Four-and-a-half hours from Denver, far from the crowds and soul-crushing traffic, lies an oasis steeped in Old West tradition. Here, you’ll find over 200 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding that fans out from two main towns: Chadron, a hip college hamlet, and Crawford, more traditionally cowpoke. Basecamp at either spot (or in one of the 15 public campgrounds nearby), and you can explore 169,000 acres of public lands, including two state parks, the Nebraska National Forest, the Oglala Grasslands all in an escarpment south of the Black Hills. The land here remains largely unchanged from the pioneer days—meaning the trails and campgrounds are relatively vacant, the hiking and mountain biking are on par with Front Range classics, and the towns are still humble little down-home places where the customer—not the dollar—is king. Here are seven of a million reasons why you should Discover #NWNebraska:
1. Chadron State Park
Chadron State Park is Nebraska’s first state park. The 972-acre park is located in the heart of the Nebraska National Forest, surrounded by stately ponderosa pines with distant views of the Pine Ridge escarpment.
Miles of hiking trails branch across the Park and several extensions to the National Forest, giving you new places to explore in the scenic west.
2. Fort Robinson State Park
At 22,000 acres, this is the largest state park in Nebraska. Formerly an active military post, Fort Robinson is now a popular destination for outdoor, recreational enthusiasts and history buffs. The park offers some of the most beautiful scenery in the West and you can enjoy learning about Old West history, hiking and biking, camping, great lodging, and sights of buffalo and longhorn cattle herds.
Get acquainted with the park by taking a ride in a horse-drawn wagon, or enjoy the open air on horseback. If you’re feeling more adventurous, tour the buttes in an open-top Jeep. On the popular Fort Robinson Express, you can experience the way pioneers and settlers traveled a century ago—by stagecoach. In the afternoon, you can enjoy a cool swim indoors in the Lindeken Pool, which also has an outdoor wading pool and sundeck. Fishing is available at Soldier Creek or in any of the open ponds.
3. Toadstool Geologic Park
Have you ever wanted to hike through a lunar landscape? The Toadstool Geologic Park is just up the road north of Crawford in the Oglala National Grassland and provides that opportunity. The Park gets its name for the unique rock formations—giant, narrow clay pedestals topped with slabs of sandstone that resemble toadstool mushrooms. Many of the rocks preserve fossils and footprints of extinct species like tortoises, rhinos, saber-toothed cats, early three-toed horses, camels, and lizards.
4. Agate Fossil Beds & Cook Collection
Nineteen million years ago, strange creatures roamed the savanna that is now western Nebraska. The ancient mammals included tiny, two-horned rhinoceros, the Moropus—a horse/giraffe/tapir/rhinoceros/bear-like creature, and the ferocious 7-foot-tall large tusked pig. Though well known for decades by the Lakota, the first fossils were discovered by Captain James H. Cook in 1878. Cook and his son, Harold, developed a headquarters at Agate Springs Ranch for fellow paleontologists. Skulls and complete skeletons were found in the early 1900s, many of which were housed at the Carnegie Museum and the American Museum of Natural
5. High Plains Homestead
One of the things that makes this area so neat is the people you’ll meet. The High Plains Homestead is one family’s living tribute to the Old West—rugged log buildings including a saloon and mercantile, old-fashioned candy, Native American pottery, a 1900s schoolhouse, wagons, windmills, and roaming buffalo.
We could talk more about all the things that you’ll find there but there are two important features. One is the food. Come hungry. Order the steak, and save room for some pie. You will not regret these decisions.
6. Museum of the Fur Trade
If you are interested in western history the Museum of the Fur Trade is a must see. It’s just three miles east of Chadron on Highway 20. The museum is dedicated to providing educational, comprehensive, and accurate exhibits that communicate the truth and relevance of one of America’s first business enterprises—the fur trade. Among some of the incredibly rare artifacts, visitors can see are a narwhal tusk, numerous rifles, including a gun that once belonged to Shawnee chief Tecumseh, and Native American beadwork.
7. Hudson-Meng Bison Bonebed
In 1954, while attempting to dig a stockpond, Nebraska ranchers Bill Hudson and Albert Meng uncovered a large pile of bones. The site is believed to be the bonebed of nearly 600 Bison antiquus, an extinct relative of today’s modern bison, which perished more than 10,000 years ago. Considered to be one of the most important archaeological discoveries in North America, the Hudson-Meng site has been enrolled on the National Register of Historic Places.