Family friendly downtown, camping in a caboose, and nature galore
About half a million people, on the Missouri River where Nebraska meets Iowa, and full of nature and family friendly activities? That’s right. During our RV trip across the USA, Omaha delighted us with a safe downtown, pretty surrounding areas, and easy access to the outdoors while being close to town. Things to do with kids in Omaha? We found plenty.
We’re aiming to go back to Omaha for a longer stay. Plus, we like to have activity ideas in our back pocket for wherever we travel with our two kids. Here are our top 5 picks for things to do with kids in Omaha.
Do these 5 things during your Omaha family vacation
1. Gene Leahy Mall
For starters, easily parking the RV in a city’s downtown automatically endears us to a city. Just across the street, in the heart of downtown Omaha, the Gene Leahy Mall brings together past and present. The former site of U.S. National Bank, today a replica of the bank’s ornate arch stands at the entry to the park.
Gene Leahy Mall offered green space, paved paths, and an innovative covered, multi-tiered play structure. Right across from where the kids romped and explored in the fenced play area, we adults chatted at tree-shaded bistro tables next to a large grassy field.
At one end, a pavilion houses a stage for live events. (We could easily imagine ourselves spreading out a blanket and a picnic.) Opposite the play area, little nooks in the greenery, like private recharge zones, hide tables, chairs, and even hammocks.
2. Platte River State Park
Only 58 miles separate Omaha, Nebraska’s biggest city, from the state capital of Lincoln. And about halfway between, Platte River State Park’s 452 acres makes it easy to get into nature while not being very far from town.
The spray park alone could get us down here. When we can have a spray park along with hiking trails and even a waterfall? Oh yeah. The 3/4-mile (round-trip) trail to Stone Creek Falls winds through woods and is mostly flat.
Platte River SP also gives visitors a chance to stay outside yet near town. Vintage and glamping cabins offer different styles of accommodation, or there’s also a 48-site campground. You could easily find us with the RV hooked up to power and water here—yet we can easily nip into Omaha for activities in the city. Yet in the park, there are also opportunities to get out on a lake and get muddy while looking for crawdads in a creek.
3. Inner Rail Food Hall
Crepes. Sushi. Even lobster rolls—all in one spot.
Good food guides many of our family travels. Set in the Aksarben Village entertainment district, the Inner Rail Food Hall brings together 10 eateries. Along with indoor and outdoor spaces. We could see ourselves coming here anytime of year for good food and people watching.
Inner Rail isn’t just about the food, though. The 7,000-square foot space hosts an outdoor plaza with games, event space, and fire pits. Plus, throughout the Inner Rail you are welcome to wander with your preferred adult beverage.
4. Two Rivers State Recreation Area
Things to do with kids in Omaha don’t stop at the city limits either.
In the 1980s, technology advances saw railroads phasing out their famous cabooses. Union Pacific donated 10 cabooses to the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission. Today, the cabooses look like a short train, albeit with parking spaces, near the entrance to Two Rivers State Recreation Area outside of Omaha.
The Union Pacific Caboose Park cabooses are not some bare-bones train cars either. They have wood paneling, air conditioning, a kitchen, bathroom, and two sleeping areas. Our no. 9 car had a sleeping loft accessed via ladder. In the back room, two sets of bunk beds would be perfect for multiple kids. (In fact, our kids quasi-joked that they wanted to bring friends for a sleepover. They would have a “kid car” all to themselves, and they would fill it up halfway with popcorn.)
The cabooses are only the beginning, however. Besides 302 acres of grasslands, woods, and recreation areas, 7 ponds—320 acres in total of water surface—dot the park. We found calm waterside spaces and boat put-ins throughout the park, plus camp loops for tents, trailers, and motorhomes.
5. Durham Museum
Speaking of Union Pacific Railroad, it’s no wonder you’ll see them around Omaha. Along with the cabooses at Two Rivers, the company’s headquarters is in downtown (and visible from Gene Leahy Mall). And in the Durham Museum at Omaha’s Union Station, kids can explore restored train cars.
We’re a little sad that we won’t be in Omaha during the Julia Child: A Recipe for Life exhibit. However, during our next visit to Omaha, we’d be looking into the River City History Bus Tours, not to mention permanent exhibits. The Baright Home And Family Gallery gives insights into Indigenous and settler life. We especially seek exhibits that give a sense of how a place has grown and changed. The Bishop Clarkson Community Gallery’s progression of settlement to big city would be a priority too.
And we can’t imagine leaving the museum without a stop at the 1930s-style soda fountain and snagging a cold malt or shake.
6. BONUS! Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge
The morning we left Omaha, we knew there was one more thing we had to do.
Driving toward downtown, the kids made sure we noted the Omaha Zoo, Kiewit Luminarium, Fontenelle Forest, and Fremont Lakes for our next visit (along with more stops at Lamar’s Donuts, Western Bowl, and Omaha’s excellent, WiFi-friendly public libraries, such as the Millard Branch). Parking near the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Visitor Center (also for next time) in Omaha, we soon stood over a river and in two states.
The Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge spans the Missouri River to the east of Omaha. As you curve along the bridge’s free entrance near the Lewis and Clark HQ, it’s easy to take in the city’s skyline. While the total span is about 3,000 feet long, part of the way across, you’ll find the state line set in the bridge’s surface. Naturally, it’s a perfect spot to stand partially in Nebraska and partially in Iowa. Or as we did, have a family fun bit of tug-of-war, while feeling yet again how impressed we felt with this right-sized midwestern city.
Where to stay in Omaha with kids
Family friendly Omaha deserves your next family vacation
Our cross-country RV trip was our family’s first time in Omaha, but we do not want it to be the last. This city felt big enough to have lots of fun things to do, but small enough so we never felt overwhelmed, lost, or spending tons of time getting around. Throughout our time in and outside Omaha, we felt safe, including in downtown. Omaha offered so much more to do than we had time for during our too-short time in Nebraska’s largest city.
Things to do with kids in Omaha? There are plenty. We hope our brief list helps you plan your family’s trip to Omaha, because this safe, relaxed city deserves a visit from you and your kids.