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Top Summer Activities In Council Bluffs For Visitors

Council Bluffs is a growing city situated on the eastern bank of the Missouri River. With a rich history, stunning natural scenery, and a vibrant community, Council Bluffs is a fun visit in the heartland of America. And what better time to visit than in the summer? With its warm weather and numerous outdoor activities and events, Council Bluffs truly shines during the summer months. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at some of the top things to do in Council Bluffs in the summer, from hiking and biking to visiting museums and trying local food and drinks.

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Kids lounge at Pirate Cove Water Park in Council Bluffs

There is no shortage of fun things to do in Council Bluffs during the summer months. For outdoor enthusiasts, there are numerous parks and trails to explore, including the scenic Lake Manawa State Park and the extensive Wabash Trace Nature Trail. Families with children will find plenty of entertainment options in Council Bluffs, such as Pirate Cove Water Park and Dream Playground. Culture lovers can check out the Union Pacific Railroad Museum. With so much to see and do, Council Bluffs is the perfect summer destination for anyone looking to experience the beauty and excitement of the heartland.

Overview of Council Bluffs 

Council Bluffs is situated on the banks of the Missouri River, just across from Omaha, Nebraska. The city has a rich history that dates back to the mid-19th century when it served as a major jumping-off point for pioneers heading westward on the Oregon Trail. Today, Council Bluffs is a bustling community that offers visitors a wide range of attractions and activities.

One of the top attractions in Council Bluffs is the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, which features exhibits on the history of the Union Pacific Railroad and its role in the development of the American West. Visitors can learn about the construction of the transcontinental railroad, see vintage locomotives and rolling stock, and explore interactive exhibits. The Bregant Home and Squirrel Cage Jail are located nearby.

A cave inside the Union Pacific Railroad Museum in downtown Council Bluffs

For those interested in natural history, the Hitchcock Nature Center is a beautiful park located just outside of Council Bluffs that features hiking trails, picnic areas, and breathtaking views of the Missouri River Valley. Visitors can also explore the park’s interactive exhibits and attend educational programs and events.

Finally, no visit to Council Bluffs would be complete without a visit to a casino. Harrah’s Casino and Hotel features over 500 slot machines, table games, and a luxurious hotel with spa and dining options. It has a popular outdoor concert venue with national touring acts performing all summer long. Nearby casinos include Ameristar Casino and Horseshoe Casino.

Outdoor activities for summer fun

If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, Council Bluffs has plenty of activities to keep you busy during the summer months. One of the top outdoor activities in the area is biking on the Wabash Trace Trail, a 63-mile rail-trail that winds through the scenic countryside of southwest Iowa. The trail is open to bikers and walkers/runners. There are numerous trailheads and access points along the route, making it easy to customize your ride to your skill level and interests.

A young bicyclist on Wabash Trace Nature Trail in late summer

For those who prefer hiking, Council Bluffs has several parks and nature reserves that offer miles of scenic trails to explore. Lake Manawa State Park is one of the most popular parks in the area, offering over 1,500 acres of outdoor recreation opportunities, including hiking, boating, fishing, and swimming.

The park features several trails that wind through the woods and along the lake’s shoreline, offering stunning views of the water and surrounding countryside. One of the park’s highlights, without a doubt, is Dream Playground.

Dream Playground at Lake Manawa State Park

And as mentioned before, Hitchcock Nature Center is another excellent hiking destination with trails taking hikers through the Loess Hills. An excellent crushed limestone bike trail that starts from Council Bluffs is the Wabash Trace Nature Trail.

If you’re looking for a place to cool off on a hot summer day, Council Bluffs has several public swimming pools and water parks. Pirate Cove Water Park is a family-friendly attraction that features water slides. 

Belles' Play Garden located at Hanafan River's Edge Park in Council Bluffs

Tom Hanafan River’s Edge Park is one of the city’s newest parks along the riverfront near the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, which connects Council Bluffs to Omaha. It’s a busy bridge for walkers and bikers, and has a popular photo opportunity of the state line located at the center of the bridge. The park also has an adorable playground and spray ground for young kids.

Family-friendly activities this summer in Council Bluffs

Council Bluffs is a great weekend getaway for families looking for things to do during the summer months. The city has several parks that offer plenty of outdoor recreation opportunities, including playgrounds, picnic areas, and hiking trails. One located in the heart of downtown Council Bluffs is Bayliss Park, which features a beautiful fountain with a small sprayground, a bandstand, and plenty of green space for playing.

The fountain at Bayliss Park in downtown Council Bluffs, Iowa

If you’ve got a young train fan in the household, don’t miss the Union Pacific Railroad Museum. It’s free, and has several interactive stations that kids will enjoy (not to mention a model train). For even more trains, visit the RailsWest Railroad Museum on the grounds of a former Chicago Rock Island and Pacific Railroad depot. Kids will like the operating model train display inside, as well as the train yard outdoors with an old locomotive, mail car, and caboose. 

Interior of Pirate Putt, a miniature golf attraction in Council Bluffs, Iowa

For the days you want to stay indoors, there are a couple good choices for families. Pirate Putt is an indoor miniature golf course featuring two 18-hole courses surrounded by all-things-pirate. The Hub is an indoor trampoline park and ninja warrior course, while Thunderbowl is a popular bowling alley.

Summer events and festivals 

Council Bluffs is known for its lively community events, and the summer months are no exception. From music festivals to county fairs, there’s always something happening in this vibrant city. One of the most popular events, Celebrate CB, kicks off in early to mid-May. The community-wide celebration features a multi-day carnival and parade, as well as a number of events at local businesses.

Ditmars Orchard & Vineyard holds events throughout the summer, including concerts, touch-a-truck events for kids, and comedy nights. One of their most popular annual events is a balloon glow.

Another popular event is the WestFair, which takes place in late July at the fairgrounds just outside of town. This event features livestock exhibits, carnival rides, live entertainment, and plenty of fair food. It’s a great way to experience the county fair atmosphere.

Harrah’s Council Bluffs, one of three casinos in the city, has an outdoor concert venue that hosts national touring acts all summer long. Stir Concert Cove has some reserved seating, but it’s mostly general admission where the audience brings their own seating. Occasionally shows are all-ages, but from my experience, it is a 21+ crowd.

The City of Council Bluffs holds free concerts and outdoor movies in the summer at various parks. There’s also a farmer’s market on Thursdays that typically has free yoga or other activities. The city also puts on large one-day events like SummerFest at River’s Edge.

Where to stay near Council Bluffs

When planning a trip to Council Bluffs in the summer, it’s important to consider where you’ll stay during your visit. Fortunately, there are plenty of great options to choose from, whether you prefer a hotel, vacation rental, or camping experience.

For those looking for a traditional hotel stay, there are several great options in Council Bluffs. The Hilton Garden Inn (next to Horseshoe Casino) and the Holiday Inn Express are both popular choices, offering comfortable rooms, modern amenities, and easy access to local attractions. Harrah’s and Ameristar casinos also have comfortable hotels connected to them or nearby.

The exterior of Harrah's Casino Council Bluffs

For those who prefer a more homey experience, vacation rentals are a great option. Airbnb has several listings in Council Bluffs, ranging from cozy apartments to spacious homes. These rentals offer all the comforts of home, with the added benefit of being able to explore the city like a local. For something more unique, Honey Creek Creamery has a rental near its goat farm.

For those who prefer to be closer to nature, there are several great camping locations near Council Bluffs. The Hitchcock Nature Center, located just a short drive from the city, offers campsites and cabins in the Loess Hills. Another option is Lake Manawa State Park, which offers camping, boating, fishing, and hiking opportunities.

More great things to do in Council Bluffs

Read these Council Bluffs features for more ideas on what to do in the area:

Council Bluffs, Iowa is a hidden gem that offers plenty of fun activities and attractions for visitors during the summer. From outdoor adventures to family-friendly activities, annual festivals and events, there is something for everyone to enjoy in this vibrant city. Whether you’re a local looking to explore your own backyard or a visitor, Council Bluffs is a destination that promises to deliver an unforgettable experience. We hope this guide has helped you plan your summer itinerary in Council Bluffs and that you have a fantastic time exploring all that this city has to offer.

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