One of eastern Nebraska’s more under-the-radar state parks, Platte RIver State Park offers an abundance of outdoor activities for visitors. This guide details what to expect at the park, top things to do, and camping & cabin options available. It also shares favorite hikes, wildlife found there, and other interesting information.
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Exploring Platte River State Park
Platte River State Park is located a few miles outside of downtown Louisville, Neb., at 14421 346th St., Louisville, Neb. The topography is fairly hilly, and includes one of Nebraska’s few waterfalls. Some of the best views of the Platte RIver Basin are from the observation tower at the state park’s Walter Scott Jr. Lodge Restaurant.
Visiting requires a Nebraska Park permit, which is $6 a day for residents or $12 a day for non-residents. I recommend an annual pass if you live near the Omaha metro since it also gets you into all the other parks in the state, including nearby Mahoney State Park. An annual pass is $31 for residents and $61 for non-residents.
The peak time to visit is between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when daily activities are scheduled, and the stables and restaurant are open regularly. That said, fall is a beautiful time to visit, especially in October. There are usually outdoor movies on the weekends, too. There are some annual winter events that draw visitors, as well, including First Hike held on January 1 each year. Late fall through late winter is a much quieter time to visit the park.
Top Outdoor Activities At Platte River State Park
There’s just something about horseback riding at a state park. It’s the quintessential Great Outdoors activity. The stables at Platte River State Park is the starting point for trail rides for anyone ages 6 and older. The route takes you past a creek, over a bridge and up & down trails in the forest. In all, you’re on your horse for about an hour. It’s $25 per person.
In the same area of the park as the stables, you’ll find the fun Outdoor Heritage Education Complex, which is basically a shooting range for novice and experienced shooters alike. I’ve tried my hand at the 50-yard small-bore rifle range. There’s also an outdoor archery range with 3-D and other targets and a shooting tower, a trap range, tomahawk throwing and slingshots. Indoors, there’s a 10-meter pellet gun range.
It’s pretty affordable to try different activities there. Instructors are on-hand to give instruction, which was extremely helpful for me.
Platte River State Park is one of my favorite places to hike near Omaha, with just enough elevation changes to keep things interesting. Many hikers start at the Falls Parking Lot, which is small so arrive early to get a spot. A short, out-and-back hike to the waterfalls is a popular outing (head east into the woods from the parking lot), or you can opt for a loop around the park (I recommend heading west toward the lake, so you can end at the waterfalls). The 6.7-mile hike mapped on AllTrails has two loops, and I usually stick to just the western loop that includes the falls and lake. The eastern loop is more mountain bike trails.
Hiking can get very muddy in the winter, especially. Some hikers bring spikes to help with slippery trails.
There are mountain bike trails in the northeastern corner of Platte River State Park. There are some easy trails, but most are difficult or very difficult.
For families with younger kids, there are two inexpensive and fun places you’ll want to visit at the park: The sprayground and playground, both located just off the main road. The sprayground, named Spray & Splash Park, has three small waterslides to get from one level to the other, as well as several sprayers and buckets that dump water on kids. It’s open daily (seasonally) from noon to 6 p.m. and only costs $3 for children and adults; kids ages 2 and younger being admitted for FREE.
Not far from the sprayground is the massive playground spread out over several little valleys. The highlight for my kids has always been the mini ziplines, but really, there’s a lot to climb, slide down and crawl through there.
Jenny Newman Lake at Platte River State Park is small, but there are several great things to do around it. At the marina, you can check out fishing gear, buy snacks, or rent a paddle boat. It’s all pretty inexpensive. My kids were able to borrow fishing poles for free and partake in the catch-and-release of fish. Paddle boat is about $10 for a half-hour on the lake.
On weekends, and daily during the summer, you may encounter naturalist-led programs at the lake. On various occasions, they’ve taught my kids fishing and how to hunt for crawdads at the nearby Crawdad Creek. Once they had animal pelts for educational purposes.
The great thing about Platte River State Park is that it’s near places like Mahoney State Park, so you can stay (cheaply) at Platte River, and then take the 10-minute drive to the other park to enjoy what’s there as well. I’d recommend heading to Mahoney to the aquatic center, which is much larger than Platte River’s little pool, plus it has water slides and a kids area. If it’s a rainy day, nothing beats letting the kids run wild in the indoor play area at Mahoney, too.
Other nearby state parks include Louisville State Recreation Area, which has an inflatable water obstacle course. It’s great for kids who can swim. Schramm Park is also nearby and has an impressive interactive exploration center with aquariums, touch tanks, and a small kids play area indoors. The trails are good there, as well, and you can hike to the area’s only suspension bridge. There’s also a small fossil dig site that’s open to the public.
Hiking The Waterfall Trail At Platte River State Park
The Waterfall Trail sounds all idyllic, and it is considering it’s just about the only natural waterfall in eastern Nebraska. But, keep your expectations in check: It’s a small waterfall. But still, it’s a waterfall! My kids love going to it.
There are two starting point options, and most people begin at the Falls Parking Lot. There aren’t a lot of parking spots, so if that lot is full, head east toward the Walter Scott Jr. Lodge Restaurant, where you can find a trailhead behind the building (past the observation tower and teepee). There’s more parking available by the restaurant than at the Falls Parking Lot.
The trail isn’t marked or anything, but it’s a pretty safe bet if you stick to flat trails, you’ll reach it. From the Falls Parking Lot, head east into the forest. The path is dirt and flat, and you’ll cross a bridge. It’s pretty kid-friendly.
If you’re starting your hile from the Walter Scott Jr. Lodge Restaurant, you’ll be heading westward. You’ll know you’re on your way when you start to see the creek bed. Neither hike is terribly long or challenging. Dogs are permitted, as long as they are leashed.
Wildlife Spotting At Platte River State Park
With the park’s proximity to the Platte River, there’s plenty of wildlife to be spotted. Bird watchers should be on the lookout for downy and hairy woodpeckers, white-breasted nuthatch, and red-winged blackbirds. Even with its proximity to the Platte River, this is not a stopping point for the Sandhill cranes, which stop more in central Nebraska.
White-tail deer and mule deer are also found in the area. Other common critters in the area include raccoons, cottontail rabbits, squirrels, and small rodents.
Platte River State Park has a small nature center in the lower level of Mallet Lodge. You can get up close to Nebraska reptiles and amphibians, and maybe catch an educational program while there.
Cultural & Historic Attractions Not To Miss Near The Park
The area around Nebraska near Platte River State Park is mostly farmland with specks of towns, each with their own unique personalities. For museum experiences, head toward Ashland to visit Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum. The museum was built in the 1950s to commemorate the aircraft of Strategic Air Command, and has made a name for itself for housing an array of aircraft that helped SAC preserve the peace and ultimately win the Cold War. It now also has some space-related exhibits.
Another great cultural spot attraction to visit near the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum is Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park & Wildlife Safari. It’s a drive-thru safari park with herds of animals native to Nebraska including bison, Sandhill cranes, and elk. Visitors can park their car in one area and hike up to see bears and wolves (not native to Nebraska).
The Holy Family Shrine in nearby Gretna is part religion and part art. The glass-enclosed chapel allows visitors an opportunity to spend time praying, meditating, or just admiring its beauty. The shrine is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
- Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum, 28210 West Park Highway, Ashland, Neb.
- Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park & Wildlife Safari, 16406 N. 292nd St., Ashland, Neb.
- Holy Family Shrine, 23132 Pflug Road, Gretna, Neb.
Things To Know About Camping & Cabins At The park
Platte River State Park is the perfect spot for a camping adventure. Whether you’re looking for a rustic cabin experience, a luxurious glamping trip, or just some good old-fashioned tent camping, Platte River State Park has something for everyone. With its stunning views and wide variety of activities, it’s no wonder this park is one of Nebraska’s most popular destinations.
There are two categories of cabins to reserve at Platte River State Park, the Camper Cabins and Modern Cabins. Camper Cabins share a central shower and bathroom facility. Modern Cabins have bathrooms. You can reserve up to one year in advance for cabins; 180 days in advance for camping.
- Meadowlark: 1-bedroom, Sleeps 2, $105
- Owen Standard Cabins: 2-bedrooms, Sleeps 6 – $130
- Owen Deluxe Cabins: 2-bedrooms, Sleeps 6 – $140
- Blue Heron: 2-bedroom, Sleeps 4 – $130
- Chokecherry Duplex: 2-bedrooms, Sleeps 6 on each side – $130/unit
- Cottonwood, Evergreen and Golden Eagle: 3 & 4-bedrooms, Sleeps 8 – $135-$140
As far as Modern Cabins go, Owen Standard Cabins are a pretty good deal for a small group. I rented one for two nights with a few other moms one summer and we were pretty comfortable. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s just the right amount of ruggedness.
The Glamping Cabins, though, those are fabulous. They’re a little pricey, especially for just two people, but they’re pretty stylish. I like the secluded feel to them, too. They’re one bedroom with a tiny kitchen and a small bathroom, essentially a tiny house. They sleep two for $185. It’s a minimum two-night stay in the Glamping Cabins.
Camper Cabins are a bit more budget-friendly and have some amenities of a modern cabin (A/C, refrigerator, beds) but not all of them. The cabin we stayed in had no water or bathroom, so much like a campout, we had to trek to the bathhouse for everything. And that’s a sticking point for some people.
- Whitetail: One open room, Sleeps 4 – $45
- Goldenrod: Sleeps 6 – $70
- Strawberry and Red Cedar: 2-bedroom, Sleeps 6 – $70
- Wild Turkey: 3-bedrooms, Sleeps 6 – $80
The park also has the Pawnee Teepees Village, and it’s one of the most budget-friendly accommodations around, though also very rustic. The cost is $20 per night and each sleeps between 6 to 8 people. You’ll sleep on wooden floors instead of packed earth, at least.
There 48 full hook-up sites, as well so you can also tent camp and RV camp. Over by the Bison Lane RV campsites, there’s a nice fenced-in dog park and a small natural playground. Prices are: Full hookup ($35 per night); electric plus ($30 per night); electric ($25 per night); basic ($15 per night); and primitive ($10 per night).
Two-day itinerary for Platte River State Park
A weekend is a perfect amount of time to explore Platte River State Park! Rent a cabin and get ready for as relaxing or adventurous of a weekend as you want.
Most arrive to the state park in the late afternoon, due to the typical evening check-in time for cabins and campsites. If you have kids in tow, let them get some energy out at the park’s large playground. Head back to the cabin for a cookout and, of course, s’mores. If you forget any staples or firewood, head to the marina to buy what you need. Check the park’s activity schedule for any outdoor movies on the weekend you’re there.
The next morning, get up early and head to the park’s administration office to reserve a time for a guided trail ride. The earlier in the day the better, if you’re at the park in the middle of summer. After your time is secured, get the family up for a short hike before the day gets too warm. Try the Waterfall Trail for a short but scenic hike.
Take a one-hour trail ride by horseback with the kids. You’ll be paired up with the perfect horse for your abilities and helmets are available. Be sure to bring water!
You’ll be hungry for lunch after a hike and horseback ride. You may want to have a picnic nearby or go to the restaurant at the park. The air-conditioned restaurant may just be what you’re looking for!
After lunch, your choice: Either head to the sprayground to cool off with the kids or take aim at Outdoor Heritage Education Complex. You can receive instruction for throwing a tomahawk or shooting a rifle. Just pay for what you want to do while there. For the sprayground, be sure to bring towels and sandals for everyone.
With that long of a day, you may want someone else to do the cooking for dinner. There’s one restaurant inside the park, as well as several tasty nearby options. For low-key burgers by a river, head to Heron Bay in Louisville. WIth any luck, there’ll be a live band. Otherwise, dig into some steak at Round the Bend Steakhouse. If it’s a friends’ getaway or just a couple’s getaway, I also recommend charcuterie and apps along with cider at Glacial Till Cider House in Ashland.
I’ve written about friends’ getaway to Platte River State Park, so you can get more ideas of what to do with an outdoorsy group. My friends and I rented a cabin for two nights and enjoyed hiking in the park, as well as visiting a nearby winery.
- Heron Bay, 21215 NE-50, Springfield, Neb.
- Round the Bend Steakhouse, 30801 E. Park Highway, Ashland, Neb.
- Glacial Till Cider House & Tasting Room, 1419 Silver St., Ashland, Neb.
FAQs about Platte River State Park
Does Platte River State Park have a pool?
No, this state park does not have a pool. It only has a sprayground. The nearest pool is at Mahoney State Park in Ashland, Neb. There is a sandy beach and lake to swim in at nearby Louisville State Recreation Area.
Can you canoe or kayak at Platte River State Park?
Yes, if you bring your own canoe or kayak. The access point is located a few yards from the mouth of Decker Creek at the park, serving as a stopping point on the Platte River Water Trail between at Schramm Park and Louisville state recreation areas.
Are there any discounts on cabins at Platte River State Park?
Yes. Stay in the off-season for the best prices. Lodging discounts are offered October through April.
Is there sledding at Platte River State Park?
No, there are no designated sled or toboggan runs. Visit nearby Mahoney State Park for their excellent sledding hills. Sleds are available for rent at Mahoney’s Activity Center.