November 5, 2019

Ultimate Winter Guide To Mahoney State Park

I love Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, but I’m most familiar with the park in the summer. However, we’ve started visiting on unseasonably warm winter days and discovered a whole other side to the park. We enjoyed it so much, I decided to share my tips for visiting Mahoney State Park in the winter.

Should you spend a day at Mahoney State Park in Nebraska...or a weekend? Here's a guide to winter at Mahoney State Park - with tips on things to do at the park (both indoors and outdoors), where to stay, and what kids will like. #Nebraska #statepark #outdoors #winter #guide #USA #Midwest

Turns out, it’s worth a visit during the winter, especially with kids.

Note: There is construction at Mahoney State Park right now that’s slated to last until fall 2020. The Walter Scott Jr. Observation Tower and surrounding trails at park are closed temporarily to accommodate the painting of the tower and Riverview Event Center construction project. The tower and trails will reopen at completion of the construction projects.

Where is Mahoney State Park?

Mahoney State Park is located in southeastern Nebraska along Interstate 80, about midway between the state’s two largest cities, Omaha and Lincoln. It’s roughly 30 miles from each city (give or take).

Take exit 426 off of Interstate 80 to get to the park. That exit happens to get you to a variety of fun family destinations in the winter. Two I recommend would be the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum and the indoor education center at Schramm Park.

Day trip or overnight trip to Mahoney?

Living in Omaha, Mahoney State Park is almost always a day trip for us. However, we have made whole weekends of a visit, and I recommend trying it at least once…but plan ahead.

Mahoney State Park has notoriously popular cabins, making it difficult to book a cabin on a summer weekend unless you plan a year in advance.

Mahoney State Park Cabin in the winter.

Booking a cabin in the winter is a different story. Non-peak season cabins are easier to come by, and cheaper too. Look for non-holiday weekends for your best (and discounted) options.

It’s worth noting that Mahoney State Park also has a lodge. The rooms at the lodge are much cheaper than a cabin. It’s similar to staying at a hotel, but staying at one without a pool.

Indoor winter activities at Mahoney

First, the indoor stuff. This is my favorite since I hate being cold. Luckily, Mahoney has a few very good indoor options for active families.

Activity Center

One must-visit place is the Activity Center. If you’ve never been, you’re going to won why you hadn’t been here sooner with the kids.

The best place to go with young kids at Mahoney State Park: The indoor activity center.

For $2 each (FREE for kids 2 and younger), you get endless play on their indoor playground. It’s pretty sweet, even for a grown up. Don’t be shy, put down your smart phone and get in there and play with your kids. 

The Activity Center also has an outdoor ice rink, with a $3 skate rental fee. If it’s fairly warm, part of that rink melts (duh), as was the case on the day we visited. 

We returned another month and managed to make our shaky way around the rink.

Ice skating at Mahoney State Park

The newest addition my family has loved at the Activity Center is the indoor wall climbing. It’s a pretty affordable, all-day activity. Buy the wristbands and have access to climb for the entire day.

The cost is $11 for adults and and $10 for children ages 12 and younger.

Things to do indoors at Mahoney State Park - Indoor wall climbing

There is food available for purchase at the Activity Center, like pizza, hot dogs and nachos. You’re not supposed to bring in outside food or drinks. *supposed to*

The Activity Center’s winter hours in 2019-2020 are from September to May. It’s open:

  • -Monday, Thursday & Friday: 4 to 8 p.m.
  • – Saturday: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • – Sunday: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
  • – Tuesday & Wednesday: CLOSED

Mahoney State Park conservatory

Not a far walk from the Activity Center is the conservatory/greenhouse.

Inside the small conservatory at Mahoney State Park

This is a great place for a quick warmup if it’s particularly freezing outdoors. It’s like 150 degrees in there. It’s small but there’s a lot to look at, including a fish pond.

In a separate room, there are a couple aquariums featuring native Nebraskan animals, like snakes and a turtle. The kids liked looking at them.

Two other indoor options I can’t vouch much for since we tend to do more active things while we’re there:

  • – The park has moved the arts and crafts center over to the marina. You can paint ceramics, work with leather, and do all sorts of other crafts for a nominal fee.
  • – The park offers live theater with family-friendly fare year-round. See which melodrama is playing and buy tickets here.

What to do outdoors at Mahoney State Park in the winter

A big outdoor draw at the park is the toboggan run. It has been relocated in the past year, so if you used to go here, know that the sledding hill is now by the Activity Center.

The toboggan run at Mahoney State Park is a pretty nice, long hill but not too steep. I like that it was far enough away from trees that I could relax.

This is a FREE activity, just bring your sleds.

Another FREE activity is hiking around the park. While I prefer my hikes when I can feel my fingers, trails are still open at Mahoney in the winter.

Exploring the easy-to-hike trails near the lookout tower. If you time it right, you can catch a nice view of passing trains.

Just be warned, Mahoney isn’t the best place for hikes in this part of Nebraska. There aren’t a lot of trails at this park.

But, then again, it’s not like you want to hike very far with young children in the middle of a Nebraska winter.

Or do you?

Anyway.

My kids slept 12 hours straight after our visit to Mahoney in the winter. I’m sold on visiting parks in the winter now.

We're smiling because we know these two monkeys are going to sleep well tonight.

My kids loved the Activity Center so much, I’d even make the drive out to Mahoney just for that. I bet you will be driving home with some tired kiddos after visiting the Activity Center, too.

Special events at Mahoney

I recommend checking the Nebraska Game & Parks calendar before planning your visit. You may be able to time a winter visit to coincide with a memorable holiday event or family-friendly event.

One year, we visited the park when they had ice fishing for children. The park already made the holes in the ice and provided the fishing gear for the kids.

More about Mahoney State Park

Where: Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, 28500 West Park Highway, Ashland, Nebraska

Cost: You need a valid Nebraska State Park annual pass or you can pay a daily admission per vehicle. Annual permits are now $30. A day pass is $6.

Ice Rink conditions(402) 944-2523, Ext. 7122

Mahoney State Park is one of Nebraska's most-visited parks. See what there is to do at Mahoney in the winter, from ice fishing and sledding to indoor wall climbing and a huge activity center. #Nebraska #statepark #winter #winterfun #Midwest

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