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.
What to expect
Grab that map they hand at the admission gate. 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. 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.
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 accidentally timed our visit to coincide with feeding time and the 1:30 p.m. enrichment talk. It was a fortunate accident! I think Mr. Wonderful and I were more enthralled by the feedings than the kids, but whatever.
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.
It pays to time your visit! Feeding time is prime animal viewing time. On Saturdays and Sundays it’s at 1:30 p.m., and includes interesting talks with the keepers. While were were there, the keeper said the 3 p.m. feeding time is the best since that’s when she gives the bears and wolves the most food. I can’t find that time listed anywhere online, so I can’t confirm that it is the exact time to catch a second feeding.
It’s really the best chance to see these beautiful creatures up close. In past visits, the wolves and bears have been far from the fences.
If you go
Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari
Where: Take Exit 426 off Interstate 80, 16406 N. 292 St., Ashland, Neb.
Hours: Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through October.