Taking a vacation in Nebraska doesn’t have to mean blowing your savings. In fact, if you get creative, there are plenty of adventures you can have on the cheap. You’ll still have to pay for gas and food, but these mini-vacations all feature attractions and accommodations that are easy on the wallet.
1. Explore Lincoln, our capital city.
Get away in the city and experience some low-cost fun. You can find accommodations everywhere, from campgrounds to AirBnBs to actual B&Bs to hotels that range from simple to luxurious.
Tours of the grand capital building are free! This is one of those experiences every Nebraskan should have at least once.
Morrill Hall on the UNL campus houses Nebraska's largest natural history museum. Admission is $6 for adults, $3 for kids 5-18, and free for ages 4 and under - or buy a family day pass for $13. Drop a few extra dollars per person for access to the planetarium (it's totally worth it).
Walk around beautiful Pioneers Park for a memorable (and free) day out in nature. Take a picnic and enjoy the surroundings as you eat.
Don't miss the Sunken Gardens while you're in Lincoln. This lovely, serene place is listed in the National Geographic Guide to Public Gardens "300 Best Gardens to Visit in the United States and Canada."
2. Rock out in Western Nebraska.
Get up close to the impressive rock formations that the pioneers saw as they traveled the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails. If you live close enough to the rock formations of western Nebraska, this can be a fun day trip. If you're coming from a long distance, this is the perfect opportunity to go camping out where the sky touches the ground everywhere you look.
Coming from the east, you'll come across Courthouse and Jail rocks outside of Bridgeport first. These towering formations were important navigational landmarks for pioneers as they made the arduous trek westward.
Next up will be Chimney Rock, perhaps the most iconic image Nebraska has to offer. Pioneers were so impressed with the formation that many of them made lengthy detours from the trails just to see it up close. Today you can poke around in the visitors center for $3 per adult (kids get in free with an adult).
Scotts Bluff National Monument is another must-see when in this part of the state. This isn't a drive-by type of attraction; plan on spending at least a couple of hours seeing everything there is to see. Get a seven-day pass for $5 per car, or purchase an annual pass for $15 and visit the monument as many times as you want for a year.
Finish out your stay with a night of camping at Lake Minatare State Recreation Area in Minatare. You'll need a state park permit to get in ($6 for a day or $30 for a year); camping fees are $17 for modern campsites and $7 for primitive sites. You'll want to visit in the summer to take advantage of all of the awesome outdoor activities this recreation area offers.
3. Let your creativity shine in downtown Omaha.
Omaha is a fun place to explore, and you don't have to spend a fortune. You can afford to drop some money on a budget hotel because there are so many free things to do in the city.
Spend an afternoon enjoying fine art in this the Joslyn Art Museum. The indoor courtyard fountain is just the beginning of the breathtaking sights you'll see in this art deco building. Admission is free.
You can get up close to living art at the Bemis Center For Contemporary Arts. This artists' residence provides free exhibits for public enjoyment. Depending on when you visit, you'll see artwork in all types of media from local, national, and international artists.
Feel like a kid again when you go down the big outdoor slides in Gene Leahy Mall. There's no admission fee to this public park.
Walk from Nebraska to Iowa and back again on the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. The Riverfront on the Omaha side is often host to fun community events - and it's a great place to take a stroll.
Enjoy the lovely old architecture and all kinds of unique shops in the Old Market. You don't have to open your wallet to enjoy the Old Market, but there are some one-of-a-kind stores and restaurants there. If you're going to spend money in Omaha, this is a fun place to do it.
Step a bit outside of downtown to Turner Park in Midtown. There's always something going on there, but in the summer, the free Jazz on the Green concerts pull in some major crowds.
4. Spend some time getting to know the Panhandle.
Of the trips on this list, this one will probably take the most time. Plan to spend a long weekend at the very least, but a whole week would be even better.
Make Fort Robinson your home base as you explore some of the Panhandle's famous destinations. You'll need a state parks pass to get in ($6 daily or $30 annually for Nebraska-licensed vehicles). Really, there's so much to do at Fort Robinson that you could make it the only stop on your Panhandle trip and you'd still come away with a wealth of awesome vacation memories.
Lodging options here range from primitive camping on the least expensive end to rooms in the enlisted or officers' quarters - or even an entire lodge for group outings - on the more expensive side.
Visit Agate Fossil Beds National Monument for tons more to do; in fact, this is probably another full-day destination. Hiking trails, fossil displays, Native American history, and a spectacular natural setting all make for a fun-filled visit. You'll need a Nebraska parks pass to get in.
The Hudson-Meng Bison Kill site holds the remains of around 600 bison killed 10,000 years ago. The site, which is open seasonally, is a fascinating place for history lovers and archaeology buffs. Admission is $5 for adults, $4.50 for seniors, and $3 for kids ages 5-12.
Toadstool Geologic Park is one of the most unusual and fascinating spots in the state. You'd never expect to find otherworldly rock formations like this in Nebraska. Admission is $3 per vehicle for day use only or $5 per vehicle if you plan to camp overnight.
Pine Ridge National Recreation Area is a 6600-acre natural area perfect for hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, and admiring the spectacular primitive landscape. There's no admission fee, but if you want to camp overnight it will cost you $5 per vehicle.
The Museum of the Fur Trade, just outside of Chadron, is the only museum commemorating the North American fur trade. Varied exhibits show artifacts from both Native Americans and European traders. Also on the grounds you'll find a reconstruction of the Bordeaux Trading Post. Open every day from May 1 through October 31 and by appointment the rest of the year, the museum charges $5 admission for visitors 18 and older; under 18s are free.
5. Walk through the past in south-central Nebraska.
Nebraskans embrace history, and places that put it on display are always high on our must-visit lists. The first two stops on this trip are full-day excursions, so you'll need accommodations for at least two nights.
Red Cloud, historic home of famed author Willa Cather, is one big museum. The
are just the beginning; there's a fantastic
that will take you through the other truly fascinating sites in this town that's all too often overlooked by travelers. Follow the first link above for Willa Cather building tour prices. The Red Cloud Walking tour is free of charge.
A number of B&Bs, RV parks, and hotels are available in the area.
Harold Warp Pioneer Village in Minden is one of Nebraska's favorite attractions. The 20-acre complex includes 28 buildings, hundreds of antique vehicles, and everyday items from 1830 to the present. Admission is $14.25 for adults, $7.25 for children 6 to 12 years old, and free for children 5 and under. Pioneer Village operates a motel and a campground on site so you won't have to hunt for a place to spend the night.
The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument - or just The Archway - stretches over I-80 near Kearney. The fascinating museum displays items related to the importance of Nebraska and the Platte River in America's westward expansion. Admission is $12 for Adults ages 13 and up, $11 for seniors, $6 for ages 6-12, and free for kids 5 and under.
The G.W. Frank Museum of History and Culture, on the UNK campus, is often overlooked by visitors looking for an interesting museum to explore. The grand old house was built in 1886; over its long life it has been used as a private residence, a sanitarium, and a part of the Nebraska State Tuberculosis hospital. Today it features exhibits that recall what the home looked like when it was brand new. The house itself is absolutely stunning, and it's been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973. Admission is free, but donations are accepted.
These are, of course, just a few ideas for inexpensive Nebraska vacations. There are endless options out there for anyone who wants to explore our great state. For more awesome vacations, check out our
two-day trip to Valentine, then take a look at some unique accommodations and great rental cabins.