From a moonlit ride along the riverside, to a deep canyon descent into forested bluffs, witnessing the beauty of Nebraska from the saddle is an exhilarating experience. With accommodations for both the two- and four-legged, the following locations offer a glimpse of the myriad of riding opportunities to be had throughout the state, which include diverse terrain, unique wildlife viewing opportunities and the wide horizon lines that make Nebraska worth riding.
Remember, trail and camp availability is subject to change. In many locations, reservations, fees and a park entry permit may apply. Certified weed-free hay is required at certain locations. As always, be sure to call before you haul and leave only your hoofprints behind.
*Denotes Nebraska Game and Parks Commission properties
*Fort Robinson State Park (SP), Crawford
There’s room to roam with more than 20 miles of trails in the exquisite Pine Ridge scenery of the park’s 22,000-plus acres. Once a quartermaster remount depot, at one time holding 12,000 horses for mounted cavalry regiments, boarding is available in the historic stables. Stay overnight in the fully-furnished former officer’s and enlisted men’s quarters, dating from 1874 to 1909. Modern and primitive campsites are also available.
Pine Ridge National Recreation Area, Chadron
Trek through the incredible beauty of the Pine Ridge region amongst buttes and ponderosa pines covering 80 miles of trails managed by the U.S. Forest Service. At the Roberts Trailhead and campground, primitive camping and corrals are available. The Outrider Trailhead, located north of Chadron State Park’s main entrance, includes primitive camping and corrals, as well as access to Black Hills Overlook Trailhead, Forest Service Road and Deadhorse Road and Trailhead. Additional Trailheads include East Ash, West Ash, Coffee Mill, Soldier Creek, Spotted Tail and Strong Canyon. The nearby Chadron Creek Ranch Wildlife Management Area (WMA)* provides more open riding possibilities and primitive camping.
Soldier Creek Wilderness Area, Crawford
The 7,794 acres of Pine Ridge escarpment operated by the U.S. Forest Service consists of ponderosa pine covered ridges with areas of native grassland on 15 miles of trails, in addition to open riding. Primitive camping available.
Big Canyon Inn and Trail, Springview
Enjoy scenic vistas and wildlife viewing opportunities while traversing through the 20 miles of trails along high bluffs, deep canyons and clear streams that wind through Niobrara River country. Camp in comfort nearby the corrals and large barn, which is complete with loft, restroom and kitchen facilities. Bed and breakfast accommodations are also available.
Larrington’s Guest Cottage and Trails, Springview
Stay in a modern cottage with fully-furnished rooms that overlook a Niobrara River canyon trail in a remote surrounding. Barn and corrals available.
Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest, Valentine
Ride the Merritt Reservoir and stay at the Steer Creek primitive horse camp, named for the nearby stream. With more than 116,000 acres of forest open to riding, numbered windmills prevent you from getting lost.
Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail, Norfolk to Valentine
The nation’s largest rail-to-trail conversion has 195 of 321 miles completed on a spectacularly scenic stretch. Many communities along the trail offer camping along the route.
*Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area (SRA), Crofton
Travel 6.5 miles of heavily wooded and scenic trails overlooking Lewis and Clark Lake. The designated campground includes corrals and primitive camping with restrooms.
*Niobrara SP, Niobrara
Open riding on 120 acres at the designated primitive equestrian camp delivers spectacular scenery and wildlife viewing opportunities on the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri rivers. One mile of trail is designated for horseback and 2.1 miles of the Railroad Bridge Trail located nearby.
Turkey Creek Ranch, Newcastle
Ride through more than 20 miles wooded ravines, open prairie and spring-fed streams along Missouri River bluffs. Primitive camping and furnished cabins available, including a beautifully secluded spot overlooking the Missouri River.
*Willow Creek SRA, Pierce
Trot along 8 miles of trail around the lake. Both modern and primitive equestrian camping available at this peaceful setting.
Bessey Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest, Halsey
With wildlife and windmills abound on 90,444 acres of gently rolling Sandhills combined with 20,000 acres of hand-planted trees, Nebraska’s largest forest is a unique riding experience near the Dismal River. The Natick and Whitetail horse camps offer a primitive camping experience with stalls and corrals. With 270 acres of diverse property that includes 7 ponds, enjoy a ride through the tallgrass prairie, wetlands and cottonwood forests near the Platte River. Primitive and modern campsites available at this picturesque park.
Switzer Ranch, Burwell
Take a scenic Sandhills stroll on more than 10,000 acres of the working ranch along the Calamus River. The Calamus Outfitters offer guided rides, an indoor riding arena and horseback lessons at the ranch. Modern cabins and primitive camping are available for overnight stays with corrals and water available.
*Branched Oak SRA, Malcolm Meander through the open grasslands for spectacular views of the lake and surrounding wilderness of the park, encompassing 5,595 acres and over 3 miles of horse trails in the Salt Valley. The newly constructed equestrian camp features modern and primitive camping, an accessible mounting ramp, hitching posts and corrals, as well as a mounting block to assist people with disabilities. The Branched Oak Marina and restaurant on site is open seasonally.
Camp Moses Merrill, Linwood
Explore 6 miles of horse trails on 568 acres along the high bluffs south of the Platte River. Stay at the modern campground, owned and operated by the American Baptist Church.
*Indian Cave SP, Shubert
Journey high above the Missouri River on over 13 miles of trails. The designated equestrian camp offers horse corrals, a picnic shelter and primitive camping. Additional trails are opened during competitive trail rides held each summer at the park.
*Pawnee Lake SRA, Emerald
Travel more than 1,800 acres, including 6 miles of trail, along the second largest lake in the Salt Valley. Modern and primitive camping available.
*Rock Creek Station State Historical Park (SHP), Fairbury
A former Pony Express site, ride 6 miles of trails in the historic park where they celebrate Rock Creek Trail Days the first weekend of June. Stay at the adjacent Rock Creek Station SRA for primitive and modern camping with horse corrals available.
*Two Rivers SRA, Venice
Located near seven sandpit lakes along the Platte River, this popular destination for outdoor enthusiasts offers modern and primitive camping, including a night in a restored Union Pacific caboose.
*Swanson Reservoir SRA, Stratton
After a day riding (and fishing), cozy up at the Spring Canyon Campground for modern and primitive camping or go for a luxurious night at nearby Lakeview Lodge, complete with large common room, kitchen and stone fireplace. View the Nebraska Horse Trails Guide for complete information and more great locations to ride.
This article originally appeared in the May 2014 issue of NEBRASKAland Magazine.