Home » delet » Nebraska’s Smaller State Recreation Areas: The Hidden Gems

Nebraska’s Smaller State Recreation Areas: The Hidden Gems

From casting a line in a pristine trout stream to a kicking back while camping at a scenic, serene oasis, Nebraska’s state park system, celebrating its 100th anniversary, is an outdoor lover’s dream.

There are 76 areas in our park system and they truly offer something for everyone.

I know. I have firsthand knowledge of all of them.

In my 42 years with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. I have been to EVERY. SINGLE.ONE and even worked in our parks division for a time.

This is a photo of Nebraska Game and Parks Commission staffers during a pit-stop at the Dead Timber State Recreation Area near Scribner, NE on a canoe trip along the Elkhorn River there in the summer of 1984. I am fourth from left to right. Photo by Jim MacAllister.

So I have a good breadth of knowledge about these areas.

Our larger state parks, what many call “destination parks” or “resort parks,” get a lot of attention and draw big crowds. We all know that and they’re awesome!

But, I tend to like the little guys just off the beaten path; what I refer to as the hidden gems. These are the many smaller state recreation areas that we have.

Tent camping and fishing at Summit Lake State Recreation Area near Tekamah, NE Photo courtesy of NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Think for a moment. Have you ever been to one of these smaller state recreation areas?

They have interesting names like Victoria Springs, Wildcat Hills, Long Pine, War Axe, Cheyenne and Gallagher Canyon, amid others.

Hiking at Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area near Gering, NE. Photo courtesy of NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

What parallels do the smaller state recreation areas possess? Generally, there are more rustic or primitive campsites, picnic tables, fire grates or fire rings, trash or recycling receptacles, vault latrines, mowed grass, shade trees, water pumps or hydrants and some unique geographic feature or water for outdoor recreation. Some also may have RV camper pads, boat ramps, fishing piers, fish cleaning stations, swimming beaches, playground equipment, nature trails and other recreational facilities.

RV camping at Victoria Springs State Recreation Area near Anselmo, NE. Photo courtesy of NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Sure, you head to one of these smaller areas and will most likely give up some of the more modern amenities for outdoor recreation and camping. However, what you what you have to forego, you will acquire in peace, tranquility, increased opportunities to see wildlife and lots of space to spread out, recreate and relax. As my Omaha neighbor Chad Carter put it: “Going to a smaller public rec area to camp means the hum and wake of personal watercraft and power boats on the water are nonexistent and I can easily kayak where I want.”

A view from the water on a boat at Gallagher Canyon State Recreation Area near Eustis, NE. Photo courtesy of NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Some of these smaller state recreation areas are actually in the shadow of our larger state parks where you could utilize both. For example, you could enjoy the various activities available at Mahoney State Park during the day and retreat to the solitude of nearby Memphis Lake State Recreation Area for placid fishing in the evening and quiet camping at night. The driving distance between the two is only a bit more than 15 minutes!

Fishing at sunset from the bank at Memphis Lake State Recreation Area near Memphis, NE. Photo courtesy of NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

“It is time for our smaller areas in the state park system to shine,” said Margot Desrocher, program manager in our parks division at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. “Chances are most Nebraskans have one of these smaller state recreation areas not far from their home to explore.”

Desrocher added: “During the pandemic, these areas have been so important for people. They have enabled folks to get out of the house and have a place to go to safely recreate. This has been a boon to all of us for our physical and mental health.”

A youngster roasts a marshmallow over a campfire at Cottonwood Lake State Recreation Area near Merriman, NE. Photo courtesy of  NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

Whether you’re into fishing for a specific species of game fish, camping in a tent on a cool summer night, hiking or biking up steep grades, paddling a kayak on calm waters, watching wildlife or just enjoying some fresh air, there’s a quiet, smaller state recreation area for you to enjoy within the scenic borders of the Cornhusker State.

Bighorn sheep at the Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area near Gering, NE. Photo courtesy of Nebraska Travel and Tourism.

Try one on for size! #NEParks100

Get more information about Nebraska’s varied state parks, recreation areas and historical parks online at OutdoorNebraska.gov

An angler fishes for rainbow and brown trout in the spring-fed waters of Long Pine Creek at the Long Pine State Recreation Area near Long Pine, NE. Photo courtesy of Daryl Bauer/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

About greg wagner

A native of Gretna, NE, a graduate of Gretna High School and Bellevue University, Greg Wagner currently serves as the Public Information Officer and Manager for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission's Service Center in Omaha. On a weekly basis, Wagner can be heard on a number of radio stations, seen on local television in Omaha, and on social media channels, creatively conveying natural resource conservation messages as well as promoting outdoor activities and destinations in Nebraska. Wagner, whose career at Game and Parks began in 1979, walks, talks, lives, breathes and blogs about Nebraska’s outdoors. He grew up in rural Gretna, building forts in the woods, hunting, fishing, collecting leaves, and generally thriving on constant outdoor activity. One of the primary goals of his blog is to get people, especially young ones, to have fun and spend time outside!

Check Also

NGPC Latest News logo

Changes made to the fall trout stocking schedule

LINCOLN, Neb. – A change has been made to the fall stocking schedule of rainbow …