The best day trips from Omaha, Nebraska
Omaha is home to outstanding tourist attractions such as the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, the Durham Museum and the Old Market. It is centrally located, making it the perfect place for day trips. In a matter of hours, you can be in four different states, home to amazing attractions and places of interest, including Iowa’s capital in Des Moines and Atchison, which is considered the busiest city in Kansas. All day trips are within two hours of Omaha. So you can leave early, enjoy the day and a good meal or two, and then be home in time to sleep in your own bed.
About half an hour west of Omaha, a trip to Ashland includes a safari, a drive into the wild blue over there, and exploring the quaint downtown area. Visit Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari, a transit park that is home to animals such as bison, elk, pelicans, prairie dogs, and a family of black bears. Ashland is also home to Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, where you can climb trails, via ferratas, zip lines, and visit a 70-foot observation tower that offers beautiful views of the Platte River Valley. Next door, the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum displays aircraft from World War II to the Cold War, as well as a glimpse of spacecraft, including an Apollo command module. Downtown Ashland is home to shops and boutiques such as the Gift Niche and the Gene Roncka Willow Point Gallery and Museum.
As the 2.5-hour drive to Atchison takes you along interesting scenery in southeastern Nebraska and northwestern Kansas, you’ll feel among the ghosts upon arrival in Atchison. Known as the busiest town in Kansas, Atchison is home to several suspected haunted houses, including the Sallie House and the McInteer Mansion. While Sallie House is open for tours during the Halloween season, McInteer is open year-round. Contact the downtown visitor center for a tour of Haunted Atchison, or grab a map and take a self-guided tour as well as a historical tour of the pioneering city. Be sure to visit the birthplace of Amelia Earhart, where you can learn more about the famous aviator that disappeared over the Pacific in the 1930s. The house is on a cliff and has a beautiful view of the Missouri River. Combine art, history, and religion with a grand altar and pristine artwork on a self-guided tour of Benedictine College, whose abbey is also a Kansas limestone work of art.
The Atlantic Coca-Cola Center and Museum resembles an old malt shop and is the third largest collection of cola, from antique bottles to toys. The city – called Iowa’s Coca-Cola capital because the state-owned Cola dealer is based here – celebrates its relationship with Coca-Cola Days every September with a parade and other activities. Downtown Atlantic, about 75 minutes east of Omaha, is a great area for a self-guided tour, including views of old murals celebrating the city’s soda and history. About 15 minutes west of town, visit the Hitchcock House in Lewis to learn about Iowa’s role on the Underground Railroad. About 30 minutes north of the Atlantic, you’ll see Albert, the largest bull in the world.
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Enjoy the 45-minute drive northwest of Omaha while visiting Burt County, which is home to the Master’s Hand Boutique and Chocolate Shop. The Tekamah store is home to a variety of home accessories, including handcrafted candles, a small coffee shop (reservations required), and chocolates. Everything from fudge squares to Nebraska-shaped chocolates is handmade. During the Valentine’s Day season, they make chocolate-iced strawberries that you can use to earn points with your true love. Tekamah is also home to the Burt County Museum, which explores the history of the area from Native Americans to the early 1900s and includes heirlooms and artifacts donated by local families. With two wineries – Big Cottonwood and Silver Hills – Tekamah is the perfect place for local wine and cheese. You can also enjoy a meal and a Nebraska brewed beer at Chatterbox Brews. The Swedish Heritage Center is located in Oakland, 22 km to the west. It is located in a former church and traces the cultural history of the region. You can also take a ride in the country as you explore the Byway of Art, which features a window display theater in Lyon and a tram garden exhibition in Decatur.
Des Moines, Iowa
A visit to Iowa’s state capital, about two hours east of Omaha, is a must. A guided tour known for its colorful dome takes you to the State Law Library, where the real star is the ancient round staircase. Shop to your heart’s content and visit the West End Architectural Salvage with four floors of antiques, furniture and reclaimed barn wood in unique settings. While you’re there, grab a hot coffee from the coffee bar. The Pappajohn Sculpture Park offers more than 30 contemporary works of art on an area of almost 5 hectares. Enjoy a stroll along the Des Moines River, cross the main pedestrian bridge, and take in the sights of the Des Moines Botanical Gardens and interesting architecture. Perhaps you would like to enjoy an extraordinary dinner at Zombie Burger or Jethro’s.
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Moose Horn, Iowa
Visit an authentic centuries-old Danish windmill imported from the small community about an hour east of Omaha. The Museum of Danish America shows the story of the Scandinavians looking for a new land similar to their homeland. Don’t forget to visit Danish Countryside Vines and Wines, which produces wine from its 15 grape varieties grown in the vineyard. Reserve a table at the Pleasant Thymes Tea Room and experience this side of Downton Abbey. For a real taste of Denmark, enjoy dinner at The Danish Table: Hygge Kitchen, which includes a Danish and an American menu. A few miles north is a water fountain and sculpture garden with Hans Christian Andersen motifs in Kimballton.
From an airboat tour of the Platte River to downtown antique shops, Fremont is a lovely place to spend a day outside of Omaha. Bryson’s Airboat Tours have patrolled the Platte River for more than a decade, offering trips ranging from one to three hours in length. Each tour offers a different route along the river where you can spot bald eagles, herons, and other wildlife. The Dodge County community is known for its downtown antique shops and boutiques. So be ready to leave with a truckload of home accessories. Enjoy a cup of coffee and a sandwich at Milady Coffeehouse, a short walk from the antique shops.
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Le Mars, Iowa
Le Mars is the ice capital of the world, and the sweet treat waiting for you at the Wells Blue Bunny Visitor Center is well worth the two-hour drive. The ice cream parlor, where you can get anything from a bag to a banana split, also doubles as the company’s museum, tracing its history from the beginnings of ice cream making to today’s delicious flavors. You can also take a stroll around town and admire alley art and ice cream cone sculptures in the business district.
Nebraska’s state capital is less than an hour’s drive from Omaha and makes a wonderful day trip. Take a tour of the Capitol, including a visit to the observation deck, the Museum of American Speed, or Morrill Hall (University of Nebraska Natural History Museum) to see amazing landmarks and a little bit of state history. The International Quilt Museum offers a glimpse into the history of bedding while sharing the art of the craft. A stroll through the Haymarket District is a must. Here you will find unique shops and boutiques such as Licorice International, Ten Thousand Villages (a fair trade operator) and From Nebraska Gift Shop, as well as delicious restaurants.
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Sioux City, Iowa
About 90 minutes north of Omaha, Sioux City has two great museums: the Sioux City Public Museum and the Art Center. Take a stroll along the Missouri River towards Historic Fourth Street, where you can do some shopping, admire street art, and enjoy a nice dinner before heading home. Nature lovers can take a hike along the trails near the Dorothy Pecaut Nature Center.
St. Joseph, Missouri
The St. Joseph is home to the National Pony Express Museum and has a growing downtown area with a sculpture walk, antique shops, and the Tobiason Studio, which makes stained glass. Visit the Walter Cronkite Memorial at Missouri Western State University, including a replica of the CBS Evening News Studio. St. Joseph, about two hours south of Omaha, is also home to the Jesse James House, where he was murdered, and the Patee House Museum, which is home to the western history of St. Joseph, as well as a wood-carved carousel. The museum complex includes four museums anchored by the Glore Psychiatric Museum, which chronicle the history of mental illness in America. Reserve a table at JC Wyatt House for an upscale three-course meal that will leave you wanting more.
Pro tip: You don’t always have to go to bigger cities to have fun on a day trip. Smaller towns offer interesting attractions as well as great restaurants. For more inspiration, see