Nebraska's wide-open spaces, beautiful scenery and abundant wildlife come together to create the state's amazing parks. These hold many opportunities for both exploration and education. There are several sites of historical significance within the state's parks, such as those marking famous historical journeys. Others include centers with presentations on the cultural, military or natural history of the area. Some parks even have fossils formerly discovered on the grounds, giving visitors a chance to glimpse life as it was millions of years ago. The rugged terrain found throughout the state includes pine-covered mountains, canyons, meadows and valleys. This immense variety means that there are many trails for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding, among other activities. Nebraska’s lakes and waterways make several of the parks very popular with those who enjoy fishing, swimming and boating. Other parks provide opportunities for nature enthusiasts to view birds, plants and other wildlife native to the state of Nebraska.
Chimney Rock National Historic Site
This site receives its historical significance from the famous Chimney Rock itself. The rock, a natural geological formation with a tall spire reaching into the sky, is instantly recognizable to visitors. Its familiar shape caused it to become a landmark for western-bound pioneers in days past, and it appears in many accounts from the time. The site is located at the south side of the North Platte River Valley, near Bayard.
Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters, Omaha
These headquarters are responsible for administering and caring for the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail. The trail itself runs for over 3,700 miles, through 11 states and a number of Tribal lands, marking the journey taken by Lewis and Clark with their famous guide Sacagawea. The trail includes mountains, meadows and a variety of plants and wildlife. There are trails for bikes and cars as well as hiking or even skiing in the winter.
Box Butte Reservoir State Recreation Area
Box Butte's 1, 600 acres of lake area make it particularly popular for boating and fishing. There are ramps and docks for boating, and facilities for fishing, including a fish-cleaning station. The area is also well known to birding enthusiasts, as many different species can be found here throughout the year. Swimming is very popular at the lake, and there are facilities for both modern and primitive styles of camping.
Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area
The rocky bluffs and canyons in this area provide both beautiful views and a variety of challenging nature trails. The steep inclines make the trails particularly popular with mountain bikers. There is a huge variety of wildlife in the area, including bighorn sheep, mule deer, white horn deer, bobcat, coyote, rattlesnakes and even the occasional moose.
This historic site spans over twenty-two thousand acres and has many beautiful views of Pine Ridge scenery. Tours on horseback or open topped jeep are offered as a chance for visitors to view as much as possible. There are also various options for visitors to stay at the park, including cabins and camp sites. The fort also functions as a museum, commemorating the history of the area.
Pine Ridge State Park
This extensive recreation area covers over 6,000 acres. The natural beauty of the Ponderosa mountains is preserved as much as possible for visitors, as there are no trails for motorized vehicles. Hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking on the trails are all encouraged, however. Visitors can explore the pine forests or take advantage of the picnic tables and facilities at Roberts Tract Trailhead. Hunting is also permitted at the park.
Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park
This National Natural Landmark is situated in Verdigre Creek Valley. It contains the remains of many excellently-preserved fossils, a result of the “Ashfall” referenced in the name of the park, part of a volcanic eruption which took place twelve million years ago. There are many opportunities for paleontological education here as well as natural trails for visitors to explore. The park requires a Nebraska Park Entry Permit and an entry fee from its visitors.
Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area
Lake McConaughy is the largest reservoir in the state of Nebraska. The lake boasts more than one hundred miles of shoreline, including its famous beaches of white sand which many people use for swimming. Others come to camp, as camping is allowed right up to the edge of the lake itself. The numerous fish species make it a popular fishing spot.
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
This national monument is another example of the paleontological discoveries of the state. The visitor center houses fossils and dioramas of ancient mammals. It also features exhibits from the Cook Collection of Oglala Lakota artifacts. The grounds have many trails for visitors, both short and long, with wonderful examples of local plant life. Visitors also have a chance to see the agate bed in which the famous fossils were found.
Snake River Falls
This waterfall is known for its beauty and size. The river, known as “The Snake,” falls over a ledge spanning fifty-four feet into the canyon below, a view that is especially impressive when the river is in full flow. The area is a popular spot for swimming and fishing.