Nebraska has beautiful state parks and recreational areas. Both campers and day-use customers alike choose Nebraska’s State Parks for the experiences that the parks promote and the benefits that they have to offer.
Nebraska's state parks feature rolling hills, rivers, forests, lakes, and historical areas. The state parks in Nebraska are family friendly - many parks have playgrounds and picnic areas, as well as developed and electric campsites. Some of the activities you can enjoy in the parks include: biking, hiking, boating, camping, swimming, fishing, horseback riding, family fun, and relaxation! Use this guide to plan your next adventure in your own backyard!
Arbor Lodge State Historical ParkToday's 52-room neocolonial house began in 1855 for Julius Sterling Morton, originator of Arbor Day and Secretary of Agriculture in the 1890s under President Grover Cleveland. The house was originally a modest 4-room frame structure on 160 acres (0.65 km2). It was extended several times, most recently in 1903, and in later years served as the summer home for his son Joy Morton, founder of Morton Salt Company. The mansion features Victorian and Empire furnishings, many of which were owned by the Mortons. Its sun parlor contains a fine Tiffany skylight with grape wreath design.
The mansion currently functions as a museum and contains many items related to the early history of Nebraska, Otoe County, and Nebraska City (which was founded in 1854). A nearby outbuilding contains early carriages, steam driven vehicles, fire wagons, and gasoline driven vehicles.
Trees were a central interest of J. Sterling Morton. He imported trees from all over the world in order to test their suitability to create windbreaks and otherwise break up the monotony of the great plains. The house is surrounded by 270 varieties of trees and shrubs, including gardens, apple orchards, and acres of oaks, maples, chestnuts, and pines, including at least 10 state-champion trees. Specimen trees are typically labeled with engraved bronze plates. Over the years, many of Arbor Lodge's apple orchards were demolished, but in the 1990s their restoration began with plantings of Winesaps, Golden Delicious, Red Delicious, Jonathans, and Jonadels.
Ash Hollow State Historical ParkThe park comprises two attractions, located 2.5 mi (4.0 km) from each other: Ash Hollow Cave and Windlass Hill.
Ash Hollow Cave
A spring in the vicinity of Ash Hollow Cave made it an attractive site for human habitation. At least four distinct cultures spanning over 1,500 years have been revealed in archaeological explorations of Ash Hollow Cave. These include the Apache from A.D. 1675-1725; the Central Plains Tradition from A.D. 900-1450; the Woodland Tradition from A.D. 0-1100; and the Late Archaic Tradition from 1000 B.C.-A.D. 500. The cave was apparently used as a base camp for hunting and food collecting.
The site became a Nebraska state park in 1962. Ash Hollow Cave was named a National Historic Landmark in 1966, and the surrounding area was named the Ash Hollow Historic District in 1975. In 1978, a visitor center was built overlooking the canyon.
Windlass Hill is located along the Oregon-California Trail. The hill marked the entrance from the high table lands to the south into the Ash Hollow area and the North Platte River valley. Wagon ruts are visible on the hill.
Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical ParkThe Ashfall Fossil Beds of Antelope County in northeastern Nebraska are among the rare preservation sites called lagerstätten, which preserve ecological "snapshots" from a moment in time, due to extraordinary local conditions that have preserved a range of fossilized organisms undisturbed.
The Ashfall Fossil Beds are especially famous for fossils of mammals from the middle Miocene geologic epoch. The Ashfall Fossil Beds are stratigraphically part of the Serravallian-age Ogallala Group.
Bowring Ranch State Historical ParkThe park was originally a ranch owned by Arthur and Eva Bowring (the first female United States Senator from Nebraska). Senator Bowring willed her ranch to the state in memory of her husband. The ranch continues to be operated as a working Hereford cattle ranch. The ranch house and outbuildings have been preserved, and a large visitor center documenting the Bowrings' lives is on the site.
Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical ParkBuffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park, also known as Scout's Rest Ranch, is a living history park located west of North Platte, Nebraska.
The property includes a home owned by Buffalo Bill, as well as many other historical exhibits.
It includes a Second Empire architecture building built in 1886. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978.
Chadron State ParkCreated in 1921, the park is Nebraska's oldest state park. At 974 acres (3.94 km2), the park contains a modern campground and 16 cabins. Amenities include the regulation sized pool, horseback riding, archery, frisbee, golf, hiking, tennis, sand volleyball and fishing. Chadron Creek runs through the park.
The park also has rental paddleboats and several hiking trails. Cabins are small with showers and toilet facilities, and a small kitchen with stove and refrigerator and screen porches. The park is fairly heavily wooded with ponderosa pine throughout and cottonwood trees near the creek and lagoon.
Champion Mill State Historical ParkChampion Mill is a historical park featuring the only remaining water-powered mill in the state of Nebraska. The mill was purchased by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commision and turned into a state historical park in 1969.
Eugene T. Mahoney State ParkMahoney State Park, as it is typically referred to, was named after Eugene T. Mahoney, a former policeman, state senator, and director of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Mahoney was seen as a very powerful man in politics, state government, and throughout the business community. When he took over the Game and Parks Commission, the Nebraska state parks began to grow and greatly improve. He was able to gather contributions to improve facilities statewide, particularly for the park that was to be later named after him.
There are a number of activities and features at the park. They include horseback trail rides, fishing, a marina with paddleboat rental, miniature golf and a driving range. Athletic facilities include an aquatic center, tennis and basketball courts, and softball fields. There are also extensive picnicking areas and hiking trails, as well as a 70-foot (21 m) observation tower overlooking the Platte River Valley. There are also winter activities, including cross country skiing, sledding and toboggan runs, ice fishing, and an ice skating rink. An activity center, indoor playground and activity simulators are open year-round. The Kountze Theater is a cultural highlight of the park.
The Eugene T. Mahoney State Park features new and renovated cabins with housekeeping that are available year round. They are located in secluded, wooded areas of the park. The Peter Kiewit Lodge provides 40 guest rooms and a restaurant.
Fort Atkinson State Historical ParkFort Atkinson was the first United States Army post to be established west of the Missouri River in the United States. Located just east of present-day Fort Calhoun, Nebraska, the fort was erected in 1819 and abandoned in 1827.
The post, which included soldiers, traders, trappers, and other frontier people, has been credited by the Nebraska State Legislature as the first town in Nebraska. Founded before almost 30 years before the creation of the Nebraska Territory, Fort Atkinson had more than 1,000 residents. It included a brickyard, lime kiln, stone quarry, grist mill, saw mill, and cooper shop.
Living history demonstrations take place on the first weekend of each month from May to October. In addition to people demonstrating craft work and the Indian agent, military re-enactors interpret the activities of the Sixth Regiment of United States Infantry and First Regiment of United States Riflemen.
Fort Hartsuff State Historical ParkFort Hartsuff is a restored fort of the late 1800s comprised of nine major buildings. The visitors center contains brochures and displays, as well as a gift shop.
Fort Kearny State Historical ParkFort Kearny was a historic outpost of the United States Army founded in 1848 in the western U.S. during the middle and late 19th century. The outpost was located along the Oregon Trail near present-day Kearney, Nebraska, which took its name from the fort (with a modification of spelling).
In cooperation with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, which operates the current State Historic Park, the Nebraska State Historical Society conducts ongoing archaeological investigations of the grounds. These digs have uncovered and marked the foundations of all major building on the site including headquarters, officers and troops quarters, parade grounds, storage and livestock stockade. A small theatre that shows a 20 minute history of the fort, a museum with collected artifacts and a reconstructed blacksmith shop with period cannons, caissons, tack and other equipment is behind the museum. There is space on the park for RV and trailer parking with some facilities. The park is only open during the summer months. Reenactors fire the authentic cannon every year on 4 July weekend ceremonies.
In June 2010, Governor Dave Heineman signed a Proclamation re-establishing the 2nd Battalion, Nebraska Veteran Cavalry, the unit will be at the Fort on three major holidays, memorial day weekend, 4 July weekend, and Labor day weekend. This historical cavalry unit served at the fort during the Indian Wars, the unit is historically correct in every possible aspect; bugle calls used by the cavalry can be heard at differing times to announce the activities of the troop at the fort.
Fort Robinson State ParkIn 1955, the US Army excessed a portion of the fort, which was acquired by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission to be used as Fort Robinson State Park. The park encompasses 22,000 acres. The following year, the Nebraska State Historical Society opened the Fort Robinson Museum at the fort.
The Fort Robinson Museum is located in the 1905 post headquarters building. Exhibits focus on the fort's history, including its role guarding the Red Cloud Agency from 1874 to 1877, up through the housing of World War II German POWs from 1943 to 1946.
There are many historic buildings and sites for viewing, including the 1904 blacksmith shop, the 1908 veterinary hospital, the 1887 officers' quarters, the 1875 guardhouse and adjutant's office, and the post cemetery. There is also a library with materials about Fort Robinson and military and western history available for research.
Indian Cave State ParkThe park covers 3,000 acres (12 km2) along the Missouri River. Its features include Indian Cave and the carvings within it, the origins of which are undetermined. The park offers horseback riding, hiking trails, camping and picnic facilities, fishing areas and winter skiing. The park contains part of the former Nemaha Half-Breed Reservation.
Niobrara State ParkA variety of animals, most notably the white-tailed deer, roam about the park. At night, one can hear the call of the whippoorwill as it mingles around the howl of the coyote.
There is an area set aside for RV camping and RV hookups and several cabins that overlook the river. Modern facilities have been added to include a swimming pool and an interpretive center. Seven miles (11 km) of roads and fourteen miles (21 km) of hiking trails.
Platte River State ParkThe park has a swimming pool, tennis courts, and archery range as well as 10 miles (16 km) of hiking trails. Horses can be rented and trail rides are provided on a guided basis. A small (1 acre/.40 ha) lake provides fishing opportunities and visitors can also rent paddleboats; however, private boats are not permitted on the lake. A small restaurant is open during the summer and there is also a rentable year round facility which can accommodate up to 150 people. The park has a visitor center with several exhibits and campfire programs are provided at an outdoor amphitheater during the summer. An arts and crafts center has experts that teach basic leatherwork and ceramics. 135 picnic tables and over 80 grills are scattered throughout the park.
Though the park does not allow RV or tent camping, there are 21 year round full service cabins available for rent. Another 31 camper cabins are available during the warmer months at lower cost as they provide only a refrigerator and bathrooms and showers are shared at several centralized outer structures. Tepees with wooden floors are also available for rent during the warmer months.
Ponca State ParkPonca State Park, located two miles (3 km) north of Ponca in northeastern Nebraska, is situated on 892 acres (3.61 km2) among the high bluffs and forested steep hills along the banks of the Missouri River. The park is adjacent to the Missouri National Recreational River. Originally created in 1934 from 200 acres (0.81 km2) of donated land, Ponca State Park and the town of Ponca itself are named after the Ponca tribe, who inhabited the area before European settlement, and whose chief, Standing Bear, won a celebrated court battle to have the Indian declared a "person" under U.S. law.
The park is noted for its biodiversity. Eastern woodland flowers such as bloodroot, Canada Violet, phlox and sweet cicely can be found growing among prairie plants, including yucca, clover, and larkspur. The wild plum and gooseberry thickets were also noted by the Lewis and Clark Expedition, who passed these bluffs with their Corps of Discovery in the summer of 1804. Forested ravines and hillsides contain bur oak, basswood, elm, black walnut and hackberry. White-tailed deer and wild turkey are commonly seen. Coyotes, red and gray foxes, raccoons and bobcats might also be spotted. This area is also known for the concentrations of waterfowl that congregate during the spring and fall migrations. The barred owl is a vocal resident, and wintering bald eagles are often sighted. Many miles of trails wind through the deep ravines and over the windswept hilltop ridges of the park.
Rock Creek Station State Historical ParkRock Creek Station was established in 1857 along the Oregon Trail and California Trail, along the west bank of Rock Creek. The station was a supply center and campground for emigrants. In 1859, the property was purchased by David McCanles, who added another station on the east bank and built a toll bridge across Rock Creek. Two years later, he leased or sold the property to the Russell, Waddell, and Majors firm (which operated the Pony Express).
In July 1861, David McCanles, who had a reputation as being a local bully, stopped by Rock Creek Station to inquire about the status of his payments. An argument ensued, and McCanles was shot and killed by a young James Butler Hickok, who later became known as Wild Bill Hickok.
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission began development of the area as a state historical park and state recreation area in 1980. Deep trail ruts can be seen on the 390-acre (1.6 km2) park complex. Many of the station's buildings have been reconstructed, other attractions include a visitor center with exhibits about pioneers along the Oregon trail and Wild Bill Hickok, hiking trails, and a campground.
Smith Falls State ParkSmith Falls, at 63 feet (19 m), is the highest waterfall in the state of Nebraska. Located 18 miles (29 km) east of Valentine, the falls are part of Smith Falls State Park and are adjacent to the Niobrara National Scenic River. The state park was established by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in 1992; in 1996, a footbridge was built across the Niobrara River to provide more convenient public access.
The falls are on a short spring-fed stream that plunges into a small canyon on the south side of the Niobrara. As the canyon is narrow and sheltered from direct sunlight, it is much cooler than the surrounding landscape; this allows a unique set of flora to grow that is atypical for the Sand Hills of Nebraska. The canyon is home to Paper Birch and an endemic hybrid grove of quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and bigtooth aspen (P. grandidentata).