Nebraska Outdoors Road Trip

down_arrow

Nebraska's open roads will lead you to some pretty spectacular places, from natural playgrounds where you can get out and stretch your legs to jaw-dropping geological formations that once served as landmarks to the pioneers. If you consider yourself an explorer, this is the state for you. This 4-day outdoors road trip itinerary will lead you to all sorts of adventures. 

Day 1: Western Wows

Scotts Bluff National Monument at night.
Scotts Bluff National Monument

Calling all outdoors lovers! This journey will take you across the state to some of Nebraska’s biggest and brightest natural playgrounds. Up first, we lead you to a few of the awe-inspiring rock formations and beautiful parks of western Nebraska.

First Stop: Begin your outdoor adventure at Scotts Bluff National Monument in Gering to follow the footsteps of the pioneers. Travelers of the Oregon, California, Mormon Pioneer and Pony Express Trails used this natural monument as a landmark on their journeys. Hike the park trails and drive up Summit Road to the top of the bluff for excellent views of this 3,000-acre site.

Second Stop: Next, head up north to Crawford for more unrivaled Nebraska scenery at Toadstool Geologic Park. Explore three hiking trails to see the unique geological formations of the region. While on your hike, keep your eyes open for fossils. If you want to extend your Toadstool adventure, the park offers six primitive campsites, each equipped with a fire ring and covered picnic table.

Overnight Here: While in Crawford, stay overnight at Fort Robinson State Park. The park offers 22,000 acres of outdoor fun. Camp your way, as the park offers 32 full hookup campsites, 14 electric-plus sites, 56 electric sites and 28 basic campsites. If you’re interested in unique accommodations, stay in the former soldiers’ quarters at Fort Robinson. Also at Fort Robinson, you can discover the region’s Old West tales while partaking in your favorite outdoor activities — hiking, biking, fishing and horseback riding, to name a few.   

Day 2: Southern Splash

Fishing from a pier at Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area.
Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area

Take an excursion through southern Nebraska for lazy lake days and rugged mountain biking experiences.

First Stop: If water recreation is your kind of adventure, then Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area is the vacation destination for you. Located near Ogallala, this 30,000-acre lake offers boating, swimming, water skiing and windsurfing. The lake’s clear waters make it an excellent spot for scuba diving too. If you’re an angler, cast a line for your next trophy catch. “Big Mac” is full of Northern pike, channel catfish, walleye, smallmouth and white bass. Be sure to stop by the Visitor and Water Interpretive Center for licensing and registration.  

Second Stop: Continue driving east to Brady to discover the ultimate mountain biker’s paradise, Potter’s Pasture. Explore 100 miles of trails across 1,200 acres of various Nebraska terrain, from canyons and tree groves to hills and native grasslands. Are you in need of bike repairs, supplies or even a brand-new bike? Stop in North Platte on your way to Potter’s Pasture at Whitetail Cycle Sport. This local bike shop has everything you need for your mountain biking adventure.

Overnight Here:  Just an hour and a half east of Potter’s Pasture, you’ll find Fort Kearny State Recreation Area in Kearney. Stay at one of the recreation area’s campgrounds. If you’re traveling by RV, Fort Kearny offers electric-plus and electric sites. Tent campers are also welcome. There are seven sandpit lakes scattered throughout the recreation area, giving anglers 21 acres to fish. Horseback riding, boating and wildlife viewing are also popular as well. In the spring, be on the lookout for migrating sandhill cranes.

Day 3: Eastern Escapes

TreeRush Adventures at Fontenelle Forest.
TreeRush Adventures at Fontenelle Forest.

You might think the areas surrounding Lincoln and Omaha are more metropolitan, but there’s still plenty of outdoor fun just outside these city centers.

First Stop: As you near Omaha, stop in the suburb of Bellevue to explore Fontenelle Forest. Be sure to bring your hiking boots and a pair of binoculars, as this 2,100-acre nature center is known for its trails and birding opportunities. Stop by the Nature Center to see numerous species of rescued birds of prey at the Raptor Woodland Refuge exhibit. If you’re feeling extra adventurous, experience the National Natural Landmark from tree-top ziplines and ropes courses at TreeRush Adventures.

Second Stop: Head south towards Lincoln to visit Platte River State Park. The Louisville park features unrivaled views of the Platte River Basin from two onsite observation towers, as well as excellent trails for hiking, biking and birding. Practice your marksmanship at the archery and firing range at the Roger G. Sykes Outdoor Heritage Center. If you’re traveling with kids, stop by the spray park for water slides and dump buckets. Crawdad Creek is a fun-filled interactive experience for the kids to learn about the park’s aquatic life. Fair warning, they might get a little muddy!

Overnight Here: While you’re in Louisville, camp for the night at Louisville State Recreation Area. The outdoor getaway offers 223 electric sites, along with primitive campsites and excellent camper amenities, including a shower facility, restrooms and drinking water. Rent a kayak or water bike and head out on one of five sandpit lakes. The kids will also love the climbing wall, monkey bars and other obstacles at the floating playground. 

DAY 4: NATURAL NORTH

The Cowboy Trail.
The Cowboy Trail

As you head north, you’ll discover exciting excursions from an epic rails-to-trails project to hikes leading to the state’s tallest waterfall.

Stop 1: Whether it’s by foot, bicycle or on horseback, if exploring trails is your kind of adventure, then the Cowboy Trail is a must. Stop along this 321-mile rails-to-trails project anywhere from Norfolk to Chadron. A 187-mile stretch from Norfolk to Valentine has been paved with crushed limestone, making this section especially popular for hiking, horseback riding and cycling.

Stop 2: Continue north toward Valentine to visit Smith Falls State Park. Hike across the Niobrara river for stunning views of Smith Falls, the state’s tallest waterfall. The park’s river access makes it a popular destination for kayaking, canoeing and tubing. Want to stay awhile? Tent campsites are available for reservations if you want to extend your time on the water.

Overnight Here: If you’re ready to hit the hay, try Niobrara Riverview Retreats, located about five miles south of Valentine. With easy access to the Cowboy Trail and Niobrara River, this is the perfect home base for any outdoors lover. Ranch amenities include fire pits, yard games and hiking trails, as well as canoeing, tanking, tubing and kayaking packages.