Omaha has its own share of attractions and entertainment including the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, the The Durham Museum of historic train cars, and the Joslyn Art Museum. However, it’s location makes it appealing as a starting point for day trips throughout the American midwest. Head east towards the Missouri River and into Iowa, or west towards the Platte River.
South Dakota and Sioux City are directly north. Get to know the friendly midwestern U.S. with Omaha as your home base.
1. Angel de Cora Museum and Research Center
© Angel de Cora Museum and Research Center
Winnebago’s Angel de Cora Museum and Research Center is named in honor of Angel de Cora, who was the first Winnebago woman to attend college in the 19th century. The artistic and musically talented de Cora taught her skills to other American Indians as a teacher at the Carlisle Indian School. Located on the campus of the Little Priest Tribal College, the museum displays artifacts related to the cultural history of the Winnebago Tribe in addition to the history of European settlers in the area and the interaction between the two. Notable pieces include paintings of prominent tribe members, which are displayed on rotation.
601 E. College Dr, Winnebago, NE 68071, Phone: 402-878-3313
© Ashland Nebraska
Ashland, Nebraska is central to three of the state’s most popular tourist attractions, the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari, Mahoney State Park, and the Strategic Air and Space Museum. A Smithsonian Affiliate the Air and Space Museum houses a collection of U.S. Air Force planes, missiles, and rockets. Historic downtown Ashland is a quaint midwestern town with art galleries, shops and restaurants all within a walkable central district. Annual events include summer’s Stirrup Days, with activities for the whole family. Summer is also the season for outdoor sidewalk sales, live music, and the municipal pools and water parks.
© Aurora Chamber of Commerce
Aurora, Nebraska is home to several museums and art galleries. At the Plainsman Museum you’ll learn about the history of Hamilton County, see an historic sod house, blacksmith shop, barbershop, and gas station, and view artifacts and photographs from the 19th and 20th centuries. Visit the historic 12th Street Cinema to see a new release or an old classic. Also in town is the Renaissance Art Gallery, a photography and art studio. The Edgerton Explorit Center is a children’s museum dedicated to the MIT professor and inventor, Doc Edgerton, who was born and raised in Aurora.
© Brownville Merchants
Nebraska’s Brownville is a quaint historic town, founded in 1854. Best to visit between May and October, Brownsville offers museums, shops and restaurants, including Whiskey Run Creek, a winery and distillery in a renovated 100 year old barn. Town-wide flea markets take place on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekend, while the Brownville Concert Series runs once monthly from March through December. Enjoy the outdoors along the Whiskey Run Creek Nature Trail, the Steamboat Trace Trail, or at the Governor Furnas Arboretum. The Brownsville Art Association manages the arboretum and trails, and shows art in a historic home and schoolhouse on the arboretum property.
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5. Council Bluffs, IA
© Council Bluffs, IA
Council Bluffs, Iowa is located east of the Missouri River directly across from Omaha. The city is home to a new River’s Edge Park, which includes a pedestrian bridge over the river, splash pad, sand area, 5-acre lawn, public art and River’s Edge Pavilion. Visit the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, the RailsWest RailRoad Museum, or the Historic General Dodge House, the 19th century home built by a Civil War General and Railroad magnate. Enjoy the outdoors with a visit to the Western Historic Trails Center, Lake Manawa State Park, or the Lewis and Clark Monument and Scenic Overlook.
6. Des Moines, IA
© Nick Fox/stock.adobe.com
Des Moines is the midwest’s fastest growing metro area and offers a variety of things to do from nightlife, to dining, to sports and the great outdoors. Annual events include the legendary Iowa State Fair, held every summer since 1854. Visit for the Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival in March or April’s famous Drake Relays, the top track and field event in the U.S. Enjoy over 800 miles of cycling, hiking or kayaking trails through the Clive Greenbelt and the Des Moines River. Celebrate the arts at the Des Moines Art Festival, the Des Moines Art Center, or the Des Moines Symphony.
Des Moines, IA
7. Grand Island
© Grand Island Tourism
Nebraska’s Grand Island is not an island at all, although it once was. Originally the French Grand Ile, the city is located just west of Lincoln near the Platte River. Nebraska’s fourth largest city, it’s the birthplace of actor Henry Fonda. Area attractions include the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, and Fred’s Flying Circus, a display of cartoon cars at a local body shop. At the Cane Trust Nature and Visitor Center enjoy a butterfly garden and walking trails along the river. Visit in spring to see the sandhill migration from special bird blinds and watch towers. Thousands of cranes arrive each year, over 80% of the known population.
Grand Island, NE
8. Indian Cave State Park
Nebraska’s Indian Cave State Park is named after a large sandstone cave that’s located within the 3,000 acre park. The cave can be viewed from a boardwalk built along the cave wall, hike in to view Native American petroglyphs of unknown origin. Located along the Missouri River, the park offers 22 miles of scenic trails for hiking or cycling. Wildlife along the trails includes deer, turkeys, beavers and woodchucks. Birding and wildlife programs take place year round. Structures within the park include a living history area, which operates on warm weekends around a restored schoolhouse and general store.
65296 720 Rd, Shubert, NE 68437, Phone: 402-883-2575
9. Kansas City, MO
Kansas City, Missouri is a large midwestern metropolitan area offering a variety of neighborhoods and things to do. In the neighborhood of 18th and Vine you’ll find Kansas City’s best jaxx clubs, as well as two of the cities top museums, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and the American Jazz Museum. The Brookside neighborhood offers classic midwestern charm, the historic 1920’s center hosts the Brookside Art Annual. In the center of downtown, the Power and Light District is home to KC Live! The eight block outdoor entertainment venue that annually hosts over 150 free events. In East Bottoms, check out the revival of a 19th century distillery, J. Rieger and Co, in the up and coming Electric Park neighborhood.
Kansas City, MO
10. Keystone Trail
© Alex Green/stock.adobe.com
Nebraska’s Keystone Trail is a 15 mile long rails to trail project that Omaha’s Democracy Park to Bellevue’s Loop Trail. The paved trail is suitable for walkers, joggers, or cyclists, is wheelchair accessible, and open to cross-country skiing in the winter months. The scenic route follows the Papillion Creek. As you head south from Democracy Park, enjoy the views from atop Little Papillion Creek’s flood control levees. Pass by agricultural land, over railroad bridges, and past pilings and trestles reminiscent of the trail’s past. Continue along the Bellevue Loop Trail extension for a 30 mile route.
Templeton Dr. and Fort St., Omaha ,NE
11. Lauritzen Gardens
Omaha’s botanical center, the Lauritzen Gardens, offer natural beauty in the heart of central Omaha. The living museum has four seasons of plantings and is home to a 32,000 square foot educational and visitor center. Events at the visitor center include horticulture classes for adults, children’s educational workshops, and seasonal flower shows three times yearly. Garden features include the Helena Street Fountain outside the visitor center and a 450 pound copper fern basket made by a local artist. Gardens throughout the 100 acre property include a Conservation Discovery Garden, Herb Garden, Rose Garden Victorian Garden and wooded trail among others.
100 Bancroft St, Omaha, NE 68108, Phone: 402-346-4002
12. Lee Simmons Wildlife Safari and Conservation Park
Omaha’s Lee G. Simmons Wildlife Safari and Conservation Park is a four-mile long safari style drive through a 440- acre wildlife habitat. From the safety of your car, get up close and personal with white-tailed deer, bison, elk, and pronghorn antelope. Prairie Dog Town, outside of the visitor center, offers 2,100 square feet of prairie dog habitat. The 10 acre Pelican Wetlands is home to rehabilitated American white pelicans that cannot be released into the wild. At the Hands On Corral, children of all ages can pet goats, sheep, and other barnyard animals. All animals at the safari park are native to North America.
16406 N 292nd St, Ashland, NE 68003, Phone: 402-944-9453
13. Lewis and Clark Recreation Area, South Dakota
Yankton’s Lewis and Clark Lake is among the most popular resort parks in South Dakota. Resort facilities include sandy beaches, a marina with boat ramp and floating fuel dock, swimming pool, and restaurant. Rent a boat to get out on the water, or enjoy swimming from shore. On land, there’s also an archery range, basketball court, playground, and disc golf course. Enjoy 7-miles of hiking or cycling along the paved pedestrian trail which loops the park. Interpretative signage along the trail and at the welcome center inform visitors about area. The Gavins Point Nature Trail is a woodchip surfaced moderate route that offers wildlife viewing.
43349 SD Hwy 52, Yankton, SD 57078, Phone: 605-668-2985
Nebraska’s capital city, Lincoln, is full of history, entertainment and places to explore. Visit the capitol building, built between 1922 and 1932 and enjoy lunch at the nearby Billy’s Restaurant, in a home built in 1887. The Historic Haymarket District and Railroad Entertainment District offer shopping, dining and nightlife. Museums include the Speedway Motors Museum of American Speed and the International Quilting Museum. Along with several art galleries, enjoy the Sheldon Museum of Art and the Great Plains Art Museum. Annual events include Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday Celebration each February, mid-May’s Lincoln Beer Week, and the Jazz in June summer concert series.
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15. Mahoney State Park
Ashland’s Mahoney State Park is a 700-acre park located along the Platte River. The park offers modern amenities like an indoor playground, aquatic center, observation tower and treetop ropes course. In addition, enjoy miles of hiking and cycling trails, rock climbing, or sledding and ice skating in the winter months. The park’s Owen Marina rents paddleboats and fishing supplies, plus recreational items such as soccer balls, tennis balls and rackets, and horseshoes. An arts and crafts center at the marina store teaches children leather tooling and wood crafts. Restaurants within the park include Caddy’s Parkside Grill, the restaurant at the park’s gem, the Peter Kiewit Lodge.
28500 West Park Hwy, Ashland, NE 68003, Phone: 402-944-2523
© City of Minden, Nebraska
Minden, Nebraska grew around the 1870’s when voters decided to make it the site of the county courthouse. The railroads soon followed, and the town grew. Today, it’s nicknamed the Christmas City for their lighting of the courthouse, a tradition since 1915. Visit the Harold Warp Pioneer Village, a display of historic buildings which includes a large museum. A robust entertainment program has blossomed at the renovated Opera House, and the National Audubon Society's Rowe Sanctuary lies just two miles to the south. The Audubon Center is a great place from which to watch the world’s largest sandhill crane migration, accompanied by Minden’s Cranefest each March.
17. Mormon Trail Center
© Mormon Trail Center
Omaha’s Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters is a museum dedicated to the history of the 90,000 Mormon pioneers who migrated through the area between 1846 and 1860. Permanent displays include interactive exhibits, a covered wagon, handcart, and full sized log cabin. Rotating exhibits include quilt displays, and art exhibits. Next to the trail center is the Mormon Pioneer Cemetery, adorned with a sculpture titled Tragedy of Winter Quarters, honoring those who died along the difficult journey. The Winter Quarters was just one of approximately 90 temporary homes where pioneers settled on their way to Salt Lake City. Guided tours are available.
3215 State St Omaha, NE 68112, Phone: 402-453-9372
18. Nebraska City
© NebraskaCity Nebraska
Nebraska City is home to several of the state’s historical attractions, including the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, which preserves the beautiful 1855 home of J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day. The 52 room mansion is furnished with authentic period artifacts and surrounded by 65 acres of open space and wooded lands. The Arbor Day Farm is the 260-acre campus that includes the park, Discovery Ride, Tree Adventure, and Apple House Market. At the Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Center you’ll walk in the footsteps of Lewis & Clark throughout their 79 acre campus. Visit the Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard for fresh, local produce.
Nebraska City, NE
19. Platte River State Park
Nebraska’s Platte River State Park is conveniently located between Omaha and Lincoln. While the park’s main draw is the luxuriously restored vintage cabins, there’s plenty to do for a day trip. Enjoy the trails for hiking, cycling, or bird watching. Along Crawdad Creek, children will find interactive displays that encourage them to explore the water for tiny creatures. The Creek flows into the man made and newly renovated Jenny Newman Lake. Take a canoe or kayak ride along Decker Creek, one of the stopovers along the Platte River Water Trail. Dine at the restaurant within the Walter Scott Jr. Lodge.
14421 346th St, Louisville, NE 68037, Phone: 402-234-2217
20. Ponca State Park
© Phongphan Supphakank/stock.adobe.com
Northeastern Nebraska’s Ponca State Park is located along a picturesque stretch of the Missouri National Recreational River, on the bluffs overlooking the water. The popular park is known for its wildlife watching, scenic views and wooded hills. The park’s wetlands are important resting grounds for migrating birds and a favorite with bird watchers. Enjoy 22 miles of backcountry hiking and cycling trails, or explore by horseback with a guided tour. Summertime swimming is available at the park’s new aquatic center. Historic shelter houses built by the Civilian Conservation Corps are available for picnics. Visit the park’s Old Oak Tree, which was officially measured as 320 years old in 1964.
88090 Spur 26 E, Ponca, NE 68770, Phone: 402-755-2284
Royal, Nebraska is home to the Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park, known as the Pompeii of prehistoric animals for the fossil records it contains. The 360-acre park is of scientific importance and is an active paleontological site. The Visitor Center is home to a working fossil laboratory and interpretative exhibits. At the Rhino Barn, walkways allow visitors to walk past the fossils of native American rhinos, which lie as they were originally found alongside hoof prints of small ancestral horses. Learn about fish hatcheries and fish stocking at the Grove Lake Trout Rearing Station and the Grove Lake Wildlife Management Area, where research is also being done on rare fish species.
22. Saunders County
© STUDIO GRAND WEB/stock.adobe.com
The rural Saunders County in western Nebraska offers history, quaint Main Street communities, and award winning golf just 20 minutes from downtown Omaha. Begin at the Sanders County Historical Museum in Wahoo which displays a county church, one room school house and log cabin, all built in the 1800’s. Exhibits share the stories of famous Americans born in the area. Enjoy the beautiful midwestern landscapes at Lake Wanahoo, The Memphis Lake State Recreational area, and Ashland’s Czechland Lake Recreational Area. Stroll through the charming Main Street of historic downtown Ashland for unique galleries and gift shops and an old fashioned ice cream parlor.
23. Willow Lake, Iowa
Harrison County, Iowa’s Willow Lake Recreation Area is a 220-acre outdoor recreationists' paradise. Headquarters of the Harrison County Conservation Board, the park includes a Nature Encounter Center. Guests can view live snakes and turtles as they learn about the area’s natural history. Interpretative signage along the park’s 6 miles of “smart” trails teaches about natural resources found in Iowa. Wildlife viewing is popular in the wooded and prairie habitat. Birdwatchers will see migrating songbirds and waterfowl. A 26-acre fishing lake is open to boats with electric motors only. Swimming, canoeing and kayaking are also popular.
2725 Easton Trail, Woodbine, IA 51579, Phone: 712-647-2785
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