Heading to Omaha in the not-too-distant future? If so, you might find yourself in the throes of planning what to see & do on your holiday and wondering what else is nearby. With top-tier Midwest travel destinations across Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri in striking distance, you don’t want to miss out on adding some of the best day trips from Omaha, NE, to your vacation plans.
Depending on how much time you have and your travel style, there’ll be a destination near Omaha that’s perfect for your getaway. In just ten minutes, you can cross over to Council Bluffs, Iowa, for a day full of fun, or you can make the journey to Nebraska’s state capital of Lincoln or the town of Minden for a historic, artsy adventure.
Looking for some ideas to make your vacation extraordinary? This complete list of the most popular Omaha side trips will make choosing other destinations to add to your Nebraska itinerary an absolute breeze!
Top-rated Omaha side trips
Elk Horn, IA
Looking for a road trip with quaint small-town vibes? Elk Horn is a hidden gem in Iowa that’s exactly an hour away from Omaha via the I-80. This Danish settlement may not be the most popular destination around, but it’s full of kitschy charm and mom-and-pop diners. What more could you ask for?
When visiting Elk Horn, there are a few infamous local landmarks that you need to stop and see. The first is the Danish Windmill Museum. Climb inside and learn about the history and inner workings of this mid-1800s relic. Then, of course, don’t forget to stop and take a selfie with Albert the Bull! This monument is something of a local legend and stands as a tribute to the local beef industry.
Great news for amateur naturalists! Elk Horn borders Prairie Rose State Park. Known for its beautiful lake and seven miles of wooded trails, this attraction is a great destination for wildlife watching. It’s also a peaceful camping location if you feel like extending your stay in the park.
Ashland is the kind of Nebraskan city with a little bit of something for everyone. Whether you’re trying to appease a larger crew of travelers full of different personalities or you want to see & do it all yourself, this destination is a great choice. Better yet, it’s only a half hour from Omaha, meaning you’ll have more time to jam-pack with activities and less time spent in the car waiting for the fun to begin.
One of the most popular things to do in Ashland is to get out and enjoy the great outdoors—and there are several ways to do it. For some family-friendly thrills, visit the Go Ape Zipline & Adventure Park, where you’ll climb, fly and jump through the treetops.
Alternatively, you can drive through the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari. You’ll get to see native species up close as they graze and roam freely in their natural habitats. Keep your eyes peeled for buffalo, antelope, giant cranes, and more. The best part? This is a weather-proof plan, as you can embark on your safari rain or shine.
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Looking for a happy hour outing? Grab a table in the modern tasting room or the patio with scenic views at Cellar 426 Winery and settle in with a flight. Or you can try a full pour from Glacial Till Vineyard, complemented by incredible small bites and charcuterie/cheese boards.
Did you know that Nebraska’s State Capitol is just 55 minutes away from Omaha? Lincoln is a must-see for those ticking U.S. destinations off their bucket list—and it’s overflowing with a ton of things to see & do.
After taking an obligatory tour of the government buildings, you’ll have your pick of Lincoln tourist attractions to fill your day. Museum lovers can browse the collection of vintage box cars, classic fords, and modern-day racers at the Museum of American Speed.
If you’d rather catch a breath of fresh air, opt for a walk at Sunken Gardens. Surrounded by lily ponds stocked with Koi, tropical butterflies, and beautiful botanicals, this urban oasis is the perfect place to take a break from an otherwise busy day in Lincoln.
Sports lovers: This one’s for you. Get in the American spirit and watch a college football game at the iconic Memorial Stadium. When the live entertainment has come to an end, grab a pint of craft beer at the Boiler Brewing Company or join a classic tailgate party.
This list wouldn’t be complete without a stellar Kansas destination to consider. Taking two hours and 25 minutes to reach from Omaha, Atchison certainly fits the bill.
Want to celebrate one of history’s first female pilots? Atchison is home to the Amelia Earhart Birthplace Museum. Located in her grandparents’ family, the home is full of artifacts from her personal life and aviation career. Aviation buffs can also check out the Amelia Earheart Hangar Museum, where you’ll roam your way through interactive exhibits and halls with real planes.
Want to get your spook on? Take a tour of The Haunted 1889 McInteer Villa and keep your senses open to the possibility of paranormal activity. Sightings here are said to be pretty frequent. Even if you don’t spot a ghost, the attraction still gives off ghoulish vibes, so you’re sure to get the creeps. You can even stay overnight at the villa—if you’ve got the guts!
Council Bluffs, IA
No time? No problem. You can achieve a stellar road trip experience to Council Bluffs in just eleven minutes! Yep, you heard that right: You can even take a city bus for just a few dollars if you have a couple of extra minutes to spare on your Omaha vacation. Close proximity isn’t all this destination has to offer: Council Bluffs is dense with exciting things to see & do for all ages.
With dozens of family-friendly attractions to get your play on, Council Bluffs is sure to be a hit with kids and adults alike. Enjoy a go-karting experience like no other at Joe’s Karting, an indoor track where you can enter legitimate races against other drivers.
Not quite your speed? You could also visit The Hub Trampoline Park and Ninja Warrior Course, complete with a dodgeball zone and a few other surprises up its sleeve. They even have junior and toddler versions of each setup so the whole family can join in on the fun!
Adults who want to play a little, too, can hit up one of the multiple casinos in town. Here, you can roll the dice, beat the odds and play some slots for an entire evening of excitement.
Nebraska City, NE
Known as the “Home of Arbor Day,” Nebraska City is a lovely destination with a laid-back tourism scene. The drive from Omaha will take about three-quarters of an hour, which is not a crazy time investment if you want a roundtrip to fit in a single afternoon. It also makes it a super kid-friendly journey. (After all, “Are we there yet?” can put a bit of a damper on even the most exciting road trips!)
Start your day in Nebraska City off at Arbor Day Farm, a farm-inspired children’s amusement park. With several hiking trails, an innovative treetop trekking experience with rope bridges connecting a whimsical treehouse network, and a giant trampoline, your kids are sure to be entertained all day long.
Don’t forget to treat yourself to a cup of the farm’s specialty: fresh apple cider! Arbor Day Farm is especially wonderful during the fall season when the leaves blaze a brilliant red.
Want to work on your swing? Nebraska City is home to several illustrious golf courses. Can’t decide? Take a few strokes off your game at The Golf Club at Table Creek. In addition to tee times, the golf course also has a fine dining restaurant that’s popular with the “ladies who lunch” crowd.
Platte River State Park, NE
Want to explore a wonderland of small cascading waterfalls, expansive lakes, and thick forests? A 35-minute drive from Omaha will get you to Platte River State Park—and it’s a stunner! The park is halfway between Omaha and Lincoln, so you could even stop here along the way for extra road trip fun. (Why not stretch your legs somewhere beautiful?)
Crawdad Creek is perfect for exploring the natural world with your kiddos. On a hot summer afternoon, you’ll want to wade on in, catch river creatures, and set them free again. If you’d prefer not to get a little mucky, you can also cool off at the Splashpad.
Platte River State Park is a hub for outdoor recreation. From canoeing and kayaking to hiking and biking, there aren’t many outdoor activities you can’t do here. You can even try out a new skill with some of their more niche options, like picking up a bow & arrow at the archery range or saddling up for a horseback riding tour.
The longest Omaha road trip to crack our top ten, Minden, NE, clocks in at two hours and 49 minutes. It’s well worth the time, though. This historic city will turn back the clock as you wander the streets filled with original homes and attractions that date back to the 19th century.
Minden’s biggest celebration of the arts & culture is the Minden Opera House. Planning a trip to this historic venue, dating back to the late 1800s, is an all-day affair. Before the sun sets, you can peruse the MOH art gallery featuring the works of six local artists. After dark, immerse yourself in the world of live theatre, ranging from live plays to intimate concerts.
History buffs need to make time to visit Pioneer Village. Dubbed the “Smithsonian of the Plains,” this preserved site features 26 historic buildings and over 50,000 genuine artifacts.
One of the most interesting features of the open-air museum is that exhibits throughout the 20-acre Pioneer Village are set up in chronological order; visit to watch history progress before your eyes!
St. Joseph, MO
The only Missouri destination to crack this list, St. Joseph is a history buff’s dream. It’ll take you two hours to get here, but you’ll be well-rewarded once you do. Of course, if you’d like to break up the driving a little bit, you could always turn it into an overnight stay by booking one of the city’s best bed & breakfasts.
If your vacation spending money is burning a hole in your Bermuda shorts, don’t pass up the opportunity to visit the East Hills Mall. Before treating yourself to an impromptu shopping spree, you can spin round and round on the vintage carousel; kids and adults will love this nostalgic ride.
After spending a good chunk of the day indoors, why not grab a coffee and take a walk around one of St. Joseph’s longest-standing neighborhoods?
Check out the mansions and sprawling estates of the Hall Street Historic District, also known as Millionaire’s Row. Admire the beautiful Victorian architecture in the Museum Hill Historic District. And marvel at the towering churches of Cathedral Hill National Historic District.
Des Moines, IA
Already made the trek to Nebraska’s capital city of Lincoln during your Omaha vacation? Why not add in a road trip to the capital city of Iowa, too? Des Moines is a world-class travel destination, and it’s only a two-hour drive from Omaha. If you’re feeling adventurous, why not visit both and compare?
If you want your road trip to Des Moines to be fun-filled, check out the happenings at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Get your thrills on some rides, play some carnival games, eat some street food, and win some prizes.
Obviously, it would be ideal if your vacation lined up with the two-week Iowa State Fair in August. But if not, you’ll still find a full calendar of exciting events throughout the year, ranging from concerts to antique shows.
There’s a wealth of top-notch tourist attractions in Des Moines that cater to the city’s art lovers. Depending on your medium of choice, a trip to the Pappajohn Sculpture Park or the Des Moines Art Center should do the trick. If architecture is more your jam, don’t miss the Iowa State Capitol, one of the most beautiful buildings in the Midwest.
Prefer the floral arts? Head to the Greater Des Moines Botanical Gardens and discover a conservatory with over 1,000 exotic species.