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We’ll be honest here. Nebraska isn’t exactly known for it’s city life (outside of Omaha). So, when I made my bucketlist of all the places I wanted to see in the Cornhusker state, it wasn’t too surprising that a lot of them fell under the “outdoors” category.
But what IS surprising (even to some Nebraskans) is that our state is more than just cornfields.

Enter Nebraska State Parks

Growing up in Omaha, climbing the tower at Mahoney State Park that let you soak in miles upon miles of beautiful fields, rivers and horizons or hiking (ok, we always went “mud stomping!”) through the many trails and streams of Platte State Park were an annual occurrence.

But this would only be scratching the service of Nebraska’s 8 State Parks, 9 Historical Parks, and 66 State Recreation Areas and the small handful national parks in Nebraska that dot the map across the entire state.


So, to do my best due diligence in seeing the best state parks in Nebraska, I naturally got an annual Nebraska State Parks Pass, then started making my list of all the state parks that we were going to visit this year (and of course, created ANOTHER list of all the ones that are must-sees down the road). Can you tell that I’m a list-maker!?

And if you don’t agree yet, here are 9 More Reasons to Visit a Nebraska State Park this year.

Planning a Camping Trip This Year?

Click here for my bare minimum ESSENTIALS packing list for every camping trip.


Nebraska Game and Parks Commissions 2018 Important Information

Indian Cave State Park Nebraska. Photo Courtesy Nebraska Tourism


General Information:

Nebraska Parks and Recreation requires a State Park Pass for all state parks, rec areas and historical parks.
The permits are good for one year (January-December) NOT from one year of purchase

Nebraska State Park Annual Pass: Costs

The cost of a permit allows for everyone entering in one vehicle to be covered for entrance. (Just another reason for my “No Shame in My Mom Van!!”) but must be located inside the windshield (aka, no passing the sticker from one car to another)

For Nebraska State Residents: $31.00 Good from January-December
Non Residents: $46.00 Good from January-December

Daily Entrance

Daily Entrance Fees: Nebraska State Residents= $6.00 Per Day/ Per Vehicle
Daily Entrance Fees: Non Residents= $8.00 Per Day/ Per Vehicle

Duplicate Passes for Nebraska State Parks

If you have more than one vehicle that you might be using, it’s not a bad idea to purchase a “duplicate.” A duplicate permit is only good for one household or if you are selling your vehicle that has a valid permit already in it and you need a new one for your new vehicle.

Duplicates for Residents: $16.00
Duplicates for Non Residents: $23.50

Where To Buy Nebraska State Park Pass

I honestly think it’s just easiest to buy your permit when you arrive at the State park. There is always a welcome or visitors center where you can get your physical pass to put in your car.

Alternatively, you can also just hop online now and get it https://ngpc-home.ne.gov/.  If your purchase your pass online, you’ll need to print a temporary (up to 14 days) pass that must be displayed in your car until the physical permit is mailed to you.


Camping in Nebraska

There are TONS of campgrounds in Nebraska, but honestly, some of my favorites can be found at the State Parks (which again, will require a Nebraska parks permit for entry).

Cabins In Nebraska

Mahoney State Park Nebraska Cabins
Mahoney State Park Nebraska Cabins. Photo Courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Not all State Parks have cabins.  The following is a list that has cabins or lodging facilities.

  • Chadron
  • Eugene T. Mahoney
  • Fort Robinson
  • Lewis and Clark
  • Medicine Creek Resevoir
  • Niobrara State Park
  • Platte River State Park
  • Ponca State Park
  • Two Rivers State Recreational Area
  • Victoria Springs State Rec Area

Tent Camping In Nebraska

Tent Camping in Nebraska at Pawnee SRA.
Tent Camping in Nebraska at Pawnee SRA. Photo Courtesy Nebraska Tourism

If you are looking for campgrounds in Nebraska where you can pitch a tent, there are 25 options, all over the state!  Including all the locations above, here are the ones that also offer tent camping.

  • Branched Oak
  • Calamus
  • Fort Kearney
  • Fort Robinson
  • Fremont SRA (State Recrational Area)
  • Indian Cave SP (State Park)
  • Johnson Lake SRA
  • Lake Minatare SRA
  • Lake Ogallala SRA
  • Lake Wanahoo SRA
  • Louisville SRA
  • Merritt Resevoir
  • Morman Island
  • Pawnee SRA

Nebraska RV Parks

RV Camping in Nebraska
RV camping at Lake McConaughy. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

In addition to all the locations above, two more state parks also offer some great RV hook ups for those of you looking for a bit more luxury and “bit of home” while camping.  In fact, we love “glamping!” in our Pop Up when heading to the State Parks!

  • Johnson Lake
  • Lake McConaughy


Nebraska state parks camping is one of my FAVORITE ways to see the state parks and is honestly some of the best no-hassle, best camping in Nebraska!  Which ones are your absolute favorites?


Things to Do at a Nebraska State Park

Calamus Windsurfing! Photo Courtesy Nebraska Tourism


The great thing about this is that it is going to vary wildly depending on where you choose to go.  Here is just a small snapshot of all the things you can do.  Get creative, explore each and every state park and see what unique offerings they have!  You will most likely be shocked!

  • Horseback riding (ex: Mahoney)
  • Sailing (ex: Lake Mac)
  • Hiking/ Walking Trails (ex: Chadron)
  • Star Gazing (ex: Merritt)
  • Fishing (most locations)
  • “Surfing” and Watersports (ex: Lewis and Clark)
  • Camping (most locations)
  • Arts and crafts (ex: Mahoney)
  • Bird Watching



Other Permits Required

Other permits that must be obtained in the State of Nebraska are the following:

  • Nebraska hunting permits
  • Nebraska fishing license

Again, these are extremely easy to purchase on the same site listed above for the state park passes and are a great supplement to your state park trip if you plan on throwing a pole in with your kiddo or plan on doing some deer, turkey, pheasant (etc) hunting.


Here’s how I see it.

With the cost of the National Park Passes (America the Beautiful) going up astronomically, why not stay local and explore more in our own backyard? There’s so much to see in Nebraska alone that maybe places like Yellowstone and the Rockies can wait.

Plus, to make sure I get my money’s worth, that means that all I have to do is go to a State Park 6 times to have paid for itself rather than just doing the daily entrance fee.

If I have an excuse to

1) Travel

2) Save Money

Then you know I’m game!


The Takeaway

Biking at Chadron State Park. Photo Courtesy Nebraska Tourism

While many Nebraskans get enamored by far away National Parks (uuum, can anyone say HELLO gorgeous Grand Canyon? Snorkel with sea turtles in the Dry Tortugas? YES PLEASE!) we often forget what is right here in our own backyard….and for a FRACTION of the price!

Your Homework

Sometimes, all we need to do is know what is here. So, I have some homework for anyone out there that wants to get inspired to see what gems Nebarska has.
1) Find a Nebraska State Park (near or far from home)
2) Look at your calendar. Set a tentative date.  It can change.  But if you have it penciled in, you are more likely to actually do it!
3) Commit to a weekend away or even just a day trip to get out of your daily rut by telling me where you are going and why in the comments!

Happy Nebraska Exploring!!!



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