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Picnic at Nebraska State Parks

10 state parks that offer great picnicking

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The shelters at Wildcat Hills SRA were built with native stone quarried nearby. They are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Photo by Justin Haag.

By Renae Blum

Picnicking is a great way to relax, enjoy the outdoors and bond with friends and family. If you’re looking for your next picnic spot, consider a Nebraska state park. Nearly all parks offer picnic areas, and the best spots combine shade trees, nicely mowed areas, conveniently located restrooms, and plenty of activities to enjoy before and after your meal. Here are 10 state parks to consider when planning your next picnicking adventure.

Platte River State Park

This park is an obvious choice for picnic-goers. Platte River State Park, located in southeastern Nebraska, features a day-use area that’s heavily shaded and in a prime spot for outdoor fun. Nearby, you can find a kids’ playground with a zip line, as well as a spray park, tennis courts, trails, fishing and paddle boating. While you’re here, make sure to also visit the observation tower, splash in the waterfall, look for wildlife and investigate the critters in Crawdad Creek.

Platte River State Park features a day-use area that’s heavily shaded in the woods. Photo by Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley.

Branched Oak State Recreation Area

Those who want some beach time after their picnic should visit Branched Oak in southeastern Nebraska. The beach on Liebers Point features beautiful shade trees with spots for picnicking, along with a playground for the kids. There’s also fishing access close to the beach, so you can throw in a line while eating lunch. You can also picnic on the other side of the lake by the marina – a nice area with a restaurant, concessions and another beach area for swimming. Make sure to check out the great hiking trails, too.

The beach on Liebers Point at Branched Oak SRA features beautiful shade trees with spots for picnicking. Photo by Eric Fowler.

Eugene T. Mahoney State Park

A mainstay of Nebraska’s state parks, Mahoney in southeastern Nebraska offers plenty to do and lots of places to picnic, including reservable picnic shelters perfect for a crowd. Many picnic spots are in spacious areas with plenty of room for a game of catch. Or, visit the basketball courts and sand volleyball courts for a quick game. Other activities at Mahoney include fishing, paddle boating, hiking trails and playgrounds, with horseback riding, mini golf and swimming available seasonally.

Mahoney State Park offers reservable picnic shelters with spacious areas. Photo by Jeff Kurrus.

Two Rivers State Recreation Area

With its close proximity to Omaha, Two Rivers has a popular day-use spot that offers many options for those looking for a great place for a picnic or an afternoon of grilling. It also offers great swimming beaches, playgrounds and shady spots. Stick around for the hiking, swimming, fishing and boating. Snacks, short-order food, bait and other items are available at the concession area, and if you’re looking for an adventure, stay overnight in one of the park’s remodeled cabooses.

Two Rivers has a popular day-use spot that offers many options for those looking for a great place for a picnic or an afternoon of grilling. Photo by Jenny Nguyen-Wheatley.

Ponca State Park

One of Nebraska’s most visited state parks, Ponca State Park is popular for its forested hills, scenic vistas, great wildlife watching, Missouri river access and beautiful and varied lodging options. It’s also great for a picnic, with plenty of shade and two historic shelter houses that are perfect for group picnics. During your visit to this northeastern park, take some time to enjoy the extensive trail system, take a dip in the aquatic center and take aim at the Eric Wiebe Memorial Shooting Complex. There’s great wildlife viewing, too.

Ponca State Park is a great place for a picnic, with plenty of shade and two historic shelter houses that are perfect for group gatherings. Photo by Eric Fowler.

Victoria Springs State Recreation Area

Quiet Victoria Springs, located in central Nebraska, has been called “an oasis in the Sandhills.” It’s also a beautiful place for a picnic. The wooded picnic area offers picnic tables, grills and a picnic shelter with electricity, which can be reserved for special events. Visitors can enjoy a taste of history during their stay, with original pioneer log cabins still standing on the site. Other activities to enjoy here include fishing, boating and paddle boating.

The day-use area at Victoria Springs SRA can be reserved for special events. Photo by Julie Geiser.

Mormon Island State Recreation Area

Just off Interstate 80 by Grand Island, Mormon Island State Recreation Area is a convenient place for outdoor fun. Day-use amenities provide numerous picnic tables, fire rings and standing grills; there are also four small picnic shelters and one large group picnic pavilion that seats 50. Come enjoy the park’s sandy beaches – swimming is popular here – and cast a line at a handicap-accessible fishing pier.

At Mormon Island, day-use amenities provide numerous picnic tables, fire rings and standing grills; there are also four small picnic shelters and one large group picnic pavilion that seats 50. Photo by Jeff Kurrus.

Ash Hollow State Historical Park

Ash Hollow, located in western Nebraska, was once known as an oasis stopover for pioneers on their journey west. Still true today, Ash Hollow is an ideal spot for a picnic with friends and family. The park grounds have 28 picnic tables, along with five grills. During your visit, take time and enjoy some history. Stop by the visitor center, visit Ash Hollow Cave, and walk the trail leading to the crest of Windlass Hill, where deep ruts carved by covered wagons are still visible. The area also offers bird watching and wildlife-viewing opportunities.

Chadron State Park

Nebraska’s first state park, Chadron continues to be a popular spot for camping, family reunions and vacations in northwestern Nebraska. Nestled among the distinctive buttes and canyons of the Pine Ridge, the park offers more than 100 miles of beautiful trails and old roads for hikers and bikers to explore. Enjoy shady picnic areas as well as swimming, trout fishing, paddle boating, archery, disc golf and more. Extend your stay at a cabin or an electric or basic campsite.

Enjoy a lakeside picnic and fishing at Chadron State Park. Photo by Eric Fowler.

Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area

A must-stop in western Nebraska, Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area features scenic views of rugged topography and evergreen-studded canyons. It also includes a nature center, shooting sports complex, overnight camping, a vast system of trails, and birdwatching and wildlife watching. Picnickers have a number of opportunities, including historical stone shelters built during the Great Depression era.

Picnickers at Wildcat Hills have a number of opportunities, including historical stone shelters built during the Great Depression era. Photo by Justin Haag.

For more information, and to check availability and make reservations, visit OutdoorNebraska.org. You also can contact the reservation call center at 402-471-1414, which is open Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. CST and is closed on holidays. A vehicle entry permit is required at each park.

About renae blum

Renae works for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and has written for NEBRASKAland Magazine and the Lincoln Journal Star.

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