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. Turns out, it’s worth a visit during the winter, especially with kids.
UPDATES: This post was first written in 2019 and has been updated in June 2023.
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.
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.
One must-visit place is the Activity Center. If you’ve never been, you’re going to wonder why you hadn’t been here sooner with the kids.
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.
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.
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*
Mahoney State Park conservatory
Not a far walk from the Activity Center is the conservatory/greenhouse. 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. It’s open on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
- The park usually offers live theater with family-friendly fare year-round. However, since 2020, that has been put on hold.
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. You can rent a sled for $3 on the days that the Activity Center is open.
Mahoney also opens its outdoor putt-putt course, weather permitting. It’s $3.50 per person. Pick up the clubs and balls from the Kiewit Lodge Front Desk. You can also rent disc golf supplies at the lodge. Pay $3 for a single disc or $5 for three. Again, it’s weather permitting.
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.
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. 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. If you have your own equipment and a fishing license, you can fish at Century Link Lank and Owen Marina. You have to be 16 or older to it on your own.
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.
Ice Rink conditions: (402) 944-2523, Ext. 7122