The biggest draw of this place is its sense of serenity. One minute, you're driving along the wide ribbons of interstate looping in and around Omaha. The next, you're standing on a boardwalk trail beneath old-growth forests and feeling 1,000 miles away from a city. Three ecosystems thrive here: upland deciduous forest along the Missouri River, wetlands and restored prairies. Visitors can enjoy all three by exploring 26 miles of hiking trails, including one that goes down to the riverbank. We visited in early fall just before the trees began turning and loved a temporary exhibit of lifelike, full-scale dinosaurs among the trunks, as well as the little trailside "fairy houses" constructed by girls on a Scouting trip. Kids can dig in the dirt, climb on a log pile and clamber up into tree houses, making for a perfect hands-on day outside.
But you don't have to bring a kid with you to appreciate Fontenelle. The mile-long boardwalk trails are easy to navigate and wheelchair-accessible. Seasonal programs encourage bird-watching, and a website feature allows visitors to keep an eye out for particular kinds of birds, animals and plants at certain times of year. (An online "Nature Search" section includes photos of plants and critters spotted by volunteers on these 2,000 acres.)
Other programming focuses on seniors, young kids (mud pie-making sessions!) and nature-loving adults who like to hike, listen to naturalists and sketch. Founded in 1913, Fontenelle is planning big things for its centennial year, including a new name unveiling (Fontenelle Forest Centennial) and a new nature center for school groups. These efforts will just make a good thing even better. Admission is $7 per adult, $6 for seniors, and $5 for kids. Children 2 and younger get in free.