Family activities and fall color star in the hometown of Arbor Day founder J. Sterling Morton (population: 7,200). The best time to visit is during the fall apple harvest and specifically, if you don't mind crowds, during the annual Applejack Festival in September.
It's (mostly) all about the trees in Nebraska City, also known as the Home of Arbor Day. Visitors who appreciate the simple beauty of historic bur oaks and apple orchards will find a peaceful retreat among the Arbor Day Foundation's acreage and attractions. The city also features a small but vibrant downtown with antiques stores and boutiques.
At Arbor Day Farm, historic barns, a cafe, a market and the family-friendly Tree Adventure (with a soaring tree house) offer plenty to explore. In the fall, visitors can pick and buy bags of apples and enjoy a 20-acre corn maze. In any season, be sure to get a slice of the deep-dish apple pie with your lunch at Pie Garden Cafe.
For the afternoon, head to nearby Arbor Lodge State Historical Park and Arboretum for a tour of the 52-room mansion that once belonged to Arbor Day founder J. Sterling Morton. The house had just four rooms when it was built in 1855, but it was expanded and later finished by Morton's son Joy, founder of the Morton Salt Company. The interior features Victorian- and Empire-style furnishings and a Tiffany glass skylight. The 72-acre estate includes a formal rose garden. Living-history demonstrations are held in September and October.
Spend the night at Lied Lodge and Conference Center. The Frank Lloyd Wright-style hotel, with a stunning lobby, offers an on-site arboretum and Olympic-size swimming pool. Known for its buffets, the Timber Dining Room is the town's best restaurant; have dinner there.
Visit Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard, best known for apple picking and cider doughnuts. The store includes a wine bar for tasting the private label selections and an array of ciders, pies, salsas and other food products.
You'll find a great chicken salad sandwich for lunch at The Pantry of Chris' Cuisine. This small diner-style restaurant is in the middle of the Nebraska City's Central Avenue, a perfect location to fuel up for antique and boutique shopping at local stores, such as The Keeping Room's two floors of home decor and gift items.
If you're traveling with kids, make a short stop at the Nebraska City Museum of Firefighting and Education Center, where children can play dress up on a 1966 American LaFrance engine.
To round out your day, head to the tiny village of Brownville (population: 145) about 30 miles southeast of Nebraska City, where you can visit Whiskey Run Creek Vineyard and Winery or learn about Missouri River history on a dinner cruise aboard the Spirit of Brownville Cruise Boat (summer weekends only).
For more information: Nebraska City Tourism and Commerce (800) 514-9113; nebraskacity.com