January 3, 2015

Tips For A More Active Family In Omaha

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Personal resolutions are big this time of year. Ever make a family resolution?

On my list? “Let’s be more active.”

 Active family

Lucky for you, Omaha is a great place for active families. Here are some fun ideas to increase your activity level:

Explore the outdoors

Here are a few ideas to get your family moving more outside:

      • Membership to Fontenelle Forest or Lauritzen Gardens: You can’t help but be active when you visit beautiful places like these. Walking and hiking, check. Plus, add in all that Vitamin D from the sunlight, all that fresh air…it’s mentally good for your family.
      • State Parks pass: You don’t think you’ll use it yet, but you’d be silly not to. Head to Mahoney State Park now to tobogan with the kiddos and to let them run wild at the Activity Center (there’s an ice skating rink there). Then, start visiting nearby parks when the weather warms up to explore lakes, hike and be adventurous.
      • If you’re new to hiking, there are a few things to consider packing that first time around: Water bottles for everyone (I love the Camelbak bottles for kids like the this one and adults like this one; also consider packing a snack for everyone, sunscreen, bug spray and a first aid kit (something compact like the light dayhiker First Aid Kit),

Play More

Below you’ll see some ideas for games inside and out, but first, some places in Omaha that encourages families to play together inside:

  • Skate Daze: Just brought the kids to this indoor entertainment center for the first time in December and they have been asking when we can go back. The Playdazium is a huge tunnel system that adults are allowed to climb in with their kids (I’m only partly joking when I say you might want to consider wearing kneepads), plus they have laser tag, and of course, one of the best skating rinks in the country.
  • Amazing Pizza Machine: Break a sweat chasing down your kids in laser tag or challenge them to a basketball shootout here.
  • Sky Zone Omaha: Just 30 minutes here is a good workout for you, but it’ll probably be too fun for you to notice. It was for me.
  • The Salvation Army Kroc Center: A family membership gets you all the benefits of a gym membership, as well as admission to family-friendly activities likeInflatable Fridays in the Pool, which my family went to last year and had a lot of fun (they have a little lazy river and slide). Other activities for the family include Family Fit H20, Healthy Home Project, FitnessGram® and Sunday Fundays.

Not up for spending a lot of money to go somewhere to play? Here are some fun games for the home:

Anytime (but particularly great when it’s too cold to go outside)…
Indoor snowball fight

Tic Tac Toe Toss Across Game

 

Once it warms up and you want to go outside…

Ring toss

Ladderball

Airscoop

 

Your turn: How does your family stay active together? Where do you go?

July 29, 2014

Exploring Platte River State Park With Kids

There’s a lovely state park halfway between Omaha and Lincoln with lookout towers offering views of a river, lush hardwood forests, paddleboats and a pool. If you’re thinking Mahoney State Park, think again.

Platte 6

Platte River State Park is a quick 20-mile drive (give or take) from Omaha. It’s not usually the first park to come to mind when we decide to get some fresh air, but after this past weekend, it’s moved up in the pack. I’d visited the park one time before this, but it was the off-season and we didn’t explore nearly as much. You can read about it in the post Exploring Platte River State Park In The Off-Season.

We didn’t stay in a cabin, so I can’t offer much overnight details (other than tent camping isn’t allowed… but there ARE teepees).

A view of the Walter Scott Jr. Lodge and nearby tower.

A view of the Walter Scott Jr. Lodge and nearby tower.

 

What to expect

Most of my outings involve two young children, so here are a few reasons families will like this park:

Scenery – The hiking trails are pretty extensive in the 418-acre park, with the bonus appeal of offering a waterfall (a small one, but still nice destination for a young family). There some trails that are steep, but most are easy. There are also mountain bike trails but we’re not quite there yet with the kids as far as ability level is concerned. Or ourselves.

Platte collage 2WM

Pool – There is a small pool that opens at 1 p.m. in the summer. Other than a diving board, it doesn’t have much to rival the bigger state park nearby. What it probably does offer is a less crowded place to cool off.

Horseback rides – These rides are guided and open to anyone 5 and older. There are fees, naturally.

Paddleboats – Paddleboat rentals are $8 for a half-hour, plenty of time to explore the small lake at the park. They have sparkly ones, which may not be a selling point to you, but for every kid on the dock that morning we were there, it was a huge one.

Platte collagewm

Ducks – Working downtown, I’m no stranger to watching people feed ducks. It’s just something people love to do. There are a handful of ducks and geese at the park and, for a quarter, you can get a small handful of food to feed them. Kids love that stuff.

Feeding ducks at Platte River State Park.

Feeding ducks at Platte River State Park.

Equipment rentals – You can rent sporting equipment (like tennis rackets or fishing gear for catch-and-release fishing) for FREE. This is the case at most state parks, just so you know.

Lookout towers – Platte River State Park has two lookout towers, a smaller wooden one and a tall metal one. My kids have never met a tower they didn’t have to climb.

 

This tall tower provides a great view of the Platte River.

This tall tower provides a great view of the Platte River.

Craft center – I haven’t been inside their craft center, but if you’re staying for a few days at the park, it’s a nice diversion.

Outdoor Heritage Education Complex – For pretty low fees, you can try out archery or slingshots, or break out the firearms and test out the firearm and shotgun range.

They also have a good education program there. During our visit, there was a park employee with different animal pelts on display sitting at a table near the marina.

 

What’s to eat there?

It’s a state park, so there are ample spots for a picnic, which I’d recommend. If you’re staying a cabin, it’s nice to see they have firepits (not something you see at Mahoney).

The Owen Landing marina has a snack bar with the expected usual concessions, including ice cream.

The Walter Scott Jr. Lodge Restaurant is less casual than the snack bar, though we still ate there after sweating through a long hike. The building is dated, but it has an inviting appeal to it, kinda like visiting your grandma’s favorite restaurant. The service was incredibly friendly. We went on a Sunday, when they only have a buffet to offer. For the price (kids 3 and younger are FREE), it was a good choice for us. If you’re vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions, it may be limiting.

Brunch at the lodge at Platte River State Park. Fried chicken was king with the kids.

Brunch at the lodge at Platte River State Park. Fried chicken was king with the kids.

 

What’s near the park?

It’s not far from Schramm Park and Mahoney State Park, if you want added hiking trails and all the attractions found at Mahoney (see my post on some of our favorites, including the activity center).

It’s also located near Ashland, Neb., where you can visit the Nebraska Wildlife Safari and Strategic Air & Space Museum.

If you’re a fan of wineries, it’s not too far from Soaring Wings Vineyard in Springfield, Neb., and Cellar 426 Winery in Ashland, Neb.

 

Looking ahead

The park shows movies in its amphitheater every Saturday night in the summer. They have a lot of benches to sit on, so I’m not totally sure if you have to worry about bringing your own seating. Here are the remaining movies in the 2014 series:

“8-Below” Aug. 2

“Shrek” Aug. 9

“Finding Nemo” Aug. 16

“The Jungle Book” Aug. 23

“Charlotte’s Web” Aug. 30

 

You may also like:

Nebraska Wildlife Safari With Kids

Mahoney State Park For Families

Ultimate Nebraska Adventure This Summer

July 22, 2014

Exploring Indian Cave State Park With Kids

Note: This visit to Indian Cave State Park was part of a full day trip from Omaha. Most of the day was spent in Brownville, which you can read about in yesterday’s post.

 

Not far from the Missouri border, about 10 miles from Brownville, is the Nebraska attraction, Indian Cave State Park. A little off the beaten path, this gorgeous park is located near the Missouri River and is known for its namesake, Indian Cave. For a detailed history, head to OutdoorNebraska.com.

If you’ve been to the Loess Hills in southwest Iowa, this park will have a familiar feel to it given that it is, in fact set in the Loess Hills (new fact for me, I didn’t think Nebraska could claim Loess Hills).

 

Indian Cave, one of the attractions of this Nebraska state park.

Indian Cave, one of the attractions of this Nebraska state park.

There are lots of campsites – and backcountry camping is allowed – so Mr. Wonderful and I decided we may just come back in the fall to camp here.

With a park map in hand, that’s where we headed to first. Having only seen one picture of the park, I honestly expected the cave to be cavernous. Something we could walk in and explore. Maybe it’s the “Goonies” fan in me.

What we saw, then, was a disappointment.

Here's the cave, which you can see from a wooden walkway.

Here’s the cave, which you can see from a wooden walkway.

The graffiti couldn’t be ignored. It covered the walls of this landmark.

Prehistoric drawings mixed in with some modern idiot graffiti.

Prehistoric drawings mixed in with some modern idiot graffiti.

Farley and I did attempt to find the prehistoric petroglyphs of animals on the wall amid the graffiti.

Looking for prehistoric cave drawings.

Looking for prehistoric cave drawings.

We both lost interest quickly and headed back to the car, where a sleeping Mooch and bored Mr. Wonderful waited.

Onward into the park we drove.

We made a pitstop to play in an ancient park. The hypochondriac in me didn’t like the chipping paint and sharp metal edges on the playground equipment but the kids loved the place.

Can't drive past a park without stopping to play, now can we?

Can’t drive past a park without stopping to play, now can we?

The swings were a hit.

Our next stop was at the Living History cabins. The resident soap maker, blacksmith, candle maker and broom maker are there on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. (from Memorial Day into October).

The friendly soap maker.

The friendly candle maker.

We arrived near 4 p.m. and so did a quick run through the area.

The cabin was the most interesting to the children.

The living history cabins and display booths are open weekends during the summer.

The living history cabins and display booths are open weekends during the summer.

Our final stop was a scenic overlook. We watched five raptors soar in the wind.

A scenic lookout at Indian Cave State Park.

A scenic lookout at Indian Cave State Park.

It was peaceful, until Mooch broke out into “Let It Go” and Farley interrupted my brief history lesson by asking when the aliens came.

I think we were all ready to call it a day.

There is a lot more to explore in the park, so we’ll return someday soon.

 

If you go

Indian Cave State Park

65296 720 Road, Shubert,  Nebraska

402) 883-2575

Website

 

Getting there from Omaha

South on Highway 75, East on Highway 136 (9 miles), South on Highway 67 (9 miles), East on Highway 64E (5 miles).

Or you can take Interstate I-29 South, take Exit 110 to Brownville. Follow US-136 West (7 miles), South on NE-67 S (9 miles),  East on NE-64E (5 miles). Continue on NE-64F Recreation Road and you’ll get there.

 

Highlights

– Horseback trail rides are available in season

– There is a restored schoolhouse and general store from the old river town of St. Deroin, where old-time crafts are demonstrated on weekends during the summer

– Halloween is celebrated throughout October. Expect hayrack rides on certain dates, as well as a haunted forest. After hearing the soapmaker describe it (The Headless Horseman makes an appearance with a chainsaw), I’d suggest only older kids go to it!

 

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January 13, 2014

Mahoney State Park In The Winter

I love Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, but I’m most familiar with the park in the summer. We recently visited on two unseasonably warm winter days and discovered a whole other side to the park.

Turns out, it’s worth a visit during the winter, especially with kids.

I hate being cold, but even I love visiting Mahoney State Park in the winter...on the rare days in January when the temp is above 40.

I hate being cold, but even I love visiting Mahoney State Park in the winter…on the rare days in January when the temp is above 40.

First, the indoor stuff. This is my favorite since I hate being cold. One must-visit place is the Activity Center. Why have I not been here sooner with the kids?!

For $2 each (FREE for kids 2 and younger), you get endless play on their indoor playground. It’s pretty sweet, even for a grown up. Don’t be shy, put down your smart phone and get in there and play with your kids. It helps if you were a former Chinese acrobat or retired contortionist, but don’t worry, you’ll make it through those tubes somehow.

Helping Mooch conquer the Activity Center play area. It gets a little hectic in there, so I don't mind playing linebacker for her.

Helping Mooch conquer the Activity Center play area. It gets a little hectic in there, so I don’t mind playing linebacker for her.

The Activity Center also has an outdoor ice rink, with a $3 skate rental fee. If it’s fairly warm, part of that rink melts (duh), as was the case on the day we visited.

There is food available for purchase at the Activity Center, like pizza, hot dogs and nachos. You’re not supposed to bring in outside food or drinks. *supposed to*

Not a far walk from there is the conservatory/greenhouse.

Mahoney 9

Exploring the conservatory at Mahoney State Park.

This is a great place for a quick warmup if it’s particularly freezing outdoors. It’s like 150 degrees in there. It’s small but there’s a lot to look at, including a fish pond.

Aunt Amy and Mooch check out the fishies.

Aunt Amy and Mooch check out the fishies.

In a separate room, there are a couple aquariums featuring native Nebraskan animals, like snakes and a turtle. The kids liked looking at them.

Some native species of turtle and snakes on display at the conservatory.

Some native species of turtle and snakes on display at the conservatory.

The park has moved the arts and crafts center over to the marina. We didn’t visit it on that particular day but signs indicated it was still open. The other indoor activity I recommend for kiddos is the junior naturalist place up by the lookout tower (lower level of the building). I peeked in and they were offering warm drinks along with some coloring, the afternoon we were there. There was also a sign of other activities you could do, like a scavenger hunt.

A view of the toboggan run at Mahoney State Park.

A view of the toboggan run at Mahoney State Park.

A big outdoor draw at the park is the toboggan run. On the warm day we were there, people were still trying to sled down the big run. It’s a pretty nice, long hill but not too steep, with bales of hay protecting sledders from trees and other danger spots.

The sledding hill is right by the lookout tower. I can’t imagine it’s a nice climb on really cold days, but it was not bad when we walked up it. The trails near the tower were not too muddy, so we also checked them out.

Exploring the easy-to-hike trails near the lookout tower. If you time it right, you can catch a nice view of passing trains.

Exploring the easy-to-hike trails near the lookout tower. If you time it right, you can catch a nice view of passing trains.

While I prefer my hikes when I can feel my fingers, trails are still open at Mahoney in the winter.

My kids slept 12 hours straight after our visit to Mahoney in the winter. I’m sold on visiting parks in the winter now.

We're smiling because we know these two monkeys are going to sleep well tonight.

We’re smiling because we know these two monkeys are going to sleep well tonight.

My kids loved the Activity Center so much, I’d even make the drive out to Mahoney just for that.

If you go:

Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, 28500 West Park Highway, Ashland, Nebraska

Activity Center hours: Monday, Thursday and Friday, 4 to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Ice Rink conditions(402)944-2523, Ext. 7122

Upcoming events and activities at Mahoney

Camping info

Cabin and lodging info

Your turn: What’s your favorite thing to do at Mahoney State Park in the winter?

 

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