Niobrara State Park
Guide

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Introduction

Where the Niobrara and Missouri rivers meet, you find Niobrara State Park, a haven for RV campers in northeast Nebraska. This outpost of recreation rests in the bluffs just west of the small town of Niobrara, and with about 1,640 acres, it’s big enough for a bit of stretching room in a landscape that sprawls across the Great Plains horizon.

The 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 lovers 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 is interspersed with open plains and forests and also includes a dinosaur bone excavation site. Open year-round, the park features hot and humid summers followed by typical harsh Midwestern winters, when icy, howling winds and blizzards sometimes whip through this region. In spite of the often-challenging weather, many species of wildlife thrive here, from whitetail deer, wild turkeys, and foxes to waterfowl and forest-loving birds.

In total, there are 76 total electric sites at Niobrara State Park, 50 of which are equipped with 50-amp outlets, and all of these are available year-round. There are also 19 cabin sites, as well as a range of sites reserved for equestrian groups. Groups are welcome here, too, and 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.

RV Rentals in Niobrara State Park

Transportation in Niobrara State Park

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.

With its gentle hills and often-sparse forests, a stout pair of hiking boots will let you leave behind the RV for a while to stroll just about anywhere you want through this park. 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. Understand that the 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.

Parking

Public Transport

Campgrounds and parking in Niobrara State Park

Campsites in Niobrara State Park

Reservations camping

RV Campground

Niobrara State Park has 76 total campsites available for tents and RVs. 50 are equipped with 50-amp outlets, and the others are available with 20/30/50-amp hookups. Only 30 of the electrified sites are reservable online, the rest are available on a first-come, first-served. Your pet is 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 hookups. The faucets are scattered depending on the campsite and 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.

The second RV camping area is roughly two miles into the park at the end of the loop road. There, you’ll find four powered sites in a small loop.

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.

Should you decide for a more adventurous and primitive outdoors experience, you can choose from numerous tent campsites scattered throughout the park. No matter whether you select an RV or tent site, you’ll always be within reasonable walking distance of toilet facilities.

Niobrara State Park is particularly well-known for its extensive collection of cabins. You can reserve any of the 20 cabins; 12 of them are two-bedroom versions, while 7 are of the three-bedroom variety. Note that RV camping near cabins is prohibited.

If you’re looking for a more primitive camping experience there are also three backcountry campsites available for use. For those desiring more comfort, several camper cabins are available for rent throughout the year.

First-come first-served

RV Campground

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 horse lovers. There’s a designated equestrian campground, but 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.

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.

Alternate camping

Seasonal activities in Niobrara State Park

In-Season

Boating and Swimming

The park’s chlorinated pool is a hotspot during the blazing Nebraska summer days. Of course, once the weather cools, this pool is cleaned out and emptied for the season.

If you pull a boat with your RV, you’re in luck, as there are miles and miles of waterways for you to explore. Be sure not to make a common mistake by 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. Here, you can slide your boat into the powerful waters of the Missouri River thanks to a boat ramp located near the town of Niobrara.

Horseback Riding

You’ll be able to saddle up your horse in many parts of Niobrara State Park, which is a popular destination for the equestrian-minded. 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 in-season when wranglers are available. They’ll lead you and your group through lightly forested areas and plains.

Hiking

There are around 14 miles of trails winding through Niobrara State Park. The most popular trail is Niobrara Loop Trail, a two-mile trek that’s moderately strenuous. It’s a popular place for hiking and trail running, and dogs are welcome but must be leashed. There are some small hills here and you’ll experience a total elevation gain of about 160 feet over the course of the route.

Pick up a trail map at the park office to help you find your way. Trail spurs will let you choose your own adventure, from hilltops to river access depending on your preferences.

Off-Season

Skiing and Sledding

This being Nebraska, there no alpine slopes to explore. 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. There are enough hills to give you some downhill coasting action, as well as enough elevation to make your heart pound on climbs.

If you don’t like cross-country skiing, you can always opt for sledding. Locals and out-of-state visitors often clamber up hills in the park and zoom down the hills for high-speed fun.

Fishing

In the 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.

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 part of their migration route or as part of their more permanent homes, either in the riparian terrain or throughout more wooded habitat scattered through the region.

Thanks to the diverse ecosystem found here, biologists have logged around 259 birds species. 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.

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