On the western edge of Douglas County, you’ll find the village of Waterloo, Nebraska. Plan a day trip from Omaha to discover some of the hidden gems of Waterloo.
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Waterloo is a village of about 900 inhabitants located west of Omaha. Located in the most populous county in Nebraska – Douglas County – it has the best of both worlds: A small town atmosphere near amenities and attractions of a city. Nearby towns include Elkhorn, Valley, Yutan, and Gretna.
I’ve written about a different Waterloo several times, but don’t confuse this village with Waterloo, Iowa. Alas, there are no theme parks or water parks in Waterloo, Neb.
Discover a hidden gem of Waterloo
Ellsworth Crossing was one of my favorite “finds” in the last two years. It’s a locally-owned shop that highlights things made in Nebraska. You’ll find milk and meats and snacks, as well as apparel and home goods, all made by Nebraska small businesses. They call it “farm to fork.”
Its proximity to the campgrounds at Two Rivers State Recreation Area is a bonus. You’ll find all the ingredients you need for a cookout while browsing Ellsworth.
There are events held at Ellsworth Crossing from time to time, too.
- Ellsworth Crossing, 26902 West Center Road, Waterloo, Neb.
Explore nature – fishing, swimming and biking in Waterloo
Two Rivers State Recreation Area has long been an attraction in Waterloo. Outdoor activities around the park include plenty of fishing and biking, as well as a man-made sandpit lake for swimming.
The sandpit lakes are stocked with different species of fish. The most popular lake, Lake No. 5, is stocked with trout, and typically will be open from the second Saturday of March and remains open until July 1. You’ll need a permit to fish.
The other lakes inside the park are open year-round. Other fish species you may catch are Largemouth Bass, Crappie, Bluegill, Bullhead, Catfish, and Carp. Lake Nos. 3 and 4 are catch and release lakes, and barbless hooks are required.
The sandy beach and swimming area is located at Lake 4 (in a separate area from the fishing portion, obviously). The lake is not too deep and there are no lifeguards.
Tent campers and RVers have scenic options around several of the small lakes at Two Rivers. For something a little different, there are retired Union Pacific cabooses that have been renovated for overnight stays. They aren’t glamorous, by any means, but kids love staying in them. They sleep up to six people and they’re open seasonally, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Tip: The cabooses are popular on the weekends, so you’ll want to make reservations early. Reservations can be made online here.
- Two Rivers State Recreation Area, 27702 F St., Waterloo, Neb.
Activities on the river in Waterloo
Beyond the lakes of Two River State Recreation Area, you can fish at the Waterloo river access point of the Elkhorn River. Fish found in the river include Buffalo, Channel Catfish, Common Carp, Flathead Catfish, and Shovelnose Sturgeon.
Graske Crossing is a spot along the Elkhorn River south of the Waterloo river access point. It’s owned and managed by Papio-Missouri River NRD, and is open seasonally from April 1 to Nov. 1. In addition to fishing, Graske Crossing serves as a canoe and tubing launch point for the river.
These sites may be closed temporarily when the river is high, so check river access ahead of time.
- Waterloo’s Elkhorn River access point, found off of West Maple Road just northeast of Waterloo
- Graske Crossing, southeast corner of West Dodge Road and west of 204th Street
Dine at Waterloo’s iconic steakhouse
Since 1964, diners have flocked to Farmer Brown’s Steak House in Waterloo. Beef is the obvious draw, from prime rib to filet and tenderloin. The family-owned restaurant also serves several pork and chicken dishes, as well as seafood. They have a kid’s menu.
One thing to remember about Farmer Brown’s: There are no reservations.
A large steakhouse meal can be heavy, I get it. Dining out options in Waterloo are limited but you next best bet for a good meal is the Tex-Mex restaurant, El Bee’s.
- Farmer Brown’s Steak House, 2620 River Road Drive, Waterloo, Neb.
- El Bee’s, 3200 N 240th St, Waterloo, Neb.
Go junking on a farm
The century-old property, Sycamore Farms, is home to the region’s most popular shopping event: Junkstock. It’s huge. USA Today 10Best awarded it as one of “10 Unforgettable Fall Festivals Worth Traveling For.”
You won’t find just vintage and antiques there, though. Vendors include makers and artisans, as well as food trucks. There’s live music, margaritas, and an abundance of Instagram-worthy photo opps.
Junkstock is held in the spring and in the fall. You can buy a day pass or a three-day weekend pass, available online and at the gate.
- Sycamore Farms, 1150 River Rd Drive, Waterloo, Neb.