Kick off the New Year and the 100th anniversary of Nebraska’s state parks by participating in self-guided First Day Hikes on Jan. 1, 2021!
Nebraska’s annual First Day Hikes are a chance to explore trails, watch wildlife, snap photos and create a lifetime of memories. This year, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission encourages families to take self-guided hikes between Jan. 1 and 3 at a Nebraska state park, state historical park, or state recreation area.
Though parks usually offer guided tours, hot chocolate and more, this year’s First Day Hikes have been adjusted to account for the current public health situation. Select parks are planning on giving the event their own unique spin, including a treasure hunt, selfie station and more on popular trails.
Check back often for park updates.
Hike Information and Recommendations
· Recommend Old Oak Trail
– 1.25 mile loop: easy – moderate
– Maps and discovery brochure located at the trailhead or at the resource and education center.
– Trailheads near the old oak tree or the west shelter house.
– Points of interest along the trail will be identified.
· Recommend Tri-State Overlook Trail Gnome Hunt
– 1.5 mile loop: easy – moderate
– 10 gnomes placed along the trail for hikers to find.
– Points of interest along the trail will be identified.
· Recommend Trail #1
– 1.7 miles long.
– Trail starts on ridgetops, drops down to cross a small seasonal creek and climbs back up to ridgetops on the other side. Moderate hill climbs.
– Pets allowed on leash.
– Deer, raccoon and an abundance of birds, including the Bald Eagle may be seen. The trail provides a view of the Missouri River.
A trail map/guide can be picked up at the park entrance kiosk.
· Recommend main loop trail
– Paved (non-shoveled), 3-mile loop through the center of the park.
– Kid- and stroller-friendly depending upon snow/ice.
· Recommend Century Link Trail
– Non-paved, 0.5 mile long trail around Century Link Lake.
– Recently stocked with 2,500 trout. Ice conditions vary, always use caution.
Observation tower is closed at this time due to construction of a new event facility.
Park Kiosk and buildings are open for masked entry and purchase of 2021 Park Entry Permits!
· Recommended Trails
– The Hackberry Trailhead is a great starting location for Schramm hikes. You can take the Hackberry loop and come out at the top of the Burr Oak Loop Trail, then hike down the road to the playground and picnic areas. You can also continue on to the upper loop of Red Cedar Trail, where you will find our Suspension Bridge and cross the creek.
– Both Hackberry and Red Cedar Trail are hilly dirt trails that are non-shoveled. If you prefer a paved trail, stay on the main road and service road or venture up the hills of Burr Oak Loop Trail.
· First Day Hike Activities
– Look for a First Day Hike Scavenger Hunt at the Hackberry Trailhead to complete as you explore the park.
– Schramm Education Center will be open between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. You can purchase your 2021 Annual Park Sticker and get a Scavenger Hunt as well. While some exhibits are limited, we have reduced our entry fee ($5 adults, $4 youth, 3 and under free). Get a Snowflake Activity Kit with your paid entry.
– Visit our First Day Hike photo-op across from the Hatch House. Take your photo and then share on Facebook or Instagram. Tag us @schrammparknebraska on Instagram or use the hashtag #schrammparknebraska.
· Recommend Homestead Knolls Campground Nature Trail
– Overlooks the campground and lake.
– Look for the selfie station for a fun photo opportunity!
· Recommend Fort Kearny hike/bike trail.
– Visitors can hike 400 yards to the first bridge, 1 mile to the second bridge, or up to 12 miles to Cottonmill Park in Kearney. 13.1 miles if entire trail is hiked.
– Easy flat concrete trail. May have some snow.
– Bring binoculars and camera. Enjoy nature.
· Recommend hike: Begin at visitor center and follow the campground/horse camp trail down to the ranches and return to the visitor center.
– Start just west of the Visitor Center parking lot at the signboard for the wagon ruts, follow the trail along the creek to the historic ranches, and return by going up the hill back to the Visitor Center. Horseback riders would need to start from horse camp and follow the designated horse trail down and back from the ranches. Although the hike is an easy 1-mile loop, the trails are unpaved and may be difficult for those visitors with mobility issues or those pushing strollers. Pets are welcome, but must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet.
– Be sure to take a picture with the oxen and sleigh in the parking lot center island to commemorate your First Day Hike at Rock Creek Station SHP. The Visitor Center will be open on Jan. 1 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. to purchase 2021 park permits. Daily park permits, self-guided tour information, and park maps are also available at the self-pay station and brochure box in front of the Visitor Center.
· Recommended Trails
– Redwood Trail; begin in the Redwood area parking lot.
– Hike loops around the Redwood area. Views of the lake and rolling hills. Excellent wildlife viewing (deer, turkey, waterfowl).
– Sledding also is available, weather permitting. Please bring your own sled.
· Recommended Trails: Platte River Trail
– Mormon Island traditionally offers a First Day Hike at midnight and encourages hikers to ring in the new year with a midnight hike.
– Trails is 1-half mile long on level ground and travels past the Platte River and the Cedar Campground.
– Trail will be lighted for nighttime hiking. Please bring a light and use caution.
· Recommend the “Western Winter Walkabout”
– Begin at the mansion and explore the park’s walking paths to see the barn, live bison, historic grounds, Scout Creek and more.
– Walk in the footsteps of Buffalo Bill himself while enjoying the fresh air of New Year’s day.
– Feel free to make a snowman or snow angel on the park grounds and post a tagged picture.
· Recommend Medicine Wheel Trail (1 mile, easy hike)
– Trailhead is located just off the paved road approximately 1/4 east of the visitor center. There is a small parking pull off available. Ash Hollow brochures and trail guides are located in the mailbox at the beginning of the trailhead. This hike is an all dirt and grass path.
• Recommend School House Trial (3 miles, moderate)
– Trail begins at the visitor center, continues toward the cave, down to the spring, following the gravel to the hill and continuing back to the visitors center. Parking is the visitors center parking lot. THIS ROUTE IS WEATHER DEPENDENT! ICE AND SNOW CAN CAUSE MAJOR ISSUES TO HIKERS due to the steepness of the trail. This hike is a combination of pavement, gravel, and grass.
• History Hunt guides will be available with brochures in the mailboxes located at each trailhead and outside the visitors center. The Conestoga wagon will be set up as a selfie station by the stage near the pond.
• Strollers and small children are not recommended on any of these trails. It is highly encouraged to bring your own water source and hand sanitizer as well as bird and wildlife viewing tools, such as binoculars and cameras. Please remember that a new 2021 valid Nebraska Park Vehicle Permit is required to be on park grounds and are available for purchase through the park drop boxes or the visitors center.
• Equestrian trails are located on the west side of the parks, across highway 26.
· Recommend Road to Diver’s Bay, 2.6 miles
– Visitors will be going on a self-guided hike, starting at the Lake McConaughy visitor center and walking down to Diver’s Bay. Visitors may see wildlife on this walk (primarily birds), several kinds of native plants, surrounding geology, and Diver’s Bay.
· Recommend Officer’s Row Trail
– View several bird feeding stations and butterfly garden.
– Bird watching and identifying; tag and post photos.
– Easy one-half mile trail (stroller friendly if no snow).
– Begins at Post Headquarters; brochure available.
· Recommend Smith Falls Trail
– One-half mile long, level, easy.
– Hike across the Niobrara River via the historic Verdigre Bridge to Nebraska’s tallest waterfall. CAUTION: trail may be icy.
– Trail map and information is available in the kiosk located at the visitor center..
· Recommend Waupans Trail
– 1.5 mile, easy trail.
– Check entrance station for scavenger hunt information.
· Trail begins and ends at the picnic shelter.
– Easy 1.5 mile hike; strollers not recommended.
– Trail guides available at the picnic shelter.
– Selfie station at the historic cabins in the campground area.
Nebraska’s 76 state parks, state historical parks and state recreation areas offer a variety of other opportunities for hikers and walkers to be active.
Find a park to explore: outdoornebraska.org/parks
Find a trail to hike: outdoornebraska.org/hikingtrails
Tag us on social media
Those participating in First Day Hikes are encouraged to tag @NEGameandParks in their Facebook, Twitter or Instagram posts or by using the hashtag #NEParks100 for a chance to be featured on the agency’s social streams.
Follow these tips for safe hiking during the winter season:
· Check the weather before leaving home
· Wear clothing appropriate for the weather
· Dress in layers
· Bring plenty of water and snacks
· Don’t hike alone
People also should honor local, regional and state public health recommendations, including choosing a park close to home, only hiking with members of the same household, and staying 6 feet away from other hikers.