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“I think we need to do a family vacation,” said my mother-in-law.
As my husband, brother and sister-in-law all looked at each other, we started racking our minds for what would be a good mini family vacay. It needed to have something for everyone, had to be close enough for a weekend trip from Omaha and had to be affordable.
We landed on the BEAUTIFUL Ponca State Park and since you need to book cabins at places like Ponca and Mahoney a full year out, we snagged a cabin that would fit us all.
Then, several months later, I had to break the news to my in-laws:
There was no way I was going to go on our family trip….
After all, it was smack dab ON the due date of our next little Cornhusker!!! I felt terrible having to cancel, but no way was I going to be hours away from home when I could go into labor at any moment!
While we were all able to scramble together a new date, it was now way too late to get availability at Ponca.
Lucky for us, Niobrara State Park still had a big enough cabin AND availability! While I was still uber preggo for our Niobrara NE weekend getaway, we still ended up having a great time at the beautiful state park.
^Thinking of a trip to Niobrara? Don’t forget to Pin it! ^
What You'll Find In This Artcile
- 1 Niobrara State Park Nebraska Location
- 2 Niobrara River Cabins
- 3 Niobrara Camping
- 4 Things To Do At Niobrara State Park
- 5 Niobrara Tubing and Camping
- 6 Things To Do Nearby Niobrara State Park
- 7 Niobrara NE Restaurants
- 8 The Wrap Up
Niobrara State Park Nebraska Location
Niobrara State Park is located just outside, well, the actual town of Niobrara in the Northeast corner of the state and gets its name by the Niobrara River that flows right along the outer edge of the park.
From Omaha to Niobrara State Park takes just about 3.5 hours, making it a great weekend trip and it’s just about the same from Lincoln as well.
Remember, as with all Nebraska State Parks, you will be required to have a permit. You can either get a day pass or an annual one for entrance.
Niobrara River Cabins
If you love the outdoors, but want the comforts of the indoors, it’s always worth looking into the Niobrara State Park Cabin Rentals, which are available year-round.
While there are only two sizes available (2 bedroom vs 3 bedroom), they are spacious enough even for a larger crowd and offer AMAZING views out over the twisting, turning Niobrara river down below or out over the green, rolling hills of the park itself.
Note: These are CABINS, not hotels and definitely nothing luxury.
I personally think they could use a bit of updating, but they were clean and about what you would expect from an outdoors cabin rental.
Check in is at 4pm and you must check out by 11am.
What is Included in the Cabins:
One of my favorite parts about renting one of the Niobrara cabins is that most of what you need is already provided
- Linens, blankets and bedding
- Huge dining tables, chairs and furniture (couch, chairs)
- Basic cookware such as pots and pans and hand towels and cutlery
- Bathroom Towels
- Air Conditioning as well as heating
- Indoor bathroom (sink, toilet, shower- the water heater even got all 8 of us through back to back showers!)
- TV (with Dish- this was ESSENTIAL for our guys on the first Husker game of the season!!!)
- Refrigerator, Stove/Oven, Microwave, Toaster
- Screened in deck
- Outdoor picnic table
- Outdoor grill
Niobrara State Park Cabin Prices and Reservations
(as of current writing)
- 1 Double Bed(room) + 1 Room with Two Sets of Bunk Beds (4 single beds). Rollaway available upon request
- Maximum number of people: 8
- 1 Queen(room) + 2 Separate rooms with two sets of bunks per room (8 total single beds). Rollaway available upon request
- Maximum number of people: 12
Search For Niobrara NE Lodging Availability Here on the state site.
- Wifi: There is no wifi at the cabins and data/cell service is spotty
- Water: We all thought the tap water tasted a bit “salty.” We used it for cooking and cleaning, but ended up getting some jugs of water from in town to drink from
- Paper Products: While there are a few kitchen towels, bring paper towels and/or napkins. We also were glad we brought along paper plates since there is no dishwasher, this was a huge time saver for our large group since we didn’t want to be spending all our time hand washing dishes!
Traveling With Your Pet
You are allowed to bring your furry friends for a $15 flat fee, but they are required to
- Be on a leash at all times outdoors
- May not be left unattended in the cabins (unless crated)
- Are not allowed on any furniture, beds or couches
Niobrara Tent Camping
Another lodging option is to grab your tent and camp at the State Park.
I have to say, we have done a fair share of camping in our lives, and the campsites at Niobrara are HANDS DOWN, some of the best I have seen!!!!
So many camping spots in the US are all crammed into tiny spots and you often feel like you are on top of your neighbors.
But not here.
There are tons of sites that feel completely secluded from the next tent site. Many are even tucked up and more into the woods, off of the three mile, one-way street that lines the campgrounds. They are practically hidden in little cleared grounds nestled in the elm and ash trees, giving a feeling of being a world away.
If you want a site with electricity, just inquire about it when reserving your site.
You can actually camp year-round (although I can’t say how fun that would be in a Nebraska winter!?) but there is a winter rate ($15/night). The main camping season is open from May-October.
Niobrara Camping Costs
There are 30 “primitive” camp sites and they are all first come, first serve. Meaning, you can’t book these online or even via phone prior to your trip. However, when talking to the office, they told us that they “almost never” are fully booked and so you most likely never have to worry about making the trip and not getting a site.
Cost: $10/night (Plus Park Fee Entrance/ Or Use Your Annual Pass)
Other Camping Info:
- Grills as well as fire pits can be found at each campsite
- Bathroom fascilities can be found throughout the park. There are even some no flush bathrooms located on many of the tent sites.
- Choose from tucked away in the woods or Niobrara river camping, right along the water
If you love camping, don’t forget to check out our reader favorite other camping posts:
Niobrara RV Sites
If you are wanting to still be out in the fresh air, but in the comforts of your own “home,” Niobrara has some exceptional RV sites as well. They include:
- Each site has a picnic table and grill
- “Modern” bathrooms
- Showers (coin operated)
- Washers and dryers (pay to use)
- Dump station
- Asphalt Pads
- 30 Amp electricity
What I really liked about the RV sites were that most of them were nicely shaded and some even had great views out over the Niobrara river.
There were even handicap friendly RV pads, which I thought was a fantastic amenity to the park!
Cost: $20/night + park fee entrance or use your annual pass
Things To Do At Niobrara State Park
There are so many things you can do to keep you busy for the weekend (or longer) at Niobrara. The sheer beauty of the area is perfect just for relaxing in, but if you like to get out and do more, here are some of the top things to do at the actual park.
NOTE: There were chigger warnings everywhere! I’m not sure if it was because of all the grasses, the trees or the river waters but whatever the reason for an overabundance of chiggers, I didn’t want to mess with those horribly inconvenient bites!
Be sure to have repellant that is specific to chiggers, like this one. The little buggers love tight clothing, so spray particularly well around anything that has a band (socks, underwear, bra, etc)
Horseback Riding through the gorgeous rolling hills. $18/per person. Available in the summer months.
Swimming (Open Mid June- Mid August). Daily Entrance: Adults $4. Children $3
Hiking: You could easily spend your whole time hiking along any of the 14 miles of well-maintained hiking trails in the park. While many people think of Nebraska as flat, that is NOT the case in this beautiful corner of the State.
While I wouldn’t say that the hills were DIFFICULT to hike in, just know that some paths aren’t an easy prairie stroll! However, you’ll be rewarded with great wildlife sightings and phenomenal views out over the river as well as the rolling hills all around you.
Wildlife Watching: This area is full of beautiful wildlife. If you are a nature photographer, get ready to spend your whole time on the lookout for things like white-tailed deer and turkeys (we saw a whole flock just meandering on the hiking path in front of us!). Along the river, don’t be surprised if you see beaver, mink, and muskrat. And of course, my two year old loved all the frogs and toads!
And if you are lucky, you might even spot some bald eagles!!
Fishing: There are several ponds within the park itself to fish at or head down to the rivers (Missouri and/or Niobrara). Just remember, you will need a fishing permit.
Insider Tip: There is even a handicap accessible bridge to fish upon (Northern section of the park) that goes over the Niobrara river.
Buffalo Cookouts: Memorial Day-Labor day. Get a full dinner of a buffalo burger, cole slaw, beans, potato salad, and lemonade or tea. Finish the evening with entertainment ranging from poets to storytellers to singers. Reservations ARE required (we literally called a few hours prior and still were able to book 8 people)
- Our cookout had a singing duet that sang cowboy songs and told the stories of the cattle drivers in the midwest. Our whole family really enjoyed the unique show!
- Cost: Adults $12. Children $8. 2 & Under Free (but do not get their own plates)
Playgrounds: If visiting the park with kiddos, there are numerous “playgrounds” scattered throughout the park. I use this word lightly though, as most had 1-2 pieces of equipment. The one nearest the cabins just had a few swings and one slide. But still, bring a soccer or football along and you can get some energy out all the same!
Niobrara Tubing and Camping
One of the MAJOR draws to the area is for people to go down the Niobrara river tubing! Many people going to Niobrara State Park will book a tubing (or canoe, kayak or tank) day trip that starts in Valentine, Nebraska and ends in the city of Niobrara.
I mean, how amazing does this look!? Instant Nebraska Bucketlist Item right here!
Booking a Niobrara NE Tubing Trip
The best and safest way to do a float trip is to go through a local company offering tours.
Depending on who you go with, there are full day options or even just a few hours available.
Of course, you can even do trips where you stop and camp along designated (private) campgrounds for the night before continuing on with the fun the following day!
Two of TripAdvisor’s Top Rated Niobrara Outfitters to book trips on are:
- Here is a full list of local outfitters as well as campgrounds that offer services for Niobrara camping and tubing.
Niobrara River Tanking
Oh, Nebraska! I love you! This is one of those activities that very few people outside of the state have heard of, yet it is a tried and true fun day that most locals know about.
Rent a horse tank (many companies now offer more “plush” plastic tanks that include things like seats and even picnic tables!) that fits basically a crowd and float on down the river!
Still can’t envision what “tanking” is? Here is a short clip from a local Nebraskan
Best Time To Go Down the Niobrara River in Nebraska
Obviously, summer is going to be the best weather if you are looking to dip your toes in and out of the water, plunge under the waterfalls and swim.
If you want to avoid huge crowds, don’t plan a trip for a Saturday! However, Sundays are shockingly not very busy and if you can swing a middle of the week trip, you just might have a pretty dang peaceful Niobrara float trip!
Insider Bonus Tip: Summer is high tourist season for floating the Niobrara, but Spring an Fall is the PERFECT time to canoe or kayak the Niobrara and you’ll most likely have the river almost all to yourself!
Things To Do Nearby Niobrara State Park
If you are looking to get off the park grounds, there are still quite a few things to do nearby.
Ashfall Fossil Beds
Only about 30 minutes south of Niobrara is the fascinating volcanic ashfall fossil beds. Who knew Nebraska was once home to such diverse prehistoric life!?
Insider Tip: My hubby’s family is SUPER into their Czech Heritage, so when we saw the town of Verdigre is the self-proclaimed “Kolache Capital” we felt compelled to stop on the way to the Ashfall Beds. I’ll be completely honest and say that I’ve had way better (you can either get them a the bakery or the tiny gas station) but who am I to ever say no to a kolach!?
Niobrara Golf Course
Go Tanking, Tubing, Canoeing or Kayaking
See above on this unique Nebraska activity!
Elk and Buffalo Ranch
Just outside the park is the Kreycik Elk Ranch where you can ride in a covered wagon through the picturesque rolling hills and get up close and personal with both local elk and buffalo!
Because of all the wildlife, hunters love the surrounding areas near Niobrara
Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area
The Lewis and Clark Lake is only about a half hour away from Niobrara. A lot of people love to combine the two state parks into one great trip. This huge reservoir is the ideal location for people who love water sports.
Outlaw Trail Scenic Byway Highway 12
Nebraska is home to some amazingly beautiful scenic byways, the Outlaw Trail on Highway 12 being just one of them. Views you wouldn’t typically associate with “Nebraska” (such as towering bluffs, waterfalls, windy rivers and more) are common sites along this highway.
Insider Tip: If you are heading to Valentine to do one of the Niobrara float trips, take this scenic byway for a beautiful drive!
If you are feeling lucky or just want a “night out” you can always try your hand at the Ohiya Casino, just 10 minutes outside of town.
Bazile Creek Wildlife Management Area
10 minutes out of the town of Niobrara, you can find the “Everglades of Nebraska”- a marshy, vast space, perfect for wildlife (especially birdwatchers!)
Niobrara NE Restaurants
If you are staying at the state park for the outdoors or in town for a fishing or hunting trip, you’ll find only a handful of restaurants in the actual town of Niobrara. There is a grocery store as well as a “general’s store” that you can also grab food at if you are wanting some last minute supplies for a cookout of your own.
- Country Cafe: Classic “homestyle cooking” and is a good option for breakfast
- Blue Moon: Typical “American style” type of food. Great burgers.
- Two Rivers Saloon Steakhouse: Variety of food and drinks
The Wrap Up
If you are looking for more than a weekend, a lot of people make a whole trip with a combination of the following ideas and locations, which are all really close and easily accessible to Niobrara
- Valentine, Nebraska (See the tallest waterfall in Nebraska; Smith Falls, go rafting and more)
- Cross off a Nebraska Bucketlist Item and go stargazing at Merritt Reservoir
- Hop the border and visit Yankton, South Dakota
- Get into water sports at Lewis and Clarke SRA
- Hike at the gorgeous Ponca State Park
Spending the weekend at Niobrara is a great way to see this really beautiful corner of Nebraska. When lost in flat, farm fields, we often forget that there are other parts of the state with green, rolling hills and cliffs.
Have you been to Niobrara State Park? What was your favorite part of your trip that others should know about?