Nebraska’s first and oldest state park, Chadron State Park, was established in 1921. It is a 972-acre wilderness that lies in the heart of the Nebraska National Forest, just nine miles south of the small town of Chadron in Dawes County, Nebraska. The Civilian Conservation Corps constructed guest cabins in the 1930s, as well as updated the roads and trails, built drainage structures, and improved the swimming pool and picnic areas. Several trails wind through the park itself, many of which that connect with other trails in the Nebraska National Forest. The Ponderosa Pines that line the mountains attract a large variety of birds and wildlife, and the visitors center is a great place to learn about them as well. RV campers will have plenty of opportunities to see and even photograph the varied flora and fauna that can be found in the park. Chadron is a well-established, fairly modern park which boasts a large swimming pool, a volleyball court, a disc golf course, an archery range, and guided horseback rides.
Chadron State Park is just under ten miles south of the small town of Chadron, NE. The drive from Chadron is along a well-paved, wide road that is easy to navigate with either a trailer or big rig. It traverses the scenic countryside of Nebraska with minimal curves and slopes, and the turn into the state park is clearly marked. The roads inside the park are also paved, but you will want to take your time and drive slowly. There are small ruts approximately every 50 feet along the main park roads, in order to ensure that traffic remains at a safe speed. While these ruts are simple to navigate at slower speeds, trying to take them too quickly could result in a bit of a mess as your trailer is likely to get bounced around. There is plenty of parking suitable for cars and moderately sized trailers both near the visitors center and by the swimming pool.
There are 18 primitive sites, and 70 modern campsites with 30-amp electric hookups at the Chadron State Park Campground. On-site water and sewer hookups are not available. Each campsite has a picnic table and a fire ring with a grill. There are several amenities that can be found at the campground including showers, a sanitary dump station, a playground, and laundry facilities. The majority of the sites are fairly level, but campers that choose to stay at one of the sites that are on the hill, which include sites 50 through 70, may want to bring boards or other equipment with which they can level out their rig. Of the 70 campsites, 31 are available for reservation and the remainder are first-come, first-serve. Generators are allowed during the daytime but should be silenced during the park’s quiet hours, between 10 PM and 6 AM. This is a pet-friendly park and for a small fee, your canine companion can accompany you both at the campsite and on trail hikes provided they are on a lead that is six feet or shorter in length.
39 campsites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you enjoy swimming, make sure to bring your swimsuit when packing your trailer for this picturesque destination. Chadron State Park has a spacious outdoor pool to swim in during daytime hours, complete with two diving boards and lifeguards on duty. The pool, which looks out over the stunning scenery of the Pine Ridge area, also boasts modern bathhouses, which were renovated in 2016, and are clean and well-maintained. Pets are not allowed in the swimming area, and there is a small fee to use the facilities.
Birdwatching is a popular activity throughout Nebraska, as it is positioned on a major bird migration route, and the entire month of May is dedicated as Nebraska Bird Month. Thousands of species pass through the 972-acre park in Pine Ridge each spring and fall. Birds known to migrate through the area include flycatchers, wrens, teals, orioles, and several varieties of warbler. Resident species and those that breed in the summer are abundant as well, including pygmy nuthatches, western tanagers, mountain bluebirds, and violet-green swallows. As you make your way to the Black Hills overlook, which is dominated by large Ponderosa pine trees, you may be able to spot Pileated and Lewis’ Woodpeckers on the snags. Several birds of prey make their homes here as well, including red-shouldered hawks and barred owls.
Fishermen will want to ensure that their fishing gear is in their campervan when they travel to Chadron State Park. Both the Chadron Creek and the Chadron State Park Pond are great spots for anglers to catch trout. The two-acre pond was renovated and deepened to 14 feet in 2013, and a clay liner was added. Boat fishermen often have luck fishing the pond for bluegill, bass, perch, and crappie. A deck also wraps around a portion of the lake, facilitating fishing from the shoreline of the lagoon. During summer months, fishing gear can be rented at the visitor’s center as well. So don't forget your fishing gear when you pack your campervan or trailer.
Chadron State Park has long been a destination for people who enjoy sledding. In 2014 a prominent hill that drops into a bowl-like area at the bottom was designated as an official sledding run. This 100-yard, obstruction-free run starts near the Soapweed Picnic Shelter and is just the right steepness and length to offer both enjoyment and safety. The bowl area that is used for sledding provides some shelter from strong northerly winds and the restroom at the Soapweed Shelter is kept open during the winter to accommodate visitors.
Chadron State Park boasts many trails that are well-suited to either hiking or mountain biking. The Steamboat Loop Trail is only about 1.4 miles long, but it connects to several other trails that wind through the forest. The five-mile Norwesca Trail is a popular trail for families and campers who are looking for a simple stroll as it is reasonably flat and easy to walk on, but it is not a loop so you will want to decide if you are going to follow the trail to the end and come back or if you want to create a loop by including another trail. The Black Hills Overlook Trail is the most challenging of the major trails at Chadron State Park. The four-mile hike presents impressive views of stunning canyons and forests, as well as a 400-foot change in altitude. The trails in this park are marked by grass rather than dirt and the park is also adjacent to the Nebraska National Forest, which offers an additional 100 or more miles of trails and old roads.
The unique landscape that can be found at Chadron State Park includes rolling hills, prairie grasslands, fast-moving waterways, and towering cliffs. Stunning photographs of the landscape can be taken from your RV or while traversing the many miles of trails that wind through the park. Images of the sunrises and sunsets are particularly picturesque in this park. Along with the gorgeous landscape views, you may be able to get some of the local wildlife, such as mule deer, wild turkeys, and cottontail rabbits, to pose for a shot or two.