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The top seven Nebraska state parks for kayaking

A woman grins from a kayak
Kayaking at Danish Alps State Recreation Area. Copyright Nebraskaland Magazine, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

If you seek adventure, relaxation and fun this summer, kayaking should be on your list. Nebraska’s state parks and recreation areas offer excellent locations, some with recently added improvements for kayakers.

Plan your next adventure beneath Nebraska skies at one of the following state parks, selected by Nebraska Game and Parks regional superintendents.

North-central: Calamus State Recreation Area

Kayakers will find easy access at Calamus State Recreation Area, with sandy beaches to launch from, said Regional Park Superintendent Tommy Hicks. The park also features diverse habitats along the lake and river edges, making it a great place to view wildlife and bird-watch.

In addition, the lake’s shallow coves, as well as Calamus River, offer great places to escape the open water of the reservoir. The river, on the reservoir’s upper end, winds peacefully and slowly through the Sandhills, providing beautiful scenery and wildlife viewing. The river is shallow enough those with small children or novice kayakers can enjoy it, too.

Southwest: Red Willow State Recreation Area

“In the southwest region, there are so many good options for kayaking it makes choosing one location difficult,” said Regional Park Superintendent Tyler Francisco. “If I had to pick one, it would be Red Willow.”

Red Willow State Recreation Area offers 1,628 acres of water for paddling, and even when the lake is full of motorboats, kayakers will find plenty of shallower areas to slip away. Francisco also praised the beautiful views from the lake, as well as the wildlife watching and birdwatching opportunities.

“As you paddle along, you are tucked into what feels like a large canyon due to the location of the reservoir and water levels,” he said.

Southeast: Conestoga State Recreation Area

Located just west of Lincoln, Conestoga State Recreation Area is the perfect place to go kayaking, said Regional Park Superintendent Kevin Holliday. It features great access points for kayakers – including an ADA-accessible kayak dock. And thanks to a recent renovation project, the lake is now no-wake and has great fishing, if that’s something you like to do while kayaking.

Wildlife watching is another activity kayakers can enjoy; Park Superintendent Otis Chatham commented that you might spot deer and waterfowl during your float. He sees over a dozen people out kayaking at Conestoga on the weekends.

“Conestoga has become a very popular kayak lake,” Holliday said.

Venture Parks: Louisville State Recreation Area

Nebraska Game and Parks’ Venture Park region in southeastern Nebraska includes some of Nebraska’s biggest and best-known state parks. But when picking his favorite spot to kayak, Venture Parks Regional Superintendent Jake Rodiek went for a smaller park: Louisville State Recreation Area.

Louisville boasts five sandpit lakes with approximately 50 surface acres of water, surrounded by towering cottonwood trees. If you don’t have your own kayak, you can rent one at this park, along with paddleboards and water bikes. A kayak launch is available as well, and those looking for a little more adventure can put in at the kayak river access launch to explore the Platte River.

South-central: Johnson Lake State Recreation Area

“The I-80 lakes always make great places to put in a kayak,” said Regional Superintendent Laura Rose. Her top pick for kayakers this year is Johnson Lake State Recreation Area, which just added a new vendor renting out kayaks on Bossung Lake, a pond next to Johnson Lake, with access between the two. A kayak launch is located next to the vendor’s site.  

Bossung is “a great place for beginners to learn how to kayak,” Rose said. Meanwhile, if you enjoy fishing, head out to the main lake, where you can find good fishing for walleye and wipers.

Across both water bodies, kayakers can enjoy a tree-lined view and spotting wildlife such as wood ducks, blue herons, turtles, jumping fish and even beavers.

Northwest: Fort Robinson State Park

Kayak anglers, as well as those seeking a new or leisurely experience, will want to check out Fort Robinson State Park. The park has six to eight kayaks for rent by the day, and those interested in kayak fishing can hit its five ponds that harbor species such as rainbow trout, bluegill, largemouth bass and channel catfish.

Then there’s the stunning views of the buttes in the background, which by itself makes the trip worth it, said Park Superintendent Donita Morava. You also may spot wildlife such as deer, pronghorn, turtles and many bird species.

Northeast: Danish Alps State Recreation Area

“This location is a paddler’s paradise,” said Regional Superintendent Tyler Wulf. Danish Alps State Recreation Area opened in 2015 and sits on a 219-acre no-wake lake. It features a newly constructed ADA-compliant kayak launch with accessible parking, an unloading area and a soon-to-be-installed kayak launch dock, which should open sometime in June.

Kayakers also will find kayak-in campsites in the southern part of the property, and if you like to fish, there’s great opportunities for bass, bluegill, crappie and walleye.

Wherever you decide to kayak, it’s important to remain safe. As you prepare for your trip, bring a friend or let someone know when you’re going and when you plan to return. Keep an eye on the forecast, as weather can change quickly. Wear a properly fitted life jacket, as well as appropriate clothing for the water temperature, and keep your phone and other essential supplies in a waterproof case or bag secured to your vessel.

When you’re out on the water, avoid alcohol and drink plenty of water instead. Be courteous of others using boat ramps and launch sites, and watch out for motorized watercraft around you. 

To learn more about the parks mentioned above and get a park entry permit, 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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