Surrounded by the vast prairies of the Great Plains, rugged rock formations of the panhandles and the towering dunes of the Sandhills, Nebraska packs a punch when it comes to spectacular natural scenery and incredible landscapes. Home to many state parks and national monuments, as well as wildlife reserves and sanctuaries, Nebraska offers much to see, do and explore in the way of the great outdoors, along with a wealth of recreational activities to enjoy.

1.Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
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Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is a U.S. National Monument near Harrison and is best known for a large number of well-preserved Miocene fossils found on Carnegie Hill and University Hill. The monument also features a beautiful valley of the Niobrara River and extensive grass-covered plains that are home to an array of fauna and flora. Fossils from the site date back to about 20 million years ago are among some of the best specimens of Miocene mammals, including amphicyon, a bear dog; menoceras, a pony-sized rhinoceros; stenomylus, a gazelle-like camelid; and miohippus, an ancestor of the modern horse. Agate Fossil Beds National Monument features a museum with a collection of more than 500 artifacts from Captain James Cook’s Collection, owner of the original Agate Springs Ranch. The site is also home to the Harold J. Cook Homestead, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

301 River Rd, Harrison, NE 69346, Phone: 69-346-2734

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2.Arbor Lodge State Historical Park

Arbor Lodge State Historical Park
© Arbor Lodge State Historical Park

Arbor Lodge State Historical Park and Arboretum is a beautiful estate in Nebraska City that was once the home of J. Sterling Morton, the founder of the tree-planting holiday known as Arbor Day. Built in 1855, the magnificent mansion grew from a humble four-room house to a sprawling 52-room estate surrounded by 65 acres of hilly, wooded landscapes. Today, the villa is open for visitors to explore and features authentic furnishings and historical artifacts that capture the life and times of this exceptional man. The gardens and grounds around the Morton mansion were donated to the State of Nebraska in 1923 and were officially designated as an arboretum in 1976, boasting an exceptional collection of trees and shrubs covering more than 260 species, including many native plants and some that are uncommon in the region. The grounds are open year-round, and the mansion is open weekends during the winter months for self-guided tours.

2600 Arbor Avenue, Nebraska City, NE 68410, Phone: 402-873-7222

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3.Ash Hollow State Historical Park

Ash Hollow State Historical Park
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Located near the west end of Lake McConaughy five miles south of Lewellen in Garden County, Ash Hollow State Historical Park is a family-friendly park with a variety of attractions and points of interest, including Ash Hollow Cave and Windlass Hill. Once a stop-off point where pioneers could get fresh water, wood, and grazing, Ash Hollow features the remains of scraped wagon ruts in the hillside of Windlass Hill. Ash Hollow Cave is another point of interest that the park features and shows evidence of the use of the area by a prehistoric man dating back 6,000 years. A modern interpretive visitor’s center exhibits the area’s ancient history, geology, and paleontology of the area. The center showcases over 30 million years of geologic history and features fossils of prehistoric mammals, including rhinoceros and mastodons.

US-26, Lewellen, NE 69147, Phone: 308-778-5651

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4.Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park

Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park
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Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park is a unique park that contains the fossil skeletons of animals that died at a watering hole following a massive volcanic eruption that blanketed the Great Plains with a fall of volcanic ash nearly 12 million years ago. These rare fossil sites are known as lagerstätten and the type that captures a moment in time ecological "snapshot" in a range of well-preserved fossilized organisms due to extraordinary local conditions. The fossil bed has been uncovered and left in place for visitors to view when the park is open between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day. A visitor center features a Rhino Barn covering a portion of the fossil-bearing ash bed, a working fossil preparation laboratory, and numerous interpretive displays about the history, geology, and paleontology of the area.

86930 517th Ave, Royal, NE 68773, Phone: 402-893-2000

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5.Blue River State Recreation

Blue River State Recreation

Situated on the West Fork of the Big Blue River, five miles north of Dorchester, the Blue River State Recreation is a haven for those wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the big city. The state recreation area is a day-use only area and offers excellent fishing on the Blue River with "walk-in" pedestrian river access. Other facilities in the park include picnic tables, charcoal grills, and vault toilets.

NE-76B/Washington Ave, Dorchester, NE 68405, Phone: 402-796-2362

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6.Bluestem State Recreation Area

Bluestem State Recreation Area
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Bluestem State Recreation Area (SRA) is a 742-acre state park and recreation area about 18 miles south of the State Capitol of Lincoln in southeastern Nebraska. Managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the area offers a wide range of recreational activities from pleasure boating and fishing to swimming, picnicking and camping. The reservoir is well stocked with bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish, crappies, and walleye, and there are 19 primitive campsites without electricity with lovely lake views.

Bluestem Lake State Recreation Area, Martell, NE 68404, Phone: 402-471-5545

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7.Bowring Ranch State Historical Park

Bowring Ranch State Historical Park
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Bowring Ranch State Historical Park is a state park three miles north of Merriman in Cherry County that celebrates and interprets the ranching heritage of the Sand Hills region. The 7,202-acre ranch was once owned by former U.S. Senator Eve Bowring, who managed the ranch until her death in 1985. Today, the farm has been preserved as turn-of-the-20th-century working Hereford cattle ranch and living history museum. The park features a visitor’s center that documents the Bowrings' lives and exhibits artifacts and memorabilia of early ranching days, the ranch house, outbuildings, corrals, barns, bunkhouses, and a sod house, all of which are open to the public.

NE Hwy 61, Merriman, NE 69218, Phone: 308-684-3428

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8.Buffalo Bill Ranch State Park

Buffalo Bill Ranch State Park
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Buffalo Bill Ranch State Park, also known as Scout's Rest Ranch, is a state recreation and camping area located west of North Platte that is a living history state park that celebrates the life and times of Buffalo Bill. Established in 1878, the 4,000-acre ranch was initially known as Scout’s Rest Ranch before it was sold to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in 1911. Today, the 25-acre historic state park boasts a historic Wild West-era ranch and barn, outbuildings, and a variety of other features, which can be explored on guided tours. Visitors can also enjoy a museum that documents and celebrates Buffalo Bill’s life from a Pony Express rider to his Wild West shows. Other activities include hiking, fishing, and picnicking.

2921 Scouts Rest Ranch Rd, North Platte, NE 69101, Phone: 308-535-8035

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9.Chadron State Park

Chadron State Park
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Nestled among the rugged buttes and canyons of Nebraska's Pine Ridge, Chadron State Park was founded in 1921 and was Nebraska's first state park. The spectacular beauty of the Pine Ridge forms the backdrop for this fantastic family-friendly state park, which lies at an elevation of nearly 5,000 feet, nine miles south of Chadron in the heart of the Nebraska National Forest. The 972-acre park features a wealth of activities and facilities, including water-based fun on the picturesque lagoon, such as swimming, boating, fishing, paddle-boating, and kayaking, hiking, horseback riding, mountain bike rentals, tennis and sand volleyball courts, and picnicking. The park also has camping sites, overnight cabins, a craft center, and a snack bar, and offers evening programs.

15951 Hwy 385, Chadron, Nebraska 69337-7353, Phone: 308-432-6167

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10.Eugene T. Mahoney State Park

Eugene T. Mahoney State Park
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Eugene T. Mahoney State Park is a public recreation area located on the Platte River, about four miles east of Ashland that offers year-round accommodations and recreational use. Nestled on 700 acres along the Platte River, the modern park features a wealth of amenities ranging from the Little Creek and Lakeside campgrounds with traditional campsites and overnight cabins and lodges to a large waterpark with several swimming pools, hiking, and mountain biking trails, and tennis courts. Nearby attractions include the Strategic Air and Space Museum, the Platte River State Park, the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park, the Quarry Oaks Golf Club, and the Iron Horse Golf Club.

28500 W Park Hwy, Ashland, NE 68003, Phone: 402-944-2523

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11.Fort Atkinson

Fort Atkinson
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Fort Atkinson is a State Historical Park in Fort Calhoun just north of Omaha. Erected in 1819, the fort was the first United States Army post to be established in the unorganized region of the Louisiana Purchase of the United States. Today the 157-acre park features a reconstructed 1820s log fort atop Council Bluff, which was the place where 1804 Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Oto-Missouria first met. The Harold W. Andersen Visitor Center features an array of informative exhibits and displays and hosts several living-history weekends a year. Fort Atkinson is open year-round.

201 S 7th St, Fort Calhoun, NE 68023, Phone: 402-468-5611

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12.Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park

Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park
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Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park is a state park and recreation area that preserves an excellent example of a late 19th century U.S. Army cavalry outpost, which was active from 1874 to 1881. Located six miles southeast of Burwell, the park was named in honor of George Lucas Hartsuff and features original structures such as the fort’s headquarters and hospital, enlisted men’s barracks, officers’ quarters, and commanding officer’s quarters. Visitors to the fort can take a step back in time and experience what life was like for soldiers and officers in the late 1800s.

82034 Fort Ave, Burwell, NE 68823, Phone: 308-346-4715

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13.Fort Kearny State Historical Park

Fort Kearny State Historical Park
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Established in 1848 as an outpost and a stage station for gold prospectors, Pony Express riders, and Overland Trail travelers, gold prospectors, Fort Kearny State Historical Park is dedicated to offering an insight into the life of remote settlement of the American West. Featuring reconstructed buildings, including a blacksmith’s shop, an enclosure and parade grounds, and blacksmith shop have been rebuilt. events contemporary with the settlement of the American West. An interpretive visitor’s center features several exhibits and walkways lead to the stockade where more information is available. Camping is available at the nearby Fort Keany State Recreation Area, and other activities in the park include hiking, swimming, mountain biking, and fishing.

1020 V Rd, Kearney, NE 68845, Phone: 308-237–3178

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14.Fort Robinson State Park

Fort Robinson State Park
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Fort Robinson State Park is a 22,000-acre public recreation and historic preservation area in the Pine Ridge region of northwest Nebraska. Located a few miles west of Crawford and Western Nebraska's premier state park, Fort Robinson State Park is centered around Fort Robinson, a former U.S. Army fort and historical outpost. The outpost served as a cavalry remount station, a POW camp, a K-9 dog training center, and beef research station from the days of the Indian Wars until after World War II. The park is also home to spectacular Pine Ridge scenery, scenic camping and luxury lodging, loads of activities, compelling old west history, and herds of buffalo and longhorn cattle.

3200 Hwy 20, Crawford, NE 69339, Phone: 308-665-2919

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15.Homestead National Monument of America

Homestead National Monument of America
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The Homestead National Monument of America is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and commemorates the passage of the Homestead Act of 1862. Located five miles west of Beatrice and part of the National Park System, the monument stands as a memorial to the Homestead Act of 1862 which qualified people to claim up to 160 acres of federally owned land in exchange for five years of residence. The park includes 100 acres of tallgrass prairie similar to the flora that once covered to central plains and was nearly plowed into extinction by the homesteaders. The park is home to a Homestead Heritage Center, which houses a variety of informative exhibits that tell the story of the Homestead Act, the tallgrass prairie ecosystem, the native tribes that lived in the area, and the agriculture of the region.

8523 W, NE-4, Beatrice, NE 68310, Phone: 402-223-3514

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16.Indian Cave State Park

Indian Cave State Park
© Eugene Put/

Indian Cave State Park is a historic preservation area and public recreation area along the Missouri River that preserves a cave with prehistoric petroglyphs. It is also home to the semi-reconstructed village of St. Deroin dating back to the mid-1800s. The ancient Indian Cave is believed to be several thousand years old. The 3,052-acre park lies between Nemaha and Richardson counties in the southeast corner of the state and offers an array of outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, mountain biking, horseback riding, camping, picnicking, and cross-country skiing and sledding in winter. The prehistoric Indian Cave is believed to be several thousand years old

65296 720 Rd, Shubert, NE 68437, Phone: 402-883-2575

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17.Mormon Island State Recreation Area

Mormon Island State Recreation Area
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The Mormon Island State Recreation Area (SRA) is a beautiful scenic area that was named after the winter stopover used by Mormon emigrants heading westward. Forming part of Nebraska's unique Chain of Lakes, Mormon Island SRA hosts hundreds of thousands of sandhill cranes each spring who come to rest and the court in the tranquil waters around the island. Other birds such as geese, ducks and other waterfowl join the fray, and the island boasts a spectacular gathering each spring. Activities include fishing, non-powered boating, and boats with electric motors, swimming, picnicking and camping.

7425 US-281, Doniphan, NE 68832, Phone: 308-385-6211

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18.Niobrara State Park

Niobrara State Park
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Niobrara State Park is a state park and public recreation area in the northeast corner of Nebraska located at the confluence of the Missouri and Niobrara rivers. Occupying 1,640 acres of scenic landscapes to the west of the village of Niobrara, Niobrara State Park includes the Niobrara River Bridge and an array of wildlife from coyotes and wild turkeys to white-tailed deer. Park amenities include a visitor’s interpretive center that details the history of the area, a swimming pool, camping with tent sites and overnight cabins, and several miles of hiking trails.

89261 522 Ave, Niobrara, NE 68760, Phone: 402-857-3373

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19.Pawnee State Recreation Area

Pawnee State Recreation Area
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Home to the second largest lake in the Salt Valley, the Pawnee State Recreation Area boasts more than 1,800 acres of land and 740 acres of water and offers a full range of facilities and outdoor recreational amenities. Located northwest of Emerald, the popular area, provides camping sites, electrical hookups for campers, modern restrooms and showers, and four docks that provide easy access to the lake for fishing. The lake is fully stocked with a variety of fish including bluegill, largemouth bass, white bass, catfish, and walleye, while the surrounding land is home to an array of wildlife such as small game, waterfowl, and deer.

3900 NW 105th Street, Lincoln, Nebraska 68524, Phone: 402-796-2662

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20.Platte River State Park

Platte River State Park
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The Platte River State Park is a state park and public recreation area situated two miles west of Louisville on the southern bluffs of the Platte River. Boasting 519 acres of forested, steeply rolling landscapes halfway between Omaha and Lincoln, the park offers a variety of activities and facilities, overnight accommodations and camping and a restaurant that serves local cuisine against a backdrop of beautiful views. Modern housekeeping cabins, camper cabins, and teepees offer comfortable overnight lodgings, and activities include hiking, mountain biking, swimming, fishing, and pleasure boating. Nearby attractions include the Ak-Sar-Ben Aquarium and Schramm Park, the Louisville State Recreation Area, the Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, the Strategic Air and Space Museum, and the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park.

14421 346th St, Louisville, NE 68037, Phone: 402-234-2217

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21.Ponca State Park

Ponca State Park
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Located four miles north of Ponca on the banks of the Missouri River, Ponca State Park is a state park and a public recreation area in the northeastern corner of the state. The 2,400-acre park is home to pristine landscapes ranging from steep, forested rolling hills to high, craggy bluffs. Nested along the banks of the picturesque Missouri River bluffs, Ponca State Park features one of the state's most comprehensive outdoor/environmental education programs where staff and volunteers educate visitors on the archeology, ecology, history, biology, and geology of the area. Activities in the park include more than 20 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, backpacking, fishing, swimming, and pleasure boating. The Highland Oaks Public Golf Course is located on the southern boundary of the park and provides a challenging 9-hole course with spectacular park vistas and a luxurious clubhouse.

88090 Spur 26 E, Ponca, NE 68770, Phone: 402-755-2284

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22.Rock Creek Station State Historical Park

Rock Creek Station State Historical Park
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Rock Creek Station is a state historical park and recreation area three miles northeast of the present-day village of Endicott with a visitor center featuring exhibits about pioneers that once called the Oregon trail and Wild Bill Hickok home, several hiking trails, and an adjacent 40-acre campground. Established in a site that was once a stagecoach and Pony Express station, the Rock Creek Station State Historical Park features deep trail ruts from the original pioneers. The Rock Creek State Historical Park's Visitor Center boasts breathtaking views of the surrounding prairie hilltops, rugged ravines and draws, and timber-studded creek bottoms where the wagons trundled through in the early 1800s.

57426 710th Rd, Fairbury, NE 68352, Phone: 68352-5550

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23.Scotts Bluff National Monument

Scotts Bluff National Monument
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Protecting over 3,000 acres of historical overland trail remnants, towering bluffs, mixed-grass prairie, riparian grasslands, and rugged badlands along the North Platte River, the Scotts Bluff National Monument is a historic natural monument in the City of Gering. Preserving 3,000 acres of unusual land formations which rise 800 hundred feet above the North Platte River, Scotts Bluff was once an essential landmark for the pioneers crossing the Oregon, California, Mormon, and Pony Express Trails, Scotts Bluff towers 800 hundred feet above the North Platte River. A monument museum features exhibits about the natural history of the area and boasts a unique collection of artworks by famous frontier artist William Henry Jackson.

190276 Old Oregon Trail, Gering, NE 69341, Phone: 308-436-9700

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24.Smith Falls State Park

Smith Falls State Park
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Straddling the Niobrara National Scenic River, 18 miles east of Valentine, the Smith Falls State Park is a state park and recreation area that was established to protect the biological and scenic significance of the region. The park is also home to the state’s highest waterfall and is open to day-use visitors, who flock to the beautiful park to enjoy swimming, canoeing, kayaking, hiking, and camping. The falls are located on the south side of the river, and hiking is only allowed to established trails to protect the area. A footbridge across the Niobrara links the falls to the north side of the park where visitors can enjoy tent camping, picnicking, showers, restrooms, and concession.

HC 13, Box 25, Valentine, Nebraska 69201, Phone: 402-376-1306

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25.Windmill State Recreation Area

Windmill State Recreation Area
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Situated between Kearney and Grand Island at the Gibbon Interchange in the state's unique ‘chain of lakes,’ the Windmill State Recreation Area is an area operated by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Once a stopover spot for early-day travelers, the park features several human-made lakes that offer an array of water sports and activities, modern camping facilities, and a fascinating assortment of antique windmills. Named after the place where the Pawnee Indians forded the Platte River during their annual buffalo hunts called Windmill Crossing, the 154-acre area has six ponds, primitive tent camping, picnicking, and a swimming beach.

2625 Lowell Rd, Gibbon, NE 68840, Phone: 308-468-5700

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25 Best Nebraska State & National Parks