Those of you that subscribe to my RSS feed may have gotten a rare sneak peak at this post. I was working on this Sunday evening, and it ended up taking far longer than I had intended it to. Thus, it was getting late (by late, I mean 10:30), and I was getting cranky. I got everything formatted in Live Writer, but when I published it to the blog, all hell broke loose. It was like MS Word ‘03. Fed up, I deleted the post, intending to fix it later (now). If you did see the original messed up version, congratulations. It is worth a lot of money, kind of like the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today Album.
At the request of Rachel, I’ve decided to devote a post to some of my favorite outdoor destinations in, not Utah, but Nebraska. What? I admit, I had to rack my brain for a bit, but they did start coming to me. Maybe not in the blast of a fire hose like Utah, but there are a few gems. I must apologize beforehand, however, that there are no Nebraska hot springs (that I know of).
Fontenelle Forest, Bellevue, NE
Nestled in the rolling hills along the Missouri River, this gem offers lush forest, river views, and wetlands all just minutes from Omaha. All of the trails are worth checking out, but my favorite is a little bit off the beaten path. Instead of going to the main visitor center and starting from there, head towards Gifford Farm and find the trailhead on the left just before the farm. This trail was actually featured on Backpacker.com, so you know it’s a good one. It affords views of numerous lakes and marshy areas.
A lot of rain lately? Avoid the mud by taking a stroll on the extensive boardwalks that start at the main visitor center.
There’s a small fee to use the trails, but is well worth it. You can also buy an annual pass, which my family is done numerous times, especially when we were training for Mt. Newcomb. In my opinion, Spring is the best time to go thanks to all the fresh growth and flowers blooming. Not to mention, more pleasant temperatures.
Here’s my family out on an early April, rainy hike at Fontenelle.
Louis and Clarke Overlook, Council Bluffs, IA
Hop over the river for this quality biking location. I went there for mountain biking, but there’s some decent road biking as well. I suggest parking at Lakeview Park on the northwest side of Council Bluffs. Then pedal the moderately easy climb up the bluffs to the overlook on tree-lined Monument Rd that takes you by cute little houses. For some reason, the area reminded me of Maui. The mountain biking trails branch off the road, so if you’re there for that, just keep your eyes out. These trails can be used for hiking too.
The overlook itself offers spectacular views of the Omaha skyline. I’ve always thought it would be a good makeout spot, but have never tried it. Also, they might close the gates after dark. I believe there’s another overlook in the area that is used almost explicitly for that purpose, but I digress.
Branched Oak Lake, Lincoln, NE
Albeit just another dammed up creek in an effort to provide a means of recreation, this muddy lake is, in my opinion, one of the better ones. It is nestled amongst the beautiful rolling hills that the state is known for and has a slightly more rustic feel than many of the others. A dip in these crystal clear (if you close your eyes) waters is a perfect pairing with wine tasting at nearby James Arthur Vineyards. The park does offer camping, and I believe some trails, although I have never explored them. Note: is a state recreation area, so you either need a sticker or pay the per vehicle entrance fee.
Grilling out on the 4th of July at Branched Oak. Yeah, we forgot a spatula.
Indian Cave SP, Brownville, NE
Indian Cave State Park offers the best/only backpacking within a 3 hour drive of Omaha. The trails are picturesque, but their routes are interesting. They undulate so much that you might hike 2 miles and still be only half a mile from the car. That being said, the park really does offer some quality hiking, and pretty spectacular views. One hollow even has a few moss covered boulders—an extremely rare sight in Nebraska.
There are numerous shelters atop the bluffs available for camping in, or you can just set up your tent wherever you see fit. No reservation required, just pay your park entrance fee and start hiking (double check that—I’m pretty sure you don’t need a backcountry permit, but I can’t remember for sure). Also, the ticks are really bad here—I would suggest roughing it a little bit and come in the early spring/late fall to avoid them, or plan on bringing lots of bug spray. I know, it’s kind of a bummer, but hey, tick checks before bed can be kind of sexy…
Platte River State Park, Louisville, NE
This park will always be one of my favorite places in the world because there are so many memories attached to it. In high school, this area became my stomping grounds as soon as I got my driver’s license. I still remember how it started. One night we were bored, so like all high schoolers, we decided to drive around. Thus, we piled in to my minivan, and ended up in Louisville (pronounced Louis Ville, not Looey Ville).
Platte River State Park is just down road, and happens to be the Mountain Biking Mecca of the state. And so it began. We’d throw our bikes into the back of Mike’s old F-150 and journey to independence (and awesome mountain biking).
The park is so appealing in part due to it’s seclusion and beauty, but also because it is like a well kept secret. Most people pass it up and go to Mahoney instead. If you are there for biking, plan on heading out after 3, as the trails you’ll be riding are partially shared with equestrians, and bikes are not allowed from 8 to 3 (or something like that).
For hiking or biking, I recommend the following route: When you enter the park, turn left, go down a hill, and at the bottom, on the left, you’ll see a parking lot for a trailhead. Disembark your vehicle and head into the woods. Something like 3/8 mile in, you’ll come across a rare beauty for Nebraska: a waterfall. We used to dare each other to drop off it on bike, but none of us ever did (it’d probably be a hairy landing). Continue on the trail to enjoy views of the Platte river and lush forest. A short distance after passing the lookout tower, you’ll see the signs for no bikes between the hours of 8 and 3. Congratulations. You’re about to enter my favorite area in the park. Proceed down the hill on bike or on foot, cross the bridge at the bottom,and then climb the hill on the other side. At the top of that hill, you’ll find yourself in a secluded meadow with views of rolling hills, prairie,and woods in all directions. You might even see a few horses, and possibly a couple cow pies. This is where I dragged my guitar with a mostly unsuspecting Tara and proposed. Hmm, I wonder if I could get the park to name that spot “Andrew’s Meadow”. That would be friggin’ awesome.
“Andrew’s Meadow” right after the proposal
Anyway, where was I? Take a break here. Enjoy a picnic lunch. Now, if you’re on bike, you have your pick of a variety of absolutely superb trails down. I suggest the Roller Coaster. If you’re on foot, you’ll have an equally enjoyable return trip albeit less adrenaline charged.
Just a few more notes on Platte River SP. They have modern and rustic cabins to stay in. I highly recommend coming in the colder months to stay in one of the heated (and very affordable) modern cabins. You’ll literally have the park to yourself. In the summer come with a group and get a rustic cabin. There’s no AC, but they do have refrigerators! Be sure to add to your itinerary a stop in Springfield. The Runza that we used to frequent in high school to get something called the “Sex Shake” is long since closed, but both the old fashioned Soda Fountain on Main St. and wine tasting at Soaring Wings Vineyard are must do’s. Also, get a designated driver one of the nights of your stay at the park, and head into Louisville to their one bar—it’s well worth the trip.
Louisville State Park, Louisville, NE
Also in my stomping grounds, of course I had to include this one. It’s a decent place to camp despite the trains that go by throughout the night. What makes this place awesome is its excellent access to the Platte River. Take a little night hike out onto a sandbar. Did I ever mention that I’d love to have sex on a sandbar? This would be the perfect place to get away with it. Nope, never have. Yet…
A young Kyle during a camping trip at Louisville, circa ‘03