Our 2018 Favorite Camping Trip: Eugene T. Mahoney State Park Ashland, Nebraska

Down and Dirty Details: Dates of Stay: August 2 – 6, 2018 Lakeside Campground Site Number 131 We traveled with 6 families and a total of 24 people.

Eugene T. Mahoney State Park in Ashland, Nebraska brings all of the amenities of a private resort to a state park. Campers at Mahoney State Park can expect to find spacious sites, beautiful scenery, a low price point as well as hiking, biking, mini golfing, a driving range,  horse back riding, paddle boating, arcade, zip lining, organized activities, and even a water park all at discounted prices!  Eugene T. Mahoney State Park is what Nebraska calls an Adventure Park and if adventure is what you seek, you sure do not have to look hard to find it.  I am sure it may come as no surprise to hear that Mahoney State Park was our favorite campground of 2017.

Our visit to Mahoney started a year prior to our arrival. Meeghan is originally from Nebraska and she told us about this state park thirty minutes west of Omaha. The park books a year in advance and from our experience it books quickly which made booking seven sites together challenging.

We traveled to Mahoney State Park on a Thursday to enjoy a long weekend before school started for our children and grandchildren. The drive to Mahoney was short, less than four hours and that included some unfavorable road conditions.  We arrived before the 4:00 p.m. check-in so we decided to spend our time at the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum (also known as SAC),  which is right outside the entrance to Mahoney State Park.

The SAC Museum provides ample park for RV’s, which allowed us to have a parking lot picnic before we entered the museum to see the collection of military airplanes and spacecrafts. If you are a history or military buff you will love their collection of planes and helicopters from World War II, Vietnam, Korea, the 70’s, and the 80’s. And, if you are really lucky, you will encounter a veteran visiting the SAC on the same day as you and you can wander the exhibits listening as the memories come back and the reminiscing flows freely.

Camping fees at Mahoney are $25 a night for electric sites and $30 a night for premium electric. In addition to the camping fees guest have to purchase a daily parking fee which cost $8 a day for nonresidents. There are two campgrounds and a total of 149 camping sites at Mahoney. Most sites are 30 amp but we did find several 50 amp sites. There are even a few full hook-up sites but they are very limited and half are reserve-able. In addition to a large number of camping sites, this park has other types of lodging available; like a lodge, cabins, and even houses for rent. So, if you are traveling with non-campers they can be close by and enjoy the fun as well.

Family Aquatic Center

Open daily from noon to 5:00 p.m. and then from 6:00 p.m to 8:00 p.m. Memorial Day to Labor Day, this is honestly one of the biggest draws to Mahoney State Park. The cost to enter the Aquatic Center is $10 per adult and $8 per child, children under 2 years old are free. The water park has a splash area with buckets of water falling over you, a wave pool, slides, and a giant swimming pool with diving boards. Outside food and drink are not allowed in the Aquatic Center but hungry swimmers will find a full service snack area or they are allowed to leave and return as many times as they would like for the entire day.

We visited the Aquatic Center on Friday, hoping to beat the weekend traffic, and we arrived right at the opening. We easily found enough chairs for all of us and the kids did not stop moving until we drug them out of there before the dinner time closure. The wave pool was a mass of people and the wave patterns changed every time the bell rang. The lines to the slides went by quickly and we all had a good time racing each other down the slides. The splash area was a favorite part of the youngest members of our group but even the big kids enjoyed a big water dump on the head.

Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo

Thirty miles due east of Mahoney State Park is Omaha’s highly acclaimed Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, which we decided to visit on Saturday of our trip. We all upgraded our entrance fees to the zoo so we could take advantage of the train and Skyfari. We spent the day wondering from habitat to habitat. We enjoyed the desert dome, the Kingdom of the Nights, the Jungle, the Gorilla Valley, and the Butterfly Pavilion. But my absolute favorite part of the Henry Doorly Zoo remains the Scott Aquarium and all of those jellyfish.  I could spend hours watching them. During our visit, we were able to visit the traveling Stingray Beach. Not only did we enjoy touching stingrays but we loved having the opportunity to feed them.

By the end of the day, we walked our feet off and left tired and happy. We returned to the campground exhausted.

Ice Cream at Owen Marina

Owen Marina was a nice easy walk from our campground. The marina has a convenience store, an ice cream parlor, fast food service, paddle boat rental, and an arts and crafts room, The crafts room has a variety of activites from leathercrafts, bird houses, ceramics, and even woodworking. Unfortunately, we visited late in the day and there were no organized activities. But no worry, ice cream was on the brain and there was no shortage of cones, sundae’s or floats. Sadly, there were no non-dairy options for those of us who are lactose intolerant.

Walter Scott Jr Observation Tower

This tower is open year round and has no extra cost to enjoy it. We rode our bicycles from Lakeside Campground to the observation tower. Bike riding allowed us to really see the entire park. We biked past the cabins, the nice homes, the aquatic center, the tennis courts, the ropes course, as well as the family children’s activity center, the stables and disc golf course. It was amazing to see everything this park has to offer.

As far as the observation tower, it is a 70 foot tower on the bluffs above the Platte River. The view is pretty; trees, a railroad, a river, crops.

Trail Riding

Our Sunday planned activity was to trail ride. Reservations are made on a first come first serve basis at the Park Administration building. When we arrived (fifteen minutes before the office opened) there was already a line forming, so we ended up with afternoon rides vs morning rides. Trail Rides cost $18 per person for an hour ride. Riding horses is one of those things that sounds really fun but the reality is I have not been on a horse since I was a child. My last memory of riding a horse is my six year old self  freaking out as soon as the horse started galloping. I had kinda forgotten that until I was placed on top of a huge, fourteen hand horse named Cash.

Trail riding should be smooth, the horses are trained to walk the trail, follow a specific horse, and respond to basic commands. That was all well, until Cash decided to do some fancy footwork and we found ourselves slipping. I am not sure from what hidden skill drawer I was able to pull out the skills needed to keep this giant horse under control. Technically there is no photographs allowed on the trail ride, so the staff allowed us to linger afterwards, on the horses and with the horses, to take as many photos as we wanted. Again, all was fun until Cash decided to get upset with another horse for drinking our of his water trough. With me still on his back, he reared up on his back legs. Man, I am just not sure horses are my thing. As soon as all four of his hooves hit the ground, I tapped out.

If trail riding is not your thing, or if you are too young to ride a big horse, Mahoney also has pony rides for $7 per child.

18 Hole Mini Golfing

After dinner Sunday night at a local restaurant, we decided to try and squeeze in a round of 18 hole mini golfing. We arrived at the rental office five minutes before closing but the staff did not care how long we played as long as we left the clubs outside the front door when we were done. We broke into family groups and had a blast deciding who in the family was the best mini golfer. These simple, easy moments are what make a family get away perfect!  Mini Golfing was a fun way to close out our time at Mahoney State Park.

Paddle Boating

Paddle boats can be rented at Owen Marina and paddled around Baright Lake. The boats cost $8 for a half hour or $16 for an hour. This was a fun activity to do in between other activities.

SKUNKS!!!

Now, we are accustomed to sharing our space in a state park with critters. We have become very skilled at picking up any food and locking down the trash bags, like literally, we lock that trash can inside of our truck at nights. Raccoons can no longer get over on us! But, Mahoney threw us with a loop when it comes to critters; skunks. From our very first night to the last morning we learned to pay extra special attention to the black and white critters that roamed the campground loop. Skunks are sorta like bears. I can appreciate one from a far but no way do I want to see one close and I absolutely do not want to scare one.

 

Every evening around dusk we could see the critters lurking around the campers, then the vehicles and then all over the campground loop. Taking the dog out to do his business became an ordeal that involved headlamps and flashlights.

The Community Around Eugene T Mahoney State Park

A few short miles east of Mahoney is Nebraska Crossing Outlets, which is a great place for shopping, With stores like Michael Kors, Kate Spade, Coach, Bose, Oakley, Nike, Le Creuset, North Face, and Steve Madden there is a store for everyone. I was excited to find a perfect pair of Chaco’s while shopping at the Crossing.

Across the street from the entrance of state park is the Wildlife Safari Park, a four mile drive through wildlife experience. We did not drive through Wildlife Safari Park, but others in our group did and they loved it. So, if you are seeking an animal experience but do not wish to visit Henry Doorly Zoo, this wildlife safari might be ehat you are looking for.

Another great way to spend some time outside the state park is by visiting local vineyards. There are three local vineyards near Mahoney. We visited Cellar 426 which is name after the exit off of I-80. We visited Cellar 426 on a Sunday afternoon before trail riding for a wine tasting. I brought home a bottle of their Blue Jay Edelweiss and I have regretted every day that I did not bring home more. Cellar 426 has a lovely deck, which was a beautiful place to pass some time away. Besides the Edelweiss, I also recommend their white sangria. I am pretty sure they put Peach Schnapps in it and it was delish!

Final Reflections

Outside of our family vacation, this was our favorite camping trip of 2018 and I am sure it is easy to see why. There were so many activities and things to do in the park and around the park that we could have easily spent an entire week. It is trips like this, with our friends by our sides, that I love our group camping experiences.

This was the first and only camping trip that my entire family made together. It was so much easier when we all lived in one roof and the only full time jobs we had to coordinate with was mine and Wayne’s. But now that our son is gown and living on his own and not only has a girlfriend but also their full time jobs it just gets harder. As a mom, my heart was full and happy this entire camping trip.

So, if you have hung with me through this entire post, then I say, THANK YOU! I want to say that several of our friends had to make last minute cancellations and could not join us. We missed them and hope to return with them to this location again soon.

Happy Camping!

 

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