Niobrara State Park | Outdoorsy

Niobrara State Park
Guide

Introduction

Where the Niobrara and Missouri rivers meet, you'll find Niobrara State Park, a haven for RV campers in northeast Nebraska. Much of the park sits atop forested bluffs that offer unparalleled views of the great plains in every direction.

Niobrara State Park is open year-round to RV campers and features cozy cabins for those who want to step away from their vehicles for a while, and of course, tent campers are welcome here, too. No matter your accommodations, you’ll have access to a plethora of outdoor activities, including hiking, fishing, boating, horseback riding, hunting, swimming, stargazing, and biking.

Seven miles of park roads wind through the hills, which are interspersed with open plains and forests, and are also home to a dinosaur bone excavation site. Open year-round, the park experiences hot and humid summers and typically harsh Midwestern winters, when blizzards whip through the region. In spite of the often-challenging weather, many species of wildlife thrive here, from white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, and foxes to waterfowl and tree-loving birds.

In total, there are 76 electric sites at Niobrara State Park, 50 of which are equipped with 30- and 50-amp outlets, and all of these are available year-round. There are also 20 cabin sites, as well as a range of sites reserved for equestrian groups. All campers have access to a full range of modern amenities, including water, showers, laundry facilities, and more. RVers will have access to water and dump stations, and you can connect to Wi-Fi through a router located at the shower building. Reservations are taken for about half of the park's RV spots, and for all of its cabins. Spots can be booked up to a year in advance.

RV Rentals in Niobrara State Park

Transportation

Driving

The Outlaw Scenic Byway, or Nebraska State Highway 12, passes right through the southern edge of Niobrara State Park, which is located just two miles west of the town of Niobrara. The closest major city is Sioux City, which straddles the South Dakota and Iowa borders roughly an hour and 45 minutes to the east. If you approach from the South Dakota side, be aware that there are only two Missouri River bridges nearby, one on Highway 37 (just northeast of the park) and Highway 18, which lies an hour to the west in Pickstown, SD.

Several miles of paved roads (many of which are one-way) weave their way through the park, including a three-mile loop that skirts several hiking trails, tent camping sites, restrooms, and the popular buffalo cookout pavilion. The roads are passable for RVs up to 55 feet long, and you’ll find restrooms located at intermittent locations throughout the park. If you prefer to stretch your legs, these same roads are bicycle-friendly and offer a few swells so you can coast while soaking up the riverside views.

Accessibility varies by season. Modern camping facilities are closed from roughly late October to May due to cold weather. But electric sites will still be operational so you can plug in. Rates are discounted during the winter to reflect the fact that some amenities aren’t available once the snow flies.

As far as road hazards are concerned, drivers need not worry about steep or winding routes (this is Nebraska, after all!). The plains can get very windy though, so vehicles with high profiles should take extra precaution, especially when driving on north-south routes. Blizzards are common during the winter months, and they can drop a lot of snow, very quickly, on the plains. Make sure you take a look at the local forecast before setting out!

Parking

Niobrara's main RV campground is located at the park's southeastern corner. Spots are all back in, but there's ample space, and maneuvering into a site should pose little challenge. The equestrian trail is accessible from here, though you'll need to drive a bit to get to other important points within the park (including trailheads, the lodge, the interpretive center, the park office). If you're parked at one of the cabins, or one of the more northerly primitive camping sites, some of these spots may be within walking distance.

Public Transportation

Campgrounds and parking in Niobrara State Park

Campsites in Niobrara State Park

Reservations camping

RV Campground

Niobrara State Park's RV campground is set at the park's southeastern end, just a bit to the west of the Niobrara River. A mix of rolling hills, fields, and forested patches greet visitors here.

In total, the RV campground sports 76 sites with 30- or 50-amp hookups. Only 30 of the electrified sites are reservable online; the rest are available on a first-come, first-served. Pets are welcome, but leashes are required throughout the park.

You can camp here any time of the year, but keep in mind that the shower facilities will be closed in the off-season, which runs from roughly mid-October until April. The park’s roads are larger than many state-run recreation areas, so you’ll be able to navigate the roads in rigs and trailers up to around 55 feet long.

There are two camping areas where RVs and trailers can connect to power. The first and most-used campground is just northeast of the park entrance, and this is where the shower facility is located. Electrical outlets vary in amperage throughout this main loop, so be sure to choose a site that suits your power requirements.

Water is available in each camping area, but there are no water hookups. The faucets are scattered around the campground, and depending on the campsite, you may be able to fill your camper tanks without moving your rig if you have a long hose. The dump facility is located at the entrance to the main loop campground.

All of the camper sites are equipped with picnic tables and fire rings to assist your meal preparations. There are large grassy areas near each asphalt RV pad so that you can kick off your shoes and enjoy sunny days.

For those sites that are reservable, reservations can be made online. Bookings can be made up to a full year in advance.

First-come first-served

RV Campground

About half of the sites at the RV Campground are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Equestrian Camping

Niobrara State Park is very accommodating for those traveling with their equine companions. There’s a designated equestrian campground, though it is all primitive camping, with no facilities and just one basic toilet facility.

This is a first-come, first-served camping area, so you’ll want to arrive early in the day to claim your spot during the busy season. Riding is very popular at Niobrara.

Each spot is equipped with a picnic table and grill. There’s no water available for horses, so you’ll want to bring along buckets to keep your animals hydrated. One central corral is available for horses, but this fenced area is rather small and works best for animals that get along or are already familiar with each other.

Primitive Camping

If you're feeling more adventurous, you may want to look into Niobrara's primitive camping options. The park's central area is more rugged and wooded, with rolling hills and trees providing some windbreaks. Scattered across this portion of the park are about 30 primitive campsites. They are so spread out that every camper will have plenty of space to themselves. You certainly won't feel cramped while tent camping at Niobrara.

Each site sports its own fire ring and grill. Primitive campers can also use the park's showers, picnic tables, restrooms, and water spigots. These amenities are also well spread throughout the park, so, wherever you're camped, you shouldn't be more than a short walk away.

Sites can be taken on a first-come, first-served basis. Even during peak season, Niobrara's primitive sites are rarely filled to capacity, but it's still usually a good idea to grab a spot in the early afternoon if possible.

Alternate camping

Cabins

Looking for some extra creature comforts on your trip to Niobrara? You're in luck. The park sports 20 lovely cabins, all situated on high, grassy bluffs that offer a magnificent view of the mighty Missouri River below.

Though they look humble from the outside, these cabins are far from rustic. They boast fully furnished bedrooms, restrooms, and kitchens, and they also have AC and heat. The cabins also have everything you need to enjoy a summer cookout - grills, picnic tables, and screened-in porches are all standard for every cabin. Dig into a homemade meal while enjoying an unmatched view.

You can also expect plenty of privacy, peace, and quiet. The park's cabins are strung out along a long, looping road, and there's plenty of space in between each one. Depending on where you stay, you'll have easy, walking-distance access to hiking trails, overlooks, and/or the park's playground.

Niobrara's cabins can accommodate families of all sizes. Twelve cabins have two bedrooms, while the remaining eight have three bedrooms. Like the park's RV campsites, cabins can be reserved online. Bookings are taken up to one year in advance.

Seasonal activities in Niobrara State Park

Off-Season

Winter Sports

There are few alpine slopes to explore here in northeast Nebraska. However, there's still plenty to do during the winter months. Winter hiking is a popular activity, and in some years there’s enough snow accumulation for cross-country skiing. Grab your poles and ski boots and hit the large variety of trails and open spaces to refine your technique.

If you don’t like cross-country skiing, you can always opt for sledding. There's enough topography here to give you some great downhill coasting action and some heart-pounding uphill climbs. Don't let the park's seemingly mellow terrain fool you. Locals and out-of-state visitors often clamber up hills in the park and zoom down the hills for high-speed fun. Whatever winter activity you choose, you can be sure that you'll have lots of wintry landscape to yourself since it's less crowded during the off-season.

Fishing

Whether it's winter or summer, if you like river fishing, you’ll have limitless opportunities to wet your line at Niobrara State Park. Both rivers are filled with large numbers of species common to the Midwest, including sunfish, bluegill, channel catfish, and pike.

There is also a small lake within the park boundaries. Here, you’ll find picnic tables, grills, and a pavilion where you can lounge and soak up the rays while keeping an eye on your bobber. You can leave the RV behind, grab your pole and tackle box, and then stroll across the Chicago Northwestern footbridge at the north side of the park. This bridge affords you access to the Niobrara River and some Missouri River backwaters. Wherever you decide to cast your line within this scenic park, make sure you have a valid Nebraska state fishing license!

Birding

Because the park sits at the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers, it’s a haven for wildlife of all kinds. Many types of birds congregate in this area, either as migratory visitors or as permanent residents. The mix of habitats, including woods, fields, and riparian zones, allows for lots of avian diversity. In fact, biologists have logged at least 259 species of birds at the park.

Wild turkeys are common throughout the park, often clustering in large groups that are easy to spot from a camper or on foot. Keep your eyes peeled close to the river and you’ll likely see ospreys or bald eagles soaring overhead or hunting from treetops on the shoreline. Other park denizens include whip-poor-wills, greater prairie chickens, willets, and red-headed woodpeckers.

In-Season

Boating and Swimming

The park’s chlorinated pool is a hotspot during the blazing Nebraska summer days (highs in the 80s and 90s are common during midsummer). The pool is open, and staffed with lifeguards, from mid-June through mid-August.

If you pull a boat with your RV, you’re in luck, as there are miles and miles of waterways for you to explore (just don't make the common mistake of confusing this area with another water lover’s paradise – the Niobrara National Scenic River Area – which is 130 miles west of the park near Valentine, NE.)

You can slide your boat into the powerful waters of the Missouri River using a boat ramp located near the town of Niobrara. From the river, you can look up towards the forested bluffs and colorful cliff faces that comprise the park's northern end.

Horseback Riding

You’ll be able to saddle up your horse in many parts of Niobrara State Park, which is a popular destination for trail riders. Note that, unlike many parks that have a system of horse trails, the riding here is mostly free-range – you’ll be able to trot and gallop over 120 acres of open land.

The park itself organizes paid horseback rides during the peak season, when wranglers are available. They’ll lead you and your group across a rolling landscape, with lightly forested areas and swaying plains, evocative of the old west.

Hiking

There are around 14 miles of trails that meander over the hills, fields, and forests of Niobrara State Park. The most popular trail is Niobrara Loop Trail, a two-mile trek that’s moderately strenuous. Take in views of the Missouri River from atop forested bluffs - rolling hills and fields dotted with dark patches of conifers can be seen on both sides of the river's wide waters.

Pick up a trail map at the park office to help you find your way. The park's trail network has lots of interconnected routes, so you can create your own adventure. Pets are allowed on lots of the park's trails, just make sure they are leashed.

Find the perfect campsite.