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Nebraska, a State for All Seasons

Nebraska’s landscape and attractions are as varied as its seasons. The state’s larger cities offer Midwestern sophistication and variety, from Omaha’s world-class zoo to art installations and museums. Time slows in Nebraska’s smaller towns, where there’s space to enjoy the bounty and beauty of nature. Orchards loaded with apples beckon pickers, while rugged buttes and rolling prairie beg to be explored. Through it all, history and heritage unite Nebraskans in this state where genuine friendliness is a way of life.


Popular Demand

Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

There are plentiful fun opportunities at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium: Check out pygmy hippos in the world’s largest indoor rain forest. Feed giraffes or hop on Skyfari, an open-air chairlift above the African Grasslands. Creep through a 70-foot-long shark tunnel in the Suzanne and Walter Scott Aquarium, the largest inside a zoo. Consistently ranked as one of the world’s top zoos, this Omaha treasure recently garnered accolades in the 2024 USA Today 10 Best Readers’ Choice Awards for “Best Zoo,” while the Desert Dome ranked as a “Best Zoo Exhibit” and the Lee G. Simmons Wildlife Safari Park as “Best Safari Park.”

Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park 

Situated on 360 acres of rugged rangeland in Verdigre Creek Valley, Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park has been described as a prehistoric Pompeii. Here, fossilized rhinoceros, camels and horses were embedded as they died by inhaling volcanic ash. It’s the world’s only site where entire three-dimensional skeletons of large prehistoric animals are preserved. The Hubbard Rhino Barn is an active dig site, where researchers and student interns excavate fossils, which are left in place for viewing from the elevated walkways. Staff are happy to answer questions as they work in the bone bed.

Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer 

History buffs will find that the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer offers a fascinating glimpse into 1890s pioneer towns. Wander the complex of buildings on the 200-acre campus and discover collections of Native American and Old West memorabilia, tipi replicas, train cars from the 1800s and more. The farm machinery building displays more than 150 antique tractors, automobiles and farm implements. Railroad Town features costumed interpreters working and living within this 1890s-era prairie town filled with historic businesses and homes. Cultural programming, historic exhibits and educational activities take place year round.

Up and Coming

Kiewit Luminarium

On Omaha’s riverfront, travelers can discover the vivid colors, shapes and light of Kiewit Luminarium. This inflatable structure, designed by Architects of Air, houses an immersive art installation that engages visitor’s senses with a world of beauty. The installation features more than 100 interactive exhibits, and experiences include fundamental physics, building structures, collaborative games, a geometry playground and more. “Night Light,” an adults-only Thursday night event, invites visitors over the age of 18 to explore the exhibits and enjoy special programming.

Museum of Nebraska Art

Showcasing a rich collection of paintings, sculptures and contemporary installations, Museum of Nebraska Art in Kearney (aka MONA) highlights Nebraska’s artistic heritage and cultural identity. The museum is slated for reopening this year after a $31.5 million renovation that will add a 23,000-square-foot expansion; additional outdoor space featuring native plants and foliage; a sculpture garden with dedicated areas for outdoor events; and a community studio for special programming. Exhibitions reflect not only the spirit of the region but also its rich history.

National Willa Cather Center 

In celebration of Nebraska’s 150th birthday, the town of Red Cloud is opening the new National Willa Cather Center this summer. Cather, a Pulitzer Prize winner and one of Nebraska’s most beloved authors, wrote about life on the prairie. Near Nebraska’s southern border, Red Cloud contains the nation’s largest collection of preserved historic sites and landscapes dedicated to one American author. In December, after a 16-month restoration, the Willa Cather Childhood Home reopened for tours. Cather’s love of the rolling prairie extends to the foundation’s 612 acres of unplowed grassland where a trail showcases Nebraska wildflowers.

Overnight Sensations

Fort Robinson

Fort Robinson, a historic army outpost on the Nebraska plains, has hosted many guests throughout the years, from Lakota leader Crazy Horse to the cavalry and K-9 Corps. Today, visiting groups can stay in the 1909 enlisted men’s quarters or in the former officer’s quarters, which date from 1874 to 1909. Altogether, there are 35 different group lodging options with 22 rooms in the historic lodge. Fort Robinson Restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner daily during the summer season and offers catering for group events. Activities include horse-drawn tours, horseback riding, open-air Jeep rides, indoor and outdoor pools, a museum and evening steak cookouts among the buttes.

Lied Lodge at Arbor Day Farm

Adirondack-style architecture and panoramic views distinguish Lied Lodge at Arbor Day Farm. The 140 nature-inspired guest rooms are situated on 250-acre Arbor Day Farm, which is the birthplace of Arbor Day. A variety of activities and educational opportunities, such as the farm’s Tree Adventure, highlight conservation and sustainability. A guided tour among more than 150 heirloom apple tree varieties showcases one of the nation’s few collections of antique apple varieties dating to the 1600s. Guests can laze away the afternoon at the lodge’s spa or Olympic-size indoor pool. Always popular, the annual Apple Jack Festival takes place September 15–17.

Memorable Meals

Block 16

Opened in 2010, Block 16 has become a popular dining destination in downtown Omaha. Paul and Jessica Urban, the duo in the kitchen, create flavor sensations using local, humanely raised and preservative-free ingredients. Their family farm is one of their main sources — it’s been in the Urban family for 100 years. They raise bees for pollination and honey, maintain egg-laying hens and butcher farm-raised pork. Some of their produce is grown in their geothermal greenhouse. Their efforts have earned them honors as James Beard Award finalists.

The Peppermill

Locals love the Peppermill in Valentine for both its rustic charm and its classic Midwestern cuisine, featuring hand-cut steaks and classic sides. Owner Robert Joseph is a fifth-generation rancher and a third-generation restauranteur. He knows beef. Seven different cuts on the menu range from prime rib to filets, all from Nebraska and South Dakota. Although the meat stands alone, the steak seasoning from Robert’s great-grandfather adds another flavor dimension. Alongside steaks, the menu features seafood, chicken and pasta dishes, all crafted with fresh, high-quality ingredients.

Elizabeth Hey

Elizabeth Hey is a member of Midwest Travel Journalists Association and has received numerous awards for her writing and photography. Follow her on Instagram and Facebook @travelbyfork.