If you love hiking and mountain biking you’ll find the trails throughout Nebraska’s state parks and national forests just waiting for you. Combine that with a ton of developed and undeveloped camp sites, cabins, guest ranches and other interesting options, you can even stay in a sheep wagon, and you’ll find the perfect destination for your next adventure. So where should you go first? Here are 5 great areas that will get you out into nature and away from the daily grind.
The Nebraska National Forest at Halsey
With more than 90,000 acres of hand-planted pine forests nestled between two rivers the Nebraska National Forest at Halsey has plenty of room to hike, bike, and ride horses. Right in the middle of rolling Nebraska Sandhills you’ll find a wide variety of wildlife species and stunning night skies that are only available when you get out of the cities.
Three different developed campsites all offer different things to different visitors. The main campground at the entrance offers paved roads, electric sites, toilets, showers, picnic shelters and other amenities to go along with easy access to the Middle Loup River and Scott’s lookout tower, a favorite for amazing sunsets.
Up higher in the hills you’ll find Natick campground. A favorite of horseback riders due to the corrals and windmill-fed stock tank it’s also great for anyone looking to find a little more isolation, amazing night skies, and the sounds of owls as the day fades. Natick also gives you easy access to backcountry trails for hikers, bikers, and of course horseback riders.
At the very south edge of the Forest you’ll find whitetail campground. Set right against the wild Dismal River this is a favorite of OHV riders as there are designated trails right off of the campsites. This area is more difficult to reach and 4WD is recommended.
If you’re coming up to Halsey don’t miss the great biscuits and gravy every morning at the Sinclair Station 17 miles west of the Forest in Thedford. You’ll also find some of the best beef money can buy at Ewoldt’s Grocery in Thedford. If you’re coming for multiple days it’s probably worth looking into a tanking trip with Glidden Canoe Rental in Mullen, just one county over.
Scott’s Bluff Monument and the Wildcat Hills
Head to Scottsbluff County in the Nebraska Panhandle for some fun in a unique landscape. Scott’s Bluff National Monument located right outside Gering was in important landmark for travelers on the Oregon and Mormon trails. Now it will give you a quick but challenging hike to a view that will let you see not just the surrounding landscape, but all the way into Wyoming on a clear day. For photographers and history buffs the short ½ mile hikes are well worth it. You’ll also find a paved road to the top of the bluff if you’re in a hurry and just want to see the view.
For folks looking to get a little more off of the beaten path head to the Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area. With miles of trails through 1,094 acres of wilderness situated on a rocky escarpment that’s home to Ponderosa Pines and a wide variety of wildlife including Bighorn Sheep it’s a great place to go for a hike. You’ll also find old stone Civilian Conservation Corps picnic shelters including one at the top of the ridge with a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside. Don’t get too caught up in the views to forget where you’re walking as the wildcat hills are also home to small cacti that you’ll often find right off of the trails.
While there are only three small campsites in the Wildcat Hills you’ll find interesting lodging in Gering at the Barn Anew B&B. Located in a restored 100 year old barn you’ll find great rooms or for the more adventurous sheep herders wagons. If you’re hungry make a stop at the Union Bar in Gering for great burgers and a weekly testicle festival. If you’re searching for a nice glass of wine and small plates after a big day in the outdoors check out the Tangled Tumbleweed in Scottsbluff.
Chadron State Park and The Nebraska National Forest
Nebraska’s oldest state park is located just south of the city of Chadron, nestled among the distinctive buttes and canyons of Nebraska’s Pine Ridge. Hiking and biking trails for all skill levels lace the park and adjoining Forest Service lands. Between the trails in the park and on the adjacent Nebraska National Forest, a hiker or biker will find more than 100 miles of beautiful trails and old roads suitable for a variety of experience levels. If you’re travelling light Chadron State Park also has bike rentals available during the summer season.
Chadron State Park also has a wide variety of lodging options from developed and undeveloped campsites to historic cabins dotting the park. The adjoining Nebraska National Forest has a semi-developed campground for only $5 per night and also allows dispersed camping.
If you find yourself in need of gormet coffee or craft beer head into Chadron and stop in at the Bean Broker. For backcountry maps and local knowledge make sure you stop into the Forest Service office in Chadron.
Every state has their hidden gems and Potter’s Pasture is one of Nebraska’s. Located in the canyon lands just south of Brady on I-80 in Lincoln County Potter’s Pasture is a MTB area owned by a Nebraska lawyer who generously allows the public to ride and enjoy it. Trails are maintained by a dedicated group of local riders and cattle. That’s right folks, the cattle help maintain the trails and they are instrumental in creating some of the more technical lines through the area by creating steep-walled singletrack. With a mix of trails for all ability levels, you’ll find miles and miles that are perfect for exploring.
Primitive camping is allowed in Potter’s Pasture but please respect the area and leave no trace. For people looking for a good meal and a soft bed after a day spent on the trails simply head west the short distance to North Platte where you’ll find a ton of food and lodging options for any taste or budget.
Toadstool Geologic Park and Fort Robinson State Park
Up in the Northwest Corner of Nebraska you’ll find Nebraska’s largest state park and one of the state’s most unique landscapes.
Fort Robinson State Park covers 22,000 acres of the stunning Pine Ridge region and offers miles of trails that are accessible for a variety of uses and the variable landscape means that you’ll be able to find one that fits your interests and ability levels. Hiking back in the Soldier Creek Wilderness is a must for anyone who wants to get off of the beaten path but jeep tours are available for those looking for wildlife viewing in a less strenuous setting.
Toadstool Geologic Park located just north west of Fort Robinson in the Oglala National Grassland contains a badlands landscape that many people describe as “lunar”, the park is named after its unusual rock formations, many of which resemble toadstools. Within the park there is a 1-mile loop trail that allows you to scramble up and down the varied landscape. Keep and eye out for fossils as they are regularly spotted in the area. Removing the fossils is prohibited but anyone interested in fossils and natural history should take the 3-mile hike along the Bison Trail to the Hudson-Meng Bison Bonebed.
There is a variety of lodging options in the area. At Fort Rob you can stay in converted barracks and officers quarters in addition to the large number of RV and tent sites available. At Toadstool there are a few tent campsites available as well as a couple of toilets. For anyone looking for one of the best experiences head to High Plains Homestead, you’ll find it located between Fort Robinson and Toadstool and dinner there is well worth the trip. Great steaks, chicken, fish, and sides are available but a reservation for dinner is recommended. Make sure you bring cash or check because the infrastructure of the area makes paying by card impossible.
Well there you have it, 5 places in Western Nebraska that any outdoor enthusiast should visit. You’ll be able to get off the beaten path, go exploring, and have an adventure. The only question left is where will you find your next adventure?
Find it in Western Nebraska