Discover the 9 Best National and State Parks in Nebraska

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: May 10, 2022
Image Credit Jacob Boomsma/Shutterstock.com
Share this post on:

Nebraska is a midwestern state in the United States. The rivers Platte, Niobrara, and Republican, cross the state. Regarding geography, Nebraska consists of the Great Plains as well as the Dissected Till Plains.

The Cornhusker State has five superb national parks and eight state parks. It is known for natural attractions such as Chimney Rock, Smith Falls, Indian Cave State Park, and the Agate Fossil Beds, among many others. It can certainly make for an unforgettable holiday!

Do you want to find out more about the state’s national and state parks, as well as about its impressive tourist attractions? If so, here are all the important bits regarding the nine best national and state parks in Nebraska!

1. Homestead National Historical Park

Homestead National Historical Park
The Homestead National Historical Park commemorates the Homestead Act of 1862.

Homestead National Monument / Creative Commons – License

Homestead National Historical Park
LocationGage County (nearest city Beatrice)
Size211 acres
Animals to spotWhite-tailed deer, beavers, coyotes, squirrels
Attractions to seeHomestead Heritage Center, Palmer-Epard Cabin, Trails, Quilt Discovery Experience

The Homestead National Historical Park commemorates the Homestead Act of 1862. This act allowed people to claim up to 160 acres of land in exchange for five years of responsibilities, such as the improvement of the property. The Homestead Heritage Center is the building that you definitely need to visit if you would love to find out more about how this act changed the area’s look.

A visit through the park will introduce you to the 100 acres of restored tallgrass prairie. You might also come across a hiking trail, as the park has around 2.7 miles of trails available to the public.

Freeman School, along with the Palmer-Epard Cabin, are two other historical buildings surrounded by nature that are worth a visit. 

2. Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

The Agate Fossil Beds National Monument shelters unique sights, fossils, as well as rich flora.

iStock.com/RobertWaltman

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
LocationHarrison, Sioux County
Size3,057 acres
Animals to spotDeer, beetles, snakes, butterflies, nighthawks, white-tailed deer, pronghorn
Attractions to seeVisitor center with mammal fossils, Daemonelix Trail, Fossil Hills Trail

The Agate Fossil Beds National Monument shelters unique sights, fossils, as well as rich flora. The main tourist attractions are the Niobrara River valley, Carnegie, and University Hill, where you can see fossils. Much of the monument consists of grass-covered plains showcasing lupin, spiderwort, blue grama, and western wallflower, to name a few. 

You can see up to 14 different types of fossils – ancestors of today’s horses, rhinoceros with two horns, oreodonts, etc. But this is not everything! Once you finish analyzing the fossils, you can choose one of the two available hiking trails for an amazing afternoon in nature.

Fossil Hills Trail is about three miles long, and it lets you enjoy the hills and the prairie of the national monument. The Daemonelix Trail leads to more exciting areas, such as the Devil’s corkscrews. This trail is shorter – only one mile long. 

3. Missouri National Recreational River

Missouri National Recreational River
The Missouri National Recreational River consists of a 39-mile section designed for visitors and recreational activities.

Jacob Boomsma/Shutterstock.com

Missouri National Recreational River
LocationAt the border between Nebraska and South Dakota
Size33,800 acres
Animals to spotSnapping turtles, monarch butterflies, Piping Plover, Interior Tern, Pallid Sturgeon, American Bison
Attractions to seeSpirit Mound Historic Prairie, Gavins Point Dam, Lewis, and Clark Lake.

The Missouri National Recreational River consists of a 39-mile section (the one in Nebraska) designed for visitors and recreational activities. The river’s shores make for an exciting and insightful experience, as people have lived there for at least 10,000 years. Tools, homes, and ceremonial objects have been dug up here, making this section of the Missouri River more than just a recreational area.

The river features cottonwood, willow, oak, and elm, which are extremely rich in flora. Voles, bats, mice, squirrels, as well as other small mammals are the main inhabitants of the area. Birdwatchers will have a great time here, as piping plovers and least terns can be spotted. Some other 250 bird species are also present along the river.

4. Scotts Bluff National Monument

Scotts Bluff National Monument consists of two bluffs – South and Scotts Bluff.

iStock.com/LIKE HE

Scotts Bluff National Monument
LocationScotts Bluff County (nearest city Gering)
Size3,005 acres
Animals to spotPrairie dogs, prairie rattlesnakes, mule deer, coyotes
Attractions to seeNorth Overlook, Legacy of the Plains Museum, hiking trails

Scotts Bluff National Monument is characterized by towering bluffs, trail remnants, badlands, as well as mixed-grass prairie. The monument takes its name from a bluff that was a landmark on three historical trails, including the Oregon Trail. 

The monument itself consists of two bluffs – South and Scotts Bluff. They feature five rock formations that give the monument a surreal aesthetic. You can explore Dome Rock, Sentinel Rock, Saddle Rock, Crown Rock, and Eagle Rock. If you plan on taking a hike through the bluffs, you should start with the Oregon Trail Museum and Visitor Center, located at the bluff’s base.

There are five trails available across the Scotts Bluff National Monument. We recommend the North Overlook Trail as it leads to the area’s highest point (4,659 feet).

5. Niobrara National Scenic River

The Niobrara National Scenic River is protected by the National Park Service.

iStock.com/marekuliasz

Niobrara National Scenic River
LocationNorth-central Nebraska
Size23,074 acres
Animals to SpotWhite-tailed deer, mule deer, moose, elks, beavers, minks, mountain lions
Attractions to SeeCowboy Trail, Fort Falls

The Niobrara National Scenic River is protected by the National Park Service thanks to its possibility for recreational activities, geology, scenery, fossil resources, wildlife, and fish species. This river is riddled with rapids and waterfalls. The most famous and highest waterfall is Smith Falls, which has a drop of 63 feet. 

While exploring the river, you can come across the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, which shelters a herd of 300 bison and some elk. The Great Plains river is also rich in flora – ponderosa pine, paper birch, basswood, bur oak, etc. 

As a visitor, you can’t get bored. The scenic river allows for fishing, canoeing, and hunting. Visitor centers and exciting museums are at your disposal.

6. Chadron State Park

Chadron State Park Nebraska
Chadron State Park features a lagoon and a creek dominated by cottonwood and ponderosa pine.

dvs from Vermont, USA / Creative Commons – License

Chadron State Park
LocationDawes County (nearest city Chadron)
Size974 acres
Animals to spotAmerican Bullfrogs, Gopher Snakes, Snapping Turtles, Painted Turtles, Red-headed Woodpeckers, Turkey Vultures
Attractions to seeMuseum of the Fur Trade, Pine Ridge National Recreation Area, Bordeaux Trading Post

Chadron State Park is the very first state park in Nebraska. It is a designated public recreational area. It has just celebrated its 100th birthday, as the park was established in 1921.

The park features a lagoon and a creek dominated by cottonwood and ponderosa pine, common species in Nebraska. It definitely is a hiker’s dream! You can find steep canyons adorned by hiking trails here, especially in the Pine Ridge area. Chadron State Park has over 100 miles of trails available for the public to enjoy.

Chadron State Park is also prepared for those that don’t like hiking. It has a swimming pool, and it offers horseback riding, as well as archery, tennis, and fishing facilities. Campgrounds, cabins, and paddleboats are also available.

7. Smith Falls State Park

Smith Falls State Park
Smith Falls State Park is home to prairie dogs, deer, bison, and elks.

BJ Roshone/Shutterstock.com

Smith Falls State Park
LocationCherry County (nearest city Valentine)
Size265 acres 
Animals to spotPrairie dogs, deer, bison, elks
Attractions to seeSmith Falls, hiking trails, recreational activities

Smith Falls State Park is a part of the Niobrara National Scenic River. It is concentrated around Smith Falls, Nebraska’s highest waterfall. If you happen to be around Niobrara River, head south, and you will find a footbridge that will take you to the north side of this park.

The waterfall ends in a small, narrow, and sheltered canyon. Given this, no direct sunlight hits the area, so you can use it to relax and chill during the hot summer days. The lack of sunlight allows a hybrid grove of quaking and bigtooth aspen to form here. 

Even though the park’s area is much smaller than other state or national parks, it has enough activities for its visitors. You can engage in tent camping, canoeing, as well as fishing if you’re up to it. Naturally, there’s not a single American park without hiking trails – those can be found here too.

8. Platte River State Park

Platte River State Park is the ideal choice for explorers that would love to discover forested areas.

iStock.com/Matt Bills

Platte River State Park
LocationCass County (nearest city Louisville)
Size452 acres
Animals to spotTadpoles, minnows, frogs
Attractions to seeHike trails, Crawdad Creek, Roger G. Sykes Outdoor Heritage Education Complex

Platte River State Park is the ideal choice for explorers that would love to discover forested areas. This state park is located south of the Platte River and combines three separate areas. These areas are a woodland tract, Camp Esther K. Newman, and the Harriet Harding Campfire Girls Camp. A lot of the vintage cabins from back then are still used today, so the areas are not lost to history. 

From one of the two observation towers, the entire valley of the Platte River can be seen. If you’re not a fan of heights, then you’ll surely enjoy the ten miles of hiking trails. Guided trails are available during the summer. 

The state park comes equipped with a visitor’s center, tent camping areas, cabins, and even tepees. The Roger G. Sykes Outdoor Heritage Education Complex lets people try archery, trap shooting, as well as rifle shooting simultaneously.

9. Indian Cave State Park

Indian Cave State Park
Indian Cave State Park is located along the Missouri River.

Charles G. Haacker/Shutterstock.com

Indian Cave State Park
LocationAlong the Missouri River, southeast Nebraska
Size3,399 acres
Animals to spotBeavers, raccoons, deer, woodchucks, turkeys, barred owls, black-billed cuckoo
Attractions to seePristine natural area, hiking trails, camping, recreational activities

Indian Cave State Park is located along the Missouri River, and it is a designated historic preservation area. Recreational activities can also be enjoyed here. History buffs should take some time to visit the prehistoric petroglyph cave that the park preserves. St. Deroin, a partially reconstructed village, is open to visitors, and it showcases over 150 years old local architecture.

The 22 miles of trails take you along the Missouri River and also through the dense forests of this state park. We recommend trying the Indian Cave Trail. It is a one-hour-long trail that surrounds a forested area and covers a riverbank as well. Camping and picnic facilities placed throughout the park can be used by any visitor.

Share this post on:

More from A-Z Animals