Outdoor notes: Nine state parks where you can escape the crowds
Busy state parks are busy for a reason: There’s plenty to do and lots to see. But there are plenty of quieter parks, too. They still offer amenities and attractions that make for a fun day or weekend, but typically aren’t as packed with visitors.
Here are nine state parks to put on your list when you’re looking for peace and more relaxation.
Niobrara State Park
Niobrara State Park is a hidden gem: It has all the amenities of a large state park, such as swimming pools, horseback riding, camping and cabins, but still is a quiet getaway. This scenic, tranquil park in northeast Nebraska offers a variety of outdoor experiences, including primitive and RV camping, picnicking, hiking, fishing, and wildlife viewing. The park also offers boat ramps.
Olive Creek State Recreation Area
Olive Creek State Recreation Area offers primitive camping, fishing in the 175-acre lake, boating, and plentiful picnicking opportunities. A lesser-known spot, Olive Creek offers a chance to get away from the noise of a more developed campground.
Alexandria State Recreation Area
Well off the beaten path, Alexandria State Recreation Area has the feel of a wildlife management area. This scenic area in southeast Nebraska offers two recently renovated lakes with excellent fishing, a large group shelter for picnicking, boating, and camping. The campground has plenty of shade trees, as well as water, modern restrooms and a playground.
Fort Kearny State Recreation Area
At Fort Kearny State Recreation Area, campers can enjoy a quiet area plus a dose of Nebraska history; Fort Kearny State Historical Park is just 3 miles west. The unique Fort Kearny Hike-Bike Trail also begins at the park, making it a great place to camp for bikers and hikers. The area also offers fishing, boating, swimming, horse trail rides and camping.
Victoria Springs State Recreation Area
Log cabins built by an early pioneer still are standing at Victoria Springs State Recreation Area, which draws its name from the mineral springs that once supplied bottled water throughout the nation. This remote park in central Nebraska offers fishing and boating on the 5-acre lake, as well as great picnicking opportunities and paddleboat rentals. Campers can enjoy scenic campsites; two modern cabins are available as well.
Keller Park State Recreation Area
Keller Park State Recreation Area, near Ainsworth, is a beautiful area for camping. It’s also one of the few spots where anglers can pursue both rainbow trout and warm-water fish species. Nestled amid rugged tree-covered bluffs, the 196-acre area offers excellent angling, along with camping, hiking and wildlife viewing.
Long Pine State Recreation Area
This remote area features beautiful pine trees and bluffs. Anglers can enjoy great fishing, as Long Pine Creek offers some of Nebraska’s best trout fishing. The park also includes an archery range, a 1-mile scenic hiking trail and camping. Make sure to bring food and have a picnic; the park is a popular day-use spot with more than 40 picnic tables and five shelters.
Enders Reservoir State Recreation Area
Enders Reservoir, in southwest Nebraska, is a good escape for someone looking to enjoy nature in an uncrowded setting. Part of the park doubles as a wildlife refuge in the fall and winter, so it is less developed than neighboring parks. Enders offers beautiful white sand beaches, boating, swimming, picnicking, fishing and camping.
Box Butte Reservoir State Recreation Area
In northwest Nebraska, visit Box Butte Reservoir State Recreation Area, which provides great water recreation in a beautiful, clear lake. Box Butte is a great choice for boating and camping. The area also provides good fishing, picnicking and some of the best birdwatching opportunities in the Panhandle.
Check availability and make reservations at OutdoorNebraska.org or call the reservation center at 402-471-1414 between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Central time Monday to Friday. A vehicle entry permit is required at each park.
Game and Parks wins 11 awards at annual ACI conference
The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission earned 11 awards at the Association for Conservation Information annual conference held July 24-27 in Nashville, Tenn. The awards recognized excellence in outreach, education and communications.
ACI is a nonprofit organization of natural resources communicators representing wildlife conservation and parks and natural resource agencies. Its annual awards contest recognizes excellence and promotes craft improvement through peer critiques.
The awards are:
- First place in Communications Campaign, Educational for “Lake Mac Know Before You Go,” an informational campaign about camping reservations being required at Lakes McConaughy and Ogallala during peak season.
- First place in Communications Campaign, Marketing for “Nebraska State Parks Centennial Campaign,” a yearlong celebration in Nebraska state parks in 2021.
- First place in Education for “Trail Tales Magazine,” a quarterly magazine for fourth graders on Nebraska’s animals, plants, insects and outdoor recreation.
- First place in Photography: People for the image “Clean-Up,” a duck hunting photo by Nebraskaland Editor Jeff Kurrus.
- Second place Website for “State Parks Centennial 100 Website.”
- Second place in Video Public Service Announcement and Marketing for “Adventures in History: Discovering Nebraska’s State Historical Parks,” a documentary collaboration with Nebraska Public Media.
- Second place in Magazine: General Interest Article for “Rose Creek Mausoleum,” a park feature on the Rose Creek Wildlife Management Area in Jefferson County by Nebraskaland Regional Editor Eric Fowler.
- Second place in Photography: Scenic for “Sunrise over Smiley Canyon,” by Nebraskaland Regional Editor Justin Haag from Fort Robinson State Park in Sioux and Dawes counties.
- Third place in Video PSA and Marketing for “Take ’em Fishing 2021,” a mentorship campaign for anglers.
- Third place in External Newsletter for “NGPC Weekly,” a weekly e-newsletter sent to subscribers.
- Third place in One-Time Publication: Other for “Conservation License Plates,” a trio of Nebraska plates featuring Nebraska iconic species, the sale of which benefits the Wildlife Conservation Fund.
“Our communicators and educators engage Nebraskans with abundant recreation opportunities, tell our conservation success stories, provide information on safe recreation and help build support for our agency’s mission,” said Christy Firestone, communications director for Game and Parks. “We are pleased to see the work of so many talented staff recognized.”
Closures planned during park upgrades in north-central Nebraska, Panhandle
Access to certain areas of parks in north-central Nebraska and the Panhandle will be temporarily closed to make way for improvements.
Mike Morava, regional superintendent for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, said each of the projects is being started early enough in the fall to be finished before visitation peaks next year.
Smith Falls State Park near Valentine — Access to Nebraska’s tallest waterfall, Smith Falls, will be closed Sept. 6 through May 2023 as workers replace the aging wooden walkway that leads to it. The 500-foot walkway will be replaced with durable composite decking on a steel frame.
Keller Park State Recreation Area near Ainsworth — The campground will be closed from Sept. 6 through May 2023 as workers upgrade the electrical service to the campsites. Following the upgrade, all 24 electrical sites at Keller will have 50-amp service.
Fort Robinson State Park near Crawford — The Soldier Creek Campground along U.S. Highway 20 will be closed Sept. 12 through May 2023 to make way for an electrical upgrade. Following the project, the campground’s 70 electrical sites will all provide 50-amp service. The park’s recently expanded Red Cloud Campground will remain open until Sept. 30, and the campground near the Mare Barn that usually serves visitors with horses will remain open through the November firearm deer season.
Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area near Valentine — The Cedar Bay Campground will close Sept. 6 through May 2023 for an electrical upgrade. When complete, all 37 electrical sites at the campground will have 50-amp service. The park’s seven other campgrounds will be available during the project.
Fort Robinson, Chadron State Park revise schedules
Fort Robinson State Park and Chadron State Park in northwest Nebraska have revised their schedules for some services as visitors and employees returning to school have prompted staffing changes.
The revised schedules will take effect Aug. 15.
Fort Robinson State Park
Restaurant — Hours are now 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday and 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
Horse Rides — On Monday through Friday, the long ride will start at 8 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. each day and the short ride will start at 9:30 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. On those days, all rides will begin at the Long Ride Barn on Soldier Creek Road. On Saturdays and Sundays, the rides will return to normal hours and starting locations.
Swimming Pool— The park’s indoor swimming pool will be closed Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Activity Center — Ceramics are closed for the season.
Chadron State Park
Office — The office will be open daily 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., but closed for lunch.
Horse Rides — Rides are available Saturdays and Sundays only. Rides begin at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Tickets must be purchased at the office at least 30 minutes before the ride.
Trading Post and Shooting Range — Both are open Saturdays and Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Swimming Pool — The park’s outdoor pool is open Saturdays and Sundays, 1-5 p.m., weather permitting.
Boat launch improvements underway at Enders Reservoir SRA
Boating access improvements at Enders Reservoir State Recreation Area in southwest Nebraska have begun and are expected to last through the fall. Public access will be affected.
Phase 1 of the project will restore boating access to Area A by extending the boat ramp. Other planned amenities here include Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant parking, a new breakwater to protect the ramp, a new staging area near the ramp, and a new gravel parking lot with lighting.
Once work at Area A is complete, Phase 2 will begin: the development of the No Name Bay boat launch facility. Planned improvements include upgrading the existing primitive boat ramp to a two-lane concrete ramp and installing ADA-compliant parking pad, kayak launch, breakwaters and parking facility with lighting.
Improvements at both launch facilities will provide safer conditions for launching and loading watercraft at this popular reservoir.
During Phase 1, the Area A boat launch will be closed to public access to facilitate construction, but watercraft access will be maintained via the No Name Bay primitive ramp. During Phase 2, the Area A ramp will provide boat access while the No Name Bay area is closed to public access.
This project is made possible through a United States Coast Guard grant and Nebraska Game and Parks Aquatic Habitat Stamp funds. Questions can be directed to [email protected].
A park entry permit is required of each vehicle entering the park.
Rebuilt boardwalk at Indian Cave State Park now open
Indian Cave State Park’s iconic cave, home to prehistoric Native American petroglyphs, is accessible to the public again now that construction of a new boardwalk and viewing deck is complete.
The old boardwalk was unusable after a historic bomb cyclone in March 2019 saturated the area and caused a landslide.
While the southeast Nebraska park’s old boardwalk was a series of steps and platforms, the new one has a ramp compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and an 8-foot-wide viewing deck. In addition to the ramp, a 5-foot-wide staircase accesses the boardwalk. The total length of the boardwalk is 420 feet, but from the top of the staircase, the boardwalk extends 160 feet into the canyon.
Visitors will find the new design includes a seating area and informational signs midway to the viewing platform that is just below the cave. The Missouri River also can be seen from the boardwalk. Interpretive panels are in the works to inform visitors of the cultural aspects of the area and tell the story of the petroglyphs.
The $800,000 project was paid for by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission’s Capital Maintenance Funds.
"I am so excited to see this project come to completion and for everyone to get to use this remarkable structure,” said Kevin Holliday, Game and Parks’ southeast regional park superintendent. “Game and Parks has put in a lot of thought toward this project to enhance the experience for its visitors. These enhancements include an ADA-accessible ramp so all visitors have the opportunity to take in spectacular views and experience the natural and cultural resources Indian Cave has to offer."
Learn more about the park at OutdoorNebraska.org/IndianCave. A vehicle entry permit is required at Indian Cave SP.