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
Whether you become captivated by indoor interactive displays, interpretive programming, shooting sports or from the exploration of 1,094 acres of wilderness, you’re sure to gain a deeper appreciation for the outdoors with a visit to the Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area. The park, which is situated high on a rocky escarpment in the Wildcat Hills, offers an escape to the region’s signature rugged topography and evergreen-studded canyons and features a Nature Center, Shooting Sports Complex, overnight camping and a vast system of trails. Not to mention, the area features an extraordinary view of the North Platte River Valley from the trails and observation decks at the Nature Center. The park is easily accessible, situated 10 miles south of Gering along Nebraska Highway 71.
The nature center not only serves as the park’s headquarters, but also is a stimulating learning environment with displays and programs paying tribute to the region’s flora and fauna. From the first sight of the 27-foot tall artificial ponderosa pine tree that spans two floors inside the split-level building, visitors realize they are in a unique facility. Thousands of children and others visit the center each year to participate in educational programs or self-guided tours of the displays. In addition to the wide array of nature education programs, the building and its captivating view of the park and valley below may be rented for a variety of events such as conferences and weddings. A gift shop provides souvenirs and resource material to visitors.
Nature Center hours are 8 am to 5 pm daily from Memorial Day to Labor Day and 8 am to 4 pm daily the rest of the year.
Click the link to learn more about the Wildcat Hills Nature Center.
The Wildcat Hills Shooting Sports Complex is a family-friendly shooting sports education center with a focus on safety, education and fun. The center features archery, small bore, pellet, shotgun and rifle ranges. It provides educational programming and quality instruction. Equipment rental is available. Visit the Wildcat Hills Shooting Sports Complex page for more details, rates and hours.
Throughout the year, hikers, bikers and equestrian riders at Wildcat Hills enjoy more than 3 miles of trails through the canyons and rocky bluffs of the park. The single-tracks have four main trailheads. Each route courses through a mosaic of upland plant life. Park visitors should be aware the trails traverse rugged terrain and steep inclines in places, as well as elevation upwards to 4,600 feet, which may challenge the stamina of those not used to it. Trails are multi-use and users should be mindful of other users utilizing the system.
Among the recreation area’s structures are three historical stone shelters that were built during the Great Depression era by the Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Progress Administration. The shelters, built with native stone that was quarried nearby, are available on a first-come, first-served basis. The larger group shelter has fireplaces in each end and can accommodate about 40 people comfortably. The two smaller shelters each have a picnic table and fireplace and are ideal for family outings.
The nature center attracts birds and birdwatchers, as a number of exceptional feathered species flock to the park. Well-stocked feeders can be observed at close range behind tinted glass windows at the nature center as species such as evening grosbeaks and red crossbills visit. Each fall the center serves as headquarters to the Bird Conservancy of the Rockies which captures and places leg bands on birds to obtain migration data.
An array of wildlife has room to roam at Wildcat Hills among a mix of evergreens, grasses, spring wildflowers and the rare-to-Nebraska shrub mountain mahogany. The Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area is adjacent to the nearby 230-acre Wildcat Hills Wildlife Management Area, which allows hunting. Other nearby properties, such as the Bead Mountain Ranch and Murphy Ranch of the Platte River Basin Environments, provide even more public access. The expanse of lands has been known to attract an occasional moose and is the site of Nebraska’s first documented northern saw-whet owl nest. Other wildlife species in the area include bighorn sheep, mule deer, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, bobcat and coyote. Also, prairie rattlesnakes are occasionally seen in the area, so watch your step.
Wildcat Hills SRA offers primitive campers 12 Basic sites along the interior trail roads. The summit access road is not accessible to large recreational vehicles or to vehicles towing larger camping trailers or boat trailers since the turnaround is extremely sharp.
Camping is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Picnic tables, fire grates and three primitive restrooms are placed throughout the area, and drinking water is available near the Nature Center. Campers must register at the Nature Center or self-pay station after-hours.
A park entry permit is required and may be purchased at the park or statewide Game and Parks offices and permit vendors or in advance of your arrival online.
• Chimney Rock National Historic Site is one of the
most famous landmarks on the Oregon, California,
and Mormon Trails. The area features the newly expanded Chimney Rock Museum, operated by History Nebraska, with exhibits and hands-on activities.
Address: Wildcat Hills SRA | 210615 Hwy 71 | Gering, NE 69341
Phone: (308) 436-3777
Email: Send email