Missouri River, NE
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Missouri River, NE

Walk in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark on a modern-day expedition.

Journey Westward

The year 2004 marks the bicentennial of Lewis and Clark's expedition. But modern-day explorers have already begun retracing the steps of this dynamic duo as they charted their way west.

Your little explorers aren't about to trek the entire 3,700-mile Lewis & Clark Trail, now a national historic byway. So we've picked a scenic 95-mile section along the Missouri River that's perfect for a family drive. You'll tour historic 18th-century homes, explore parks and wildlife refuges along the river, and maybe even join in on bicentennial celebrations.

The two-day tour starts in Omaha, Nebraska, and continues south through historic Nebraska City to Brownville, a quiet river town that has remained virtually untouched for decades. Your journey ends with a day of hiking or biking in Indian Cave State Park in southeastern Nebraska.

Start Your Engines

Once the eastern terminus of the transcontinental railroad, Omaha is the perfect starting point for a modern-day Lewis and Clark expedition. Spend a few hours tracing the history of rail travel at the Western Heritage Museum, housed in the 1931 Union Pacific Railway Station. While you check out the museum's thousands of artifacts, the kids can romp through the preserved train cars and recreated dining car.

Ten blocks away, at the Omaha Children's Museum, your future broadcasters get their 15 minutes of fame anchoring a TV newscast or dressing up to play other adult career roles. The How Things Work exhibit lets kids take things apart without getting in trouble! And at Rainbow Farm, youngsters 4 years and under can experience life on the range.

While downtown, make time to browse the shops along Howard Street, or hang out in the Old Market District. This fun and festive area features street performers, gourmet restaurants and antique shops. If you love beef, grab some grub at one of the nation's best steakhouses located here!


Penguin exhibit, copyright Scott
Aquarium, Omaha Zoo

Make your next stop the Henry Doorly Zoo, south of downtown. Home to giant aquatic animal pools and more than 2,000 species, the zoo has a new attraction guaranteed to bring a smile (or scream) to every kid's face: the $16 million Kingdom of the Seas exhibit, where visitors walk through shark-infested waters in a clear acrylic tube. Don't miss its renowned Lied Jungle exhibit, featuring rain forest wildlife in a habitat of waterfalls and lush plants.

Pit Stops of Note

Next stop, Brownville. But first, a few noteworthy sidetrips along the way:

Just 10 miles south of Omaha, Fontenelle Forest and Nature Center provides a tranquil retreat for visitors of all ages. Take a walk on Fontenelle's one-mile boardwalk, or some of its 16 miles of footpaths. The center hosts family exhibits, live animal displays, year-round nature programs, and guided hikes by park employees.

In Nebraska City, 40 miles south of Fontenelle, visit John Brown's Cave, the humble cabin that hid runaway slaves on their way to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Arbor Lodge is another great historical site. You can tour the former home of Julius Sterling Morton (of Morton Salt fame), who created Arbor Day, but make it quick -- kids will get bored fast.

Oldest Little River Town

Finally, at Brownville, the Oldest Little River Town in Nebraska, check out the 19th-century brick buildings that look much the way they did when Lewis & Clark blew through here.

Or take a ride up the Missouri in a steamboat ferry. The Spirit of Brownville and The Belle of Brownville are exact replicas of boats built in the 1850s, to transport goods and labor. Today, visitors can still see grain being loaded onto barges headed down the river during summer and fall.

Caving, Hiking, and Fishing

Your journey ends at Indian Cave State Park in southeastern Nebraska. Most people come to Indian Cave State Park to see the cave and its ancient petroglyphs. But the park also offers:

  • 20 miles of hiking trails. Trails range from less than a mile to 6 miles in length. Rookies should stick to the shorter, flatter trails. The trails of the North Road are best for day hikes, since they are lined with picnic shelters, tables, and restrooms. The rest of the park's trails are best suited for overnight hikers.
  • Horseback riding. Rides start at the corral near the St. Deroin Schoolhouse and cover approximately three miles. Tickets should be purchased early in the day.
  • Fishing. Anglers will find plenty of action on the mighty Missouri River for catfish, bass, bullheads, carp, and sturgeon. Three parking lots in the park offer access to the river.

From Memorial Day weekend until early fall, don't miss the American Heritage Program of old-time crafts demonstrations. Learn how to make Granny's lye soap, watch candle dipping at the old log cabin, and see broom-making demonstrations at the St. Deroin General Store. The St. Deroin Schoolhouse, a one-room brick school built in 1908, is also open to visitors.

Dashboard

Type of trip: Sightseeing, hiking, walking, historic tours

Best ages: 6 and up

Ideal trip length: 4-5 days

Distance from Omaha: Des Moines (135 miles), Topeka (170 miles), Kansas City, MO (185 miles)

Best time to go: Spring through fall. In winter, some roads within the parks may be closed to motor vehicles.

Weather (Omaha, NE): 90/75 degrees in summer, 65/40 in fall and spring

Squirm factor: Some to a lot, at the museums and during the drive

If You Go...

Western Heritage Museum 801 S. 10th St., Omaha, NE Phone: 402-444-5071

 

Omaha Children's Museum 500 S. 20th St. Phone: 402-342-6164

 

Old Market District 10th-13th Sts., Farnam to Jackson Sts. Phone: 402-498-1140

Henry Doorly Zoo 3701 S. 10th St., Exit 454 off I-80 Phone: 402-733-8401

 

Lied Jungle, copyright Omaha Zoo/Jim Hughes

Fontenelle Forest and Nature Center Hwy 75 South off I-80, Bellevue, NE Phone: 402-731-3341

 

Indian Cave State Park RR1 Box 30, Shubert, NE 68437-9801 Phone: 402-883-2575

Contact: Nebraska Tourism Office PO Box 98907, Lincoln, NE 68509 Phone: 1-877-NEBRASKA

 

Greater Omaha Convention & Visitors Bureau Phone: 1-800-332-1819

Missouri Division of Tourism Phone: 1-800-877-1234

The Inside Scoop

Favorite local spots:

Anthony's Restaurant and Lounge 7220 F St., Omaha, NE Phone: 402-331-7575 Note: Enjoy one of Omaha's famous steaks to great live music.

The Bohemian Cafe 1406 South 13th St. Phone: 402-342-9838 Note: Serves authentic Czech cuisine

Best souvenir: A cast iron model train from the Western Heritage Museum.

Annual events:

  • Arbor Day Festival
    Phone: 402-873-3000
    Note: In Nebraska City
  • Summer Arts Festival
    Note: In Omaha
  • Shakespeare in the Park
    Note: In Omaha

Side Trips

Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge

If you have time to spare, drive 45 miles southeast of Indian Cave State Park, to the Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge. Considered the "Eighth Wonder of the World" by locals, Squaw Creek is noted for its large resident white-tailed deer herd, a spectacular fall snow goose migration, and a bald eagle migration of almost 300 birds.

The 7,350-acre complex lies in the Missouri River floodplain and hosts 301 bird species, 33 mammal species, and 35 reptile and amphibian species. Some fun activities include climbing the wildlife observation towers, a 10-mile auto tour route, hiking, picnicking, mushroom picking and hunting. Bird-watchers: Don't forget your camera and binoculars! Hwy 159 (exit 79 off I-29), Mound City, 660-442-3187

 

Reviewed April 2004.

shim