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14 Amazing Recreational Lakes and Reservoirs near Omaha, NE

The Omaha area has a wide selection of lakes and reservoirs suitable for fishing and kayaking. Some lakes also allow camping and waterskiing, and most have hiking and biking trails.
ItIsWild.com Best Lakes near Omaha NE

The choice of lakes near Omaha is huge. There are at least a dozen of options within a 30-minute drive, but not all are equally versatile.

One lake that stands out is Carter Lake, the nearest to downtown it allows swimming and watersports like waterskiing and jet skiing, something that few lakes permit.

Another universal option is Lake Manawa. It covers every outdoor activity imaginable, from swimming to wakeboarding and windsurfing.

Many other options on the list are quiet reservoirs, perfect for casting a line, kayaking, or just unwinding in nature.

The choice is excellent here. Check out what Omaha has to offer!

Lakes near Omaha:

  1. Carter Lake
  2. Glenn Cunningham Lake
  3. Standing Bear Lake
  4. Lake Manawa
  5. Walnut Creek Lake
  6. Wehrspann Lake
  7. Zorinsky Lake
  8. Flanagan Lake
  9. Lawrence Youngman Lake
  10. Big Lake
  11. Shadow Lake
  12. Prairie Queen Lake
  13. Prairie View Lake
  14. Pony Creek Lake
Lakes near Omaha Nebraska Comparison Table
Comparison Table

1. Carter Lake

omaha carter lake
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Carter Lake
  • Distance from Omaha: 4 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Biking, Waterskiing, Wakeboarding, Tubing 

Carter Lake is a few miles north of downtown Omaha, near Eppley Airfield. This 315-acre oxbow lake offers an excellent example of how a shifting river on the boundary between two political units can create a confusing situation. 

Prior to the summer of 1877, Carter Lake was part of the Missouri River. A flood that year diverted the river to the east, effectively creating an exclave, the only slice of Iowa that is officially on the west side of the Missouri River with no direct land connection to the rest of the state. 

The best public access to this shallow lake is on its north side, at Carter Lake Park in Omaha. Visitors enjoy boating, swimming, fishing, and water and jet skiing on the lake. 

Trails and recreation fields are also found in this park. Those who fish here will see largemouth bass, channel catfish, bluegill, and walleye. 

The Nebraska state record for black buffalo was caught here in 1982, a fish that weighed 41 lbs.

2. Glenn Cunningham Lake

  • Website: Glenn Cunningham Lake
  • Distance from Omaha: 11 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Camping, Picnics, Hiking, Biking, Sailing, Windsurfing 

Located eleven miles northwest of downtown, Glenn Cunningham Lake was designed by the US Army Corps of Engineers for flood control. Named for a former Omaha mayor, this 390-acre reservoir opened after crews impounded a section of Little Papillon Creek in 1977. 

This north-central Omaha reservoir is surrounded by the 1,050-acre Lake Cunningham Recreation Area. This park offers opportunities to hike, bike, fish, camp, boat, and ride horseback. 

The lake offers a perfect recreational retreat in the urban area. Fishing is a top reason that people bring their canoes, kayaks, and boats to Lake Cunningham. 

Whether on a vessel or fishing from the bank, anglers will find catfish, walleye, sunfish, bass, and northern pike in this reservoir.

3. Standing Bear Lake

Standing Bear Lake
Source: flickr/CC BY-ND 2.0
  • Website: Standing Bear Lake
  • Distance from Omaha: 14 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Biking 

Approximately 14 miles west of downtown, Standing Bear Lake is a 685-acre impoundment on Papillion Creek designed for flood control. 

Managed by the City of Omaha, land around the reservoir was opened to the public in 1977 for recreation, with the state’s Game and Parks Commission adding trout for fishing. 

One of the city’s finest recreation trails spans much of the lake, with a floating boardwalk covering some of the trail’s path. 

Playground and picnic areas, along with space designated for a remote control flying field, are available. The year-round park also offers ice skating and other winter outdoor activities when snow and ice appear. 

The park offers many locations for fishing from a boat or along the embankment. Those who cast lines will find bass, rainbow trout, crappie, bluegill, catfish, saugeye, and drum. 

4. Lake Manawa

Lake Manawa
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Lake Manawa
  • Distance from Omaha: 8 miles (15 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Swimming, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Camping, Hiking, Biking, Wakeboarding, Waterskiing, Tubing, Sailing, Windsurfing, Kitesurfing

Southeast of Omaha and along the southwest portion of Council Bluffs, Lake Manawa sits on approximately 785 acres immediately north of the Missouri River and east of Indian Creek. 

Similar to Carter Lake, flooding in 1881 that diverted the Missouri River led to the creation of Lake Manawa as an oxbow lake, named “Manawa” in honor of a Native American phrase that implies a place has comfort or peace.

Surrounding much of this body of water, Lake Manawa State Park offers visitors a variety of activities on more than 1,500 acres. 

Hikers and bikers can enjoy a paved nature trail, along with other pathways throughout the park and some that connect with the trail system in Council Bluffs. 

The park’s Dream Playground – opened in 2018 – offers Iowa’s largest ADA-accessible playground. A seasonal campground is open from mid-April through mid-October. 

Many activities focus on the lake. Boat motors of all sizes are permitted, and the park has numerous boat ramps. A swimming beach welcomes summertime bathers. 

Year-round fishing for crappie, walleye, bass, bluegill, catfish, carp, and bullhead attracts anglers. 

Two Iowa record fish were caught in Lake Manawa: a 1.75 lb. yellow bass in 1991, and a 64.38 lb. bigmouth buffalo in 2007. 

5. Walnut Creek Lake

Walnut Creek Lake
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Walnut Creek Lake
  • Distance from Omaha: 17 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Camping, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Walnut Creek Lake is a drive of approximately 15 miles southwest of downtown Omaha. This 105-acre lake sits within the 450-acre Walnut Creek Lake and Recreation Area, a green space that includes picnic spaces, playground areas, camping sites, and recreation trails that also connect with others outside the park. 

A leash-free dog park and equestrian trails covering five miles are also available. Most of the park, however, remains a largely undeveloped native Nebraska prairie.

Those who visit Walnut Creek Lake to fish can cast a line from the shoreline, a handicapped-accessible fishing pier, the boat dock area, or while on watercraft. 

Anglers will find crappie, bass, catfish, sunfish, and bluegill. The fishing here is highly regarded by locals, who also appreciate efforts to preserve native prairie lands and other ecosystems.

6. Wehrspann Lake

Wehrspann Lake
Source: unsplash
  • Website: Wehrspann Lake
  • Distance from Omaha: 18 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Another notable body of water southwest of Omaha is Wehrspann Lake. The Papio-Missouri River Natural Resource District manages this 246-acre lake and the nearby Chalco Hills Recreation Area, a 940-acre day-use facility. 

With an arboretum, nature trail, miles of hiking and biking trails, places to watch birds, and abundant native prairie grass areas, this location offers year-round access to outdoor recreation. The six-mile loop trail around the lake is very popular. 

Facilities at this location emphasize conservation. The Natural Resources Center combines the offices of the Farm Services Agency and the National Resources Conservation Service. Having these entities working in close partnership, along with the US Army Corps of Engineers, assures important environmental oversight occurs effectively.

Visitors enjoy access to the 245-acre reservoir of Wehrspann Lake. Catch-and-release is supported by local anglers. Common fish found within Wehrspann Lake include largemouth bass, crappie, catfish, sunfish, and walleye.

7. Zorinsky Lake

Zorinsky Lake
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Zorinsky Lake
  • Distance from Omaha: 15 miles (20 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

During the early 1980s, leaders decided to impound a tributary of South Papillion Creek known as Boxelder Creek to create Zorinsky Lake. 

At the time they completed the dam in July 1984, this area, approximately 15 miles west of downtown Omaha had an agricultural character. 

Due to discharges upstream from the dam, a diversion pipeline to the Elkhorn River had to be built before the reservoir could reach its initial fill in 1992. 

Today, the reservoir and adjacent areas of Boxelder Creek have become urbanized. Residential developments surround much of the lake named for Edward Zorinsky, a US Senator from Nebraska who died in 1987. 

Parklands adjacent to the lake offer multiple sports fields, baseball diamonds, two playgrounds, a seven-mile loop trail, and an ADA-compliant fishing dock. 

A portion of native tall grass prairie, the Bauermeister Prairie, is also found in a section of the 255-acre Zorinsky Lake Park. This is one of the largest artificial reservoirs in Nebraska.

Fishing is excellent year-round. Ice fishing is common in Zorinsky Lake during chilly winter months. Species commonly harvested from this reservoir include channel catfish, black crappie, walleye, bluegill, and largemouth bass.

8. Flanagan Lake

  • Website: Flanagan Lake
  • Distance from Omaha: 17 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Flanagan Lake is an impoundment of the North Branch of Papillion Creek created for flood control, a drive of approximately 15 miles west-northwest from downtown. 

Designed with recreation in mind when the reservoir became available to the public in June 2018, the 220-acre Flanagan Lake is part of a 730-acre recreation zone that includes open green space, parks, and a 5.2-mile trail for biking and hiking. 

Since opening, this site on the city’s northwestern edge has attracted cyclists, walkers, and joggers. The day-use area has become a popular place to picnic. Canoeing and kayaking are favored diversions. 

Boats must operate at no-wake speeds in the reservoir. Those who cast a line here are likely to encounter northern pike, largemouth bass, crappie, and bluegill. 

9. Lawrence Youngman Lake

Lake sunset Omaha Nebraska
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Lawrence Youngman Lake
  • Distance from Omaha: 16 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Another newer reservoir in the Omaha area, Lawrence Youngman Lake sits alongside the Elkhorn Valley Campus of Metropolitan Community College, approximately 16 miles west of downtown. 

Only 60 acres in size, the reservoir has sections that reach upwards of 20 feet in depth. A boat ramp along the lake’s southeastern side allows for year-round access.

Many sections of Lawrence Youngman Lake have weed patches. The fishing dock near the launch offers an alternative location for those who wish to cast their lines for largemouth bass, channel catfish, bluegill, black crappie, and walleye. 

The lake’s creators designed diverse locations for fish to gather, including areas with submerged, fallen timber, as well as a rocky section, and other items placed in the basin for schools of fish to congregate. 

Ice fishing may be a challenge, but cold weather does not deter anglers wishing to try their luck at the lake. 

10. Big Lake

Lawn lake park iowa
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Big Lake
  • Distance from Omaha: 6 miles (10 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking 

Six miles northwest of Omaha and two miles north of the heart of Council Bluffs, Big Lake is a 191-acre body of water known as a destination to fish for rainbow trout. Stocking of this fish often happens in the fall and mid-winter months.

In addition to this body of water, Big Lake Park includes sports fields, a tennis court, two playgrounds, and picnic areas, along with access to the Iowa Riverfront Trail. 

A short distance to the west, on the other side of Interstate 29, Narrows River Park offers another picnic area with boat launch access to the Missouri River. 

Big Lake Park is a popular location for community fishing. Along with the rainbow trout, other fish found within the lake include bigmouth buffalo, green sunfish, common carp, largemouth bass, and bluegill. 

11. Shadow Lake

Man rowing an orange kayak
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Shadow Lake
  • Distance from Omaha: 15 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Kayaking, Canoeing, Picnics, Hiking, Biking 

When many residents of Omaha hear the words “Shadow Lake,” they do not think of the 34-acre body of water named Shadow Lake. Instead, they associate that name with commercial and residential developments that have that name, such as the Shadow Lake Towne Center shopping mall a short distance to the north of the lake. 

For those wishing to take a few steps away from the built environment, a pedestrian pathway offers walkers and joggers access to this Sarpy County body of water, along with a smaller neighbor to the southwest, Mirror Lake. 

Perimeter roads and residential developments cover much of the space, but the occasional angler who casts a line may catch bluegill, bass, and channel catfish. 

12. Prairie Queen Lake

  • Website: Prairie Queen Lake
  • Distance from Omaha: 16 miles (25 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

A drive 16 miles southwest of downtown, Prairie Queen Lake opened to the public in March 2015. 

With 135 surface acres of water and 335 acres of recreation space, the Prairie Queen Recreation Area, a short distance west of the Werner Park minor league baseball field, includes picnic facilities, four miles of paved trails, and places to enjoy nature.

A boat ramp offers access to Prairie Queen Lake, a reservoir designed for flood control purposes. The Papillion Creek Watershed Partnership and the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District oversee a reservoir created to improve water quality and reduce downstream creek flows during storms. 

Underwater shoals and other items designed to attract fish were included in the reservoir’s design. The state’s Game and Parks Commission has stocked the lake. Fish found here include largemouth bass, redear sunfish, bluegill, catfish, and black crappie. 

13. Prairie View Lake

a lake near omaha nebraska
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Prairie View Lake
  • Distance from Omaha: 21 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Picnics, Hiking, Biking

Prairie View Lake, 21 miles northwest of downtown, is another smaller reservoir created for flood control. The 84-acre Prairie View Recreation Area and a 42-acre reservoir were created as a public/private partnership, with land donated by a development company. 

Picnicking, trails, no-wake boating opportunities, and fishing access are offered at this day-use facility

Anglers can cast lines from their watercraft or enjoy shoreline locations – including on a small island connected by a walkway to the parking area – for bank fishing. Popular species found at this location include crappie, catfish, bass, and bluegill. 

14. Pony Creek Lake

Lake in Iowa with green trees
Source: dreamstime
  • Website: Pony Creek Lake
  • Distance from Omaha: 24 miles (30 min)
  • Activities: Fishing, Boating, Kayaking, Canoeing, Paddleboarding, Camping, Picnics, Hiking 

A little more than 20 miles southeast of Omaha and Council Bluffs, Pony Creek Lake is a great destination for those who wish to escape urban life and visit a quiet Iowa lake. 

This long-and-narrow lake stretches north to south in an area with a distinctive rural character. Deacon Road, a section that is largely dirt and gravel, follows the eastern shoreline of the lake. 

Pony Creek Park, a 53-acre recreation site managed by the Mills County Conservation Board, offers a playground, basic recreation facilities, a boat launch, and a small, seasonal campground at the southern edge of the lake. 

This nondescript park has a hidden history, one buried under the surface of a portion of the park that led to its designation as a National Historic Landmark in 2012. 

The Davis Oriole Earthlodge Site, thought to be used from about 900-1300 AD, was a domed house settlement built by Native Americans with sticks. Today, the remnants remain hidden within the earth. 

In addition to the launch at Pony Creek Park, anglers park their cars along sections of Deacon Road near the middle and upper parts of the lake, so they can fish from the bank. Species found in the lake include bass, bluegill, crappie, carp, and catfish. 

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