Fontenelle Forest is a lovely place to visit any time of year, I’m discovering. Most recently, my family visited in January on an unseasonably warm day.
If you haven’t been since your grade-school class trip, it’s time to return. With or without kids.
But, being that this is a parents blog, you’re probably bringing along a little one or two.
So, is it just peaceful mile after peaceful mile of dirt trails in tree-dappled shade? There’s a lot of that, yes. Pack some water bottles and explore it with your little trekker.
But there’s also this fantastic boardwalk that’s stroller-friendly, that will take you to a nice view of the Missouri River and downtown Omaha.
Fontenelle has one thing that other parks and forests don’t also claim – Acorn Acres. This place is so fun for kids, and we haven’t even checked it out in nice, spring or fall weather.
There’s a tree house to climb, musical instruments to play (when the weather cooperates – it was covered in January), holes to dig, plenty to climb on and when it’s nice out, a nice little pond to investigate.
It’s enough to tucker a kid out.
Other things you’ll want to check out – things that are hard to miss anyway.
1. The welcome center – Well, you have to enter Fontenelle through the building, so you can’t miss it. There was an indoor playground the last time we visited.
2. Right out back of that center are protected shelters for an owl and a hawk. You can look at these pretty creatures from behind a fence.
Your turn: What’s your favorite thing about Fontenelle Forest?
If you’re a hiker, you likely have a favorite nearby spot to see the changing leaves. If you’re not, I’ve got you covered.
Maybe you don’t want to take a hike; maybe you’ve been on Pinterest too much lately and you’ve found a bunch of leaf projects to do with your kid. Maybe you just want to take pictures of your cute kid.
Whatever your reason, here are a few suggestions for all thing leafy in the Omaha area:
For a less rugged hike, you can’t beat the boardwalk at Fontenelle (though you can hit trails there, too). I’m pretty sure, though, that leaf collecting is discouraged there, so look but no touchy. There’s a lot to see and do at Fontenelle in addition to immersing yourself in nature. There’s a fun play area that kids adore, and there’s the temporary exhibit Green Evolution you’ll want to see before it leaves.
Cost: $8 per person; children 2 and younger are admitted free.
Hitchcock Nature Center
It’s no secret my family loves afternoons at Hitchcock. This time of year is great to go since you’re not sweating profusely as soon as you get out of the car. Stop by the visitors center to check out a kids backpack full of fun “tools” to the hike and then grab a map and hit the trails (some are more strenuous than others so pick the right path for your family’s ability… unless you like hauling a 28-pound toddler up a steep incline).
Cost: Park admission per car is $2; annual permit is $10; backpacks are free to check out.
Was summer camp ’87 the last time you ventured to Hummel Park in northeast Omaha? It’s time to come back. Time your visit right and you might catch a fun activity on a Saturday afternoon.
The Omaha metro area offers several trails that are great for families to bike on. Below is a list of bike trails in Omaha to try out with your kiddo. They’re relatively flat and wide enough for a trailer.
Being true to myself here, I’ve selected trips that also happen to include a stop for something sweet. You don’t have to make the stop, you fun hater, but I believe life is all about balance. Sweet with sweat.
Before you go, let me get my Mom tone on and remind you that everyone needs a helmet (even if they’re riding in a trailer). And don’t forget to be courteous to your fellow cyclists and the runners on the trail, your children will learn by your example.
Distance: About 5 miles total, cupcake pit stop at the halfway point.
Sweet Stop: Jones Brothers Cupcakes, 2121 S. 67th St. (in the heart of Aksarben Village).
Starting Point: Park in the lots used for Crane Coffee and Peak Performance, 519 N. 78th St., hop on your bikes and head south, making the stop at Jones Bros. your turnaround point.
Pros: Stinson Park is right by Jones Bros., so you might have an impromptu play session; you used to be able to get a discount a Jones Bros. as a biker (it’s been a while since I’ve checked this out).
Cons: The scenery around the trail leaves much to be desired; no water fountains on that bit of trail; Jones Bros. is not located on the trail so you need to have a decent idea of where you’re going.
Big Papio Trail
Distance: About 3 miles with a fro-yo or bakery break at the halfway point.
Sweet Stop: Red Mango or Wheatfields, both located at One Pacific Place, 103rd and Pacific streets.
Starting Point: Park at Towl Park off about 94th and West Center Road. You’ll bike north. Your stopping point is at One Pacific Place for choice of frozen yogurt (Red Mango) or abundance of baked good options (Wheatfields). Head back the way you came (obviously).
Pros: The trail is quiet.
Cons: It might be a little difficult to find Towl Park (I’ve never heard of it); you’ll have to leave the trail and venture into a busy shopping area to get to your sweet oasis.
West Papio Trail
Distance: About 5 miles with a frozen custard break at the halfway point.
Sweet Stop: Culvers, located near where the West Papio intersects with the Keystone Trail.
Starting Point: Use the neighborhood park at the intersection of Cobblestone Road and Wilma Road in Papillion. Bike eastward. Your stop is at Culver’s, just about where the trail intersects with the Keystone Trail.
Pros: Pretty quiet and more scenic than the trails above.
Cons: I don’t recall the trail leading up to Culver’s door, so you may have to walk your bikes through some grass.
Chalco Hills Recreation Area
Distance: About 7 miles, part of it is a loop
Sweet Stop: There is no ice cream stop within biking distance for families, so once you’re finished with your ride, pack up the bikes and head to one of the nearby fast food restaurants for soft-serve ice cream. McDonald’s is my kid’s preferred place on 144th Street near the Interstate 80 entrance.
Starting Point: The main entrance to Chalco is at 154th and Giles Road. Chalco has several parking lots located near picnic areas.
Pros: It’s a beautiful ride throughout. Much of the trail takes you around Wehrspann Lake, which is a 250-acre lake. Plus, there are restrooms here.
Cons: As the name implies, there are some hills here, including a few inclines that will be tough for little legs to bike up and/or scary for little ones to bike down. They’re manageable. My 6-year-old was fine on the way down, but had to walk her bike up one of the hills.
Walnut Creek Recreation Area
Distance: 3.1-mile looping trail
Sweet Stop: None within biking distance, so hop in the car after your ride and go to Shadow Lake Towne Center. The shopping center has an Orange Leaf, Freddy’s and Chocolaterie Stam.
Starting Point: Walnut Creek is located south of Highway 370 and west of 96th Street. There are two entrances, one at 96th Street and the other a 1.5-mile farther south and 1.5-mile west on Schram Road to Turkey Road.
Pros: Biking around the Walnut Creek Lake is beautiful and mostly flat (at least, a lot flatter than Chalco). If your family is the mountain biking kind of family, this has some nice trails, too. Also, there are restrooms here.
Cons: This is a popular park, so when we’ve been here to bike, the trail can be a little crowded.
Wabash Trace Trail (in Council Bluffs, Iowa)
Distance: It’s up to you since your Sweet Stop will actually be at the end of the ride (I recommend riding for about 15 to 20 minutes and then turning around).
Sweet Stop: Tastee Treat, 13996 Wabash Ave., Council Bluffs, Iowa
Starting Point: You can park at the trail head at East South Omaha Bridge Road, which will be just west of Tastee Treat. You may be able to park at Tastee Treat and access the trail from there as well. You’ll ride along the trail heading roughly southeast and it’s up to you when you should turn around.
Pros: The further you go, the prettier the scenery.
Cons: It’s crushed limestone, so if all you have is a road bike, you are out of luck; if you’re unfamiliar with Council Bluffs, you may be unsure how to find the trail
Additional biking options for Omaha families
If you’re looking for a few more ideas, to liven up your family bike rides in Omaha, here are some more trails or parks to consider:
Zorinsky Park – This super popular park almost always has a fairly crowded, paved trail. Still, it can get pretty scenic, especially on the west side of the park. There are a few inclines, but overall, it’s a fairly flat route around a lake. There are also two playgrounds.
Benson Park – This is a very short loop around a small lake, but this is where our kids learned to ride their bikes. The path can get crowded on warm days, but if you go during more temperate seasons, you’ll feel like you have the park to yourselves. There’s a great playground here and a spray ground that’s open in the summer.
Lewis & Clark Landing & The Bob – There are paved trails on both sides of the Missouri River, which you can access by crossing the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge (more commonly referred to as The Bob). The bike up the bridge is a little steep for little legs. The bridge can get crowded by people oblivious to bikers, so know that you may either have to weave around crowds or just hop off your bike. The Council Bluffs side has more extensive trails if you want a longer ride, but for short legs, the Omaha side is just fine.