Boasting beautiful natural landscapes across the state, ranging from the towering dunes of the Sandhills to the vast prairies of the Great Plains, Nebraska offers excellent outdoor recreation such as camping, hiking, backpacking, and mountain biking. Home to a plethora of state parks, recreational areas, waterfalls, and national monuments, Nebraska has a camping site for every need from primitive camping with nothing but a tent to deluxe RV parks with all the bells and whistles. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.Branched Oak State Recreation Area
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Branched Oak State Recreation Area is home to the largest of the Salt Valley Lakes and offers an array of recreational and outdoor activities. The 5,595-acre park offers camping in nine public use areas around the lake, ranging from primitive to tent sites with non-electrical camper pads deluxe RV sites with hard-surfaced campsites with electrical hookups. Campgrounds have modern restrooms with coin-operated showers, drinking water and flushing toilets, picnic tables and fire rings, and the park has four dump stations. Park amenities include boat ramps, fish cleaning stations, several miles of hiking, biking and horse trails, equestrian camping with corrals, a private marina and concession, and a children’s playground.
12000 W Branched Oak Rd, Raymond, NE 68428, Phone: 402-783-3400
2.Chadron State Park
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Nestled among the rugged buttes and canyons of Nebraska's Pine Ridge, Chadron State Park was founded in 1921 and was Nebraska's first state park. The spectacular beauty of the Pine Ridge forms the backdrop for this fantastic family-friendly state park, which lies at an elevation of nearly 5,000 feet in the heart of the Nebraska National Forest. The 972-acre park features a wealth of activities and facilities, including water-based fun on the picturesque lagoon, such as swimming, boating, fishing, paddle-boating, and kayaking, hiking, horseback riding, mountain bike rentals, tennis and sand volleyball courts, and picnicking. The park’s campground can be found in the beautiful Pine Ridge and features sites for tents, vans, trailers, and RVs complete with electrical hookups, picnic tables, fire grills, comfort stations with hot showers and flushing toilets, a playground for the kids and a dump station.
15951 Hwy 385, Chadron, Nebraska 69337-7353, Phone: 308-432-6167
3.Fort Kearny State Historical Park
Established in 1848 as an outpost and a stage station for gold prospectors, Pony Express riders, and Overland Trail travelers, gold prospectors, Fort Kearny State Historical Park is dedicated to offering an insight into the life of remote settlement of the American West. An interpretive visitor’s center features several exhibits and walkways lead to the stockade where more information is available. Camping is available at the nearby Fort Kearny State Recreation Area, including electrical and primitive camp pads, modern restrooms with drinking water, showers, and flushing toilets, picnic tables, grills, and day-use shelters and a dump station. Other activities in the park include hiking, swimming, mountain biking, and fishing.
1020 V Rd, Kearney, NE 68845, Phone: 308-237–3178
4.Fremont State Recreation Area
Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area is located along the Platte River and is one of the popular recreation areas in eastern Nebraska. Located three miles west of Fremont, the area offers an array of outdoor activities ranging from camping, hiking, and mountain biking to boating, fishing, swimming, and water skiing. Several campgrounds in the park offer hard-surfaced pads shaded by mature trees, along with modern restrooms with drinking water, showers, and flushing toilets, picnic tables, and firepits. Primitive camping is also available in the park, along with picnicking and a safe swimming beach.
4349 West State Lakes Road, Fremont, NE 68025, Phone: 402-727-2922
5.Indian Cave State Park
Indian Cave State Park is a historic preservation area and public recreation area along the Missouri River that preserves a cave with prehistoric petroglyphs. The 3,052-acre park lies between Nemaha and Richardson counties in the southeast corner of the state and offers an array of outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, camping, picnicking, and cross-country skiing and sledding in winter. The area has several campgrounds with sites for tents, vans, trailers, and RVs with full electricity and water hookups, as well as primitive camping and equestrian campground with corrals, and offers picnic tables, fire rings, restrooms with showers, flushing toilets and potable water.
65296 720 Rd, Shubert, NE 68437, Phone: 402-883-2575
6.Lake Minatare State Recreation Area
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The scenic Lake Minatare State Recreation Area is a 2,970-acre park that is a federal waterfowl refuge and home to Nebraska's only lighthouse. Situated close to Scotts Bluff National Monument and Chimney Rock, Lake Minatare Campground has camping pads with electrical hookups, over 100 non-pad sites, and amenities such as modern restrooms with potable water, vault toilets, and showers, laundry facilities, picnic tables and shelters, and fire pits. Other facilities in the park and around the lake include boat ramps and fish cleaning stations, and activities range from hiking and mountain biking to boating, fishing, swimming (unsupervised), and kayaking.
Minatare, NE 69356, Phone: 308-783-2911
7.Lake Ogallala State Recreation Area
Lake Ogallala State Recreation Area is based on the shores of the small Lake Ogallala, also known as ‘little lake,’ compared to its larger counterparts nearby, the Kingsley Dam and the enormous Lake McConaughy. The quiet 320-acre lake is a well-known fishing destination, particularly renowned for its rainbow trout and its protected shoreline that wards off winds and offers excellent swimming, paddling, and picnicking. Lake Ogallala East Campground offers 82 campsites with electricity and water hookups, public restrooms with four unisex private coin-operated shower cubicles, vault latrines, potable water, and fire pits. Primitive campsites can be found on the west side of the lake with primitive and portable restrooms, and fresh potable water at various locations around the site.
1475 NE-61, Ogallala, NE 69153, Phone: 308-284-8800
8.Louisville State Recreation Area
The scenic Louisville State Recreation Area is a 192-acre park on the south bank of the Platte River in Cass County that features five sandpit lakes, one of which offers swimming. Surrounded by towering cottonwood trees, the campground is open year-round and includes an excellent complex for Recreational Vehicles with 223 camping pads, electricity and water hookups, picnic tables, fire rings, drinking water, modern restrooms with showers and a playground for children. There are also 13 all-weather pads without electricity and 75 units on primitive, non-designated sites, as well as a dump station. Recreational activities in the area include hiking, swimming, mountain biking, and fishing.
15810 NE-50, Louisville, NE 68037, Phone: 402-234-6855
9.Eugene T. Mahoney State Park
Eugene T. Mahoney State Park is a public recreation area located on the Platte River, about four miles east of Ashland that offers year-round accommodations and recreational use. Nestled on 700 acres along the Platte River, the modern park features a wealth of amenities ranging from the Little Creek and Lakeside campgrounds with traditional campsites and overnight cabins and lodges to a large waterpark with several swimming pools, hiking, and mountain biking trails, and tennis courts. Little Creek and Lakeside campgrounds have shaded, hard-surfaced pads near Owen Marina Lake, along with modern restrooms, drinking water, showers, and flushing toilets, picnic tables, and firepits. Rustic cabins are also available in secluded spots on wooded ridge tops with air conditioning and heating, fireplaces, mod-cons, and outdoor decks and grills.
28500 W Park Hwy, Ashland, NE 68003, Phone: 402-944-2523
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10.Mormon Island State Recreation Area
The Mormon Island State Recreation Area (SRA) is a beautiful scenic area that was named after the winter stopover used by Mormon emigrants heading westward. Forming part of Nebraska's unique Chain of Lakes, Mormon Island SRA hosts hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes each spring who come to rest and the court in the tranquil waters around the island. Other birds such as geese, ducks, and other waterfowl join the fray, and the island boasts a spectacular gathering each spring. Activities include fishing, non-powered boating, and boats with electric motors, swimming, picnicking, and camping. The area has several campgrounds with sites for tents, vans, trailers, and RVs with picnic tables, fire rings, restrooms with hot showers and flushing toilets and potable water.
7425 US-281, Doniphan, NE 68832, Phone: 308-385-6211
11.Niobrara State Park
Niobrara State Park is a state park and public recreation area in the northeast corner of Nebraska located at the confluence of the Missouri and Niobrara rivers. Occupying 1,640 acres of scenic landscapes to the west of the village of Niobrara, Niobrara State Park includes the Niobrara River Bridge and an array of wildlife from coyotes and wild turkeys to white-tailed deer. Park amenities include a visitor’s interpretive center that details the history of the area, a swimming pool, camping with tent sites and overnight cabins, and several miles of hiking trails. Niobrara State Park offers beautiful tent camping spots nestled in the hills overlooking the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers with sites for tents and RVs featuring 30-amp and 50-amp electrical hookups, modern restrooms with coin-operated showers, potable water, picnic tables, and grills, coin-operated washers and dryers, and a dump station.
89261 522 Ave, Niobrara, NE 68760, Phone: 402-857-3373
12.Pawnee State Recreation Area
Home to the second largest lake in the Salt Valley, the Pawnee State Recreation Area boasts more than 1,800 acres of land and 740 acres of water and offers a full range of facilities and outdoor recreational amenities. Located northwest of Emerald, the popular area provides camping sites, electrical hookups for campers, modern restrooms and showers, and four docks that provide easy access to the lake for fishing. The lake is fully stocked with a variety of fish including bluegill, largemouth bass, white bass, catfish, and walleye, while the surrounding land is home to an array of wildlife such as small game, waterfowl, and deer.
3900 NW 105th Street, Lincoln, Nebraska 68524, Phone: 402-796-2662
13.Platte River State Park
The Platte River State Park is a state park and public recreation area situated two miles west of Louisville on the southern bluffs of the Platte River. Boasting 519 acres of forested, steeply rolling landscapes halfway between Omaha and Lincoln, the park offers a variety of activities and facilities, rustic overnight cabins with air-conditioning and heating, picnic tables, fire grates, and central shower-latrine buildings. Teepees with wooden floors and creature comforts can be rented, and activities include hiking, mountain biking, swimming, fishing, and pleasure boating.
14421 346th St, Louisville, NE 68037, Phone: 402-234-2217
14.Ponca State Park
Located four miles north of Ponca on the banks of the Missouri River, Ponca State Park is a 2,400-acre park and a public recreation area in the northeastern corner of the state with pristine landscapes ranging from steep, forested rolling hills to high, craggy bluffs. Nestled along the banks of the picturesque Missouri River bluffs, Ponca State Park features one of the state's most comprehensive outdoor/environmental education programs where staff and volunteers educate visitors on the archeology, ecology, history, biology, and geology of the area. Ponca State Park has two modern campgrounds with paved campsites, electricity and water hookups, picnic tables, fire pits, modern restrooms with showers, a dump station, and a playground. Primitive camping is available year-round, and there are 14 air-conditioned housekeeping cabins with comfortable furnishings available from mid-April through mid-November. Activities in the park include more than 20 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, backpacking, fishing, swimming, and pleasure boating.
88090 Spur 26 E, Ponca, NE 68770, Phone: 402-755-2284
15.Two Rivers State Recreation Area
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Located southwest of Venice, the Two Rivers State Recreation Area, is a 622-acre park with seven ponds spanning 320 acres next to the Platte River. The high-density recreation area offers modern camping, ten seasonal caboose camper cabins, and a range of outdoor activities, including boating, fishing, swimming, and picnicking. The area has seven camping areas and 209 padded sites for tents, trailers, and RVs, electrical and water hookups, modern restrooms with showers, potable water and toilets, and a dump station. There are also ten bright red remodeled and fully-furnished cabooses with decks, picnic tables, and grills for those wanting extra comfort.
27702 F St, Waterloo, NE 68069, Phone: 402-359-5165
16.Victoria Springs State Recreation Area
Established in 1925, Victoria Springs State Recreation Area is an oasis in the Sand Hills that is renowned for its mineral springs and therapeutic waters. Located a short drive from Anselmo and Merna, the secluded, scenic area had 60 non-pad campsites with 21 electrical hookups, modern restrooms with showers, potable water and toilets, picnic tables and fire pits, and a dump station. There are also two rustic overnight cabins with kitchens and comfortable furnishings and activities in the area include hiking, mountain biking, picnicking, boating, and fishing in the Victoria Springs pond.
43400 State Hwy 21A South, Anselmo, NE 68813, Phone: 308-749-2235
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17.Windmill State Park
Situated between Kearney and Grand Island at the Gibbon Interchange in the state's unique ‘chain of lakes,’ the Windmill State Recreation Area is an area operated by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Once a stopover spot for early-day travelers, the park features several human-made lakes that offer an array of water sports and activities, modern camping facilities with electrical hookups, modern restrooms with showers, potable water, and toilets, picnic tables, and fire pits. Named after the place where the Pawnee Indians forded the Platte River during their annual buffalo hunts called Windmill Crossing, the 154-acre area has six ponds, primitive tent camping, picnicking, and a swimming beach.
2625 Lowell Rd, Gibbon, NE 68840, Phone: 308-468-5700
18.Prairie Oasis Campground & Cabins
© Prairie Oasis Campground & Cabins
Located at Exit 342 on I-80 in Henderson, Prairie Oasis Campground & Cabins is a year-round campground with pull-through sites that accommodate all styles of camping, from rustic tenting to RV camping with electrical, water and sewerage hookups. The campground has 31 gravel RV sites with 30 or 50 amp full-hookups, seven shaded tent sites with BBQ grills, picnic tables, and fire pits, and a furnished camping cabin with a queen bed and comfy décor. Campsite facilities include modern restrooms with showers, toilets and potable water, a laundry room, and complimentary wireless Internet. A camp shop sells camping essentials, firewood, and limited RV supplies. Recreational activities include fishing on a small lake, paddling, badminton, horseshoes, sand volleyball, and ladder ball.
913 Rd B, Henderson, NE 68371, Phone: 402-723-5227
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19.Camp A Way
© Camp A Way
Camp A Way is a family-friendly campsite with an array of campsites for all types of camping and a host of amenities in the heart of Lincoln. Established over 50 years ago, Camp A Way offers an array of camping options from tent sites with non-electrical camper pads to deluxe pull-through RV sites with hard-surfaced campsites with electrical, water, and sewerage hookups. Modern restrooms have with coin-operated showers, drinking water and flushing toilets, and other facilities include picnic tables, fire rings, dump stations, and a wide variety of facilities such as an indoor spa, a heated swimming pool, and large dog parks.
200 Campers Cir, Lincoln, NE 68521, Phone: 402-476-2282
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20.Double Nickel Campground
© Double Nickel Campground
Double Nickel Campground is a family-owned and operated campground with full-hookup RV sites and grassy tent sites. The family-friendly campground offers 43 gravel sites for RV camping with electricity and water hookups, picnic tables, fire pits, modern restrooms with showers, a dump station, and a playground. The campground also has deluxe cabins with comfortable furnishings, full kitchens, air-conditioning and heating, and facilities at the campground include a swimming pool and a camping store selling groceries. Recreational activities in the area include fishing, hiking, mountain biking, boating, swimming, and bird watching.
907 Rd S, Waco, NE 68460, Phone: 402-728-5558
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21.Red Willow Reservoir State Recreation Area
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Located next to Chadron State Park in the beautiful Pine Ridge area, the Red Willow Reservoir State Recreation Area borders the Red Willow Dam in Frontier County and offers a wealth of outdoor and recreational activities. The area has a year-round campground with 13 campsites for tents featuring picnic tables and fire rings, and modern restrooms with drinking water, showers, and vault toilets. The 1,358-acre area offers an array of family-friendly activities, including camping, hiking, mountain biking, fishing, swimming, boating, paddling, and kayaking.
125 N Main Street, Chadron, NE 69337, Phone: 308-432-0300
22.Nebraska National Forest
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The Nebraska National Forest is a National Forest spanning 141,864 acres that is spread across several counties, including Blaine, Dawes, Thomas, and Sioux, and includes two ranger districts - the Bessey Ranger District and the Pine Ridge Ranger District. America's largest human-made forest is made up of ponderosa pine and grassy plains, which were planted by botanist Charles E. Bessey decades ago and is now a lush 20,000-acre wood, supplying up to three million seedlings per year. The Nebraska National Forest offers a wealth of year-round recreational activities, ranging from camping at one of several campgrounds providing all types of camping from primitive to RV camping, hiking, and mountain biking to horseback riding, geocaching, wildlife watching, and bird watching.
125 N Main St, Chadron, NE 69337, Phone: 308-432-0300
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23.Red Cloud Campground
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Located one mile south of Chadron State Park near the beautiful Pine Ridge area, the Red Cloud Campground is a petite camp nestled in a ponderosa forest that has 13 spacious campsites with parking pads, picnic tables, pedestal grills, fire rings, and vault toilets. There is no potable water, and campers need to bring their water. The campground is located near an old mining district and offers easy access to the Pine Ridge Trail system and the Outriderand Strong Canyon trailheads, which passes through the spectacular natural scenery of grasslands, canyons, buttes, and Ponderosa Pine forests. Activities in the area include camping, hiking, mountain biking, geocaching, wildlife watching, and bird watching.
Corona, NM 88318
24.Nebraska Tailwaters Campground & Day-Use Area
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Nestled along the Nebraska bank of the Missouri River just downstream of the 31,400-acre Gavins Point Dam and Lewis & Clark Lake, Nebraska Tailwaters Campground is a fun-filled camping destination with 42 campsites, 31 which have electric hookups, 11 non-electric and others for tent camping only. Amenities include modern restrooms with shower facilities with flushing toilets, picnic shelters, fire pits, grills, and vault toilets. There is also a Group Camping Area with electric hookups, and the campsite offers river access with shore fishing, a fishing pier and boat ramp, a fish cleaning station, and an RV dump station. Recreational activities in and around the lake include fishing, hiking, mountain biking, boating, sailing, swimming, bird watching, photography, and seasonal hunting.
898 Road, Crofton, NE 68730, Phone: 877-444-6777
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24 Best Nebraska Camping Spots
- Branched Oak State Recreation Area, Photo: Phyre Sky/stock.adobe.com
- Chadron State Park, Photo: Ric Ergenbright Danita Delimont/stock.adobe.com
- Fort Kearny State Historical Park, Photo: knowlesgallery/stock.adobe.com
- Fremont State Recreation Area, Photo: Shutter2U/stock.adobe.com
- Indian Cave State Park, Photo: kikovic/stock.adobe.com
- Lake Minatare State Recreation Area, Photo: LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/stock.adobe.com
- Lake Ogallala State Recreation Area, Photo: MarekPhotoDesign.com/stock.adobe.com
- Louisville State Recreation Area, Photo: dzimin/stock.adobe.com
- Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, Photo: AlexR/stock.adobe.com
- Mormon Island State Recreation Area, Photo: clairelucia/stock.adobe.com
- Niobrara State Park, Photo: Menyhert/stock.adobe.com
- Pawnee State Recreation Area, Photo: ivanko80/stock.adobe.com
- Platte River State Park, Photo: johnsroad7/stock.adobe.com
- Ponca State Park, Photo: Daniil/stock.adobe.com
- Two Rivers State Recreation Area, Photo: Sunny Forest/stock.adobe.com
- Victoria Springs State Recreation Area, Photo: moodboard/stock.adobe.com
- Windmill State Park, Photo: Gary/stock.adobe.com
- Prairie Oasis Campground & Cabins, Photo: Prairie Oasis Campground & Cabins
- Camp A Way, Photo: Camp A Way
- Double Nickel Campground, Photo: Double Nickel Campground
- Red Willow Reservoir State Recreation Area, Photo: Jacob Lund/stock.adobe.com
- Nebraska National Forest, Photo: Jacob Lund/stock.adobe.com
- Red Cloud Campground, Photo: New Africa/stock.adobe.com
- Nebraska Tailwaters Campground & Day-Use Area, Photo: IEGOR LIASHENKO/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Henry Schmitt/stock.adobe.com
More Ideas & Attractions: Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum
Located in Ashland, Nebraska, the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum celebrates the accomplishments of the United States Air Force, preserving a collection of historic strategic aircraft, spacecraft, and nuclear missiles and offering educational programming related to aviation and engineering technologies. The history of Strategic Air Command operations in eastern Nebraska dates back to 1948, when Bellevue’s Offutt Air Force Base became the headquarters for the Department of Defense’s strategic nuclear strike forces and reconnaissance aircraft operations.
In 1959, the base began a small museum collection containing a single preserved aircraft, achieving a vision outlined by General Curtis LeMay. The museum’s collections grew throughout the 1960s and 1970s, serving as a well-known public repository of technology used for peace preservation throughout the Cold War. In 1998, following a $33 million fundraising campaign, the museum moved to a new permanent facility in Ashland, offering greater public accessibility as a result of its central location between Lincoln and Omaha and greater indoor protection for aircraft and exhibits. The museum’s name was officially changed to the Strategic Air and Space Museum in 2001, and later in 2015, to the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum.
Permanent Exhibits and Collections
Today, the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum encompasses a 300,000-square-foot facility near Interstate 80 in Ashland, offering collections of aircraft, spacecraft, and nuclear missiles, along with historical exhibits on American conflicts and educational programming related to aviation and engineering technologies. As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the museum is operated by private funding from corporate and individual donors. A large glass atrium built from 525 glass panels is located at the front of the building, housing a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird aircraft, and three nuclear missiles are displayed outside the building’s entrance. Other notable aircraft holdings include an Avro Vulcan B.Mk.II, one of only three of its kind on display anywhere in the United States, a Boeing B-52 Stratofortress, the first of its kind used by the United States Air Force, one of only two McDonnell XF-85 Goblins ever produced, and one of four remaining Convair B-36J Peacemakers. Notable missile holdings include the Boeing AGM-86B Air Launched Cruise Missile, the Douglas PGM-17 Thor, and the North American GAM-77 Hound Dog.
A number of permanent exhibits focus on historical and cultural aspects of Nebraska’s involvement in American conflicts of the 20th century, as well as topics related to aviation and robotics technologies and interstellar science. The work of Nebraska artist Matthew Placzek is showcased in Searching for Humanity: Veterans, Victims, and Survivors of World War II, which commemorates the state’s Holocaust victims through photos and personal testimony. The career of Ashland area astronaut Clayton Anderson is chronicled in The Heartland Astronaut, while the Doolittle’s Tokyo Raiders exhibit commemorates Lincoln native Richard Joyce, a participant in the 1942 strike in retaliation for Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The Martin Bomber Plant exhibit commemorates the former Offutt Air Force Base bomber production plant. A Vietnam Memorial Wall honors the conflict’s fallen soldiers, while other exhibits honor the service of the 9th Air Force in World War II and the Seventh Air Force and United States Navy Task Force 77’s Linebacker II campaign in Vietnam. A variety of rotating exhibits are also exchanged with other national museums, such as the Black Holes: Space Warps and Time Twists exhibit, on display throughout 2017.
STEM-focused exhibits for young visitors are displayed at the Children’s Learning Center, which offers a safe space for families to explore scientific creativity and innovation. Exhibits include an Innovation Station, which encourages teamwork through creative play with foam blocks, a Dual Test Track, highlighting friction and weight distribution principles for aircraft operations, and an area of Make-It Tables. A Bernoulli Blower, Tennis Ball Launcher, and Twin Air Blaster are also featured, along with a free play area of KEVA Planks.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Docent-led museum tours are offered daily, including group tours for 20 or more participants at a reduced admission rate. Field trips for elementary and secondary school students are tailored to incorporate Nebraska curriculum elements and include use of the museum’s planetarium and flight simulators. A variety of educational programming is offered in conjunction with the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Office of STEM, including overnight opportunities, themed monthly homeschooler workshops, distance learning outreach programs, and an annual Science Fair. Birthday party packages are also available for rental, structured around aviation and technology themes. Annual public special events include a Spring Fling celebration and Easter egg hunt, a Family Fun Carnival, a Leprechaun Chase 10K St. Patrick’s Day Run, an Indoor Air Show, and a Veteran’s Day celebration.
28210 W Park Hwy, Ashland, NE 68003, Phone: 402-944-3100
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More Ideas & Attractions: Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari
Located in Ashland, Nebraska, the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari is a venture of Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, housing a 440-acre drive-through safari park showcasing native animals of North American prairie and wetlands environments. The Henry Doorly Zoo was opened in 1894 by the City of Omaha as the Riverview Park Zoo.
In 1952, the Omaha Zoological Society was created to assist city management of the zoo facility due to increases in animal population and attendance. The zoo was renamed the Henry Doorly Zoo in 1963 to honor the financial contributions of major donor Margaret Hitchcock Doorly, who contributed $750,000 to the zoo in honor of her late husband. Following Doorly’s donation and subsequent zoo renovations, the Omaha Zoological Society was reorganized into a nonprofit association to oversee maintenance of the zoo for the city, serving to establish and promote recreation, educational, and conservation programs and research initiative to spread awareness of nature to Omaha citizens and protect the ecosystems of the Great Plains.
In June 1998, the Henry Doorly Zoo opened the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari, constructed at a cost of $3.5 million. Designed as a drive-through safari habitat, the park focuses on North American species native to prairie and wetland ecosystems, including black bears, bison, elk, wolves, and eagles. As a partner facility for the Henry Doorly Zoo, the park was intended both as a visitor attraction and an off-season temporary housing facility for main zoo animals in transition between exhibits. In 2000, a number of sculptures and trails were added to the park, along with a new bridge along the park’s drive-through route. An Eagle Aviary was added to the park in 2010, and in 2013, the Crane Meadows Viewing Tower was erected. In 2014, the park began programs for cheetah breeding, and in 2016, the park announced plans for an upcoming major facility renovation.
Permanent Exhibits and Animals
Today, the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari welcomes 143,000 annual visitors to its 440-acre scenic drive-through park, located 22 miles west of the Henry Doorly Zoo in nearby Ashland. The park is open daily between April and October, with limited seasonal hours on weekends throughout November, weather-permitting. A Visitor Center serves as an entrance point for the park, offering concessions, a gift shop, a playground for young visitors, and an exhibit dedicated to small mammal and bird species of the Great Plains.
At the beginning of the drive-through tour, a 50-acre Elk Prairie exhibit showcases American elk in a natural prairie grasslands habitat. The 10-acre Deer Woods exhibit is home to North American white-tailed deer, and the 40-acre Bison Plains exhibit is split between woodland and prairie habitats. At the Wolf Canyon exhibit, gray wolves and American black bears are on display, along with aviaries showcasing barn owls, screech owls, and kestrels and a Hands-On Corral allowing for up-close experiences with goats and chickens. An Eagle Aviary exhibit features American bald eagles on loan from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Pelican Wetlands exhibit is home to American white pelicans, great blue heron, wood ducks, and American coot. The 12-acre Crane Meadows exhibit is anchored by the Crane Meadows Viewing Tower, which was constructed from recovered news media towers used at nearby Rosenblatt Stadium.
For the safety of animals and visitors, the park’s drive-through road enforces a speed limit of seven miles per hour, with designated pull-off areas for up-close observation of animal habitats. Motorcycles, semi-trucks, and bikes are prohibited within the park, and visitors may not ride on the outside bed of pickup trucks. Smoking, littering, and feeding animals is also strictly prohibited. Visitors may also explore two miles of hiking trail areas on foot, including Wolf Woods and Frog Lake.
Ongoing Programs and Education
Group tour rates are offered for groups of 30 visitors or more, including field trip opportunities for elementary and secondary school groups. Educational student workshops are also offered for student groups in grades 6-12, designed to expand students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills through experiences with park animals, including work with the park’s amphibian conservation initiative. A variety of family camps and adult course workshops are offered, including Photo Explorer groups, Art on the Plains workshops, and Wildlife Ranger Day Camps. Overnight campout opportunities are offered for young visitors and families, providing participants opportunities to camp in natural settings and learn about Nebraska wildlife. Haunted Safari campouts are offered during the fall season, including night hiking opportunities.
16406 N. 292 Street,Ashland, NE 68003
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