Fontenelle Forest: Get Lost in Nature Right In the Heart of Omaha - Well Traveled Nebraskan

Fontenelle Forest: Get Lost in Nature Right In the Heart of Omaha

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I’m a city girl.  I was born and raised in Omaha and while I LOVE traveling to small, quaint little towns and villages, the reality is I always feel at home in a city with the hustle and bustle of life.

But just because I love having a lot of amenities, things to do and people around me, that’s not to say that I don’t crave a bit of nature on a regular basis.

Fontenelle Forest hours, fontenelle trail map and more

 

BUT, that proves to be difficult, even in a city the size of Omaha, surprisingly.

Sure, there are plenty of green spaces, some fantastic lakes to walk around and some amazing parks, but sometimes I just want to get lost in the woods.  I want to get away from ANY noise, traffic and even sometimes people.  I want to HIKE.

I want to be able to smell the fresh, musty leaves (despite my atrocious Nebraskan allergies!) of the trees, feel the soft give of dirt, not concrete, below my feet and not see anything but nature for as far as my eyes can see in a natural forest.

And in Omaha, there is one place that is my go-to for nature, hikes, seclusion and even a bit of “Forest Bathing” (yup, apparently that is actually a “thing??”).

Fontenelle Forest

Fontenelle Nature Center
Photo Courtesy Fontenelle Forest

Located just a short drive away from Downtown, the Henry Doorly Zoo and plenty of other popular Omaha attractions, Fontanelle Forest is perfect for tourists and locals alike looking to “get away” for anywhere from an hour to a whole day.

Hikes in The Forest, Swamplands, Rolling Hills and Prairies

With over 26 miles of trails, Fontenelle Forest is a nature lovers dream come true, right in the middle of the city.  Whether you are wanting an easy stroll through the woods or a full day of hiking, you can find it on one of the 26 miles of forest and boardwalk trails.

Easy Walks

Fontenelle boardwalk trail
Photo Courtesy Fontenelle Forest

Want to stay in town but get out of the city? The Bellevue trails in Fontanelle along the boardwalk are ideal for easy walks, stroller rides and are even wheelchair accessible.

You’ll be able to escape into a bit of nature, read signs and posts about Lewis and Clark as well as birds of Nebraska and other wildlife all while being no further than than a mile away from the main education center (and bathrooms, water, etc!).

Great for: Families, small children, strollers, beginners and first timers to Fontanelle

Medium Hikes

Forest Photos at Fontanelle
Photo Courtesy Fontenelle Forest

As I veered off the main boardwalk and made my way on the well-marked path, the temperature almost immediately rose.  For a moment, I forgot that I was no longer in the city and instead was of engulfed in a big, beautiful forest

Want to get off the boardwalk and have a few miles of trails to yourself?  I love grabbing a Fontanelle trail map at the start of the boardwalk, finding a new route and going out for even just 3-5 miles in a self-made loop that will bring me back to the Buffett Forest Learning Center.

The map has great descriptions letting you know how difficult each section of the trail is, making it REALLY easy to mix and match segments to your liking or fitness level.  You can stay close to the Center and yet still have miles upon miles to wander around, most pretty secluded from other hikers.

Nearing the top of the hill, a small clearing gave way to an expansive view of the Missouri river.  I couldn’t help but stop to catch my breath as I wondered if a view similar to this was once looked at by the Native Americans of Omaha and the explorers with Lewis and Clark.  It dawned on me that such a quiet, tucked away spot actually held so much history that we often easily overlook in our day to day busy Omaha lives

Great For: Those wanting a bit more of a workout without getting TOO strenuous, views over the Missouri River, a customizable route plan. (I was easily able to toss Lil B into a Tula Baby Carrier ) and comfortably hike the trails near the boardwalk).

Tip: Have a map even if staying close to the main center.  While there are trailhead markings, it is not easy to tell which goes where without the help of a map.

Tip: Wear hiking shoes or at least shoes that you don’t mind will get dirty and even muddy (but that are comfortable).  These are dirt paths, some that are next to streams with lots of mud when they overflow.

Hard Hikes and Full Day Excursions

Forest photographs at Fontenelle Forest
Photo Courtesy Fontenelle Forest

Just looking at the trail map, it’s easy to see how one could easily get lost if not paying attention to the signs or without a map in hand as they walk.

This means that there are actually endless options for those wanting a “real hike,” not just a “walk in the woods.”  You could EASILY spend an entire day hiking from the main center all the way to to the border of Iowa.

By really getting off the boardwalk, you’ll be treated to a variety of biomes, ecosystems and views from marshlands to prairies. At times, you’ll forget you are in Nebraska!

If choosing to head out for a full day hike, consider it like any other hike you would take in the mountains, desert or other long, natural hikes:

  • Wear appropriate clothing (this means hiking boots or shoes, as you will encounter numerous terrains), breathable clothing in the summer with sun protection.  Have layers in the spring and fall for cooler temperatures (Click here to see the zipcode 68005 weather for the surrounding areas of the forest to prepare for accordingly)
  • Take plenty of water and food/snacks
  • Take a map.  While the trails are well marked, they are not shown well in relation to one another, so having a map is essential in the forest
  • Arrange for a pickup at your destination, as it would probably be too far/long to do a loop of the entire forest in a day

Great For: Scouts, Nature lovers, Nebraska bird watchers, wildlife encounters, people who crave a good hike, even right here in the heart of Omaha.

 

Fontenelle Forest In the Winter

For those of us born and bred in Nebraska, we don’t bat an eye at cold weather and snow in the winter.  However, we often don’t realize that just because the temperatures have dropped that hiking is still a really great activity to do, despite the snow and cold!

Whether you are looking for a great place to learn to go snowshoeing in Omaha (one of my Nebraska Bucket list experiences!) or just need to get the kids out of the house, Fontenelle offers a lot in the off season.

Rent snowshoes from the main desk and call to see if they have any winter programs.  They often hold classes that teach about proper winter hiking (what to wear, what to bring, etc) as well as hold weekend meet ups for outdoor enthusiasts (and people who might want to BECOME an outdoor enthusiast!)

 

Fontenelle Forest Programs

As an education center, the forest has multiple programs that are great for individuals, families and anyone wanting to learn a bit more about the nature system right here at Fontenelle. A few of the top and favorite ones are:

Raptor Recovery

The Fontenelle Forest Nature Center does a phenomenal job of rehabilitating injured raptors and birds of Nebraska from every corner of the state.  Those that can’t be released back into the wild for a variety of reasons are given a loving home in a natural environment where we can then learn more from and about the beautiful birds.  You can even visit the recovery center in the treetop canopies.

Fontenelle Mud Pies

As a former teacher myself, I get giddy with excitement when I see such amazing programs that integrate real life learning with nature.  Mud Pies does just that with a new theme to explore each week for kiddos under 5 as they start to get intrigued with the world around them.

Days: Mon-Thursday (during the school year)

Time: 9:30 – 11:30 a.m. (drop in at your leisure)

Ages: Under 5 (adult must be present)

Cost: $3 for members, $5 for non members + daily admission.  Includes snack, crafts and daily activities

Family Fun Sundays

A great way to get the whole family involved with some exercise, outdoors and a bit of learning is to come at 1pm on Sundays.  They have short programs ready for families on a variety of topics, hikes and more to get everyone involved.

Fontenelle Forest Summer Camps

As a kid, I LOVED summer camp!  While you can find just about any topic for a summer camp, what is better than learning about the outdoors and nature?  Getting your kids into the fresh air will have them exhausted when they get home and they will really learn some life-long skills.

They offer so many different kinds of camps, that it would be too hard to detail in here.  There are camps from even the youngest of kiddos to even ones like a “Grandparents and Me” to engineering camps.  See what camps they are hosting this year here.

 

Fontanelle Forest Information

The privately owned natural forest is named after Logan Fontanelle, a Native American interpreter and holds one of the largest deciduous forests in Nebraska, making it a perfect location to hike, see Nebraska wildlife and get out of the city, while still being IN the city!

Fontenelle Forest Membership, Location and other Details

Hiking at Fontenelle Forest
Photo Courtesy Fontenelle Forest

Cost: Adults $9.50; Seniors $8.50, Child/Student $7.50. Under 2 Free (as of time of writing)
Fontanelle Forest Annual Memberships: Please check official Fontenelle Website for current membership rates as well as to verify daily costs
Military Discount: As a part of the Blue Start Museum Program, Fontenelle offers free admission to active duty service members from Memorial to Labor Day.
Opening Times and Fontanelle Hours: Sunrise/ Sunset (or 8am- 7pm/5pm weekends in the summers)
Location and Address: 1111 Bellevue Blvd, Omaha NE is the main Forest Center.  If you have a membership pass, you can also start at other locations such as Camp Wakonda, Logan Fontanelle Camp and the Wetlands.
Programs: To see what other programs Fontanelle offers as well as further information, you can get that here

 

New Feature!

Check Out A Day Pass From an Omaha Library

I’ll be 100% honest, while I LOVE the Fontanelle Forest area and all it’s trails, I really dislike that we have to PAY to get into beautiful nature.  I personally think that forests should be free to anyone who wants to enjoy and respect them.

But since this isn’t the case, I am ecstatic that the Omaha Public Libraries are starting a new program where you can actually check out a day pass to the Fontanelle Forest (good for two adults and their children)!  You can read more about the details here.  But I’d say it’s a great start to getting more individuals and families access to the outdoors!

 

Restaurants Near Fontanelle Forest

If you are anything like me, you’ve probably worked up an appetite on your walks and hikes.  If you are wanting some good, local grub nearby, here are a few of my favorite places to eat near Fontanelle Forest.

Stella’s:  Stella’s Bar and Grill isn’t just a Bellevue favorite, it’s actually known nation-wide as being one of the best burgers joints

Nettie’s Fine Mexcian Food or La Mesa: If you are in the mood for some authentic Mexican food, Nettie’s is an excellent choice and you just can’t go wrong with any of La Mesa’s amazing margaritas!

Roma’s:  I freaking LOVE Roma’s!  While I wouldn’t consider this “authentic” Italian cuisine, you can’t beat the price, portion sizes and DELICIOUS entrees.

Still Hungry?  Check out TripAdvisor’s other Top Rated Options for where to eat near Fontenelle 

 

Have You Been To Fontenelle Forest?  What are your favorite things to do or hikes there?  Let others know so they can enjoy it just as much as us!

Do you know a nature lover in Nebraska?  Share this post with them so they can get their hike and walks on!

 

 

 

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