Incredible State Parks and natural beauty is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Nebraska (if you have never been there). However, suppose you have ever made a trip or thought about making a trip to the cornhusker state. In that case, the Nebraska State Park system presents a wide array of outdoor getaways.
From the ominous sandhills to the rock formations of the panhandle to the handful of scenic rivers to explore. Before we dive into the best state parks in Nebraska, let us first acknowledge that the Native American land we now call Nebraska belongs to the Jiwere and O?héthi ?akówi? Indigenous tribes.
Best State Parks in Nebraska
9. Arbor Lodge State Historical Park
Just as its name implies, Arbor Lodge State Historical Park and Arboretum is where Arbor Day originated. Sitting on Arbor Day Farm, the 72-acre state park sits 45 minutes south of Omaha along the Missouri River and hosts plenty of walking trails and space for special events. The 260-acre farm is a monument to the founder of Arbor Day, but you don't have to wait until the holiday to check out the beautiful area.
8. Niobrara State Park
Situated in the northeast tip of the state where the Missouri and Niobrara Rivers intersect, Niobrara State Park comprises 1,640 acres filled with wildlife and opportunities for visitors to immerse themselves in nature. Visit the interpretive center to learn about the park's history, swim at the pool, spend the night in the campgrounds, and stroll along the trail system.
7. Eugene T. Mahoney State Park
Nestled halfway between Lincoln and Omaha in the town of Ashland, Eugene T. Mahoney State Park features views of the Platte River Valley, the Peter Kiewit Lodge, an arts and crafts center, cabin rentals, an observation tower, and camping options. Outdoor recreation includes an aquatic center, playground, hiking trails, biking trails, treetop ropes courses, indoor rock climbing, and sledding, and ice skating when it's cold out.
6. Fort Robinson State Park
Located west of Crawford in the Pine Region in the northwest sector of Nebraska lies Fort Robinson State Park, a 22,000-acre expanse concentrated on Fort Robinson. This historic fort is a former U.S. Army fort and outpost that has been a POW camp, a K-9 training station, a beef research station, among other roles. Complete with RV camping and luxe lodging options, Fort Robinson also offers beautiful scenery, tons of outdoor activities, and buffalo and longhorn herds.
5. Smith Falls State Park
Located in the small town of Valentine, Smith Falls State Park is home to the state's highest waterfall (Smith Falls) and presents 76 miles of river time fun. Bring your own kayak for some paddling or canoeing, or plan a custom float trip with a local outfitter. Additional activities include picnicking, walking the hiking trails, biking, and overnight options for campers.
4. Ponca State Park
Home to the oldest tree in Nebraska (an oak dating to 1644!), Ponca State Park is a haven of rolling hills in the northeast. As you arrive, you will see an art installation called the "Towers in Time," an interpretation of the area's history that pays homage to the importance of water.
Take in views of Nebraska, South Dakota, and Iowa from one of the Missouri River overlooks or explore some of the 20 miles of trails for hikers. Ponca State Park also features excellent fishing for anglers (walleye and catfish), a golf course, two boat ramps, and a swimming pool.
3. Indian Cave State Park
Nestled in the southeast tip of the state along the Missouri River, Indian Cave State Park presents a natural oasis with 22 miles of hiking trails, backpacking, camping, mountain biking, and incredible color-changing trees in the fall. This historic preservation and public recreation area protect a cave with prehistoric petroglyphs. You will also find structures left behind from the mid-1800s in the old village of St. Deroin.
2. Chadron State Park
The first Nebraska State Park, Chadron State Park, is situated in the mountainous buttes and river valleys in the Pine Ridge area of the state. Created in 1921, this state park in the Nebraska National Forest boasts 972 acres of outdoor activities, including a lagoon for swimming, boating, angling, kayaking, hiking, horse riding, mountain biking, sports courts, picnicking, and tent camping!
1. Platte River State Park
Located in Nebraska, 40 minutes from both Omaha and Lincoln in a town called Louisville, Platte River State Park offers nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts a welcome reprieve from their daily lives. A haven for Nebraska residents and visitors alike, Platte River provides nature-immersive experiences, ample trails for hikers and bikers, paddle boating, archery, horseback riding, campsites, and more.
Other Notable Nebraska Parks
Other notable natural areas to visit in this Midwest state are Homestead National Park, Scotts Bluff National Monument in western Nebraska, Pawnee State Recreation Area, and Mormon Island State Recreation Area. At Mormon Island State Island Recreation Area, the sandhill cranes are worth checking out. Visit the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission website for more information on all the incredible offerings the state of Nebraska has for its residents and visitors.
Have you ever been to a gorgeous Midwest state park? Share your experiences with us on our Wide Open Roads Facebook!
Enjoy the outdoors?
Sign up for daily stories delivered straight to your inbox.