The Western Historic Trails Center in Council Bluffs is one of those notable historic landmarks within a few miles of Omaha that you know you ought to visit at least once, but you probably haven’t.
At least, that was my family’s case until recently.
One unseasonably warm winter day, we decided we wanted to get outdoors, but we were tired of going to the same park, the same trails. And then I remembered the paved trails on the Council Bluffs side of the Missouri River. Why not do something new that combined a hike with a bit of local history?
About Western Historic Trails Center
This small center is dedicated to teaching us about four historic trails that passed through this area: the Lewis and Clark, Oregon, California and Mormon Trails. You can learn about the pioneers who traveled the trails, as well. The National Park Service designed and built the center and admission is free.
The exhibit space includes photos, maps, some interactive pieces sculptures, and my kids’ favorite, audio records (must be the thrill of holding a phone? I dunno). There’s also a small theater space to watch a film. If you want to learn more about the area’s significance, read this.
We didn’t spend a whole lot of time here. Only one child could read, for one thing; for another, they still have a rough concept of time. Everything “old” to my preschooler is 99 years old, no matter what.
Still, it’s worth peeking in before going on to my favorite part of the area: The trails.
Trails By The Western History Trails Center
The paved trails will take you toward the Missouri River for a nice walk, or if you’re on bike, you can take the trails further along north toward two casinos and the Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park, or further south toward Lake Manawa State Park. Part of the trail is unpaved if you’re going to try to get a view of the river.
We were on foot and with our dog, so we opted for the easy walk to the river. We passed by a small pond, which was a nice diversion to explore. It was disappointing to see how much trash has been left in the area.
In short order, we made it to the river and got a fairly plain view of Omaha (it was winter, after all). Still, your kids should be able to spot some landmarks, including the zoo and the train engines at Kenefick Park near Lauritzen Gardens.
Events at Western Historic Trails Center
This year, the center is celebrating its 20th anniversary, and the theme is Wild West. Events will be held throughout the year, though I don’t have much details on them. So far, I’ve heard of some documentaries screened there as a part of that celebration. The next screening coming up is on April 30 showing the film “American Experience Documentary: Annie Oakley.”
In the past, there have been music jams, live re-enactments along the trail, and holiday events. I recommend following WHTC on Facebook to keep up to date.
If you go
Western Historic Trails Center
Where: 3434 Richard Downing Ave., Council Bluffs, Iowa
When: Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; closed official state holidays
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