One of my family’s favorite Nebraska destinations is The Lied Lodge & Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure in Nebraska City. This spring, we found another great treasure in Nebraska City, the J. Sterling Morton mansion, as we embarked on our Great Park Pursuit during our time in this quaint small town.
These Nebraska City attractions provide the perfect escape for families of all ages who want relaxation, a little outdoor adventure, inspiration and even a little learning.
The first time we visited the Lied Lodge and Tree Adventure, our kids were 3, 4 and 8. This time, our kids are 12, 13 and 17. Both times, we had a blast and the entire family left refreshed and had a new appreciation for trees and our environment, which is one of the goals of the Arbor Day Foundation’s support of this Nebraska treasure.
The Lied Lodge & Conference Center was built by the Arbor Day Foundation in 1993 “to serve as a space for like minds to gather and discuss trees, conservation and environmental stewardship.” The 140-room lodge isn’t like other hotels. The grand entrance features a three-story stone fireplace surrounded by large columns of wood (like a log cabin). Quotes about nature and trees are strategically placed throughout the lodge for inspiration. The guest rooms also feature columns of wood, and recycling is encouraged throughout with both trash cans and recycle bins in every room.
During our recent trip, we found time to play in the lodge’s Olympic-sized pool. Our tween and teens found their inner kids again, and we enjoyed their splashes and giggles in the comfy lounge chairs.
In the morning, my husband sipped his morning coffee by the cozy fireplace in the lodge’s lounge area. We both enjoyed reading the morning newspaper in the comfortable rocking chairs with the sun beaming through the large windows.
Later that morning, we began our trek to the Tree Adventure on the nature trail right outside the lodge. It takes about 15-30 minutes, depending on the age of your kids, to hike the trail to the attraction.
The first time I visited the Tree Adventure, I could not believe this was in Nebraska! The exhibits are Disney quality. The adventure begins in an educational museum-type area that features interactive kiosks and displays telling about trees, the importance of trees in our world and the people who have worked to preserve them. A hologram of Arbor Day founder J. Sterling Morton greeted us as we walked in the door, and we enjoyed the short educational film about trees in movies.
After we were inspired, we set out on the adventure trail. Just like the first time we visited, the kids spotted a snail on the trail. That’s something we don’t have in our area of the state, so they were fascinated by this natural attraction. Along the trail, there were animal prints cemented in the concrete. We had to guess the animal that created the print, and the answer was given a short distance ahead.
The trail also features obstacles, like the groundhog tunnel and rope climbing, a station to listen and then mimic bird sounds and the 50-foot treehouse that gives a view of the treetops.
Our favorite part of the trail is the whimsical musical area. Large xylophones-type instruments are spread throughout the area, allowing us to create a little family band.
The Tree Adventure ends with a trip through the greenhouse, where we all received a tree seedling to take home and plant.
Our trip back to the Lied Lodge included a stop at the Apple House Market, where we enjoyed apple pie and an apple cider slush with caramel ice cream on tip. Yum! The market also serves full meals and features a gift shop and wine tastings.
This year, our family decided to participate in the Great Park Pursuit, and one of the stops was located at the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park, which is also in Nebraska City. So, we added that attraction to our itinerary.
The park features the 52-room mansion that was the former home of J. Sterling Morton, the founder of Arbor Day and a promoter of planting trees. This mansion was incredible! With its grant staircase in the entry-way, high ceilings and ornate woodwork, we could just imagine this home bustling with dignitaries (President Grover Cleveland was once an overnight guest at the mansion!). There’s lots of history packed in this three-story mansion, and there’s even a bowling alley in the basement. It is definitely worth the trip.
Our one-night stay at the Lied Lodge plus tickets to the Tree Adventure and Arbor Lodge mansion were just over $200 (we purchased a special adventure package with our stay). Of course, that price does not include our food and snacks. The Timber Dining Room at the lodge offers delicious meals featuring locally-grown food, and Nebraska City offers many fast food restaurants or other eateries for various budgets.
Overall, we would highly recommend a weekend escape to Nebraska City. Although we visited on an off weekend, there are many fun events planned throughout the year, including the Arbor Day celebration in April, Sunset & S’mores summer and fall hayrack rides, the Applejack Festival in September and more. Next time, we will reserve a spot on the Discovery hayrack ride through the orchards at the Arbor Day Farm.
Connie Van Nostrand, marketing specialist at the Lied Lodge & Conference Center said about 100,000 guests visit the Lied Lodge each year. While many guests come from Lincoln, Omaha or Kansas City, many international travelers also visit.
For more information, visit www.liedlodge.org or www.gonebraskacity.com.