Well fellow Nebraskans. That’s it.
I think I found it.
My new favorite place for camping near Lincoln, Nebraska.
Nay, I might be bold enough to say it’s at the top of my list for the best camping in Nebraska! (Maybe….juuuust maybe)
Pawnee State Recreation Area is a part of the Nebraska State Parks and Recreational Areas and I am LOVING it!
I know, bold statement, right!?
^Pin It To Your “Nebraska Travel” Board!^
Now, you may or may not agree with me based off of what you personally want from a camping experience.
If you are looking for campgrounds in Nebraska that get you into nature, away from it all, just sitting around the campfire and the lake relaxing, then Pawnee SRA is for you.
If you are you looking for fun things to do while camping, like archery, pottery classes, and putt putt, then give Pawnee lake a try, but maybe a place like Mahoney is more your speed.
Pawnee Quick Facts Before You Go
Pawnee State Recreational Area is located right outside of Lincoln, making it the perfect campgrounds near Omaha, NE as well as Lincoln, Nebraska City, Beatrice, York and much of Southeast Nebraska in general.
Pawnee lake is just 20 minutes from Lincoln and just an hour from Omaha.
Perfect for I-80 travelers: Many people stay on the interstate when traveling cross country and this is the perfect camping near I 80 Nebraska for those not wanting to spend too much time veering from the main roadway.
Pawnee SRA Address: 3900 NW 105th, Lincoln, NE 68524
Contact: (402) 796-2362
Pawnee SRA Costs:
We’ll talk more in detail about the camping costs below (skip down to the full Camping section), but you’ll also need a valid Nebraska State Parks Permit for your vehicle. You can read my post all about the Nebraska Permits here, including resident vs non resident fees.
Open Year Around
The SRA is open year- round, but obviously, most of the main things to do here will be best enjoyed during the warmer months.
There is an office on-site (8am-4pm) where you can buy your permits/ ask questions, etc.
No General Store
If you need wood to build a fire, or realize you forgot that bug spray, need ice, or any other last-minute supplies, note that there is no store or concessions on site. You can stop into Lincoln to ensure you have all your supplies, or try for any other nearby town, like Malcolm.
Speaking of Things To Bring. Have you checked out some of our favorite camping guides?
Things To do At Pawnee Recreation Area
With over 740 acres of water and 1800 acres of land, it’s no wonder Pawnee SRA is a great place to getaway from the nearby cities.
I’ll go into much more detail below (sites, costs, etc) but if you love to camp, you’ve got to put Pawnee SRA on your list!
You’ll find plenty of locals out fishing either from the shore or on their boats. You can expect to find:
- Plenty of catfish
- Some bass hiding in the corners
- The typical panfish (crappie, bluegill)
The beach at Pawnee lake is absolutely perfect for swimmers. It is shallow and well-marked, making it ideal for even younger kids. A few years back, swimming wasn’t allowed on the lake due to algae, but it is now under control and monitored closely, so you can consider the lake safe again for dipping in on a hot summer day.
Boating and Jet Skiing (and tubing)
The lake is actually pretty big, making it a great place for people to get out and jet ski, go tubing, or just have a fun day out on the boat! There are four separate boating docks making for easy entry into the lake.
There are several trails throughout Pawnee SRA. Some are better maintained than others.
I was pretty disappointed that there were numerous times that we would be well on our way down a path only to get to a section that clearly wasn’t mowed or tracked down and we just had to turn back around. Alternatively, the path itself just got too bad to continue on.
Also, we were there the summer after the horrible 2019 flooding, which apparently, due to the massive amounts of water, mosquitos have just been out of control everywhere. The woods here were no exception. When I say we were swarmed by mosquitos, I mean, SWARMED! So bad that we finally threw in the towel because the mozzies were worse than the unkempt trails! (At least trails can be overcome with proper foot attire and clothing)
I REALLY wish I could paint a more vivid description of the mosquitos (and I am just going to hope that it was just this season that was bad) but I guess I’ll still try.
You know Pig Pen from Charlie Brown? Yeah, the little kid that always has a cloud of dust circling him?
Imagine that. But with MOSQUITOS!!! It was baaaaad.
(but something tells me that once your in the humid forest, no matter the year, there just might be a lot of mosquitos here. Period).
Hiking/ Camping Tip For Mosquitos: Have you heard of the Bug Bite Thing (no seriously, that’s what it’s called!) I LOVE mine. As soon as you get bit, you basically suction the salvia or venom that create the allergic reaction and itching. The swelling and itching go down almost immediately. Needless to say, we were all fighting over The Bug Bite Thing as soon as we got back to camp from the woods!!!
With the proper permit and within season, hunters can find small game, waterfowl and even deer.
If you’ve got your own horses, there are some really great trails to take. They are all well marked and could make for a beautiful ride.
There are a few playgrounds around but I use the word “playground” loosely. Instead, think of it more like a few play structures. Regardless, my little one enjoyed them!
Camping With a Toddler? Check out “How To Survive Camping With a Toddler” Guide
Picnic and Grilling Areas
Along the beach of the lake, there are plenty of picnic areas along with grills. There are even some pavillions alongside the beach as well at the main swimming area.
Camping at Pawnee State Recreation Area
General Pawnee SRA Camping Information:
Nebraska Camping and Pawnee SRA Costs
State Park Pass
In order to stay at any Nebraska State Park or SRA, you’ll need a valid Nebraska Parks Pass on your car. I have an entire article all about who needs these, how much they cost, and more here.
But, for a quick recap (as of 2019), an annual pass is $30 for Nebraska residents (click the link above if you are out of state for further info) or you can get a day pass for $6.
It’s probably best for you to just get these ahead of time, but you if you get to the SRA within the business hours, you can purchase your pass there.
Pawnee SRA Camping Fees
Electric Plus Sites (50 amp): $30/night
Plain Electric (30 amp): $25/night
Basic (no electric): $15/night
There are self-pay spots all over the campgrounds that you just fill in your information and leave your money. Therefore, I recommend either having exact cash on hand or a check book.
Booking a Campsite
There are several walk up and non-reservable spots at Pawnee (you can see which ones say “Non Reservable” on this map) and the system doesn’t allow you to book within a few days of a trip (therefore you will have to see if any walk-ups are available…chances are there will be). But, if you would like to book a spot ahead of time, you can do that here.
There are four main areas to camp at (Areas 1,2,3,4)
Honestly, no matter where you decide to set up camp, you are probably going to be in a good spot. It seemed like the vast majority of locations had great shade. Some were a bit more spacious than others, but all were generally the same.
Even the basic sites had a firepit and a picnic table.
Lakeview (area 4)
Depending on what kind of camping you are doing (RV vs Tent), this campsite will get you much closer or even camping ON the lake (literally…you can tent camp right on the shore!) this is where you are going to find the majority of the electric sites.
There are basic (primitive) sites here that are right on the lake and that have a firepit and picnic table.
This area has modern bathroom facilities and gives you a good proximity to the lake.
These are the areas to stay if you want basic camping (both for tent and RV). There are still really nice concrete pads to park any RVs on many of the sites and at Area 2, there is even some space to park an RV near the boat ramp right on the lake as well (but again, no electric here)
Area 2 also has great primitive lakeshore camping
Lakeside Tent Camping
While there are several lakeside camping locations in Nebraska, as stated earlier, this one puts you literally on the shore of the lake!! There are few things more peaceful than looking out the door of your tent as the sun rises over the peaceful water.
You can get these primitive and basic tent sites ($15/night) at the Lakeview and Area 2 sites.
Why I Enjoyed Camping at Pawnee SRA So Much
Ok, so why did I love camping here so much over other places? From what I could tell, the Pawnee campground was really well maintained (for the most part.)
There are a ton of camping sites here (both pads and tent sites) which means that there is plenty of space for everyone. We went during the week and we basically had the place to ourselves! There were a handful of other RV campers and I could count the number of tents on one hand!
Modern Bathroom Facilities
Near the RV campsites (Lakeview site), there are hot showers, sinks, and flush toilets. I wouldn’t say that these bathrooms were immaculate, but they also weren’t the worst camping bathrooms I’ve seen either! They looked to be cleaned often, but you could tell that maybe the bathrooms are a little outdated. But, you aren’t going camping for posh amenities now are you?
At the tent sites as well as at public access areas on the lake the toilets were in permanent structures, but still outhouse type of building. Despite this though, they were also clean, did not smell, and were not a problem to use.
All The Above Activities
While there are no major attractions like at some of the other bigger state parks, you could easily spend the day combining all the above activities: floating by the lake, grilling out, hiking, and just having a great relaxing time. It felt so peaceful, calm and rejuvenating to stay at a place that had a slower pace and calmer atmosphere than some of the busier state parks.
If you are looking for places to camp in Nebraska, we are continuing to build our Camping In Nebraska Archives. Check out some of our other favorites so far!