In a previous issue, Lindsay Nolan of Omaha shared her embarrassing travel moments with her small children on their family vacation to western Nebraska. Now, I am sharing our story of traveling with teens in Eastern Nebraska.
It can go from smiling moments like this …..
To moments like this …..
And everything in between.
Here’s the good, the bad and the better about our journey to the Spirit of Brownville Riverboat Cruise, Nebraska City Lied Lodge and Arbor Farm Tree Adventure, the Henry Doorly Zoo, Indian Cave State Park, the new Go Ape! Adventure Course at Mahoney State Park and the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari.
Disclosure: We were not compensated or paid to write about any portion of this trip. All opinions are the honest and sincere thoughts of me and my family members.
Taking Teens to the Henry Doorly Zoo is Easier Than Taking Toddlers
Who doesn’t love a trip to the zoo? Well, normally I don’t. I live in beautiful rural Nebraska and regularly see deer, turkey, pheasants, cranes, snakes, blue heron, butterflies and other animals in fields, lakes and rivers. On our farm, we have raised cows, pigs, sheep, chickens and goats. Nearby, there are pens of buffalo to see for free any day of the week.
But, I have to admit, I do love seeing the aquatic and marine animals at the zoo, especially penguins, jellyfish, sharks and sea lions. Lions and gorillas are entertaining, too.
My 13-year-old daughter is an animal lover, so this part of the trip was especially for her. She is also a budding photographer, and the zoo provided many opportunities for her to practice.
Our family hadn’t been to the zoo in many years, and we were impressed with the updates: the Asian Highlands and the giraffes and elephants in the Asian Highlands. We trekked up and down the hills in the heat at the zoo and walked past strollers and parents with babies and toddlers starting to wither in the heat. I realized how great it was to have teens at the zoo instead of toddlers. It was a whole different and enjoyable experience.
Small Town Charm at the Spirit of Brownville River Boat Cruise
The idea of a dinner boat cruise in Nebraska (where there are no oceans) has intrigued me for a few years. So, we included this unique experience in our Eastern Nebraska vacation. We made reservations for our dinner a few months in advance and arrived slightly before 5 p.m. for our 5:30 p.m. cruise on the Missouri River in Brownville.
Since it was such a beautiful night, we opted for seats on the open-air top portion of the ferry boat. I would estimate about 50 other guests ranging in age from 7 to 87 joined us for the adventure.
The boat left the dock promptly at 5:30 p.m., and the buffet line started five minutes later. The meal included ham and potatoes, chicken and rice, strawberry spinach salad (delish!), a roll, tea or lemonade and a brownie. Everything tasted great!
After dinner, we walked around the boat, enjoyed the scenery on the river and listened to live music played by a talented lady on a Yamaha keyboard.
We arrived back at the dock at 7 p.m.
While the kids rated the experience a 5 or 6 (on a scale of 10) in the fun factor, I gave it an 8. I would recommend it to friends, and I would do it again. At a price of $29.99 per person, I think it was a good value considering the delicious meal and the boat experience.
As a side note, before we boarded, we spent a little time visiting “historic” Brownville. Although its population is just 127, it boasts an ice cream shop, community theater, bookstore, museums and art, and the Whisky Run Creek Vineyard & Winery, where we stopped for a quick wine tasting (not the kids, of course) before our adventure. It’s worth the trip.
Lied Lodge & Sunset & S’mores in Nebraska City
No trip to eastern Nebraska would be complete without staying at the Lied Lodge and Conference Center. It’s relaxing, and families can choose from walking trails, swimming, golf and the Arbor Farm Tree Adventure for extra fun.
(Nebraska City Lied Lodge & Arbor Farm Provide Perfect Family Escape for Relaxation & Adventure)
While we had visited Nebraska City several times previously, we had not had a chance to participate in the Sunset and S’mores ride. I reserved our hotel room several months in advance (this place fills up fast) and reserved our sunset ride one week in advance.
At 8 p.m., we climbed aboard a comfortable “hayrack” wagon pulled by a tractor that guided us through the beautiful orchards right as the sun was setting. A knowledgeable tour guide explained interesting facts about Arbor Day, trees and Arnold Palmer, who designed the Arbor Links golf course and often visited there before he died in 2016.
We ended the ride back at the Tree Adventure trail where a campfire and s’mores ingredients waited for us.
Our kids were the oldest on the trip (there were babies and several younger children), but we all enjoyed the ride and learned something along the way. In fact, the next day, my daughter pointed out something about a tree that she had learned on the tour.
Getting Lost at Indian Cave State Park
Our vacations most often include some time getting lost, so it was natural that it had to occur somewhere. Why not Indian Cave State Park? This was our first trip to the park. My sister and her family joined us for this excursion so we could all get our Nebraska Passport books stamped. My initial reaction was – let’s come back and camp here some time! The lush green park had meandering paths and trails that would take several summers to explore. The park also has an archery range, horseback riding and special activities throughout the year.
We traveled to the back of the park to the well photographed Indian “Cave.” We walked up a few flights of stairs to view Indian writings on a large rock. Our family has explored cenotes in Mexico and underground caves in South Dakota, so honestly, it didn’t meet our expectations of a cave.
We decided we couldn’t leave the park without exploring one of the trails. We had received a trail guide upon entering the park and chose a 1.2-mile walk that was described as a few steep climbs, a view of the Missouri River and mostly flat walking. We figured 30 minutes of exploring this park would be easy and fun.
We carefully followed the trail signs, but after an hour of wandering through trees, we knew something wasn’t right. But, we forged ahead, trekking up steep hills and wondering if we would ever find a way out. Thirty minutes later, we luckily met another family on the trail who gave us their trail map and told us how to get back. They admitted they had been lost on the trails during past trips. Two hours later, we finally emerged from the trees, tired, hungry and sore.
We quickly loaded into the vehicle and decided we probably wouldn’t be returning any time soon. But, we might make a t-shirt about our adventure with a bunch of trees and the words, “I survived Trail #3 at Indian Cave State Park.”
On a positive note, we found a great gourmet burger restaurant called Re-Bucks in Auburn after we left Indian Cave. It was just what we needed to redeem the day and revive ourselves from the long journey! The service was fast, and the burgers were delicious!
Go Ape! Treetop Adventure at Mahoney State Park
On the last day of our eastern Nebraska adventure, we checked in for the Go Ape! Adventure at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park. The plan was for me and the boys (ages 18 and 14) to explore the trees while my husband and daughter rode horses.
The Go Ape! mission is to “inspire everyone to live life adventurously.” It is advertised as an “exhilarating self-guided 2-3 hour journey through the forest canopy where participants tackle dangling obstacles, explore the trees from a new perspective and fly around on multiple zip lines from exciting heights.”
After making it through the entrance of the crowded popular state park, we signed our lives away on the Go Ape! waiver form. I started to get nervous when I saw the terms “possible injury and death.” I wondered, “What kind of attraction is this?” But, I had yet to read any recent articles about deaths at Mahoney State Park, so I proceeded.
We were added to a group of about 20 others and were sent to an instructor named Josie, who strapped us in our harnesses and gave us the instructions. At the end of her instructional speech, she reiterated that there was a likelihood of severe or fatal injuries from participating in this activity and that we could leave now and receive a full refund. I looked at my boys and wondered what kind of mom I was to put them at such risk. But, no one else in our group left. I considered that driving in my car also could result in severe injury or death, but we do it every day. I discussed the risks with the boys, and we decided to try the first station and then make a decision about possibly leaving after that.
At Site No. 1, we climbed up the stairs and then stepped out onto a zig-zagging wooden course about 30 feet above the ground. After completing several obstacle courses, we made it to the zip-line platform. After a few prayers, I slowly eased myself from the platform, trusting that the ziplines would hold.
And, they did!
When we all safely reached the bottom, my 14-year-old begged to continue. By the end of the adventure, we were covered in dirt and mulch (from the landing areas) and were drenched in sweat. I literally had sweat from my toes to the end of my ponytail. We were tired and sore, but we agreed it was fun. On a slightly cooler day, it might have been better.
This time, our adventure in the trees turned out to be a success.
A few notes: This activity is for older children as the height requirement is 4’7”. One participating adult (19+) is required to supervise up to four youths (ages 15 and younger). Young Adults (age 16-18) do not need an adult supervisor but do require a waiver signed by their legal guardian.
A park permit is required to enter, and the cost was $49 for adults and young adults and $39 for youth.
Sometimes, the Go Ape! Facebook page has discounts.
Anything that gets them off of Snap Chat and Instagram or any screen for a few hours is a success.
Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park & Wildlife Safari Saves the Day
While the initial plan was for my 13-year-old daughter and husband to ride horses, we were disappointed by Mahoney State Park’s policy of not allowing horse-riding reservations until you are present in the park. We did show up two hours prior to the horse-ride departure time, but there was only one spot left on the ride, and my daughter did not want to ride by herself.
After much pouting and disappointment by my daughter, my husband saved the day by suggesting they visit the nearby Wildlife Safari. Since they are both animal lovers, they had a great time viewing and photographing bison, elk and cranes on the 440 acre-adventure.
While this trip may not have been as exciting as flying to some big city or theme park, it was close to home and allowed us some great opportunities to “get lost together” and connect with our kids. And, isn’t that was family vacations are all about?
For more information about fun places to visit in Nebraska, read Nebraska Author Gretchen Garrison’s book, “Detour Nebraska.”
And, read Lindsay Nolan’s funny story about embarrassing travel moments with young children in her western Nebraska adventure.