Not to mention, there are plenty of family-friendly destinations in Council Bluffs, from railroad museums to public libraries, and splash pads to trampoline parks. So the next time you hear the dreaded “I’m bored” from your kiddo, you can consult this list of kid-approved activities in Council Bluffs!
Visit a Railroad Museum
There’s plenty for your train-loving kid to do in Council Bluffs, with two incredible railroad museums in town — and the Watson Steam Train just a little north of town. The Union Pacific Railroad Museum is situated in the unique Beaux Arts-style building that formerly housed the Carnegie Library, the city’s first free public library. The gorgeous museum is a must-visit destination for railroad fans around the country, offering fascinating exhibits on the Union Pacific Railroad (you’ll even be able to spot a few artifacts from NP Dodge’s founding fathers). Plus, admission to the museum is completely free! And just down the street, the RailsWest Rail Museum tells the story of the creation of the west through railroads. Here, you can see the 1899 depot, a rail car display, and a model railroad.
The Hitchcock Nature Center is a wonderland for kids! The center has an amazing playground with a giant spider web, a hidden cave, a zip line, and a swing set. Plus, there are several trails, picnic tables and campgrounds, offering endless opportunities for exploration as a family. And don’t miss the 45-foot-tall observation tower that gives visitors a unique birds-eye view of the rolling hills!
Splash Around at a Splash Pad
The Omaha area is packed with splash pads of all shapes and sizes for little ones to splash around and stay cool in the heat of summer. Council Bluffs has several, including Bayliss Park and Fairmount Park. Bayliss Park is every kid’s paradise, featuring a fountain, an interactive water feature and other touchable art. It even features several pieces of art specifically designed for children — including the six squirrel statues that are located alongside the east side of the plaza! And the historic Fairmount Park features several walking trails, a playground, a plaza, a brand-new splash pad and a scenic overlook of the westside of Council Bluffs and the Omaha skyline! Handicap accessible and not too far from the heart of the city, this is the perfect spot to enjoy a picnic, cool off, or to take in the sights.
Play a round of mini golf at Pirate Putt, an indoor miniature golf course with fun and challenging obstacles for all ages. The destination features two 18-hole courses you can choose from. Each hole has its own unique challenge for you to conquer, such as warped walls, Plinko, ramps and even a spring-loaded cannon that shoots your ball onto the course. Both courses are decorated in a pirate theme, including life-sized pirates, a pirate ship, sunken treasure, and even an under the sea adventure! A round of 18 holes is $9 for adults and $5.50 for kids ages 3-12, and a round of 36 holes is $13 for adults and $8 for kids.
Throw it back with a good old-fashioned game of bowling at Thunderbowl, a 32-lane bowling center with the most up-to-date scoring software. The space is clean and modern, while still providing that timeless, retro feel. Play a game or two, then check out the full redemption arcade and McCoy’s, a full-service restaurant with an expansive patio! Bowling prices vary throughout the week — and don’t miss out on the various weekly specials, including Two Dollar Tuesday and Cosmic Bowling on Friday nights.
Since 1952, the Chanticleer Community Theater has lived out its mission to “provide an educational, entertaining, cultural, and historic experience for the greater Council Bluffs Community through the performing arts.” This beloved theater has now found a permanent home in the brand new Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center, where they continue to put on a variety of plays and programs to delight and entertain both young and old. If your little one is inspired by a play and wants to gain experience acting, their Children’s Theater offers the opportunity for children to learn all the facets of a stage production, including writing, acting, set design, and behind-the-scenes work. Check out Chanticleer’s current season to purchase tickets to an upcoming show and their list of upcoming workshops for your aspiring actor or actress!
The library is a free community resource we often overlook — but it shouldn’t be forgotten! And Council Bluffs has an excellent library in the Council Bluffs Public Library, which has been committed to enriching, informing and empowering our community since 1866 (yes, you read that right). The library has 65,000 square feet of space packed with a variety of books for all ages. Plus, they regularly host programs and events, including several opportunities for kids to learn something new or enhance their skills, such as nature workshops, storytime, crafting classes, and more.
We can’t think of a better bonding activity for the family than an escape room! Puzzle rooms invite you to work together, solve puzzles and (hopefully) escape within 60 minutes. The Cryptic Room in Council Bluffs gives you the chance to put your heads together and hunt for clues. Choose from five different themed rooms all in the same world of two characters, Myrtle and Edward — “Paradise?,” “Great Auth Myrtle Etherington,” “Into the Assassin’s Lair,” “C.O.R.E. Intruders” and “Cave of Lost Souls.” Do you think you’re up for the challenge? Book your temporary stay in one of these rooms!
Pottawattamie Arts, Culture and Entertainment (PACE) is all about “strengthening, developing and promoting arts, cultural and historical institutions and organizations, and activities in Council Bluffs, Pottawattamie County and throughout Southwest Iowa.” They do this through a wide range of programming focused on the arts, including a number of classes for kids, such as youth ceramics, youth painting, youth makers lab, and more. PACE members receive a discount on all classes, so sign up to become a member if you’re considering making their classes a regular part of your family’s schedule!
Sometimes, it’s as simple as a trip to the playground to keep them happy and entertained. And Council Bluffs is home to one of the coolest playgrounds in the Omaha area: Dream Playground. Located in Lake Manawa State Park, the playground is the largest ADA-accessible playground in Iowa. Inspired by local students, the playground was designed and built in the ’90s based on their ideas. In 2017, about 1,800 local children submitted drawings for the Dream Playground Re-Imagined Project. Their drawings inspired the playground’s new $1.3 million renovations making it ADA accessible so that all children may utilize it. Please note: non-Iowa residents must pay a $5 entrance fee at Lake Manawa State Park. You can also invest in the $40 annual pass if you plan to visit frequently.
Wear them out with a trip to The Hub, the only family entertainment facility in Council Bluffs. This massive trampoline park features dunk hoops, a jousting beam, launch lanes, a dodgeball court, an open bounce area, two ninja warrior courses, a toddler area, stunt boxes, a trapeze bar, and more — and very soon, they will also have axe throwing! And to replenish your little jumpers, there is food and drinks available on site — including beer, wine and seltzers for the adults. Make sure you sign the waiver and book your jump time in advance, keeping in mind that The Hub is closed on Mondays.
Get your adrenaline pumping at Joe’s Karting, a fun indoor karting facility, where you can race each other on the professionally designed track over and over. This is the first indoor karting facility in Council Bluffs and the fastest racing track in the region! There are several pricing options, which all require either the annual and single-day memberships. Joe’s Karting is the perfect place to host your kid’s birthday party!
On a hot summer day, there’s no better place to be than Pirate Cove Water Park. This public water park includes an enormous Z-shaped pool with a zero-depth area, play features, a diving board, two water slides (both covered and open), a separate splash pool area, and a sand area. Relax in the shaded seating area, grab some food and drinks from the concession stand, and admire the unique pirate ship in the pool! Admission is $4 (or $5 with access to the slides) and you can purchase a 10-swim punch card for $30.
What are your favorite things to do with kids in Council Bluffs? Tell us about it in the comments below!
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