Nebraska sits on the western edge of the Midwest and is next to my home state of Iowa. I have spent a lot of time exploring and traveling around the state in the past few years. If there's one thing that I know for sure, it's the fact that Nebraska has a lot of great hikes and national monuments that many people do not know about. Here are 10 hikes, including multiple in national monuments, that you need to experience when exploring America's 37th state, Nebraska.
1. Platte River State Park Trail Loop, Platte River State Park
The Platte River State Park Trail Loop is located in one of Nebraska's most beloved state parks, Platte River State Park. The trailhead is located near South Bend, and it’s a 6.7-mile loop trail. The best parts of this trail are the river views and a small waterfall. This is a fairly level trail and it is rated as an easy hike. With 797 feet in elevation gain, you do get to go up and down every now and then along the trail. This hike makes for a great escape from the Lincoln and Omaha area, as it's nestled between the two.
2. Lake Ogallala Trail, Lake Ogallala State Recreation Area
The Lake Ogallala Trail is home to a nine-mile out-and-back hike. Views of the lake are frequent as are sightings of several species of birds. With an elevation gain of 72 feet, this hike is good for anyone looking to get outdoors. During the peak spring and summer season, the wildflowers are in abundance, so plan to take some memorable photos. Ogallala is one of our favorite stops while traveling through Nebraska. Make the Ogallala State Recreation Area part of your road trip. The natural beauty and nature experiences will be good for your soul. Wear your comfortable hiking boots, pack your binoculars, and have a bottle of water for this epic nine-mile hike. If you are hot from your hike, cool off with the ultimate river experience: tanking in Nebraska.
3. Kearney Canal Trail
Kearney is home to the sandhill cranes and other well-known birds. The Kearney Canal Trail is a 9.4-mile out-and-back hike that offers outstanding nature experiences. This trail is paved and fairly easy to hike on. With an elevation gain of just 137 feet, almost anyone can make this hike. March to early April is usually the ideal time to hike this trail, as the sandhill cranes are often seen flying overhead. The wildlife viewing in this area of Nebraska is phenomenal, so plan to keep moving your hiking legs to keep up with the wildlife. After you are done hiking, explore The Great River Road Archway Monument. This monument is truly special, and your post-hike visit will be memorable.
4. Agate Fossil Beds Trail, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
This 2.7-mile hiking trail is located near Harrison. The Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is home to a hiking trail that is rated easy and has an elevation gain of just 170 feet. This trail offers a beautiful view of the plains and the wide-open spaces that Nebraska has to offer. The Agate Fossil Beds Trail features the prairie as well as numerous historic and geological features. Partway between the visitor center and the Fossil Hills is Harold J. Cook's homestead cabin. This cabin has been restored to how it functioned in 1910. Several scientists who worked in the fossil quarries lived there around the turn of the century. You can easily spend one full day hiking in this area. Take in all of the things to do, and you’ll have yourself a fabulous day in northwestern Nebraska.
5. Toadstool Trail, Ogalala National Grassland
This is my pick for the best hike in Nebraska. Check out TravelAwaits’ picks for the best hikes in all 50 states here. In my opinion, you cannot visit Nebraska without hiking the Toadstool Trail. This trail comes in at a little under one mile, but it is one of the best hiking trails in the Midwest. The trail is a relatively flat loop trail and the views will blow you away. Lace up your hiking boots, as they will keep you steady on your feet and allow you to enjoy every drop of the beautiful scenery. The geological formations here are unique to the area and will be worth every single step. Once you have hiked the Toadstool Trail, you can easily hop on the side trails to explore further. Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy a minimum of four hours in this epic area of Nebraska. A bonus of this hike: The Agate Fossil Beds Trail is not too far from this national grassland.
6. Fort Robinson West Trail From Long Barn
The Fort Robinson West Trail from Long Barn is a scenic 1.7-mile loop hike near Crawford. April through October are the ideal months to make the trek, as the wildflowers are loaded with color. This is a great place to experience the Old West. Put on your Western gear, lace up your hiking boots, and head back in time for the hike of a lifetime. Crawford may be one of the best hidden gems in the Midwest, and the best thing about this part of Nebraska is that South Dakota is just a few miles away, so you can experience a great hike there as well.
7. Saddle Rock Trail, Scotts Bluff National Monument
The Saddle Rock Trail is located near Mitchell. This is an out-and-back trail, and it runs for three miles. This trail starts at the visitor center at Scotts Bluff National Monument and takes you to the summit of Scotts Bluff. This trail is best for hikers who are confident in their abilities and in good physical shape. A highlight of this trail is the foot tunnel, which opens up to the bluff. Look closely to see Saddle Rock above the tunnel. The rock formations on the upper portion of this trail are fascinating and beautiful in color. Rockslides are common, so check with the visitor center before you head out on this hike to avoid disappointment or danger on the trail.
8. Oregon Trail, Scotts Bluff National Monument
If you love covered wagons, Scotts Bluff National Monument will win you over. The covered wagons in front of the Scotts Bluff National Monument administrative building mark the start of the Oregon Trail Pathway, a one-mile out-and-back trail. Hikers will walk on the Oregon Trail, where thousands of wagons traveled in years past. The beginning of the trail looks smooth, but once you start hiking, it becomes increasingly rugged. You will see the ruts from the wagon wheels as you make this trek.
9. Cedar Ridge Trail, Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area
The Cedar Ridge Trail is a one-mile hike located near Gering. It's a relatively easy trail with an elevation gain of 209 feet. The trail is narrow and rugged but offers beautiful views. If you have always thought that Nebraska is flat, you will quickly learn differently. There are several other trails in the area with a variety of elevation gains. The terrain is rugged, and the views of the rocky bluffs are stunning. Be sure to stop along the trails and look through a pair of binoculars. This area of Nebraska is home to an occasional moose along with bighorn sheep and other beautiful animals. Plan to spend a full day here, as the Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area is loaded with nature experiences.
10. Wehrspann Lake Full Loop, Chalco Hills Recreation Area
The Wehrspann Lake Full Loop Hiking Trail is a 6.9-mile hike near Omaha. It features a lake, and it's not totally flat given its elevation gain of 282 feet. Deer, rabbits, and squirrels are commonly seen along this popular trail. If you are lucky, you will see one of the numerous blue herons that frequent the trail along with woodpeckers. You can hop on and off at different locations around the lake depending on how far you want to hike.
Pro Tips For An Epic Hiking Experience In Nebraska
If you embrace the culture and your surroundings, I can guarantee you that you will enjoy any one of these hikes in Nebraska. If going on a multi-day excursion, book your campsites and cabins ahead of time so you are not disappointed or without a place to stay at the end of your hike. National monuments and state recreation areas often have small entry fees, so make sure you are prepared to make those payments upon entering each park. Pack your bug spray, sunscreen, and plenty of water. I would also suggest dressing in layers, as the mornings can be quite cool and within a few hours, the temperatures can soar.
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