Yankee Hill Wildlife Management Area is a peaceful recreation area outside Lincoln. With 208 acres of lake and 5 miles of shoreline, this fun U-Shaped lake has plenty of shade along the shore from nearby woodlands. There is abundant space to fish for catfish, walleye, and bass or to kayak, sail, and paddle board. Canada geese often stake their claim on parts of the water, making for entertaining companions on adventures out here. Yankee Hill has camping, picnicking, and hunting opportunities, and foxes, deer, rabbits, and coyotes can frequently be seen. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission manages Yankee Hill WMA.
Arnold Heights Park has a trail to follow to a serene view of Lincoln atop the infamous “Tanker Hill,” a perfect place for sledding. It also has benches available for picnicking. Enjoy the scenery on a hot summer day under the shade of the trees, or come back during the winter to have some sledding fun. Arnold Heights Park is owned by the City of Lincoln.
Wagon Train is the spot for those seeking a peaceful time away from the city. This wildlife management and recreation area is about 25 miles south of Lincoln, near the town of Hickman. It has 746 acres of woodlands and grasslands and is perfect for mountain biking, hiking, camping, and picnicking. The 315-acre lake is well-suited for fishing, kayaking, and swimming. The lake is stocked with bass and bluegill, native species in Nebraska. In 2022, invasive fish species like carp, which were crowding the lake, were removed as a part of a larger plan to improve habitats in this lake and several other lakes. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission manages Wagon Train WMA.
Wilderness Park is Lincoln’s largest city park. 1,472 acres of dense woodlands sprinkled with prairie meadows and creek beds offer outdoor activities from hiking to cross-country skiing, horseback riding to fishing, and birding to nature photography. Because it surrounds Salt Creek, the land often adapts and changes according to the rising and lowering of the water and can be completely flooded during spring. In fact, Wilderness Park was created when the village of Lancaster kept flooding during the 1940s and 50s, resulting in the deaths of 9 people. The US Army Corps decided to take action in 1958. By channeling Salt Creek and creating an open space for the water to flow, Wilderness Park was born as a flood control area. Foxes, opossums, hawks, and owls can be spotted here along the several dirt trails ribboned through these woods. The prominent 6.5-mile Jamaican North Trail leading south out of the park connects to the Homestead Trail and will continue to take you to Kansas. The City of Lincoln owns Wilderness Park.
Bluestem WMA is a sprawling 742 acres of land containing a large lake, beaches, trails, and woods managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Known for having catfish, largemouth bass, pike, walleye, and sunfish, this algae-filled lake is excellent for fishing. Boating and jet skis are welcome, and fishing boat rentals are available on-site if needed. The north end of the lake, near the woodlands, is filled with submerged tree trunks, making it a great habitat for fish. The habitats in and around the lake house many wildlife residents, such as waterfowl, pheasants, quail, and deer. The man-made lake and dam were established in 1963 for flood control under the public flood act of 1958 and continue to be part of the “Salt Creek Outlet Works Modification Project,” which assesses the need for water containment in dams.
Welcome to the largest reservoir in eastern Nebraska, managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Branched Oak was built on the old village of Crounse, named after the eighth governor of Nebraska, and still holds a few memories of what used to be there. The whole town was flooded in 1967 after residents moved out, and the reservoir construction was subsequently wrapped up in 1968. A marker in Area 6 points out this old town’s history. As a local sailing destination in the summer, this lake has a great marina for boating. For people wishing to fish, catfish and bass are commonly found here. It also becomes a popular spot to watch bald eagles and other birds, such as cormorants in the spring. Branched Oak hosts several trails through wooded areas, hills, and beaches and is open to horseback riding.
Conestoga State Recreation Area has a large lake with waterside trails and camping areas perfect for a weekend getaway. Try fishing, biking, or picnicking and nature-watching alongside the water. In recent years, the lake has had renovations to make the area more wildlife-friendly. In 2018, an Aquatic Habitat Program project removed much sediment from the lake and improved fishing access along the shoreline. This lake is also part of the Prairie Corridor Project, a planned prairie habitat tied together by a limestone bike trail connecting tallgrass prairies surrounding Pioneers Park and the Spring Creek Nature Center. Because Conestoga is located in the middle of the Prairie Corridor, this recreation area will serve as an important passageway between the two habitats. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission manages Conestoga.
Eugene T. Mahoney State Park was first opened in 1991 after being acquired by the state in the mid-80s in recognition of State Senator Mahoney, who also served as Director of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission for over 10 years. The state park has served as a recreational area for people of all interests to go outdoors. Complete with hunting grounds, fishing, swimming, hiking, horseback trails, and even a minigolf course, this state park has something for everyone! While you explore, hike through the numerous forest trails, or climb to the top of the Walter Scott Jr. observational tower to enjoy a breathtaking view of the Platte River and surrounding grassland and riverine ecosystems. If you choose to visit in the winter, the hillsides are perfect for sledding. As you traverse these 650 acres of land, you can explore woodland, wetland, and grassland ecosystems teaming with wildlife.
Nine Mile Prairie is a 230-acre tallgrass prairie located 9 miles northwest of Lincoln’s city center. This grassland hosts hundreds of species of native plants and deer, birds, and pollinators visiting the prairie in the spring and summer. Managed by the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, classes are frequently held here to teach students the value and hard work of managing a prairie ecosystem. The area is frequently burned to keep it healthy, and the land has never been plowed. This ecosystem is one of Nebraska’s largest intact high-quality tallgrass prairies. Tables and places are available for picnicking, and a couple PBT timelapse cameras can be spotted here watching the changing seasons.
Oak Lake city park and recreation area is the perfect place to view urban wildlife, enjoy a picnic, or go for a walk. The park was established in 1922. However, the Lancaster County dump was located right across the street and posed a health and safety hazard for those visiting in search of a breath of fresh air. Citizens of Lincoln continued to use the landfill until the 1950’s, when a new dump was created. The land was given to the Lincoln Parks Department– after which the existing lake was expanded, and a small park was added. Oak Lake is prime real estate for waterfowl of all kinds and when the water levels are drawn down the shoreline becomes a hotspot for migratory shorebirds as make a pitstop to feed and rest on their migration journeys. Equipped with picnic tables, a scenic path around the lake, a dog park, and plenty of fish to catch, Oak Lake is a family-friendly getaway that is an easy and accessible way to get outside.