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Six great places to swim at Nebraska’s state parks

Swimmers cool off on a hot day at Chadron State Park with pine trees and buttes in the background scene.
Swimmers cool off on a hot day at Chadron State Park pool. Copyright Justin Haag, Nebraskaland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

On a hot summer’s day, there is no better place to be than poolside or at the beach beneath Nebraska skies. Here are six great options across the state, including everything from an aquatic center with all the amenities to a white sand beach with plenty of shoreline.

Chadron State Park

Ever been poolside with a great view? That’s what you can find at Chadron State Park, which is nestled among the picturesque buttes and canyons of the Pine Ridge. The park’s outdoor pool offers a view of classic Pine Ridge scenery, including pines and buttes. Bring a camera and capture images of yourself and your loved ones having fun in this beautiful location.

Chadron State Park’s pool also offers two diving boards and recently renovated bathhouses. “It’s a clean outdoor pool, not overcrowded, with a beautiful view,” said Park Superintendent Gregg Galbraith. “It all makes for a relaxing family getaway.”

Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area

Sink your toes into white sand beaches at Nebraska’s largest reservoir, Lake McConaughy. Located 8 miles northeast of Ogallala, this park is known for its water recreation and offers large, walk-in, designated swimming beaches near Martin Bay, Arthur Bay, Sandy Beach and Cedar View entrances. Smaller designated swimming beaches can be found at two of the park’s beach camping areas.

Park Superintendent Patrick Schnell said that the reservoir’s soft white sand beaches and typically warm waters are popular with visitors. “There’s almost an ocean-like feeling with the beach and big body of water,” he said. You may also spot wildlife such as deer, turkeys, coyotes, foxes and migratory birds.

Windmill State Recreation Area

Those seeking convenience and a well-maintained beach will want to check out Windmill State Recreation Area, 16 miles east of Kearney. The park sits along Interstate 80, making it easy to get to, with convenient parking for beachgoers. A designated swimming area is located on Lake #5, with a picnic table, two foot-washing platforms and a sand volleyball net.

“People can barbecue fairly close to the area and have dinner on the beach,” said Park Superintendent Grant Gartner.

Another plus: The water in the swimming area is shallow, and the sand below has a gradual, consistent slope, making it more kid friendly. “It’s a pretty nice little beach,” Gartner said.

Pawnee Lake State Recreation Area

If you’re in the Lincoln area, you can find good swimming opportunities close by. Located 20 minutes west of Lincoln, Pawnee State Recreation Area features two swimming beaches that are popular with visitors. “Camping is probably the number one draw here, but as far as day use, beaches are our number one amenity,” said Park Superintendent Jay Woltemath.

Designated swimming beaches can be found in areas 1 and 2, with plenty of shade available. Beachgoers may see wildlife such as geese, mallards, shorebirds and even bald eagles.

“You might actually see a bald eagle take a fish out of the lake, because we’ve got a couple of resident eagle pairs within 2 or 3 miles of the lake,” Woltemath said.

Eugene T. Mahoney State Park

Those looking for variety and excitement this summer will find plenty to explore at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park’s Family Aquatic Center. Take an exhilarating ride from three new water slides starting from a towering 45-foot structure – a new feature as of spring 2024.

Other fun features at Mahoney include a zero-depth entry wave pool and a water playground for kids. Swimmers can also relax on the sun deck, splash and dive in the pool, and enjoy a wading pool and concession area.

“The new slide tower offers stunning views of the Platte River, and the expanded deck area provides ample space for families to spread out and relax,” said Park Superintendent Michael Townsend. “Mahoney’s Aquatic Center is a must-visit on your summer vacation to-do list.”

Ponca State Park

Ponca State Park’s aquatic center is the perfect opportunity to cool down with family and friends. The facility features a heated zero-depth entry pool, 172-foot-long water slide, climbing wall, diving board, spray features, pool games such as basketball and volleyball, and a concession area.

“Ponca’s pool can accommodate all ages and activity levels,” said Park Superintendent Katie Leware. “Ponca is a great place to swim whether you’re a local or staying at the park.”

Lifeguards are on duty at the three pools mentioned above, but not at the recreation area designated swim beaches. To swim safely at these areas, wear a life jacket that fits, swim with a buddy and pay attention to your surroundings and those swimming with you.

Swimmers also should avoid alcohol, watch the weather, and know what to do in an emergency. The water may be murky, so stay alert to any waves, currents, drop-offs or underwater objects.

To buy a park permit or learn more about swimming opportunities at Nebraska’s state parks, visit

About Renae Blum

Renae Blum is a writer and copy editor for the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Nebraskaland Magazine.

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