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12 Best Weekend Trips from Omaha, Nebraska

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Omaha is a Nebraska city on the Missouri River, close to the border with Iowa. It’s known for its place on the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail and carries a legacy of pioneer history. There’s much to do and see in Omaha, but one of the many things that make this Nebraska city great is that it’s central to many Midwest treasures, which means there are some incredible weekend trips from Omaha.

Omaha is the perfect getaway starting point! The Missouri River provides opportunities for fun water recreation, and the Platte River to the west is just as scenic.

Beautiful, friendly Iowa is to the east, with close access to the Loess Hills and the town of Walnut, the antique capital of the region. South Dakota is hiding some gorgeous scenery and fascinating Americana.

Kansas City is also a few hours away and the best place in the country to find jazz and barbecue. These places are filled with warm, gracious people, historic points of interest, museums, and charming cities and towns.

Many state parks are nearby, with hiking and biking trails, making for a great weekend getaway for anyone who likes to camp, fish, hike, or bike. In the winter, hit the trails to snowshoe and cross-country ski.

The Midwest is easy to explore by car, so if you need to rent one, find the best rates on RentalCars.com. Pack up the car and download your playlists – here are the best Omaha weekend getaways for all types of travelers.

TL;DR

Category Destination
Best Overall Kansas City
Outdoor Getaway Platte River State Park
For Families Grand Island, Nebraska
Best Road Trip Indian Cave State Park

Best Weekend Trips From Omaha, Nebraska

Here’s our round-up of the best weekend getaways and day trips from Omaha, perfect for discovering the gorgeous Midwest.

1. Platte River State Park

Aerial view of Platte River State Park
Ryan L / TripAdvisor

Distance: 37 minutes from Omaha (31.3 miles) via I-80 W and NE-50 S

With ample camping cabins and lodges to reserve, this beautiful, family-friendly state park is a fantastic place to spend a few days and nights. The park is easy to get to – it sits between Lincoln and Omaha and has a lovely waterfall plus an observation tower for scenic river views.

A two-tiered spray water park has fun slides, dump buckets, a waterfall, and a fountain for kids’ play. Sit down to relax at one of the picnic tables and cool off in the shady trees.

The archery range and shooting range let you test your aim. There are also hiking and biking trails, horseback riding trails, and the river offering great fishing and canoeing.

Bird watching is ideal here as well. Within the park, Crawdad Creek is an area of shallow ponds that offers interactive exhibits. Kids will love looking for small water animals and learning about the area’s ecosystem.

Where to Stay Near Platte River State Park

Read our full guide on places to stay near Platte River State Park.

See Related: Best Weekend Getaways in the US

2. Mahoney State Park

Eugene T. Mahoney State Park
Zhike / Adobe Stock

Distance: 30 minutes from Omaha (30.4 miles) via I-80 W

Families love bringing picnics to this park, also between Lincoln and Omaha, because of its year-round activity. There is an outdoor waterpark, biking and hiking trails, a tree adventure ropes course, and a lookout tower for beautiful views.

The Family Aquatic Center has a swimming pool, two water slides, a zero-entry wave pool, an area for diving, and a deck for sunning. The ropes course offers a treetop adventure with amazing views, challenging obstacles, and thrilling zip lines.

There is also a driving range, 18-holes of miniature golf, and an 18-hole disc golf course. Golf club rentals are available.

At Owen Marina, visitors can paddle boats, fish, and grab picnic supplies and groceries. Sandwiches and cold drinks are for sale, too. The marina has a massive stock of balls, bats, rods, and reels to be loaned out at no charge during business hours.

In addition, Mahoney State Park has reservable picnic shelters that are great for groups. Check out the free nature enthusiasts programs offered throughout the summer. Families enjoy indoor rock climbing, ice skating, and sledding in the winter.

Where to Stay Near Mahoney State Park

3. Indian Cave State Park

Indian Cave State Park, Nebraska, stairs built by Americorps in the 1970s
Charles G. Haacker / Shutterstock

Distance: 1.5 hours from Omaha (87.5 miles) via I-29 S

This interesting state park borders the Missouri River on more than 3,000 acres. Visitors enjoy the boundless options for camping, picnicking, hiking, and biking. The river views are amazing, and in the fall, the natural hardwood forests are bursting with color.

In October, the park organizes a Haunted Hollow festival! Come for hayrides, decorating contests, crafts, and other family-friendly games.

The park’s main feature is its large sandstone cave with Native American petroglyphs, viewable from the cave’s wooden boardwalk. History lovers will also appreciate the restored schoolhouse and general store from St. Deroin, an old river town. Here, crafts from that time are demonstrated throughout the summer and fall during Living History weekends.

The trail system is impressive and scenic at 22 miles long and with 16 miles of horse trails. Along your way, you’ll likely see deer, woodchuck, turkey, beaver, and many species for bird-watching fans. A well-maintained concrete boat ramp offers access to the Missouri River for fishing and paddling.

Where to Stay Near Indian Cave State Park

4. Willow Lake Recreation Area

Willow Creek Recreation Area or Willow Lake Recreation Area in Nebraska
LittlePaint / TripAdvisor

Distance: 54 minutes from Omaha (47.7 miles) via I-29 N and US-30 E/Lincoln

As one of the best day trips from Omaha, as well as a great weekend getaway, Willow Lake Recreation Area is calling your name. You can ramble across 220 acres, offering countless activities, including boating, fishing, swimming from sandy beaches, exploring playgrounds, picnicking, camping, hiking, and biking along six miles of maintained trails.

The area’s crown jewel is the 27-acre Willow Lake, offering boating, canoeing, kayaking, and fishing. Largemouth bass, redear sunfish, bluegill, and channel catfish are among the fish you can catch from the pier, one of the jetties, or your boat.

The lake also offers picnic areas with gorgeous views, tables, and grills. You can rent one of the shelters if you have a group. The shelters are close to bathrooms, a playground, and the beach. Swimming at the beach is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

In winter, you can ice-fish, snowshoe, and cross-country ski on the trails. Another fun way to explore Willow Lake is by geocaching. Go on a scavenger hunt for one of the many caches placed by volunteers.

There is also the Nature Encounter Center, which has interactive displays and small animals. Visitors can also enjoy hunting turkey, pheasant, quail, rabbit, and deer in a mix of prairie land and forest. Others can participate in bird watching and morel mushroom hunting.

Where to Stay Near Willow Lake

See Related: Where to Stay in Omaha

5. Lewis and Clark Recreation Area

A large driftwood along the stony bank of Missouri River at the Lewis and Clark Recreation Area, Nebraska
Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock

Distance: 2.5 hours from Omaha (166 miles) via I-29 N

This park and lake in South Dakota have everything you need for outdoor adventure and a relaxing weekend getaway in one destination. At Lewis and Clark Lake, you have access to archery, biking, canoeing, fishing, hiking, kayaking, and paddleboarding when you’re there.

Much of the equipment you need can be loaned to you. RV and tent camping are available for those looking to spend quality time outdoors.

Where to Stay Near Lewis and Clark Recreation Area

6. Lee G. Simmons Wildlife Safari Park

Elks in Lee G. Simmons Park and Wildlife Safari
IheartZephyr / TripAdvisor

Distance: 31 minutes from Omaha (30.5) via I-80 W

This beloved drive-through safari park is a 4-mile-long wildlife adventure with North America’s elk, bison, white-tailed deer, and antelope. You’ll find the 440-acre conservation park close to Ashland, Nebraska. The park includes prairies and wetlands, an overlook spot, trams, and a visitor center.

Daily from March to October, visitors can drive through the park, walk the paths, or tour with a guide to get up-close views of the animals and plants native to North America. Families with young kids will love this park, and it won’t take too much of your time to go through it.

7. Lincoln

Aerial View of Lincoln, Nebraska in Autumn
Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock

Distance: 56 minutes from Omaha (59 miles) via I-80 W

Nebraska’s capital city, Lincoln, is packed with things to do for families with kids of all ages. It’s home to the University of Nebraska and many tech startups, so it has a youthful, fun vibe.

It’s also a hub for foodies because of the many upscale restaurants and art lovers who will appreciate all the opportunities to experience the culture. Lincoln has a rich political history, too. The capitol building is stunning, with a domed tower and observation decks. 

The Sunken Gardens is also a sculpture garden open year-round with beautiful plants, flowers, and lily ponds. The best time to visit is at sunset when it’s quiet and cool, and you have lots of time for exploring before they close at 11 p.m. 

For animal encounters, visit the Lincoln Children’s Zoo, specially designed for young kids. They’ll love all the opportunities to interact with and learn about endangered species, like the Sumatran tiger. They can also feed giraffes! Another great place to visit with kids is the Lincoln Children’s Museum, one of the best in the Midwest.

The Sheldon Museum of Art at the University of Nebraska is famous worldwide for its extensive collections of American art and sculpture gardens. It holds more than 12,000 works, including landscapes, abstracts, still life, and sculptures. Admission is free.

See more of Lincoln’s history in the Haymarket District. This site is Lincoln’s first open-air “Market Square” for produce and livestock, established in 1867.

This was also home to immigrants camping in the city. In 1874, officials moved the market and installed scales for weighing cattle, hay, and produce. Now, it’s a shopping and dining district with gourmet restaurants and exclusive boutiques. At night, it’s a great place for entertainment.

Where to Stay in Lincoln, Nebraska

8. Grand Island

Aerial View of the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island, Nebraska
Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock

Distance: 2 hours from Omaha (148.6 miles) via I-80 W

The Nebraska city of Grand Island is full of history and charm. The Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer and the Burlington Station are great places to learn about the region’s early years.

The Stuhr Museum is one of the best living history farms in America. It offers 200 acres of historic buildings, gardens, and exhibits. Interpreters in costume show you how the pioneers lived and worked on the prairie as merchants, craftsmen, and blacksmiths.

There are also Native American artifacts and a Pawnee Indian earth lodge. For nature, see the Crane Trust Center with a butterfly garden, trails, and sandhill cranes as they migrate along the Platte River.

Don’t miss Stolley Park, Mormon Island State Recreation Area, or the Island Oasis Water Park! You can also explore roadside attractions, horse racing, and wineries. The town also hosts the Nebraska State Fairs.

Where to Stay Near Grand Island

9. Kansas City

Kansas City, Missouri, USA downtown skyline with Union Station
Sean Pavone / Shutterstock

Distance: 2.5 to 3 hours from Omaha (185 miles) via I-29 S

A vibrant city in western Missouri, Kansas City is famous for its jazz heritage. Kansas City also has fantastic barbecues and breweries. This is one of our best road trip ideas for couples since Omaha and Kansas City is just 185 miles from each other.

One hidden gem is the National WWI Museum and Memorial, one of many national museums found here. The landmark museum was built in the Egyptian Revival style and holds over 100,000 exhibits and artifacts. Visitors can see a howitzer crater and the infamous trenches, too.

The National Frontier Trails Museum tells the story of America’s western trails. Exhibits show 2,600 authentic letters and diary entries, artifacts, and covered wagons that detail the history of life moving westward.

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum showcases the history of the game of the Negro National League and the city’s Monarchs. Learn about the racism the ballplayers, including baseball great Jackie Robinson, endured on and off the field in this poignant institution through timelines, galleries, and displays.

The American Jazz Museum celebrates jazz music and its place in KC history. It’s in the famous 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District and holds exhibits of the careers of Charlie “Bird” Parker, Count Basie, and Ella Fitzgerald, plus other greats.

The Blue Room is a real jazz club with photographs and memorabilia of the famous acts that have played there through the years. And there are countless other jazz clubs and venues where you can hear the special brand of KC jazz every night of the week. 

The Majestic Restaurant and Jazz Club is downtown. It’s the best place to catch great nightly acts, along with a terrific steak dinner and cocktails.

Where to Stay in Kansas City

10. Sioux City

Sioux City is an Urban Center that spans the States of Iowa, South Dakota, and Nebraska
Jacob Boomsma / Shutterstock

Distance: 1.5 hours from Omaha (96.4 miles) via I-29 N

The fun thing about Sioux City, Iowa, is that it actually is a “tri-state” area in Western Iowa. The city includes parts of Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota and is an excellent family vacation spot in Iowa.

This means families, couples or solo travelers are certain to find unique things to see and do, as well as delicious food. There are also miles of hiking trails for exploring and many music and art festivals to feed the soul.

The Sioux City Art Center is the area’s premier destination for permanent collections, classes, and exhibitions. See the Sergeant Floyd River Museum and Welcome Center for early history and Missouri River lore. Check out the Sioux City Railroad Museum too.

Where to Stay in Sioux City

See Related: Best Weekend Getaways in Iowa

11. Sioux Falls

Falls Park in Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Wollwerth Imagery / Adobe Stock

Distance: 2.5 hours from Omaha via I-29 N

Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is located 180 miles from Omaha, making it one of the most convenient getaways for a holiday weekend. Sioux Falls is renowned for its beloved Falls Park, a popular destination among locals and tourists.

Art enthusiasts can explore the fascinating Sculpture Walk, an indoor exhibit showcasing stunning sculptures until December. For a unique and unforgettable stay, consider the Hotel on Phillips, a boutique hotel abundant in historical significance with intriguing features such as former vaults and cocktail bars. It’s been known as one of the best hotels in Sioux Falls for several years running.

Regarding dining options, Sioux Falls does not disappoint with its wide array of options. Downtown CH Patisserie is highly acclaimed for its mouthwatering macarons. Sanaa Gourmet, a James Beard Award nominee, provides a delectable Mediterranean menu emphasizing vegan and gluten-free options.

12. Des Moines

Des Moines, Iowa Skyline and Bridge at Sunset
f11photo / Adobe Stock

Distance: 2 hours from Omaha via I-80 E

Discover Des Moines, Iowa’s capital city, less than 2 hours west of Omaha. Explore the top gastronomic destinations in the state. Indulge in innovative and vegetarian-friendly dishes at the refined Harbinger restaurant, or savor slow-brewed drinks and unique sour beers at Lua Brewery.

There are a lot of fun places to dine, like Fong’s Pizza or Zombie Burger. The Pappajohn Sculpture Park is a relaxing place to walk around while you digest.

After your meal, delve into the local art scene and shop for souvenirs at Valley Junction and Eastside. For accommodation, consider the newly renovated Hotel Fort Des Moines, which retains features harkening back to its grandeur upon its inauguration in 1919.

FAQs

What city near Omaha has free things to do?

Kansas City offers many free activities throughout the year. Check out the exhibits at the Hallmark Visitors Center, see the model trains at Union Station, and design your currency at the free Money Museum. 

Which city near Omaha is best for an extended weekend getaway?

Lincoln has enough shopping, dining, museums, and history to keep you busy for more than a weekend if you’re looking for more than a day trip or a weekend mini-vacation of three to four days, head to Lincoln!

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