are a couple xylophones you can play, as well.

Playing will it sink or float

Playing will it sink or float

 

The tree house and the cabin of activities next to it

The cabin next to the 50-foot tree house featured educational activities for kids.

The cabin next to the 50-foot tree house featured educational activities for kids.

Checking out the beehive in the cabin.

Checking out the beehive in the cabin.

 

All the things to play on 

Pretending to be a spider at Arbor Day Tree Adventure.

Pretending to be a spider at Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure.

There are a variety of structures at Arbor Day Tree Adventure that blend in well with the setting.

There are a variety of structures at Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure that blend in well with the setting.

Over-sized chairs are found along the backwoods trail.

Over-sized chairs are found along the backwoods trail.

 

And the backwoods trail

Interactive and educational activities dot the trail.

Interactive and educational activities dot the trail.

If you’re kids are sufficiently walking on their own, try out the trail. It’s not stroller-friendly.

There’s a neat outdoor art exhibit that has you looking for all sorts of wooden cutouts of birds. The kids loved hunting for them.

Be on the lookout for dozens of these bird silhouette cutouts (plus one squirrel).

Be on the lookout for dozens of these bird silhouette cutouts (plus one squirrel).

There are also bridges and other play structures to explore.

There are a couple bridges to cross on the trail.

There are a couple bridges to cross on the trail.

This structure's about half-way through the trail.

This structure’s located about half-way through the trail.

Leave plenty of time for that hike, and bring along water, treats and bug spray.

You'll cross over a creek a couple times along the way, but look for a side path that will take you right down to it.

You’ll cross over a creek a couple times along the way, but look for a side path that will take you right down to it.

There was a sign suggesting how long the hike should take – I think it said 30 minutes – but with kids who like to stop and look at things, plan on doubling that.

The hike probably wouldn't take so long if there weren't tempting side trails like this. We had to check out where it led to.

The hike probably wouldn’t take so long if there weren’t tempting side trails like this. We had to check out where it led to.

You will be stopping for the mysterious door in the Fairy Garden area.

You will be stopping for the mysterious door in the Fairy Garden area.

We spent more time at the Tree Adventure than I had anticipated – I couldn’t get the kids to leave the Outdoor Classroom.

Yeah, we could hang here all day.

Yeah, we could hang here all day.

Tip: Each paid admission gets you a seedling to plant. Our tickets each had a coupon for a free slice of apple pie at the Lied Lodge. Plan accordingly. 🙂

 

If you go

Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure

Where: 2611 Arbor Ave.. Nebraska City, Neb.

When: Summer hours are Mondays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Adults are $7, kids 3-12 are $5 and kids 2 and younger are FREE. Hayrack ride is extra.

Website

 

Arbor Lodge Historical Park (The Free Stuff)

The mansion isn't part of the "free stuff," but isn't this what you think of when you read "Arbor Lodge"? I thought so.

The mansion isn’t part of the “free stuff,” but isn’t this what you think of when you read “Arbor Lodge”? I thought so.

Nebraska City is home to Arbor Day, and thusly, Arbor Lodge, which is located inside Arbor Lodge Historical Park. The mansion of J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day, is open for tours. There is admission into the 52-room mansion, but you’re free to explore the 72-acre park and enjoy the playground.

Having just been at the Tree Adventure nearby, my kids were in no shape to traipse through a historic home. Even if they were squeaky clean, we still wouldn’t go in at this point in time. History stuff is lost on them so I’m not paying until I know they’re listening to me. 🙂

We checked out the carriage house behind the mansion – that’s free. There’s also a log cabin and hiking trail.

Inside the carriage house at Arbor Lodge.

Inside the carriage house at Arbor Lodge.

The playground was the highlight for the kids, naturally.

The playground at Arbor Lodge park.

The playground at Arbor Lodge park.

Notice the tree theme even at the playground?

 

If you go

Arbor Lodge State Historical Park

Where: 2600 Arbor Ave., Nebraska City, Neb.

When: Mansion hours are Mondays through Saturdays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sundays, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; park is open year round

Cost (to tour the mansion): Adults are $7, kids 3-12 are $4 and kids 2 and younger are FREE

Website

 

About those apples

You pretty much always have to visit an apple orchard when you’re there, amiright?

Here are the 4 apple orchard/vineyards to see:

Arbor Day Farm has a lovely little shop, with a wine tasting room and cafe. You can explore some of the grounds without having to pay admission for the tree adventure.

Union Orchard is the one you see first when you drive from Omaha to Nebraska City. You’ll find all sorts of apple products there, and it’s a convenient location to stop in on your way out of town.

Kimmel Orchard & Vineyard is the big one, with a large property to explore. We stop there to get cider for the kid and a sweet white wine for us. Don’t be surprised to find loads of tour busses parked out front.

Central Apple Market and Country Store – Never been here, but figured I’d list it for you.

 

Oh My! Omaha Facebook Followers’ Tips

I asked around for your ideas on not-to-miss Nebraska City spots and here’s what some of you shared:

Mary Eileen – John Brown’s cave and the Underground Railroad, Arbor Day Lodge, Ride the Trolley, The Whispering Bench, Orchards, Outlet Mall, Apple Jack Festival

Jessica – Outlet Mall!

Editor’s note: That outlet mall, in case you’re wondering, is called Factory Stores of America, and it’s located at 1001 Nebraska State Hwy. 2.

 

Your turn: What are your favorite places in Nebraska City?