Weather in Nebraska is always a question mark, and this year is no different. This spring, we’ve had a wide range of temperatures. Lately, it’s been anywhere from 40 degrees to 75 degrees. This past weekend we had absolutely gorgeous weather! I decided to take advantage of a warm and beautiful sunny day to get outside and explore. I felt like going somewhere different, so I headed out for a day trip to Mahoney State Park, one of the premier state parks in Nebraska.
Eugene T. Mahoney State Park is a very large, 700-acre state park located in the eastern part of Nebraska, halfway between Omaha and Lincoln and right off Interstate 80. The park is open year-round with plenty of things to see and do every month of the year. Completed in 1991, it’s actually the first Nebraska state park that was designed for year-round operation.
You can do a day trip to Mahoney like I did recently, or you can spend a few nights or weeks here. The park admission is around $6 for a day pass or $30 for an annual season pass. Some people may not want to pay admission, but believe me, there is so much here, it’s totally worth it. You won’t be disappointed!
From Omaha, I drove West on 1-80 to exit 426. It took me about 25 minutes to get to the park. Once I got there, it was time to explore this massive park.
I hadn’t been to Mahoney in a while and was blown away by all the different things to do. You could stay here a week and have no trouble doing different activities every single day.
1. Go Horseback Riding
I started my day off at the stables to see the horses. Trail rides are such a cool thing to offer at a state park! You can do wrangler-guided trail rides from May to October for only about $25 per person, and kids between 3 and 9 can do pony rides for less than $10 per person. I was there right before May, so a little too early to go for a trail ride, but I still walked over to the stables and arena area to see the beautiful horses. The horses were just waiting at the fence and seemed so happy to have extra attention from visitors. There were quite a few other horse lovers there with me.
2. Head To Baright Lake And Owen Marina
From the horse arena, I ventured over to Baright Lake and Owen Marina. You can fish the stocked Baright Lake from the banks of the lake or from the bridge. And, if you don’t have your fishing equipment, you can borrow a fishing rod from the marina for free!
If you want to get out on the water, you can rent a paddleboat at the marina for a relaxing way to explore the lake. If you’re hungry afterward, grab a snack and a drink from the marina. For more fishing, there’s also another larger stocked fishing lake within the park, CenturyLink Lake.
3. Hike The Trails
There are over 6 miles of trails and plenty of paved walkways to explore here. It was a little early in the season to see a lot of flowering plants, but I still enjoyed walking along the trails, taking in the beauty of the native grasslands. I know the park is even prettier during the late spring, summer, and fall.
4. Go To A Show At The Theater
The Denman and Mary Mallory Kountze Memorial Theater holds live performances in summer and winter. The melodramas are a fun way to spend an evening.
4. Golf: Mini Golf, Disc Golf, Or Driving Range
I saw families playing on the disc golf course and more families trying their luck on the 18-hole mini-golf course. Speaking of golf, I checked out the driving range at Mahoney to get in some practice before golf season. If you want to hit the driving range but didn’t bring your clubs, no worries, because they actually rent clubs here at the John R. Lauritzen Driving Range.
5. Play Outside
The park has just about everything you could want if you were a kid. I saw kids playing on the very large outdoor playground by the theater, and on another smaller playground and basketball court up by the marina. The marina also has all kinds of sporting equipment available for park guests to borrow free of charge, including horseshoes, footballs, soccer balls, bocce balls, tennis balls and racquets, and everything you need for a softball game. Mahoney also has sand volleyball courts, softball fields, and tennis courts. Plus, there’s an indoor climbing wall at the Activity Center and an outdoor, 70-foot-high observation tour to climb.
6. Rent Bikes
The park is really huge, and there’s no way you can see it all on foot. Many people were biking through the park, and I noticed they rent bikes right at the park. This is super convenient for anyone that wants to explore on two wheels but doesn’t want the hassle of transporting their own bike. The bike rentals are self-service, so it’s really easy to walk up and choose your own bike to rent for a few hours or a day. And all the bikes look new, so you don’t have to worry about getting a bike that will break down mid-way through your ride.
7. Go Ape At The Ropes Course
After walking some of the trails, I decided to go check out the other areas of the park by car. One of the newest and most popular additions to the park is the Go Ape Ropes Course. These aren’t just quick zip line courses where you go up and are done in 20 minutes. These epic courses are anywhere from one to three hours in length!
Go Apes Ropes Course is an independently owned and operated ropes course where you can take your pick of three different zip lining and ropes courses. No matter what you choose, you’ll be literally gliding through the trees and forests of the park. These adventures are a ton of fun and not for the faint of heart! If you’re prepared to climb up into the trees and put forth physical effort while making your way through the obstacle courses, you’ll be rewarded with super cool views of the park and the satisfaction that you conquered the course! There are minimum age and height requirements that vary according to the course you select. There’s also a maximum weight limit of 285 pounds. Prices range from about $15 up to around $50 per person.
One thing we’ve enjoyed many times throughout the years at Mahoney is their aquatic center. The aquatic center includes an awesome wave pool, a regular swimming pool with a zero-depth entry area, and two water slides. It’s a great time for a very reasonable price. The wave pool is super powerful, so beware! I wasn’t prepared for how strong those waves are. Plus the wave pool gets really crowded, so it’s easy to get squished. It’s really, really fun, but keep a hold on any younger kids with you! The slides are also surprisingly fun for a lower-budget waterpark slide. And, even though it’s busy, the lines really weren’t too long. The pool area is open Memorial Day weekend through mid-August.
Mahoney has many different options for accommodations within the park. There are plenty of tent campsites along with RV camping spots, over 50 different cabins, and rooms in the main lodge.
We’ve stayed at the Mahoney cabins several times, and they’re very nice. Some state parks have what I would consider primitive or rustic-type cabins. The cabins at Mahoney are not that. They’re all super modern, with bathrooms, fully equipped kitchens, and of course, air conditioners! Most of the cabins have two bedrooms. There are even some with four bedrooms and also a couple six-bedroom cabins, which are great if you’re having a big group or family reunion. You can also stay in one of the 40 guest rooms at the Peter Kiewit Lodge. The rooms in the lodge are more like hotel rooms with each having two queen beds and a mini-fridge. Prices for lodging start around $100 per night for the lodge rooms and reach up to around $200 per night for most of the two-bedroom cabins. The larger cabins will cost more since they sleep so many people.
10. Enjoy Winter Activities
In the winter, there’s no shortage of things to do, like ice skating at the ice rink, sledding, ice fishing, cross-country skiing, and winter hiking.
Pro Tips: Book your cabin as early as possible because they fill up extremely fast! And while you’re in the state, consider