88090 Spur 26E | Ponca, NE 68770-0688
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.
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.
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.
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 interactive 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.
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 shelter houses built by the Civilian Conservation Corps are perfect for group picnics.
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.
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.
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.
Ponca State Park offers a variety of special events each year.
This education expo is 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. Learn more about this popular event.
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.
In the summer, swimmers can cool off at the park’s aquatic center. Annual Family and Individual passes are available.
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.
This spot offers a picturesque view of the Missouri River, as well as views of three states: Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa.
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.
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.
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 are reservable. Riverfront Campground has 20 first-come, first-served campsites. Basic campsites are available for those who 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.
Tentrr’s fully equipped, ready-to-go campsites are the newest way to experience Nebraska’s state parks. Spacious canvas safari tents come with a comfortable bed for a good night’s sleep, Adirondack chairs for optimal stargazing and a fire pit to keep you warm.
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 event planning guide for more information. Picnic shelters may be reserved by calling the park at 402-755-2284.
A park entry permit is required to visit state parks and may be purchased at the park, statewide Game and Parks offices and permit vendors, or in advance of your arrival online. View those fees, as well as attraction and amenity pricing.
Reservations are accepted for cabins, lodge rooms, and group lodges up to one year in advance of the arrival date. Reservations for camping are accepted up to 180 days in advance of arrival date. The Reservation Call Center hours are Monday-Friday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (CT) and closed on holidays.
Our 76 gorgeous state park and recreations areas host a plethora of events throughout the year. From bird hikes to kayak races, Living History events to family outdoor days, our parks host something fun for every outdoor enthusiast.