We’ve been lucky to visit several Nebraska State Parks with the kids, though all of them have been in Eastern Nebraska. Chadron State Park, just a few miles south of Chadron in Dawes County, was our first Western Nebraska state park.
This park was the most beautiful I’d ever visited in our state, though some structures were dated. It is Nebraska’s oldest state park, after all. The playgrounds and paddleboats were worn, but still attracted kids.
Simply put, though, the natural beauty can’t be beaten and that’s why you’d want to visit. It’s nearly 5,000 feet above sea level and nearly 1,000 acres located in Pine Ridge.
I’d read of a conversation between then-governor Ben Nelson and his wife in which she told him Chadron State Park “looks just like Colorado!” And his response: “No, Colorado looks just like this.” If you’re interested, find more about the park in “Off the Beaten Path Nebraska.”
The 972-acre park is nestled in a forest of tall ponderosa pines, with views of buttes in the distance. It looks nothing like we have in eastern Nebraska.
What to do with kids
Activities available Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day:
– Trail rides (for kids ages 6 and older) – $18, leaving at 9, 10 and 11 a.m., and 1, 2 and 3 p.m.
– Swimming pool – $4 for adults (13+), $3 for kids (3-12), FREE for kids 2 and younger. Pool is open from 1 to 8 p.m. There are two diving boards there and a small snack bar. (I had major beef with the pool staff. Hopefully, your visit will be better.)
– Trading Post – Go here for treats, crafts and archery (when staff is available).
– Paddleboats – $6 for a two-person vessel or $8 for four-person, half-hour. Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The pond is pretty small and a half-hour is more than you’ll need.
– You’re able to check out sports equipment, like volleyballs, tennis rackets and fishing supplies.
– You can also schedule a jeep ride, just inquire at the main office.
My favorite attraction at the park, though, is the trails. There’s also a great scenic drive, that will bore the pants off your kids but I bet you’d like it.
If yours is a mountain biking kind of family, you’ll love it here.
Where to stay
We stayed in a two-bed cabin for two nights. It was the smallest cabin I’ve ever been in, but it had all we wanted: Air conditioning, kitchenette with a fridge and stove, fire grate, picnic table, and cooking utensils, dishes, soap, bedding, etc.
Camping is also a good option here.
You can book sites at www.OutdoorNebraska.org or call (402) 471-1414.
If you go
Chadron State Park
Where: 15951 Highway 385, Chadron, Neb.
Phone: (308) 432-6167
Tip: Chadron State Park is not too far – 36 miles – from Fort Robinson State Park, and you can easily make a day trip out of a visit there. Or vice versa, stay at Fort Robinson and visit Chadron State Park.
Tip 2: Don’t forget to check out the city of Chadron. We forgot to get coffee for the cabin, so we found a great coffee house worth visiting called Bean Broker Coffee. The city’s main park has a great playground, too.
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Planning a trip to South Dakota and Western Nebraska? I wrote a series of posts and reviews of kid-friendly attractions, lodging and a photo-heavy trip recap. Check them out:
Comfort Suites and Convention Center (Rapid City, South Dakota)
Firehouse Brewing Company (Rapid City, South Dakota)
Reptile Gardens (Rapid City, South Dakota)
Dakotah Steakhouse (Rapid City, South Dakota)
The Hills Inn (Hot Spring, South Dakota)
Evans Plunge (Hot Springs, South Dakota)
Mammoth Site (Hot Springs, South Dakota)
Fort Robinson State Park (Harrison, Nebraska)