Among even Midwest cities, Omaha is a bit of an underdog. While it’s about the same population as cities like Kansas City and Minneapolis, people are far more likely to visit those cities for barbeque, hockey, live music, and other things they are known for. But hey, what about Omaha?!
I’ve been fortunate to spend some time in Omaha and stargazing elsewhere in Nebraska too – the Nebraska Star Party is a great time if you’re up for a long drive to a very rural part of the country! In any case, it is my goal to provide stargazing resources for all of the big city dwellers across the country, including cities where it’s a bit tougher – and unfortunately, Omaha fits that bill.
Like may Midwestern cities, the stargazing isn’t the best in Omaha, but it’s still a place you can see the brightest stars, and it’s a great base from which to strike out into rural parts of the Great Plains for excellent stargazing opportunities.
Whether you call Omaha home or are visiting during a time when you want to see the stars or another astronomical phenomena is occurring, this list below will cover what you need to know, where to go, and other important tips too.
In this post, I promote traveling to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Umoⁿhoⁿ (Omaha) and Očhéthi Šakówiŋ peoples, among others. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
The Best Spots for Stargazing in Omaha
We stargazers know how hard it can be to find decent spots in the city we live in. The pesky lights from the streets, buildings, and houses outshine our stars to the point where we barely notice their existence. But not everything is lost; there’s always a spot or two where we can satisfy our astronomy fix. Here are two great spots to go stargazing in Omaha.
Mallory Kountze Planetarium
Omaha is home to the Mallory Kountze Planetarium, an impressive venue everyone should visit regardless of their interest in the universe. Okay, this one takes a bit of leeway – you can’t actaully see the stars here, but you can watch a show that teaches you about the wonders of the night sky. Sometimes, that’s the best we get in bigger cities.
Needless to say, hardcore astronomy nuts will have a blast. The planetarium has a theater where they project seasonal shows, like star patterns, mythology, and planets visible in the current sky. They also host live star talks and, best of all, stargazing sessions in the rooftop observatory.
Flanagan Lake is a great spot to go stargazing in Omaha. This man-made lake is surrounded by 475 acres of green space and nearly 100 acres of wetlands. Due to being a newish addition to the Northwest Omaha area, it has no trees or they’re still pretty small. This may not be so good under the blazing sun, but for us stargazers means no branches hindering the view of the sky. There’s tons of spots where you can set up your telescope, so feel free to explore the area.
Stargazing Spots Within One Hour of Omaha
The further you get from the city, the better views you get of the sky. That’s a truth all stargazers are familiar with. If you’re up for a bit of driving, there are great spots where you can soak up the night sky. Below you’ll find five great stargazing spots within one hour of Omaha.
Mahoney State Park
Mahoney State Park is a fantastic place when you need to escape the city’s hustle and bustle. It’s also one of the best Omaha stargazing places. In fact, the Omaha Astronomical Society and Prairie Astronomy Club often host star parties here. If you’re up for an adventure, come early to unwind and enjoy the beautiful weather and outdoor activities, and then get ready to enjoy the starry show above your head.
Zorinsky Lake Park
Nestled in the suburbs, Zorinsky Lake Park is a gorgeous place with a lot to offer: a lake, a good few miles of trails to hike, bike, and everything non-motorized in between. There’s no shortage of places to enjoy the stars. But, take my advice and get there early. You can catch amazing sunsets over the lake before the night comes.
Two Rivers State Recreation Area
Two Rivers State Recreation Area is a 622-acre located just 30 minutes from Omaha. Unlike other places, this property isn’t very crowded nor popular among Omahans unless they’re campers. The recreation area has stunning campgrounds and facilities, so if you’d like to combine your stargazing sesh with a few nights sleeping in the nature, this place is what you’re looking for.
Platte River State Park
Stargazing with kids? Platte River State Park is where you should go. The park has a huge playground, with multiple sections for bigger or little kids. There’s also a zip line and splash pad to cool down in the summer. As for stargazing, the area is pretty wooded, so you’ll have to search a bit for an open sky area. The park also has an observation tower above the treeline.
Glenn Cunningham Lake Park
The best thing about Glenn Cunningham Lake Park are the peaceful surroundings. Despite being 20 minutes away from Omaha, the park enjoys a solitude as if it were in the middle of nowhere. There’s no traffic noise and very few crowds. The park governs 1,050 acres of green space, where you’ll surely find a good spot to gaze into the night.
Stargazing Spots Within Two Hours of Omaha
Save the best for last, they say. In this section I’ve compiled a list of the stargazing spots within two hours of Omaha, which also are some of the best to enjoy a clear view of the night sky.
Indian Cave State Park
Indian Cave State Park is just gorgeous. The park not only boasts Nebraska’s one and only cave, but also some of the best night skies in the state. Thanks to the lack of urbanization in the surrounding area, the park is a great place to look at constellations and view meteor showers. It also has great hikes, beautiful scenery, lush greenery, and it’s only 1.5ish hours from the Omaha Metro area.
Pelican Point State Recreation Area
Located right next to the Missouri River, Pelican Point State Recreation Area is popular among fishers. But, we can add stargazers to the group of people who may find it an interesting place to visit. The recreation area only has 36 acres. However, the perk is that it has nothing but water and grassland around. No pesky lights, no noisy crowds.
Boswell Observatory in Crete is an absolute gem when it comes to Omaha stargazing spots not for its history and viewing conditions. This century-old observatory served as the first weather service headquarters in the state. Today, it no longer fulfills that purpose. But inside you’ll find the original 8-inch equatorial telescope and can actually view the night sky through it. There’s also a museum with interesting exhibits about meteorology and the facility’s history.
Branched Oak Observatory
If you’re looking for a more guided experience, Branched Oak Observatory is a great place to go stargazing in Omaha. The observatory hosts spectacular events guided by knowledgeable and engaging astronomy enthusiasts. They also have less conventional events to enjoy the cosmos’ beauty, like Yoga Under the Stars. As a heads up, Branched Oak Observatory is open once or twice a month for public viewings, so check their website for accurate information.
Hyde Memorial Observatory
Hyde Observatory has a great reputation among Omaha’s stargazers community. Located in Lincoln, the observatory offers cool experiences to the public on Saturday nights. They have the telescopes out and let them look through to enjoy the sky. There’s also many volunteers who explain the basics of astronomy and sights you’re enjoying in the telescope. Bear in mind that viewings are subject to weather conditions. If it’s drizzling, they won’t expose the telescopes, but they will still show a video or two and volunteers will answer many of your astronomy questions.
How Good is the Stargazing in Omaha?
As you’ve probably guessed based on the number of stargazing spots in Omaha compared to those further afield, the stargazing in the city isn’t great – especially compared to those even an hour outside the central part of the city.
Unfortunately, this is just a reality of several factors in most of the major cities in the Midwest: lots of urban sprawl, plenty of light pollution, higher humidity and dust in the air, and no large geologic formations (like mountains) to help block the light.
Best Times to Go Stargazing in Omaha
If you’re planning a trip to go stargazing in Omaha, you might wonder which months are better or worse for seeing the stars. Turns out, there are a few sweet spots in Omaha’s weather and climate that are the best times of year for night sky viewing.
First up, mid-April through May: during this window, the temperatures in Nebraska have started to warm up, but the humidity from the summer months hasn’t fully risen to make the atmosphere harder to see through. On the other side of the hot, humid summer, mid-September through October are another option – but it’s generally colder during this second time of year than the first.
Can You See the Milky Way in Omaha?
The short answer is, no, you can’t see the Milky Way in Omaha. However, you can absolutely see it in rural areas on clear nights.
If you have your heart set on seeing the Milky Way specifically, first it’s important to research what you’ll be able to see based on the time of year you’re heading out, and then, plan an overnight or weekend trip to one of the more distant stargazing destinations mentioned here so you’ll be far away from the city lights and can enjoy the entire experience.
Have any other questions about stargazing in Omaha and where to go? Let me know in the comments below.