National Parks in Nebraska Hero
National Parks,  Attractions

The 10 National Parks in Nebraska:
Get to Know Each One

To many people, Nebraska is flyover country – but we know better than that. While Nebraska may not have a reputation as an outdoor wonderland or historic site, it actually has both! There are 10 national parks in Nebraska, protected as part of the National Park Service (NPS). These range from stunning rock formations to sparkling waterfalls to historic trails and the still-standing homesteads along them.

While there are no National Parks in Nebraska (there are only 63 of those nationwide) but there are plenty of other natural and cultural wonders to see. These include National Monuments, National Historic Trails, and a National Scenic River.

If you’re curious to learn more about the national park units in Nebraska, this post will help. By the end, don’t be surprised if you’re eager to visit these ones along with other National Parks in the Great Plains.

In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of the Arapaho, Cheyenne, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Jiwere, Ndé Kónitsąąíí Gokíyaa (Lipan Apache), Umoⁿhoⁿ (Omaha), Yankton, Pâri (Pawnee), Oohenumpa, and Ponca peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

National Parks in Nebraska List & Map

Before jumping into each national park in Nebraska in greater detail, it helps to take a high-level look at the map and list of national park units in Nebraska.

The 10 national parks in Nebraska are:

  1. Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
  2. California National Historic Trail
  3. Chimney Rock National Historic Site
  4. Homestead National Historical Park
  5. Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
  6. Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
  7. Niobrara National Scenic River
  8. Oregon National Historic Trail
  9. Pony Express National Historic Trail
  10. Scotts Bluff National Monument
National Parks in Nebraska Map
Click to open in a new tab

Above, you’ll see a map I made of the national park units (including the trails/rivers in blue). It’s worth noting that the trails aren’t exactly accurate on the map. Many of these original trails and the stops and landmarks have been somewhat lost to the sands of time. Also, several of the trails in Nebraska overlap; if you’re curious to learn more, click through to the map and look at the notes on each one.

Now let’s dive into each of the national parks in Nebraska so you can decide which one(s) you want to visit!

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

Representing 20 million years of natural history, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is perfect for families and Indiana Jones wannabes. It features Miocene-age rocks that contain original fossil records. This area used to be a grass-savannah where prehistoric creatures lived.

The primary site has dozens of fossils – many still being excavated – where animals met their fate at a prehistoric past watering hole.

Details of Agate Fossil Beds National Monument:

  • Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is open year-round.
  • There is no admission fee for Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Agate Fossil Beds National Monument.

California National Historic Trail

California Trail - Fort Kearny

The California National Historic Trail was a mid-19th century highway used for migration to the west. This trail features a braiding of routes across Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and California. You can drive portions of the route; it now overlaps with many state and federal highways as it crosses some of the wild rural areas of the country. At various markers and sites along the route, you’ll also learn fascinating stories about emigrants, missionaries, and fortune seekers who came before. 

Details of California National Historic Trail:

  • Visitor centers and museums along the California National Historic Trail vary in opening hours and seasons.
  • Admission fees for these sites and museums also vary.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for California National Historic Trail.

Chimney Rock National Historic Site

National Parks in Nebraska - Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock National Historic Site is a towering symbol of the great western migration. Located at the southern edge of the North Platte River Valley, Chimney Rock is one of the most famous historic sites in Nebraska. Pioneer travelers on the California, Oregon, and Mormon trails used this natural geologic formation as a landmark during the great migration. 

The Chimney Rock is made of a thin spire that is 325 feet tall with a wide, conical base. This natural wonder is made up of several layers of volcanic ash and Brule clay which are about 34 million years old. Currently, this national monument has a visitor center nearby where you can learn about the history of Chimney Rock.

Details of Chimney Rock National Historic Site:

  • Chimney Rock National Historic Site is open year-round.
  • Admission to Chimney Rock National Historic Site is $3 for adults 18 and older.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Chimney Rock National Historic Site.

Homestead National Historical Park

National Parks in Nebraska - Homestead National Historical Park

Homestead National Historical Park is a historic location established in 1936. It serves as a symbol of immigrant opportunity and national development across 211 acres of land in Gage County, Nebraska. 

Homestead National Historical Park features a restored tallgrass prairie and serene woodlands that are accessible via numerous trails. There is also a creek and a hedgerow of extant Osage orange trees that have retained the site’s original historical significance.

Details of Homestead National Historical Park:

  • Homestead National Historical Park is open year-round with different hours for summer and winter.
  • There is no admission fee for Homestead National Historical Park.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Homestead National Historical Park

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

Many people know the basics of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. It took place from 1803 to 1806, which explored historical, natural, and cultural resources in the U.S. The trail they took – now a national historic trail – is about 8,000 miles long. It runs through Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.

In Nebraska, the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail traverses the border with South Dakota northwest of Sioux City. Some of the historic markers and the visitor center are on the Nebraska side.

Details of Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail:

  • Visitor centers and museums along the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail vary in opening hours and seasons.
  • Admission fees for these sites and museums also vary.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail.

Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail

Stretching over 1,300 miles, this national historic trail was traveled by 70,000 Mormons. From 1846 to 1869, Mormons traveled this trail to avoid religious persecution before settling in the west – primarily in Utah. Today, there are several historical sites found along the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail. In Nebraska, it overlaps the Oregon Trail through much of the state.

Details of Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail:

  • Visitor centers and museums along the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail vary in opening hours and seasons.
  • Admission fees for these sites and museums also vary.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail.

Niobrara National Scenic River

The Niobrara National Scenic River is another fantastic outdoor playground in Nebraska. You can enjoy several forms of water recreation activities here. You can canoe, kayak, or float down this peaceful, dynamic river. The best part of this unique area is the breathtaking waterfalls found around the region. My favorite is Smith Falls, which I had the chance to visit on a recent trip.

Details of Niobrara National Scenic River:

  • Niobrara National Scenic River is open year-round.
  • There is no admission fee for Niobrara National Scenic River.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Niobrara National Scenic River.

Oregon National Historic Trail

Oregon Trail

You already know a bit about it from the popular video game from the 1970s-1990s. This historic, multi-state trail spans 2,170 miles through Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington. Throughout the Great Plains, there are various museums, historic sites, original trail segments, and churches to visit along the trail. The Oregon Trail primarily follows the Platte River valley as it crosses westward toward its final destination.

Details of Oregon National Historic Trail:

  • Visitor centers and museums along the Oregon National Historic Trail vary in opening hours and seasons.
  • Admission fees for these sites and museums also vary.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Oregon National Historic Trail.

Pony Express National Historic Trail

We’ve all also heard about the Pony Express, right? The Pony Express National Historic Trail was used in the 19th Century for long-distance communication. Men would ride on horses through this trail for ten days or more to deliver mail from Missouri to California, including across Nebraska.

This trail ran through eight states and was the only means of east-west communication before the telegraph was invented. When touring this trail, make sure to check out the passport stamp sites and learn more about this mail delivery system’s history.

Details of Pony Express National Historic Trail:

  • Visitor centers and museums along the Pony Express National Historic Trail vary in opening hours and seasons.
  • Admission fees for these sites and museums also vary.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Pony Express National Historic Trail.

Scotts Bluff National Monument

Scotts Bluff National Monument is final proof that the Great Plains also have stunning natural scenery. This area protects over 3,000 acres of historic trail remnants along with towering bluffs, rugged badlands, and mixed-grass prairie. It’s not far from Chimney Rock, making both sites a great pair of destinations to visit in western Nebraska.

While visitation isn’t as high as other areas in Nebraska, some 200,000 visitors make the journey here each year.

Details of Scotts Bluff National Monument:

  • Scotts Bluff National Monument is open year-round.
  • Admission to Scotts Bluff National Monument is free.
  • Click here to visit the NPS page for Scotts Bluff National Monument.

While Nebraska might not seem like there’s much there, hopefully you’re now pleasantly surprised! Though there are no National Parks, Nebraska is home to 10 national park service units worth exploring. Best of all, they cover the range from historic sites to natural wonders. The only question is: which one(s) do you want to visit?

If you have questions about these national parks in Nebraska, let me know in the comments!

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