January 19, 2017

10 Places You Must See In Nebraska

Celebrate Nebraska’s 150th birthday in 2017 by exploring the state. I’ve been lucky to explore our state with my kids, though there are still some Nebraska attractions on my bucket list left like Chimney Rock and Lake McConaughy.

Want to get out there and explore Nebraska? Here are some of my favorites (in no particular order):

Nebraska attractions

10 Nebraska attractions you must see

1. Fort Robinson State Park (Harrison, Neb.)

Checking out the view from the stagecoach at Fort Robinson.

Western Nebraska’s biggest attraction is one of my favorites, Fort Robinson. A few family favorite adventures were the off-road jeep ride, the carriage ride, and since both kids were so little, the guided horse rides.

2. Holland Performing Arts Center (Omaha)

The concert hall inside the Holland Performing Arts Center. Photo courtesy Nick Allen on Flikr

The best venue, hands down, in all of Nebraska to hear a concert is the main concert hall inside the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha. It’s a beautiful building and the sound is incredible. If your favorite performer ever plays there, you must go.

3. Fort Atkinson (Fort Calhoun, Neb.)

Don’t miss the blacksmith during the re-enactment weekends at Fort Atkinson, located in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska.

Located in Fort Calhoun (so pretty close to Omaha), you should time a visit to coincide with an historical re-enactment. I brought the kids to one and it was a lot of fun.

4. Smith Falls State Park (Wood Lake, Neb.)

A view of Smith Falls on a sunny day.

We used to canoe the Niobrara River with friends and family every year, and Smith Falls was always a must-stop destination. It’s the highest waterfall in Nebraska. I dare you to stick your head into the water there.

To get to the Niobrara River, if you’re coming from Omaha at least, will mean passing through the Sandhills, which is another pretty sight to see.

5. Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium (Omaha)

On hot days, the aquarium at Omaha’s zoo is a great place to escape the heat.

The most popular Nebraska attraction, by far, is Omaha’s zoo. It’s huge, it’s beautiful, and it keeps getting better. Some of the newest additions include African Grasslands and Alaskan Adventure sprayground. Here are some experts’ tips on visiting the zoo.

6. Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure (Nebraska City, Neb.)

Happy and mud-covered children at Arbor Day Tree Adventure.

This Nebraska City attraction is so cool, we try to visit every season each year. The forest trail, the treehouse, the inviting natural play areas…I love it. I might also love the fact that it’s next door to a place that serves fabulous apple pie and has a wine tasting room.

7. Toadstool Geological Park (Oglala National Grasslands)

Let’s play “Spot the trail” in this picture at Toadstool.

This is off the beaten path, but definitely worth a visit to see this place and hike around. They’re pretty much Nebraska’s own Badlands. Careful hiking around there with little ones, though.

8. Brownville, Neb.

In the center of Brownville on Main Street, you’ll find this old cabin.

So much art and culture packed into a little Nebraska town. Browse bookstores, art galleries, or check out a winery.

The town is also near Indian Cave State Park. I recommend combining a visit to both for a complete day.

9. Memorial Stadium (Lincoln, Neb.)

A sea of red at Memorial Stadium. Photo courtesy Asten on Flikr

It’s something to experience at least once: The football stadium becomes the third most populated “city” in Nebraska on Husker game day. Wear red or else.

10. Nebraska Wildlife Safari (Ashland, Neb.)

You have to beware of animals crossing the road at the Nebraska Wildlife Safari.

I’m a sucker for driving among bison, I guess. This is a great attraction that showcases Nebraska’s wildlife. Get out of the car to see the bears, wolves, bald eagles and other critters out there.

Honorable mentions Nebraska attractions

A few more favorite places in Nebraska that didn’t make the Top 10 cut: Omaha’s Old Market, Plattsmouth’s Sisters Thai and German Cafe, and Chadron State Park.

* * * * *

There are a lot of exhibits and events planned to celebrate the 150th. Check out the calendar of events here.

 

Your turn: What is on your must-see list for Nebraska?

October 5, 2016

6 Worlds Of Fun Halloween Tips For Families

I think I found a new fall tradition: Halloween at Worlds of Fun. It’s like summer vacation meets sweater weather. It’s fabulous.

pirate-at-worlds-of-fun

Visiting Worlds of Fun in the fall means Halloween activities for all ages, plus all of your favorite rides (except for those water ones…)!

My family was invited by Cedar Fair Entertainment Company and Blog Meets Brand to experience the Great Pumpkin Fest at Worlds of Fun for the first time ever this year. We’d had a blast at Worlds of Fun in the early summer, so I was curious to see how different it was in the fall.

Here’s how to make the most of it fall activities at Worlds of Fun, especially if you’re going to visit with young kids.

Beware: Daytime Halloween is completely different from nighttime Halloween at Worlds of Fun.

1. Time your visit right for your family

Hints of what happens at Worlds of Fun at night can be found throughout the park.

Hints of what happens at Worlds of Fun at night can be found throughout the park.

The park is open on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays this month. Great Pumpkin Fest is on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Go then if you’re looking for the fall festival feel. Things turn mighty creepy after dark on Friday and Saturday nights for Halloween Haunt. Go only if your kids are old enough (recommended age is 14+). Click here to get the park hours and be doubly sure you’re going at the right time.

And in case you were wondering, most rides are open and the lines are much shorter in October than they are in the summer. Holla!

2. Going on Saturday for Great Pumpkin Fest? Hit the big rides early

The lines were shorter for rides earlier in the day during The Great Pumpkin Fest. When grown-ups started to arrive for Haunt, the lines for the roller coasters grew.

The lines were shorter for rides earlier in the day during The Great Pumpkin Fest. When grown-ups started to arrive for Haunt, the lines for the roller coasters grew.

Saturday is the only day that has both Great Pumpkin Fest followed by Halloween Haunt. The older crowd that’s planning on going to Haunt start arriving before it actually starts (scares begin at 6  p.m.), but not so early in the day as you think. If your kid is tall enough for roller coasters and the other big rides at Worlds of Fun, ride them before about 2 or 3 p.m. to enjoy the shorter wait. There is a notable uptick in visitors later in the day and those grown ups are headed to the thrill rides.

 

3. Plan ahead and get your preschooler a FREE ticket

Small kids will like the easy hay bale maze.

Did you know you can get free complimentary admission to Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun for all of 2017 by registering your kiddo for a Pre-K pass? If you register now, your preschooler can get a free ticket to Great Pumpkin Fest!

Totally new this year, Worlds of Fun offers kids ages 3 to 5 a free Pre-K pass. The pass grants complimentary admission to Worlds of Fun and Oceans of Fun for the entire 2017 season. Register and process (AKA, redeem) a Pre-K pass during the 2016 season in order to get a free visit to the Great Pumpkin Fest this year! Get started here.

 

4. Let your kids wear costumes

You can meet Snoopy during The Great Pumpkin Fest at Worlds of Fun.

Costumes come in handy with all the photo opportunities and the trick or treating.

There’s a costume contest in Planet Snoopy at 3 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays for ages 11 and younger. Kids love dressing up regardless. But, more importantly, in this age of Instagramming everything, just think of the cute photos. Which leads me to the next tip.

 

5. Bring the camera

You'll find oversized photo opps inside and outside the park, like giant jack-o-lanterns.

You’ll find oversized photo opps inside and outside the park, like giant jack-o-lanterns.

Throughout the park, you’ll find great fall-themed photo opportunities. Be sure to tag Worlds of Fun, you just might end up on one of the TVs throughout the park. Use #WorldsOfFun and if it’s your first time going there, use #WOFFirstTimer.

And yeah, some of the photo opps will be creepier than others.

6. Pick your Halloween fun

The mini pumpkin patch at Planet Snoopy.

The Linus’ Great Pumpkin Patch at Planet Snoopy, the kids area at Worlds of Fun.

Worlds of Fun is celebrating the 50th anniversary of Charlie Brown’s The Great Pumpkin so they’ve planned a lot of activities for the kiddos. My kids wanted to ride everything AND see everything, which just isn’t possible. So they picked what they really wanted to do: Meet Snoopy, pick a pumpkin out, and trick or treat. Throw in a handful of rides and it was a great afternoon.

Here’s the rundown for your family to pick your Halloween must-dos, you’ll find all of this in Planet Snoopy:

– Photo opps with Peanuts characters walking around

– “It’s the Great Pumpkin” Picture Show on the screen at the Peanuts Showplace

– Lucy’s Costume Contest

– Trick-or-Treating in Peanuts Playhouse

– Peppermint Patty’s Haybale Maze is cute for the littler kids

– Linus’ Great Pumpkin Patch is right near the entrance of Planet Snoopy and that’s where your kids can pick out their free pumpkin

– Sally’s Creepy Crafts

– Spooky Tales With Snoopy

 

If you go

Worlds of Fun in October

When: Great Pumpkin Fest and Halloween Haunt are going on now through Oct. 29 (Fridays, from 6 p.m. to midnight, and Saturdays, 6 p.m. to 1 a.m.). Plan ahead next year, Halloween festivities begin in mid-September.

Where: Worlds of Fun, 4545 Worlds of Fun Avenue, Kansas City, Mo.

Cost: Park tickets are as low as $36.99. Tickets cover admission to all Great Pumpkin Fest starts activities and if you wanted to, you can stay for Halloween Haunt. Halloween Haunt-only tickets starts at $35.99. Parking starts at $15.

Worlds of Fun Website

Make a trip of it!

My family has had a long love affair with Kansas City. For ideas for other fun things to do with kids in Kansas City, start here! If you can’t make it to Kansas City this fall, consider winter because, seriously, it’s the best time to visit! Here are 15+ things to do in Kansas City at Christmas time, and here’s a KC weekend winter itinerary.

Need a hotel? Check out this great Courtyard we stayed at with the kids. A little further from Worlds of Fun, but closer to some fantastic attractions is the Sheraton the my kids still talk about (that rooftop pool…).

September 2, 2016

10 Things You Must Do In Council Bluffs In The Fall

Fall is an ideal time to visit Council Bluffs, Iowa. A gorgeous time.

I was recently asked by the Council Bluffs Convention and Visitor’s Bureau to write about the city which inspired this sponsored post. I’m not exactly a local expert but the city has a special place in my heart. I spent about 10 years working in Council Bluffs, and even though my daily commute doesn’t bring me down West Broadway anymore, I return with my family to revisit my favorites.

If you haven’t visited in a while, here’s a list of fun things you must do in the fall in Council Bluffs.

10

Shady Lanes Ranch

Hayrack ride time at Shady Lanes in #CouncilBluffs!

A post shared by Kim Reiner (@ohmyomaha) on

 

Shady Lanes Ranch Inc. has fun hayrack rides that end with your group being dropped off at your own bonfire. We brought friends last year for the first time and had so much fun. The kids enjoyed the hay fights between with passing hayracks.

Ditmars Orchard

 

It’ll be tough to find a closer apple orchard than Ditmars. My family enjoys the relaxed pace of the orchard, which is perfect for younger children. You can walk out to the orchard or hop on a hayrack to go further into the orchard (if you’re going with little kids, this hayrack ride is a hit). They also have a pumpkin patch for later fall activities. While there, kids will enjoy the playground and corn maze. Before you leave, do not skip the concession stand. You must get the fresh apple donuts. You’ll thank me.

Ditmars is a hot spot in the fall for events. In September alone, there’s the AppleGrass Festival, Fields of Flight hot air balloon weekend, and a kite-flying weekend.

Bayliss Park

Bayliss Park in downtown Council Bluffs is pretty visit any time of day, but the modern fountain lit up at night is a sight to see. The park has a splash ground that’s great for kids on hot summer days, too. The park also has free concerts and movies throughout the summer.

Union Pacific Railroad Museum

So many buttons to push in this place

A post shared by Kim Reiner (@ohmyomaha) on

 

If you have a train-loving kid in your house, you need to visit Union Pacific Railroad Museum in downtown Council Bluffs. This FREE museum features some interactive displays, and lots and lots of memorabilia.

If you’re kids are really into trains, plan for a second train stop in C.B. at RailsWest Railroad Museum.

 

Wabash Trace Trail

This long, crushed limestone trail is great for cycling (not with your road bike, mind you) and running. Wabash Trace Trail starts in Council Bluffs and takes a scenic route southward through the Loess Hills and tree-lined fields for 63 miles. It’s an old railroad route so the slopes are never steep. On Thursday nights, hundreds of bike riders take the famous Taco Ride from Council Bluffs to Mineola for food and drinks, and then ride back. It’s a ton of fun! If you try it, make sure your bike lights are working – it gets very dark on the trail.

 

Dixie Quicks

 

Few restaurants in the metro area can compare to the creativity and taste of Dixie Quicks and for that alone, you should visit. The cool setting, quirky shop and gallery connected to the restaurant, and the dinosaurs kids can play with while you wait are icing on the cake. Brunch is my favorite time to dine there. Find Dixie Quicks on the historic 100th block of Council Bluffs, a pretty part of the city not to be missed.

Arts Center at IWCC

The Arts Center at Iowa Western Community College in Council Bluffs has two performance spaces where you can see student performances and touring productions. There’s a full season of shows, so it’s not just a fall thing to do. Occasionally a kid-centric show will be presented there, so keep an eye on the schedule.

Lake Manawa State Park

 

Lake Manawa is definitely busy in the summer with boaters, fishers and swimmers enjoying the beach. In the fall, take advantage of the cooler weather to bike the paved trails or if you’re the adventurous sort, the 8 miles of mountain bike trails. If’ you’re there with younger children, don’t skip Dream Land Park.

 

Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

I like running to another state over my lunch breaks, how about you? #Nebraska #Iowa #runner

A post shared by Kim Reiner (@ohmyomaha) on

 

Probably one of the top 5 photographed attraction in the metro area, the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge spans the Missouri River, connecting Iowa to Nebraska. The photo opp of all photo opps is straddling the state line. Summer on Council Bluffs’ side can be pretty busy, especially on the green space of the park that’s right near the bridge, Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park. There are concerts and outdoor movie screenings there, especially during Loessfest.

 

Stir Outdoor Concert Cove

OK, this is more of a summer place to be for live music, but the Stir Concert Cove schedule stretches into the fall so I’m including it. The outdoor music venue at Harrah’s Casino and Hotel brings in some of the best touring bands that come to the metro area. While they are all-ages shows, I usually find a sitter when I get tickets to a show.

 

Bonus!

Where to eat in Council Bluffs

I can’t limit myself to just 10 great things about Council Bluffs, at least, not if it means I have to cut out some food talk. Dixie Quicks is great, but it’s not the only restaurant in town. If you’re hungry for pizza, head to the local favorite, Pizza King. If you’re at Bayliss Park, my favorite spot for a treat afterward is Ellie’s Deli & Ice Cream Shoppe. Christy Creme is another ice cream place to visit in the summer; we usually stop there after a trip to nearby Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek.

For a filling breakfast a cozy diner, head to Duncan’s Cafe on Main Street. I dare you to tackle the serving of hashbrowns – I swear the plate is the size of a hub cab.

If you’re in Council Bluffs without kids, my favorite spots I recommend visiting is 1892 German Bier House, 360 Steakhouse at Harrah’s (the best view!), and Cellar 19, and wine bar and deli.

 

Places Still On My To-Visit List

For all the years I’ve worked in Council Bluffs, I’m a little embarrassed to say I’ve never been to two of its biggest historical attractions: Squirrel Cage Jail and the Gen. Dodge House. The Dodge House often has events with actors dressed in period costumes and at Christmas time, they have special nights for families. (drips), a new-to-me coffee shop on Main Street, is also a place on my list.

 

Your turn: What are some of your favorite Council Bluffs attractions and restaurants?

June 24, 2016

Living History At Fort Atkinson In Nebraska

Fort Atkinson is a Nebraska State Historical Park in Fort Calhoun, which is a short drive north of Omaha. Considering how close it is to Omaha, it’s been a major oversight that I’ve never visited, especially since there are monthly events that are incredibly interesting for families.

Mooch learns a little sewing technique from a seamstress during a living history weekend event at Fort Atkinson in Nebraska.

Mooch learns a little sewing technique from a seamstress during a living history weekend event at Fort Atkinson in Nebraska.

You can visit any time of year to explore the fort, but for I cannot recommend enough that you try to time a visit for a historical re-enactment.

Historic re-enactments

Actresses walking along the north side of Fort Atkinson, located in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska.

Actresses walking along the north side of Fort Atkinson, located in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska.

I never thought of myself as being into re-enactments, but my opinion has evolved, especially after attending the June historic re-enactment of fort life in the 1820s at Fort Atkinson. I was impressed and could not believe more people don’t know about it.

Don't miss the blacksmith during the re-enactment weekends at Fort Atkinson, located in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska.

Don’t miss the blacksmith during the re-enactment weekends at Fort Atkinson, located in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska.

On the first Saturday and Sunday of the month, May through October, Friends of Fort Atkinson recreate life 200 years ago. Their attention to detail and characters they create is great, and made the whole experience fascinating.

A peek inside one of the rooms at Fort Atkinson.

A peek inside one of the rooms at Fort Atkinson.

Rooms throughout the fort are recreated with the typical items of the time and characters describing what their life would’ve been like.

One of the first rooms you'll likely enter when you first get there is the Colonel's office.

One of the first rooms you’ll likely enter when you first get there is the Colonel’s office.

The blacksmith shop looked as real as it gets. You could also watch ladies weave, men make barrels or talk to soldiers getting ready for battle.

And for the serious history buffs, it was acknowledged that there wouldn’t be any women found inside the fort back in its hay day. The actresses explained why that some recreations were done just to give a better idea of life at the time – whether it was cooking, sewing or selling goods.

Ladies in the kitchen at Fort Atkinson. They'll be the first to tell visitors women weren't allowed in the fort back in the day, though. They're part of the re-enactments to give insight to what life was like outside of the fort.

Ladies in the kitchen at Fort Atkinson. They’ll be the first to tell visitors women weren’t allowed in the fort back in the day, though. They’re part of the re-enactments to give insight to what life was like outside of the fort.

What kids will like about Fort Atkinson

When you arrive at the fort, stop at the info table to grab a scavenger hunt.

The outside of Fort Atkinson doesn't really indicate much of what's waiting for your family inside, does it?

The outside of Fort Atkinson doesn’t really indicate much of what’s waiting for your family inside, does it?

Kids need to ask the re-enactors questions in order to successfully finish the hunt. This provides shy kids with talking points to interact with the actors. It was a handy way to learn about things you wouldn’t think to ask about.

Kids can take their finished scavenger hunt to the general store and receive a free piece of rock candy.

The general store at Fort Atkinson is a working store where you can buy gifts, treats and, apparently, barrels.

The general store at Fort Atkinson is a working store where you can buy gifts, treats and, apparently, barrels.

Speaking of that store, this is another kid-favorite if only because they have candy, lemonade and toys. Good luck leaving it without a treat.

Mooch and my dad enjoying an afternoon snack and lemonade on the porch of the general store.

Mooch and my dad enjoying an afternoon snack and lemonade on the porch of the general store.

You don’t have to do the scavenger hunt, of course. We didn’t. The kids still found ways to interact, helping sew a quilt and trying on the colonel’s hat, for instance.

One thing to note: They fire a cannon during the re-enactments. Some kids are going to love the loud boom and others won’t (cover their ears regardless). My kids were not fans.

The cannon is prepped to be fired at Fort Atkinson.

The cannon is prepped to be fired at Fort Atkinson.

If you go

Historical Re-enactments at Fort Atkinson State Historical Park

Where: 201 S. Seventh St., Fort Calhoun, Neb.

When: First Saturday and Sunday of the month through October. The first weekend in July has a focus on the Fourth of July and the Declaration of Independence will be read aloud. Park is open year-round 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visitor Center is open Monday through Friday from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Cost: Valid state park permit is required. Visitor Center is $2 for adults, $1 for children under 13, and FREE for children under 3.

Friends of Fort Atkinson Website

June 12, 2016

Exploring Fremont Lakes With Kids

Less than an hour-long drive from Omaha is one of eastern Nebraska’s top destinations for outdoorsy families: Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area. This large park has several beaches for day trippers as well as campsites. It’s a great park close enough to Omaha for those looking for a dip in a lake or relaxing under the shade of trees.

Drive around the lakes at Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area, and you might find beaches that are quieter than others.

Drive around the lakes at Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area, and you might find beaches that are quieter than others.

What You’ll Find At Fremont Lakes

It’s not like a state park in the sense that you’ll find daily programming and a lot of facilities, but it’s not lacking either.

At the biggest lake, Victory Lake, you’ll find a bar and grill/convenience store with a sand volleyball pit. It sells soda and beer, snacks and bait.

The Tow Line is a bar and grill/bait shop at Victory Lake, located in Fremont Lakes SRA.

The Tow Line is a bar and grill/bait shop at Victory Lake, located in Fremont Lakes SRA.

Around Victory Lake, you’ll also find playgrounds, several bathrooms (some with running water) and the park administration office.

We found a table and grill at Victory Lake and that’s where we spent most of our afternoon there. It was great, since it right by a beach and park (and a short distance from another newer park, too).

Water activities

Fremont Lakes_blog

My kids are content just playing in the sand and splashing in the shallow beach areas. You can find swimming beaches on Lakes 9, 10, 15 and 20. Swim at your own risk – there are no lifeguards here.

You’ll find boaters, jet skiers and water skiers, around a couple of the lakes, as well.

Other lakes are designated fishing lakes.

Camping

Some campgrounds can be reserved ahead of time. Find out what’s available HERE.

We didn’t check out campsites too closely, so I’ve got no recommendations on which is best.

Anyone have campsite recommendations?

More about the lakes

Getting to Fremont Lakes SRA is a bit confusing for first-timers, especially if you’re specifically looking for a beach or a fishing lake. The park is spread out with more than one entrance.

Before setting up in a spot, drive around to be sure you’ve seen it all.

We stopped at the first clear beach we could find. While it felt like a private beach, there was a reason no one was there. Two reasons.

Wind.

And glass. Everywhere.

We moved on before one of us got a shard in the foot and found Victory Lake. The wind was buffered a bit, and it was definitely a busier lake.

We found two playgrounds around Victory Lake. If kids ever tire of splashing in the water, they're a nice alternative for play.

We found two playgrounds around Victory Lake. If kids ever tire of splashing in the water, they’re a nice alternative for play.

Beyond water sports and playgrounds, families have several other activity options if you plan ahead. We brought bikes, and the flat park provided an easy outing. There isn’t a bike path so you have to be comfortable on the road.

We also had some bread to feed the geese.

Feeding the greedy, fat geese at Victory Lake at the Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area.

Feeding the geese at Victory Lake at the Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area.

YOUR TURN:

What are some other things your family loves to do at Fremont Lakes SRA?

 

If you go

Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area

Where: 4349 W. State Lakes Road, Fremont, Neb. I marked the map for Victory Lake so you can easily find our favorite spot in the park.

Cost: A state park permit is required for entrance. Swimming is free once you’re in the park. Bring your own watercraft.

June 7, 2016

3 Places To Hike In The Loess Hills

The Loess Hills Scenic Byway in Western Iowa is a beautiful drive, especially now.

Of course, when my kids are involved, a peaceful and long drive to look at scenery never happens.

A sign for the Loess Hills in Preparation Canyon State Park.

A sign for the Loess Hills in Preparation Canyon State Park.

To enjoy the Loess Hills and keep the kids happy, you need a plan. Here are three places to visit with kids that lets you enjoy the view while having a bit of an adventure with the kids. All three have trails suitable for young children and they’re less than two hours from Omaha.

The Loess Hills are waiting.

The Loess Hills are waiting.

 

Hitchcock Nature Center, Honey Creek, Iowa

We’re regulars here, enjoying all four seasons.

OK, let’s be honest, I avoid parks in the winter…

But most of the year, you can find my family here.

A quiet walk in the park in the spring at Hitchcock.

A quiet walk in the park in the spring at Hitchcock.

Trails here vary in degrees of difficulty, but we have yet to find one we can’t manage with our kids, who’ve hiked here with us since they were 2.

There is a barrier-free trail into the woods, making this park wheel-chair accessible. Camping is available and there are a few cabins.

The boardwalk at Hitchcock makes nature accessible for a lot of people.

The boardwalk at Hitchcock makes nature accessible for a lot of people.

Be sure to check out the nature center and lookout tower. The nature center has hands on displays and interactive areas, plus you can check out a nature backpack for free. These backpacks have helpful tools for kids to further enjoy a hike.

Hitchcock is located in the flight path of raptors, so the lookout tower is a prime spot to look for the large birds.

 

The tower at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

The tower at Hitchcock Nature Center in Honey Creek, Iowa.

 

There is a modern playground inside Hitchcock. There is some hike-in camping spots as well as a few cabins.

Distance from Omaha: 20 miles

 

Preparation Canyon State Park, Pisgah, Iowa

A trail that leaves the scenic outlook at Preparation Canyon State Park in western Iowa.

A trail that leaves the scenic outlook at Preparation Canyon State Park in western Iowa.

We ventured here without a map and without a clue. My son was really psyched to see a canyon, and even without much knowledge of the area, I knew he’d be disappointed.

I know in his mind he was picturing the Grand Canyon. Grand, this canyon is not.

We picked a trail from a picnic shelter, venturing down a steep slope to a lagoon. It was rough going back up, but our children and dog managed just fine. 

They don't call them the Loess Hills for nothing. Don't expect a flat hike at Preparation Canyon State Park.

They don’t call them the Loess Hills for nothing. Don’t expect a flat hike at Preparation Canyon State Park.

We hiked in the spring and a large portion of the trail was underwater, so beware.

The highlight was actually outside of the main park area, the scenic lookout point with a view of the Loess Hills Forest. Follow the signs on the road, it’s definitely worth the drive.

The sign's right, this is "The Spot."

The sign’s right, this is “The Spot” to get a good view of the Loess Hills Forest.

There’s a large deck offering a beautiful view of the Loess Hills. A well-worn trail leads you along one ridge.

There are a handful of hike-in campsites, and a nature study area is located in the eastern area of the park.

Distance from Omaha: 60 miles

 

Stone State Park, Sioux City, Iowa

This state park is located within city limits of Sioux City, but it feels very much removed from city life.

We visited on a winter day, taking a short hike from the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center to a lookout, passing by a sweet wooden play area for children.

They say this nature area at Stone State Park is for kids, but I don't think so.

They say this nature area at Stone State Park is for kids, but I don’t think so.

Time your visit well so you can peek inside the nature center. This one also has hands-on exhibits for children and a 400-gallon aquarium with native fish.

There are more than two-dozen campsites as well as cabins with AC/heat (but no bathrooms).

Distance from Omaha: 110 miles

 

Your turn: Where do you like to hike or camp in the Loess Hills?