The state’s highest waterfall, out-of-this-world rock formations, roaming bison and an annual fruitcake fling are just a handful of what awaits at Nebraska’s eight state parks and 58 state recreation areas. From river bluffs to rocky outcroppings, thousands of scenic acres have been preserved and enhanced with facilities for camping, fishing, hiking and enjoying the great outdoors. Don’t forget your camera.
- Eugene T. Mahoney State Park features breathtaking views of the Platte River Valley between Omaha and Lincoln. With a range of accommodations to suit campers and day-trippers, this park offers recreational options year-round. Feel the motion of the ocean in a zero-depth entry wave pool or slip down water slides Memorial Day through Labor Day. Ride a horse, play mini-golf or rent a paddleboat at the marina. (402) 944-2523.
2. Platte River State Park is a short jaunt downstream on the banks of the Platte near Louisville. Spend the night in a teepee, hike to the park’s waterfall or climb to the top of the 85-foot observation tower for a heavenly panoramic view. (402) 234-2217.
“Platte River State Park is a hidden gem with great hiking trails and observation towers, swimming pool, hobby center, head-to-butt horse rides and camping, too.” -Tim Miller, Medford, Oregon
3. Indian Cave State Park is nestled along the banks of Missouri River near Shubert. Follow an elevated boardwalk into a large sandstone cave to view prehistoric Native American petroglyphs. Enjoy stunning views of the park’s grand hardwood forest through 22 miles of scenic hiking and biking trails. (402) 883-2575.
4. Ponca State Park is situated atop scenic Missouri River bluffs a stone’s throw from South Dakota in the northeast corner of the state. This park is home to a 320-year-old oak tree, a range for throwing tomahawks and a winter fruitcake-flinging competition. (402) 755-2284.
5. Niobrara State Park commands the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri rivers on the state’s northern border. Try a bite of buffalo during one of their summer cookouts, learn about the native Ponca tribe and keep your eyes peeled for beavers, muskrats and minks along the river banks. (402) 857-3373.
6. Smith Falls State Park near Valentine is named for its 70-foot tall cascading waterfall – the state’s highest. The park’s Niobrara River access is a popular launching site for kayakers, canoers and tubers looking to enjoy the National Scenic River. (402) 376-1306.
7. Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area preserves 531 acres of rocky bluffs 10 miles south of Gering. With an elevation upwards of 5,000 feet, this area boasts bobcats, bighorn sheep and towering evergreens. Hike, mountain bike, camp or kick back and take in the crow’s-nest view of the North Platte River Valley. (308) 436-3777.
8. Chadron State Park offers gorgeous views of the majestic Pine Ridge canyons and peaks 9 miles south of Chadron. Located adjacent to the Nebraska National Forest, the state’s oldest park features more than 100 miles of trails for hikers and mountain bikers. (308) 432-6167.