Whether you’re a fan of nature, urban trails, or amazing outdoor art, you’re always less than 30 minutes from fantastic attractions in Omaha. I enjoy showing off my city and everything it has to offer, and outdoor activities and fun are key to any Omaha experience. From an urban forest to murals celebrating its ethnic melting pot, it’s fun to enjoy the sun and fresh air as you explore Omaha’s outdoors.
1. Fontenelle Forest
Explore 17 Miles Of Trails And More
Fontenelle Forest is the only urban forest in Nebraska, with more than 17 miles of trails. Walk among century-old trees on the forest’s mile-long boardwalk or explore the forest along its unpaved trails taking you near the Missouri River high among the bluffs. Along the way, you’re sure to view wildlife, such as white-tailed deer, hawks, and possibly eagles.
Fontenelle Forest offers birders a chance to see winged stars, such as woodpeckers. If you’re brave enough, strap on safety gear and navigate the forest’s Tree Rush Adventures zipline course. Consisting of seven courses from beginner to advanced, the zipline challenge consists of rope and ladder obstacles, starting about 20 feet above ground, with the Black course — the most challenging — at 55 feet high.
Fontenelle Forest is also home to a raptor recovery center, with large birds — such as hawks, owls, and vultures — unable to survive in the wild.
2. Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge
Stand In Two States At The Same Time
Anchoring Omaha’s riverfront, the 0.75-mile-long Bob Kerrey pedestrian/bicycle bridge connects Nebraska and Iowa across the Missouri River. At one point, you can stand in two states at the same time. The bridge is the centerpiece of Omaha’s riverfront, with the National Park Service’s regional headquarters there, including a small museum highlighting the Lewis and Clark expedition, and other attractions.
Connecting the riverfront with Iowa walking trails, it’s easy to see why it’s one of the area’s most popular attractions. You’ll find OMAR the Troll at the base of the bridge, a cute sculpture and a nice spot for photos. The Iowa side is home to Tom Hanafan Park, with an amphitheater, public art, and walking trails.
The Bob — as it’s affectionately known — has its own Twitter account, @BobTBridge. With its impressive views of Omaha’s skyline, free summer concerts are hosted at the base of the bridge.
3. Platte River State Park
Waterfalls And Water Fun
With one of Nebraska’s most attractive waterfalls (even if it’s one of the smallest), hiking through Platte River State Park is a must, with miles of wooded trails. The park’s floating obstacle course offers a different take on swimming holes. Kayak or canoe the Platte River, with access points at Platte River State Park.
Pedal boats take you on the park’s lake. Along with vintage cabins, the state park features glamping cabins and six “teepees” with sleeping accommodations. Located midway between Omaha and Lincoln, Platte River State Park also includes fishing.
4. OPPD Arboretum
A Beautiful Spot In The Middle Of The City
An urban botanical garden, northwest Omaha’s OPPD Arboretum showcases a variety of trees, plants, and bushes native to Nebraska. With wood-chipped trails taking you over hills and through the woods, the nearly 1-mile trail is an oasis in the middle of the city. The park was designed to include botanicals that help attract wildlife.
An overlook features signs with information about how the public utility works to improve energy use across its service area. With perfect scenery for photography, it’s also a beautiful place to enjoy a picnic.
5. Chief Standing Bear Lake
Walk Across A Floating Bridge
Named in honor of Ponca Chief Standing Bear, the lake features a floating bridge as part of its 3-mile trail. You’ll be a couple of feet above the water as you traverse the bridge. While located in one of Omaha’s growing areas, the view along the lake’s trail is one of the best in Omaha, mixing woods and open areas. The lake is open for fishing, small boating, and picnicking.
6. Historic 24th Street District
Omaha’s Historic ‘Deuce’
Considered the center of Omaha’s once-vibrant African American business district, “The Deuce,” as it’s known, is enjoying a resurgence with murals, parks, and museums highlighting self-guided tours. As you stroll through the area, you’ll find more than a dozen buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Jewell Building — home to the historic Dreamland Ballroom, which hosted stars such as Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald.
The Deuce’s resurgence includes a variety of new businesses and existing businesses doing well. You’ll find sculptures recognizing the area’s jazz history and honoring Mildred Brown, once the lone African American woman to own a newspaper in the United States. The Great Plains Black History Museum features rotating exhibits that focus on Omaha’s African American history.
7. Eugene T. Mahoney State Park
Ziplines, Horse Rides, And Top Attractions
Considered Nebraska’s most popular state park, Mahoney is home to several miles of hiking trails. Guided horseback tours take you through the park, offering an experience with its changing terrains. The Go Ape zipline course features a variety of levels, as people negotiate obstacles, such as wood bridges and high wires, before riding a zipline to the next challenge.
For the less adventurous (me, included), enjoy pedal boating on a small lake or walking along a paved trail, leading to a botanical garden. Soak in the impressive view of the Platte River valley with a climb atop Nebraska’s tallest observation tower. Eugene T. Mahoney State Park also features fishing and camping (cabins included).
8. Heron Haven
Omaha’s Wetlands Home To Wildlife, Beautiful Views
Only a few feet from one of Omaha’s busiest streets sits an urban wetland. Oxbow-shaped, spring-fed Heron Haven is a favorite for nature walking, culminating with views of wildlife and waterfowl at the pond. Among the animals you may see along the half-mile round trip trail are herons, ducks, geese, and turtles. With an accessible trail (including a boardwalk), you’ll walk among trees native to the state, smell flowers, and watch pollinators at work.
9. Lauritzen Botanical Gardens
Beautiful Flowers Highlight Walking Trail
With nearly 20 gardens, you can spend a day exploring all that Lauritzen Gardens has to offer, such as the Rose, Daffodil, or British gardens. Some gardens focus on Omaha’s ethnic history and international relationships, such as the Japanese and Lithuanian gardens. The Marjorie K. Daugherty Conservatory includes exhibits highlighting temperate and tropical environments.
Along with seasonal exhibits, Lauritzen celebrates the holiday season with dozens of poinsettia varieties, including a 20-foot-tall Christmas tree made from poinsettias. The botanical garden is also seasonal home to the world’s largest outdoor model train railroad, with trains powering through a wooded area.
10. South Omaha Murals
Omaha Embraces Its Ethnic History With Impressive Paintings
With more than 20 murals located around South Omaha, you can trace the city’s immigration history from Native Americans to the Irish, eastern Europeans, and Germans, concluding with Latinos. Murals created by artists associated with the South Omaha Mural Project embrace the city’s ethnic history.
Murals run the length of walls, including a Polish heritage painting at Dinker’s Bar and Grill (home to some of the best burgers in town). Lithuanian Bakery is the spot of the Lithuanian historical mural. While there, pop in for one of the bakery’s delicacies, including the mouth-watering Lithuanian torte.
Walking along 24th Street, you’ll see classic architecture — such as the U.S. Post Office, which formerly served as South Omaha’s city hall — intermixed with art. The 24th Street corridor offers a look at the area’s Native American and Latino influence. While there, visit El Museo Latino, a Hispanic museum, as well as sample shops and restaurants.
11. Gene Leahy Mall At The Riverfront
Renovations Create New, Modern Look
This isn’t our parents’ Gene Leahy Mall anymore. Having undergone a major renovation, the downtown park has been transformed from a below-street level walking trail along a canal to serving as the centerpiece of the area, bookending the riverfront with the Bob Kerrey Bridge.
The new Gene Leahy Mall features a street-level park full of attractions for everyone. Test your skill level with a game of ping pong at an outdoor stop or watch children play in the spray fountain (you may want to join them in cooling off on a hot day). With a sculpture garden, botanicals, and other attractions along a walking trail, the greenspace offers a breath of fresh air among downtown’s skyscrapers.
Kick back and enjoy lunch at any of the picnic areas featuring Adirondack chairs. An outdoor concert shell allows for fantastic performances, including national acts. Gene Leahy Mall also features a small dog park, with separate areas for large and small dogs.
Omaha has a lot to offer outdoors. For the adventurous, you may want to head to Hummel Park, which is said to be haunted. People swear each time they count the steps as they climb the park’s staircase, the numbers change. Whether you want to explore Hummel Park in addition to the city’s other attractions, you’ll want to dress for the weather conditions, including wearing comfortable shoes.