Think Nebraska’s wildlife is boring? Think again. We recently visited Simmons Wildlife Safari in Ashland, Neb., (about 20 minutes west of Omaha). It was my dad’s first trip to the attraction, so we were excited for him to enjoy it with the kids.
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Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari quick facts
Where: 16406 N. 292 St., Ashland, Neb. (take Exit 426 off Interstate 80)
Hours: The wildlife safari is open seasonally, from April through October. Hours are from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., though there are some evening and overnight special events.
Ticket prices: Regular admission is $12 of adults (ages 12+), $11 for seniors (65+), $10 for kids (3-11), and free for children ages 2 and under. There is a $1 off discount for military. You can buy tickets at the gate.
Memberships: Memberships are available and are valid for one year from the date of purchase. They admit up to two adults from one household and up to six dependent children, ages 0-20, at same address OR up to six grandchildren, also ages 0-20, will be covered for each visit.
Memberships are $80. You can add the Wildlife Safari membership to an existing Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium membership, a value of $65, too! Call the zoo’s guest services department to get that done.
Plan a visit to the safari park
Grab that map they hand at the admission gate of the wildlife safari park. Not because you’ll get lost – the kids love it.
You’ll be driving at a maximum speed of 7 mph, so hang on, partner! You want to go slower, really, to catch all the wildlife. You’ll notice each area is separated by gates akin to the ones you remember from “Jurassic Park.” Scare the kids and put a water glass on your dashboard and recreate the T-Rex scene. Just kidding.
You’ll see deer, elk and an assortment of birds at the start. It’s pretty tranquil. Then you’ll drive around some wetlands, featuring photogenic waterfowl.
You can get out of your car at this point, though the parking areas are small. A lot of people just drive on by, so expect minimal crowds.
Your next stop is shortly after that. Definitely get out, because there’s the Hands-On Corral (AKA petting zoo) your kids will like. There are also trails to animal enclosures you can only see by walking to them.
Near there is a little play area with picnic tables, as well as an old Rosenblatt tower you can climb for a nice view. Venture over to the bald eagles and then double back to walk an inclined trail to see owls, bears, wolves and further afield, toads.
We caught an animal feeding time and the 1:30 p.m. enrichment talk. It was a fortunate accident! These kind of experiences are called Keeper Talks, and they occur daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Tip: Keep Talks are included with admission! The wildlife safari has some other behind-the-scenes experiences that are an added fee and require reservations.
Back in the car, you’ll get to drive past some pretty birds on your way to the big attraction: American bison. These free-roaming creatures get near your car, making for some impressive photos.
Be sure to stop back at the visitor center. There are more animals to see inside and outside, as well as a small playground and a group of sculptures kids seem to like climbing on.
Timing a picnic
There are a couple picnic tables near the petting zoo that aren’t very shaded. More tables are located near the visitor center. If you didn’t bring food, you can purchase snack bar items, ice cream and other goodies at the visitor center.