Sometimes state parks are underrated. People think that the only parks worth visiting are national parks. I’ve been to many state parks that are just as amazing as some of the national parks I’ve been to. The advantage of many state parks is that they are little known and fly “under the radar”. This is an advantage for you when you want to skip the crowds on your outdoor adventure.
One of my favorite state parks is in my home state of Nebraska. Mahoney State Park is one of the best state parks in Nebraska and truly caters to everyone. I decided to take advantage of a warm and beautiful sunny day to go out and explore. I felt like I was going somewhere different, so I went on a day trip to Mahoney State Park, one of the best state parks in Nebraska.
Eugene T. Mahoney State Park It is a 700-acre state park located in eastern Nebraska, halfway between Omaha and Lincoln, just off Interstate 80. The park is open year-round with plenty of things to see and do every month of the year. Completed in 1991, it is actually the first Nebraska state park designed for year-round operation.
You can buy a day pass and take a day trip to Mahoney like I did recently, or you can spend a little more for an annual pass and stay for a few nights or a week. There is so much to see and do here, it is totally worth the cost of admission. You will not be disappointed!
From Omaha, drive west on I-80 to exit 426. It took me about 25 minutes to get to the park. When you’re there, get ready for some fun times. Here are the top 10 experiences in Nebraska’s Mahoney State Park.
1. Go Horseback Riding
I started my day off at the stables to see the horses. Trail rides are a great thing a state park has to offer! You can do a wrangler guided trail ride from May to October for a very reasonable cost and the kids are even cheaper. I walked over to the stables and arena and was greeted by a group of beautiful horses. The horses were just waiting at the fence and seemed so happy to get extra attention from visitors. There were many other horse lovers there with me.
2. Head to Loch Baright and Owen’s Marina
From the horses, I went over to Baright Lake and Owen Marina. You can fish the stocked Lake Baright from the lake shore or from the bridge. And, if you don’t have your fishing gear, you can borrow a fishing rod from the marina for free!
If you want to get out on the water, you can rent a paddleboat at the marina for a relaxing way to explore the lake. If you’re hungry afterwards, grab a snack and a drink from the marina. For more fishing, there is another larger fishing lake in the park, CenturyLink Lake.
3. Hike The Trails
There are more than 6 miles of trails and many paved walkways to explore here. In season, you will see plenty of flowering plants and you will be able to take in the beauty of the native grasslands as you walk the paths. You’ll find beauty in Mahoney State Park in any season, and spring and fall are especially beautiful.
4. Go to a Show at the Theatre
The Denman and Mary Mallory Kountze Memorial Theater hosts live performances that the family will love. They have been performing since 1993 and are still going strong. The melodramas are very popular, so get your tickets in advance.
5. Mini Golf, Disc Golf, or the Driving Range
Check out the disc golf course or the 18-hole miniature golf course. Speaking of golf, I checked out the driving range at Mahoney State Park to get in some practice before golf season. If you want to hit the driving range but didn’t bring your clubs, don’t worry, because they have clubs for rent here at the John R. Lauritzen Driving Range.
6. Play Outside at Mahoney State Park
The park has almost everything you could need, whether you are an adult or a child. From the large outdoor playground near the theater, to another smaller playground and a basketball court near the marina, kids love the playgrounds. The marina also has all kinds of sports equipment that park guests can borrow for free, including horseshoes, footballs, soccer balls, bocce balls, tennis balls and rackets, and everything you need for a softball game. Mahoney State Park also has sand volleyball courts, softball fields and tennis courts. In addition, the activity center has an indoor climbing wall, as well as plenty of indoor play structures, and an outdoor, 70-foot tall observation tower to climb.
7. Rental Bikes
The park is really huge, and there is no way you can see it all away. Lots of people cycled through the park, and with bike rentals available in the park, it’s super convenient to get a bike and go. The bike rentals are self-service, so it’s really easy to walk up and choose your own bike to rent for a few hours or a day. And all the bikes look brand new, so you don’t have to worry about getting a bike that breaks down halfway through your ride.
8. Go Ape Ropes Course
One of the newest and most popular additions to the park is the Go Ape Ropes Course. These aren’t just fast zipline courses where you go up and they’re done in 20 minutes. These epic courses are between one and three hours long!
Go Apes Ropes Course is an independently owned and operated ropes course within Mahoney State Park where you can choose from three different ziplining and ropes courses. Whatever you choose, you will literally be gliding through the trees and forests of the park. These adventures are a lot of fun and not for the faint of heart! If you’re willing to climb the trees and put in some physical effort as you make your way through the obstacle courses, you’ll be rewarded with great views of the park and the satisfaction you’ve gained from the course! There are minimum age and height requirements which vary according to the course you choose. There is also a maximum weight limit of 285 pounds.
9. Swim At The Amazing Swimming Complex
One thing we have enjoyed many times over the years at Mahoney’s is their aquatic center. The aquatic center is a lot of fun! It includes an awesome wave pool, a regular pool with a zero-depth entry area, and two water slides. It’s a great time at a very reasonable price. The wave pool is extremely powerful, so be careful! I was not happy with how strong those waves are. Also the wave pool is really crowded, so it’s easy to get crushed. It’s really fun, but hold on to any younger kids! The slides are also great fun and definitely worth the low price of admission. And, although it’s busy, the lines really weren’t too long. The pool area is open Memorial Day weekend through mid-August.
10. Stay In A Cabin Or Camp At Mahoney State Park
Mahoney has many different options for accommodations within the park. There are many tent campgrounds as well as RV camping spots, more than 50 different cabins, and rooms in the main lodge.
We have stayed at the Mahoney State Park cabins several times, and they are very nice. Some state parks have cabins with a rustic feel. The cabins at Mahoney State Park are not shabby. They are all very modern with bathrooms, fully equipped kitchens, and of course, air conditioners! Most cabins have two bedrooms. There are even some with four bedrooms and also a few six bedroom cabins, which are great if you are gathering a large group or family. You can also stay in one of the 40 guest rooms at the Peter Kiewit Lodge. The rooms at the lodge are more like hotel rooms and each has two queen beds and a mini fridge. Prices for accommodation are quite reasonable for all cabin options.
Mahoney State Park offers hotel-style rooms at the Peter Kiewit Lodge. So if you can’t score a cabin for your preferred dates, check the lodge for room availability. Many people prefer to stay in the lodge, as the views of the river are some of the best, and being close to the on-site restaurant.
11. Enjoy Winter Activities
In winter, the park is wide open and there is no shortage of things to do. You can slide across the ice rink, go flying down a hill on a sled, try your hand at ice fishing, go cross-country skiing, or walk the trails and see things through a winter lens. Or, you can do more than cozy up in front of the fireplace in your cabin.
Pro tip: Book your cabin as soon as possible as they fill up very quickly!
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