As Nebraska’s state parks prepare for the fall season, some are adjusting their activity hours because of a limited workforce.
As schools return to session and park staffing levels become more limited, park managers must reduce hours of operation and services. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission encourages its patrons to call ahead before visiting a park to check on activity times and availability to ensure a great park experience.
- Archery Range
- Food Service
- Shooting Range
- Trail Rides
Upcoming park events
Situated in the picturesque Missouri River bluffs in northeastern Nebraska, Ponca State Park is the eastern gateway to the 59-mile section of the Missouri National Recreational River, one of two picturesque, unchannelized stretches of the river bordering Nebraska.
One of Nebraska’s most visited state parks, Ponca State Park is popular for its forested hills, scenic vistas, great wildlife watching, Missouri river access and beautiful and varied lodging options. During the spring months, the wetlands at Ponca State Park are a popular layover spot for many migrating bird species, and the park draws many bird watchers. The park offers many seasonal activities, including guided bird tours during the spring, naturalist events and family activities during the summer, haunted hayrack rides complete with local actors and impressive props during the fall and its nationally famous Fruitcake Fling each winter. Comfortable lodging, unique events and sweeping views of the river have made Ponca state park a popular destination for all types of family gatherings, from family vacations to weddings.Make a Reservation
Ponca State Park features one of the state’s most comprehensive outdoor and environmental education programs. On-site staff and volunteers are available to provide visitors with hands-on activities relating to cultural and natural history, conservation, stewardship and outdoor skills, as well as guided bird tours and other activities. Programs are given daily Memorial Day through Labor Day and on weekends only during the spring, fall and winter. The culmination of the park’s summer educational programming is the Missouri River Outdoor Expo, which allows thousands of guests from across the Midwest to try a multitude of activities including kayaking, archery, shooting sports, fishing and more free of charge. View the calendar for upcoming events.
Guests can explore the park’s backcountry on 22 miles of hike/bike trails. Mountain bikers in particular enjoy the diverse and often challenging trails. Guided hikes are offered to the public throughout the year and give visitors an opportunity to learn about the diversity of plants and animals within the park.
In the summer, swimmers can cool off at the park’s new aquatic center. The center is open daily Memorial Day through mid-August and is open on weekends only from the middle of August until Labor Day. Daily pool hours are 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Annual Family and Individual pass are available.
Experienced wranglers guide organized horseback rides through the scenic woodland bluffs and river overlooks. Rides run from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Additional information, schedules and tickets are available at the park office.
The Highland Oaks Public Golf Course is located on the southern boundary of the park. This challenging 9- hole course offers spectacular park vistas. The clubhouse offers a rental room for small family and business functions.
The Eric Wiebe Shooting Complex features all-weather ranges for pellet gun, archery, muzzle-loader, .22 rifle, shotgun, tomahawk, atlatl and slingshot. Visitors are welcome to bring their archery equipment to the 3-D archery range, but NO outside firearms or pellet guns/BB guns are allowed to be used in this educational shooting complex. Firearms will be provided by Ponca State Park for regularly scheduled shooting sports programs.
Two boat ramps, canoe/kayak launch/take-out and three miles of river access offer boaters and anglers many opportunities to experience the Missouri National Recreational River. Those floating or boating the river can take in the bluffs and experience the river as it was before it was channelized. The river also offers ample wildlife viewing opportunities, perhaps even including a sighting of a bald eagle. The river has great fishing and anglers commonly catch catfish, sauger, walleye, drum, and other river species. The park offers youth fishing programs weekly and a Fishing Tackle Loaner Program. Backwaters are an important habitat for wildlife and also serve as an excellent area for beginning kayaking.
Those interested in boating, fishing or floating on the river are encouraged to view the interactive Missouri River Outdoor Recreation Access Guide, which shows public access sites for fishing, hunting, boating, camping and more. It also serves as a navigation guide.
Ponca State Park’s dense woodlands offer a haven for many wildlife species. During the daytime, whitetail deer and wild turkeys are often seen throughout the park. In the spring, the woodlands come alive with the sound of migrant and resident songbirds. During peak migration (late April to early May) the park is a must-stop for any birdwatcher; in fact, Ponca State Park is listed by the National Audubon Society as one of the most important bird watching areas in the United States. Warblers, scarlet tanagers, northern orioles, red-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings and ruby-throated hummingbirds are just a few of the possible sightings.
Ponca State Park offers a variety of special events each year. The Missouri River Outdoor Expo held each September offers park visitors the chance to try kayaking, hiking, shooting sports, bow fishing and other outdoor pursuits at no cost. Exhibits about conservation, hunting and much more are available as well. More information on this popular event is available on the Missouri River Outdoor Expo website. Each October, Ponca State Park offers haunted hayrack rides, pumpkin roll contests, and other seasonal activities each weekend during the annual Hallowfest celebration. During the winter months, the park offers traditional seasonal activities including lighted hayrack rides, yule log quests and holiday crafts during Christmas in the Woods and Winterfest. The Christmas Bird Count, Great Backyard Bird Count and Marsh Madness draws birders to the park during the winter and the spring migration each March. The Women’s Wellness Weekend Retreat is held each January at Ponca State Park. Women enjoy a relaxing weekend of inspiring classes, pampering sessions and finding their inner peace.
Outdoor education programs, kayaking sessions, playgrounds, hayrack tours and a fishing tackle loaner program are available to park guests during the spring, summer and fall, weather permitting. During the winter months, the park offers a snowman building contest, ice fishing, a popular sledding hill, as well as groomed trails for cross country skiing. All programs are subject to change due to staffing or weather. For questions, call the park at 402-755-2284.
Towers in Time: This sculptural representation of three towers celebrates the origins of life, geological formations and the mammals found in the region from past eras through the present day. A waterfall titled Stairway of Falls and Reflecting Pond celebrates the water and its foundation for all life in the earth’s ecosystem.
Tri-state Overlook: This spot offers a picturesque view of the Missouri River, as well as views of three states: Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa.
Historic shelter houses: Two shelter houses built by the Civilian Conservation Corps are perfect for group picnics.
Old Oak Tree: Almost in the heart of the park is the Old Oak Tree. In 1964, the tree was officially aged at 320 years old, which means it was a sapling 24 years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock.
The Missouri National Recreational River Resource and Education Center houses meeting rooms that accommodate groups up to 250 or can be subdivided for smaller gatherings. A fully-equipped kitchen is available for rent and catering is available as well. A tranquil environment and the park’s many activities make it a great place for conferences, trainings, weddings and other group events. View our special event guide for more information.
View the Ponca State Park event planning portfolio
Ponca State Park offers 27 cabins year-round and 4 rustic cabins April through mid-November. Fifteen are year-round four bedroom mini-lodges. Each mini-lodge includes two full bathrooms, spacious kitchen, living room, patio, big screen TV, cable, wireless internet, wood fireplace, and gas grill. There are 10 year-round two bedroom cottages with full kitchen, electric fireplace, gas grill, wireless internet, and cable TV. Two year-round two bedroom green cabins are also available. They are constructed from straw bales, offering a unique and eco-friendly lodging option. The green cabins include a kitchen, bathroom, big-screen TV, cable, wireless internet, and gas grill. Four rustic cabins are open April through mid-November with kitchenette, bathroom and air-conditioning.
Bedding, towels, cooking utensils, dishes and tableware are provided at all cabins.
Ponca State Park offers Electric Plus, Electric and Basic camping. Turkey Ridge campground has 35 Electric Plus campsites that are first-come, first-served. Oak Bluff campground has 37 Electric Plus sites that reservable up to a year in advance. Riverfront Campground has 20 first-come, first-served campsites. Basic campsites are available for those that don’t need electricity. Basic campsites are first-come, first-served. Ponca State Park provides four group campsites perfect for scouting, or other group functions. Campgrounds include modern restrooms, showers, picnic tables, fire pits, nearby water spigots (not hookups), a dump and fill station and playground. Camping is available year-round; however modern facilities operate from April-October, weather permitting.
Camping reservations are available up to one year in advance of arrival in the electrical campsites of Oak Bluff campground. All other camping is first-come, first-served. Campers in first-come, first served sites can pay for their stay at one of the four black/metal iron ranges located in Turkey Ridge campground near the shower house, outside the Resource and Education Center, in the Riverfront campground near the restroom, or along the park roadway by the pop machines. Check or cash when paying at an iron ranger or debit/credit card payments can be made at the park office located inside the Resource and Education Center. Park maps and other detailed information are located on the bulletin boards in the campgrounds and outside the Resource and Education Center.
Ponca State Park offers reservation of half of the electrical campsites up to one year in advance. The remaining campsites are available first-come, first-serve. Guests can plan vacations, check for availability and make their reservations online 24 hours a day, seven days a week or can call the Nebraska State Parks reservation call center at 402-471-1414, Monday through Friday between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. Guests may also make reservations by calling the park directly at 402-755-2284. Shelter houses may be reserved by calling the park.
Make a reservation
A park entry permit is required and may be purchased at the park, statewide Game and Parks offices and permit vendors or in advance of your arrival online. For a complete list of park and activity fees, click the button below.VIEW ALL PARK FEES
- Danish Alps State Recreation Area: Completed in 2015, this state recreation area is home to Kramper Lake, which was designed with anglers in mind.
- Golf: The Highland Oaks Golf Course and Whispering Creek Golf Course are both located nearby.
- Museums and art: The Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, Sioux City Art Museum and Sioux City Art Center are offer cultural experiences in nearby Sioux City. The W. H. Over Museum and National Music Museum are both located in Vermillion, S.D.
- Shopping: The Southern Hills Mall and Lakeport Commons offer nearby shopping and dining.
- Winery: Buffalo Run Winery in Vermillion, S.D. is South Dakota’s first and oldest winery. Nissen Wine near Hartington, Nebraska, is a family-owned winery best known for its Outlaw Trail wine.
Address: Ponca State Park | 88090 Spur 26 E| Ponca, NE 68770-0688
Phone: (402) 755-2284
Email: Send email