Nebraska can surprise you sometimes. Just like we’ve got our own little Badlands area and we have our own little Ozarks area, Indian Cave State Park near Shubert, Nebraska. One of the most southern state parks in the state, the topography is surprisingly hilly, wooded, and at times, cliff-like. It’s a beautiful park – and the state’s second largest park — so here’s my guide to visiting it.
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There are 11 marked trails of varying distance and difficulty at Indian Cave State Park, and many of them connect to create a longer hike. Like the Missouri Ozarks, Nebraska’s version of the Ozarks is hilly and full of ridges, so finding the right trail for your ability takes advanced planning.
In all, there are 22 miles of trails that pass through hardwood forest, ridgetops with views of the Missouri RIver, and prairie.
Accessible trails and paths
- The park’s gorgeous overlook is an elevated boardwalk that starts from a small parking lot.
- There is an wheelchair-accessible ramp to view Indian Cave.
Flat, easy unpaved trails
- Trail 7 is .3 miles long, fairly flat trail with a bench near its intersection with Trail 8 (a much longer trail)
- Trail 8A is somewhat flat, but has no benches. It’s .8 miles long.
Moderate, kinda hilly trails
- Trail 1 and Trail 1 Long Loop involve some climbs and descents of moderate hills. It runs along ridgetops. Trail 1 is 1.7 miles, while the loop is about a mile.
- Trail 2 is 1.1 miles with several hills. It passes by the Half-Breed Cemetery and crosses a small creek. This trail offers some views of the MIssouri River.
- Trail 3 was the trail my family took. The 1.2-mile hike starts at the Scenic Overlook, and begins with a long descent. The climb back up is a workout. It’s a pretty trail passing through the woodlands and leads to a view of the river.
- Trail 3A is shorter – .7 miles – and leads down a hill to the Living History cabins. It also starts by the Scenic Overlook.
Trails with steep climbs
- Trail 5 is a 5.1-mile trail that has mostly moderate climbs but a steeper hills.
- Trail 10 begins with a steep climb up to the ridgetop and from there, it’s mostly flat. The trail is 1.1 mile long.
- Trail 11 also starts out with a steep climb, and you’re rewarded with a scenic view of the Missouri River floodplain.
This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list. There are other trails to try!
Living History at Indian Cave State Park
Indian Cave State Park is unique in that it has its own ghost town, St. Deroin, which was once a steamboat landing and shipping point. Structures remain, as well as some rebuilt buildings.
I love that there are Living History demonstrations on the weekends throughout the summer and into fall.
We visited in October and while we were at the tail-end of things (activities end at 4 p.m.), we met a broom maker selling brooms. When we visited a few years ago, the kids were fascinated by the candlemaker.
You can also visit a schoolhouse and log cabin, as well as two cemeteries.
Other park activities
- Guided horseback rides are seasonal, with daily rides in the summer and weekend rides in the fall (depending on staffing). Kids ages 6 and older are allowed to ride.
- Fishing can be done from the banks of the Missouri river.
- Kayaking on the river is also possible. BYOK.
- The park has a really small museum inside the same building as the gift shop. There are artifacts on display and informative exhibits. It’s only open on the weekends.
- Mountain biking
- Disc golf
- There are playgrounds, but the the one we are familiar with is pretty rustic and nothing to plan a trip for.
Indian Cave State Park is a hot spot for RVs and campers, with options for equestrian campers and backpackers.
Alas, my preferred style of camping – the great cabin experience – is not available at this park. I’m not a camper, is what I’m saying.
Half of the electrical campsites can be reserved up to a year in advance.
Seasonal events at Indian Cave
The park does special events really well, often making campsites a part of the attraction.
- Haunted Hollow: Campsites are decorated and throughout the park’s one-way Spring Hollow road, you’ll find campy, spooky displays begging for a photo. Haunted hayrack rides are all a part of weekend celebrations over the course of three weekends in October. There are also spooky, outdoor movies and other activities.
- Outdoor Adventure: This April event (held the last Saturday of the month) features outdoor family activities, cooking demonstrations, and a 5k run.
- Christmas in July: Exactly what it sounds like, campsites are festively decorated and Santa visits the park each July. There’s a craft market and the hayrack rides take a special holiday lights spin.
About that “cave”
With Indian Cave being the name for the whole park, you’d think the cave is The Big Draw. I, for one, thought that would be the case on my first visit. When I finally saw the park’s sandstone namesake, underwhelming seems like a fair description.
A more aptly name for it is a cavity. If you go in knowing that, you may not be disappointed.
To be sure, it is a significant space, where prehistoric Native American drawings have been found. However, it’s difficult to see any drawings now. Decades of graffiti and the names of star-crossed lovers are easier to notice.
If you want to see what some of the petroglyphs look like, samples have been preserved in the park’s museum.
There is a lot of interesting towns around southeast Nebraska; through unfortunately, not many are what I’d consider “near” Indian Cave State Park. Luckily, there is one town nearby and it’s definitely worth a stop: Brownville.
For me, it’s not possible to visit Indian Cave State Park and not combine it with a stop in Brownville, about 15 miles away. It’s one of the state’s most charming towns, with bookstores, museums, antique shops, and a winery.
There aren’t restaurants near Indian Cave State Park, so if you want something like that, you’re best bet is to drive to Brownville, where there is a cafe and ice cream shop.
For more outdoor activities, Verdon Lake State Recreation Area is about 20 miles southwest in Verdon, Neb. I hear the spring-fed lake is good for fishing large-mouth bass.