(Re)Learning to hike in the summer is hard work, especially with the hot blast we’ve had recently. The 79-acre wooded forest near the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center in Nebraska City, Nebraska, provided enough shade that I didn’t burn and offered a cool breeze as I walked down to the overlook above the Missouri River.
Discovering the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center along route IA-2 was a happy accident. On my day-trip to Omaha, I stopped at the Sapp Bros Travel Center in Percival, Iowa, for gas. The small unincorporated area is just off I-29 going through Iowa; the scenery is beautiful in June.
[Randomness. The Sapps Bros Travel Center has the fanciest toilets that I have ever seen in a roadside gas station. The restrooms have individual stalls with electronic everything. Yes, I took a picture. I get excited easily. An electric toilet with a heated seat; who knew? The travel center was also clean and had everything you could ask for. Gas, food, and entertainment.]
I was exploring Iowa and Nebraska for the first time and found it hard to see where one or the other began. Going up I-29 you’ll see terrain change from forest to grassland prairie and back again at times. When turning to go get in Percival, I saw signs for the state park and decided to go exploring.
After leaving the travel center, going down IA-2 back into Nebraska, you will cross the Missouri River and the Iowa/Nebraska state line. Shortly afterward, you’ll see the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center on the left. It’s the first left after the bridge crossing the river on a small two-lane road; blink and you’ll miss it.
Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center
Follow the curve, and you’ll find the 3-story Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center sitting at the top of a small hill. The Center also has a full-sized replica of the 55’ long keelboat outside. This type of boat was used by the explorers over 200 years ago as they journeyed along the Missouri River.
The Center is both a historical museum as well as an educational one. You can view several exhibits about the Lewis & Clark adventure, such as what medicine, weapons, tools, and journals they used. Also, several displays feature the new animals and plants that Lewis and Clark recorded in their journals. Exhibits also contain information about the past and current wildlife, floral, and fauna of the area. Birds are heavily featured both inside and outside. It’s a fascinating self-guided tour, and there are plenty of interactive exhibits.
You can learn about the different types of birds inside the Center and then walk along the bird trail to see them live. Birds aplenty provided my soundtrack as I went for a small hike. I encountered a family of Robins playing in one area as I walked down the path. The trio (two adults birds and one small one) were not shy about flying around and watching me as I headed down and then back up the hill.
The Hiking Trails
Like Lewis and Clark, you can learn more about flora and fauna of the area by walking along the hiking trails. Many of the same types of plants and animals are on these trails that existed when the site was discovered in July 1804. From the first floor (when you enter in through the front door), take the stairs down one flight and walk out the double doors.
There are three branches that I explored: one is the birding trail, one is a little more strenuous and views the limestone bluff area, and the other meanders on down to the Missouri River overlook. You can also walk over to where the Earth Lodge area is located. The Earth Lodge is a full-sized replica of a Plains Indian home.
The trails have a slight incline going down but are not too steep of a walk. Those who are not used to walking trails will feel a little out of breath going back uphill, but it’s bearable. The most challenging part for me was that it was around 92°F with a 90% heat index. The Earth Lodge really does feel cooler in the summer.
Always Check the Weather Forecast
I learned from one of the museum visitors that the old-timers in the area stated that when the Missouri River looked muddy(er) and the water appeared to stream up that it meant storms were ahead. At the time, it was bright and sunny. Two to three hours later, Nebraska City and the area were hit by strong thunderstorms and tornadic activity. I wish I had paid more attention to how to read the river.
I spent about an hour going through the center and walking the trails. After I finished, I went northwest towards Omaha, Nebraska, for a brief tour of the city.
It was hot and even muggier, so I left early after visiting the beautiful Riverview district. It was also before the bad weather hit the area. As I was driving back to Kansas City, I was listening to talk radio (I know, I know). During the broadcast, I kept hearing what sounded like an owl hoot through my car speakers. About an hour outside of Kansas City, I learned that in that area it is a signal that the area is under a tornado watch and/or warning.
So, if you are driving through that portion of the Midwest in the summer and hear what sounds like an owl hooting every five minutes, be sure to check the weather warnings. It’s really not a sign that you need to pull over and take a nap.
Where to find it (Map)
Website: Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center
Missouri River Basin Lewis & Clark Center
100 Valmont Drive
Nebraska City, NE 68410