Adventures on Water
by Molly Nance
While Lincoln is known for its wonderful parks and bike paths, its lakes are hidden gems for outdoor recreation.
Lincoln has several of these water playgrounds in and around the city. The largest public lake in town is Holmes Lake, centered between 56th and 70th Streets and Normal Boulevard and Pioneers Boulevard. It’s a beautiful setting for a 2.5 mile walk around the lake or for tossing a Frisbee to your friend in the wide, grass-covered meadows. You’ll see people of all ages fishing along the shore, enjoying a picnic under the trees or paddling their kayaks into the lake’s nooks and crannies to see a variety birds, plants and aquatic wildlife. There’s also a covered picnic shelter for rent, a fully equipped playground and softball fields. For our furry friends, there is a dog park to the east of the lake, across 70th Street, with separate areas for large and small dogs. There’s also a public championship 18-hole golf course with clubhouse. And when the sun sets, you can view the night sky through the telescopes of Hyde Observatory on the south side of Holmes Lake. The observatory offers special programs throughout the year, focusing on a variety of celestial bodies. Holmes Lake has many activity options, but my personal favorite is doing nothing—just finding a nice bench to sit on and watch the light sparkle off the waves.
Oak Lake, located near I-80 and Cornhusker Highway, is host of the City of Lincoln’s annual Uncle Sam Jam on July 3, celebrating Independence Day with family activities and fireworks. But, the lake is open to the public all year long for fishing, walks, bird watching, non-motorized boating/kayaking, picnics, grilling and playground fun. In winter, Oak Lake is a popular spot for ice skating.
There are other wonderful lakes just a short drive from the city, the largest of which is Branched Oak Lake State Recreation Area, about 15 minutes northwest of Lincoln, near Raymond. Branched Oak Lake has public swimming beaches, lots of camping options for both RVs and tents, trails for cyclists, horses and walkers, a target shooting range, a marina with boat rental and the Boat House Bar and Grill. Branched Oak Lake is popular all year round, whether you want to take photos of spring wildflowers, enjoy a cool swim and boat ride in the summer, roast hotdogs over an open fire in the fall, or ride your fatbike across the ice in the winter. As an open water swimmer, I often meet other swimmers at Branched Oak Lake on Saturday or Sunday mornings throughout the non-frozen months of the year. The lake hosts sailing regattas, kayak tours, swimming races and fishing tournaments, among other events. The Boat House Bar and Grill has a delicious variety of Nebraska menu favorites, like huge burgers, chicken fried steak and taco salads. On Sunday evenings in the summer, you can enjoy free live music on the Boat House patio.
Pawnee Lake is a short drive south of Branched Oak Lake, and while it’s a bit smaller, it’s still big on activities. There’s a beautiful 8-mile hike around the lake, lots of fishing spots, tent and RV camping sites, horse trails and on some early mornings, you might catch the UNL Rowing Club paddling their way across the lake. Both Branched Oak Lake and Pawnee Lake have large picnic shelters to rent for family reunions or other get togethers.
A short drive south of Lincoln, you can enjoy the natural beauty of Wagon Train, Stagecoach or Bluestem Lakes. All of these lakes offer hiking/biking trails, swimming, camping, picnicking, fishing and boating (with a 5 mph speed limit).
I encourage you to get out and enjoy Lincoln’s waterways! Whether you’re in the water or on the shore, Lincoln’s lakes have the fun—or peace and tranquility—you are looking for.