March 28, 2019

Guide To Nebraska State Parks Cabins

If you love the idea of being immersed in nature but you don’t like sleeping on the ground, cabins are for you. In Nebraska, I always look at the state parks for cabin choices. I’ve stayed at a few that I could recommend, but there are even more in the state I’ve yet to visit. Here are all the state parks cabins in Nebraska (as well as a few other lodging options that don’t involve sleeping on the ground:

Kim’s note: In 2019, 75% of Nebraska countries were impacted by floods. Check the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission website to be sure the park you’d like to visit is unaffected.

Not all state parks in Nebraska have cabins and not all cabins are equal. Here's a guide to staying at state park cabins in Nebraska. Find out what's included in a cabin and what you can do nearby at each state park.

Chadron State Park

Where: Chadron in northwestern Nebraska

Hikers on a trail overlooking Chadron State Park in western Nebraska
A hiking trail at Chadron State Park, the oldest state park in Nebraska. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

About the cabins: Chadron State Park is Nebraska’s oldest state park. We stayed at one of the two-bedroom rustic cabins during a trip through western Nebraska and South Dakota. It was bare minimum and dated, but a pretty inexpensive lodging option. There are 22 such cabins available seasonally.

Exterior of a two-bedroom cabin at Chadron State Park in Nebraska
We stayed at this two-bedroom cabin at Chadron State Park.

Things to do at Chadron State Park: The park offers horseback trail rides, craft center and evening programs. We spent some time at Chadron State Park with the kids, and visited the pool, hiked, and did the paddle boats. The park lies in the Nebraska National Forest with bike and hike trails through the ponderosa pines. Elevation reaches 5,000 feet in the park.

Eugene T. Mahoney State Park

Where: Ashland in southeastern Nebraska

About the cabins: Cabins at Mahoney State Park are notoriously hard to reserve for the summer, especially for weekend stays, so the sooner you pick a date, the better. Reservations may be made up to a year in advance, which is what you’ll need to do for the summer. Winter reservations are much easier to make and, also, cost less. Mahoney State Park has some of the newest cabins in the park system, and they usually are reserved first. I’ve stated at treetop cabins and would recommend them. They’re older, certainly, but pretty comfortable with a “treetop” living room.

Exterior of a cabin at Mahoney State Park in Ashland, Nebraska. Cabins reservations fill quickly. They are among the most popular state cabins in Nebraska.
Here’s an example of one of Mahoney State Park’s older cabins, which is still pretty nice. The newer cabins are even bigger. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

All cabins at Mahoney State Park are fully furnished, include a fireplace, satellite TV, and WiFi. There are 57 cabins, with more under construction. There are 49 two-bedroom cabins, three four-bedroom cabins, and five six-bedroom cabins.

The park also has Peter Kiewit Lodge, which has 40 guest rooms, some with sleeping lofts and electric fireplaces.

Things to do at Mahoney State Park: Summer is peak season at Mahoney. The park has a Family Aquatic Center with two waterslides, zero-depth wave pool and a water playground, plus a traditional pool. There is also a zip line course, horseback trail rides, putt putt golf, fishing, paddle boats, craft center, disc golf, and a live theater. Hiking isn’t the best here, but there are some trails. Don’t skip the conservatory and observation tower. Mahoney State Park has a lot of activities for families.

There’s also a great indoor play area with a climbing walls. In the winter, there is ice skating, sledding, and ice fishing. Here are more things to do at Mahoney State Park in the winter.

Fort Robinson State Park

Where: Crawford in northwestern Nebraska

Riders on horseback at Fort Robinson State Park in Crawford, Nebraska
A horseback trail ride at Fort Robinson, a Nebraska State Park that covers more than 22,000 acres. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

About the cabins: Rather than having individual cabins, this park makes use of the historic fort’s 1909 enlisted men’s barracks for accommodations. This is quite possibly the best park in Nebraska for large family reunions. Accommodations sleep between 2 to 60 people, with 35 different group lodging options to choose from. All options have kitchens, baths and bedrooms. Larger cabins have living rooms.

A historic building at Fort Robinson in Crawford, Neb. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Things to do at Fort Robinson State Park: This park is spread out over 22,000 acres with an abundance of things to do in the summer. Much of what there is to do and see is connected to the outpost’s history when it was in operation during the Indian Wars until after World War II. The park has an enclosed swimming pool; museums; horseback trail rides and pony rides; rides by jeep, stagecoach and hayrack; bike, kayak and tube rentals; hiking trails; and fishing. For food experiences, the park has buffalo stew and steak cookouts and hayrack breakfasts.

When we went to Fort Robinson with young kids, the highlight was definitely the off-road jeep rides (though the ponies were a close second).

Lewis & Clark Lake State Recreation Area

Where: Crofton, Neb.

About the cabins: Lewis & Clark has 10 newish modern lakeside cabins next to Nebraska’s second largest reservoir. All are two-bedroom cabins that sleep up to eight, plus they’re air conditioned. Each cabin has a porch with a picnic table, grill and a view of the lake.

Boater on the lake at Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area in Nebraska
Boating is a popular activity at Lewis & Clark State Recreation Area. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Things to do at Lewis & Clark SRA: This park has an unsupervised swimming beach. There are a total of five recreation areas on the lake that feature hiking trails, mountain biking, and lake access. This lake, as you can imagine, is popular with boaters.

Medicine Creek Reservoir State Recreation Area

Where: Cambridge, Neb.

About the cabins: Medicine Creek has four lakeside, two-bedroom cabins that are available to reserve from April to December. They’re fully furnished with an indoor bathroom and include a deck.

Things to do at Medicine Creek Reservoir SRA: Medicine Creek is among southwest reservoirs that offer quite a bit of water-based activities. This particular state recreation area has an unsupervised beach and boat ramp. Fish for walleye, white bass, channel catfish, flathead catfish, wiper and crappie there. The other reservoirs nearby are Swanson Reservoir SRA, Enders Reservoir SRA, and Red Willow Reservoir SRA.

Niobrara State Park

Where: Niobrara, Neb.

About the cabins: Niobrara State Park has 20 modern cabins, with a mix of two-bedroom and three-bedroom options.

A cabin surrounded by trees at Niobrara State Park in northern Nebraska
Niobrara State Park is near both the Niobrara and Missouri rivers. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Things to do at Niobrara State Park: The park sits on the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri rivers, so you can imagine access to the rivers are a draw for boaters. There are also horseback trail rides, buffalo cookouts, hiking trails and a pool (open mid-June to mid-August). There are two ponds at Niobrara State Park that are stocked with largemouth bass, bluegill and channel catfish. Go to pond 2 for rainbow trout fish in the fall and early spring.

The buffalo cookouts are popular and held on Saturdays throughout the summer. The cookouts include entertainment, which may be cowboy poets or storytellers. Reservations are required, and you’ll need to make them at the park admin office.

Platte River State Park

Where: Louisville, Neb.

About the cabins: Platte River State Park has quite possibly the widest range of accommodations, from absolute bare minimum to the ultimate in glamping. There are 20 modern cabins, including one four-bedroom cabin. Four of those modern cabins have a fireplace. In 2018, the park opened its glamping tents, ultramodern two-person digs that are pretty swanky. They also book very far in advance.

The exterior of a camper cabin at Platte River State Park in eastern Nebraska
The camper cabin at Platte River State Park offers beds with bedding, A/C, and a refrigerator like other modern cabins, but it lacks one biggie: Water. You’ll have to walk if you want to take a shower, use the restroom or wash your hands.

The park also has camper cabins. I’ve stayed at one of these and they’re bare bones, but super affordable. There is no running water and you must use the restrooms/shower facilities with other cabins. Most cabins have air conditioning. Most. There are also teepees at this park.

Things to do at Platte River State Park: Platte River State Park has some great hiking trails, including an easy, kid-friendly trail that passes a little waterfall. The park recently opened a large sprayground that replaces its pool. There are horseback trail rides, paddle boats, naturalist programs, Crawdad Creek, an observation tower and fishing opportunities. This is one of the few parks to have a shooting range for a variety of disciplines, including sling shot, tomahawk throw, rifle, pellet gun, and shot gun. We’ve been there when they’ve offered educational programs, where my kids learned some archery basics.

Ponca State Park

Where: Ponca, Neb.

About the cabins: Ponca State Park opened 10 gorgeous two-bedroom cabins in 2017, which adds to their 15 four-bedroom mini lodges, two two-bedroom “green” cabins, and rustic log cabins (two-bedroom and one-bedroom options). The new cabins are often all reserved early so plan accordingly.

Exterior of a mini lodge cabin at Ponca State Park in eastern Nebraska. The mini lodges at Ponca are among the most popular state cabins in Nebraska.
Here’s what a mini lodge looks like at Ponca State Park. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Things to do at Ponca State Park: I haven’t been to Ponca in years, but it’s a picturesque park situated on the Missouri River, and one of the most popular state park in Nebraska. There is a new aquatic center, as well as hiking and mountain bike trails, kayak programs, and horseback trail rides (Memorial Day to Labor Day). The park also has a nine-hole golf course and a shooting range.

Ponca State Park features one of the state’s most comprehensive outdoor and environmental education programs, with programs held daily Memorial Day through Labor Day and on weekends during the spring, fall and winter. 

Spring is a good time to visit for bird watching. In the fall, they have a popular haunted hayrack ride. There are winter activities, as well, including snowman building contests, sledding, ice fishing, and special events like Christmas in the Woods and Winterfest.

Two Rivers State Park Recreation Area

Where: Waterloo, Neb.

About the cabins: Two Rivers doesn’t actually have cabins. Instead, they call their “cabins” caboose cabins. They have a lot of amenities that you’d find in traditional cabins – air conditioning being one biggie. Each has a kitchen and restroom and sleep up to six people. It’s one of the more unique lodging options in Nebraska.

A row of caboose cabins at Two Rivers State Recreation Area near Omaha, Nebraska
Each caboose “cabin” at Two Rivers State Recreation Area sleeps up to six people. Photo courtesy Nebraska Tourism

Things to do at Two Rivers State Park: Two Rivers State Park has sandpit lakes that are popular for catch-and-release fishing. Catfish are stocked in Lakes 3 and 4; Lakes 1 and 2 are stocked annually with catchable channel catfish. Find largemouth bass at Lakes 1-4. Fee rainbow trout fishing is available at Lake 5, as is smallmouth bass. There is unsupervised swim beach, which we visited once. It’s rather small, but the kids liked it. This is not a park for hikers.

Victoria Springs State Recreation Area

Where: Anselmo, Neb.

About the cabins: Cabins are limited here – just two modern, two-bedroom. The cabins have a kitchen (with ranges, refrigerators, tableware, sink), double beds, linens, blankets, shower and toilet. The kitchenettes are furnished. The cabins are seasonal and are typically available from Memorial Day Weekend through mid-November.

Things to do at Victoria Springs SRA: Victoria Springs is one of the state’s oldest parks, and its waters were once renowned for its “healing” qualities back in the heyday of spas. Now it’s just a picturesque getaway in the Sandhills. Fishing is a draw, and the 5-acre pond is stocked with bass, bluegill and catfish. Boating is permitted and paddleboat are available to rent.

How to make reservations for Nebraska State Park cabins

There are two ways to reserve a cabin at a Nebraska State Park. You can reserve them online at OutdoorNebraska.org, which is my preferred method. You can also call 402-471-1414 (they have pretty traditional business hours, Mondays through Fridays from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.).

Over-night stay minimums at Nebraska State Park cabins

There is a two-night minimum for reservations are required if you’re staying at peak season, and weekends. Otherwise, one-night stays are allowed during non-peak season from Sundays to Thursdays.

Want to stay in a yurt?

Nebraska doesn’t have yurts, yet. I stayed at the closest yurt to Nebraska one summer – you can find two yurts in Clear Lake, Iowa.

Looking for a cabin in Nebraska? Here's a list of all the state parks with cabins and what you can do in the park while you're there | Nebraska travel guide | Places to stay in Nebraska | Things to do in Nebraska

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April 15, 2014

Exploring Platte River State Park In The Off-Season

On a recent cool, gray spring day, I took the kids to Platte River State Park in search of a waterfall.

Platte collageWM

I needed some fresh air and a change of scenery, and the kids needed some place to run and explore.

Farley poking around a fallen tree trunk.

Farley poking around a fallen tree trunk.

I can’t recall the last time I’d been to this park, if I ever had. I know now, we’ll be back.

We parked in the first lot by the park entrance, the sign “waterfall” in view. Off we went, following an easy, flat trail of dirt and bridges.

The start of the easy hike to the waterfall at Platte River State Park. I see my daughter has my patient look.

The start of the easy hike to the waterfall at Platte River State Park. I see my daughter has my patient look.

The hike to the little waterfall was not long and can be walked by the smallest of kids. Or ran as is usually the case.

Spring’s not quite here in Nebraska, but even with the gray surroundings, the park’s setting is remarkable this time of year.

Regardless of the season, I have a feeling this park is pretty year-round. It's pretty peaceful, at least.

Regardless of the season, I have a feeling this park is pretty year-round. It’s pretty peaceful, at least.

It’s peaceful and you feel very much like you have the park to yourself.  My kids and I enjoyed being silly on the trail.

You can hear the waterfall before you see it. The anticipation of exactly how big it will be grows.

Found the waterfall!

Found the waterfall!

OK, I’ll admit it’s no Smith Falls. The kids wanted to keep walking so we didn’t spend much time by it.

If you keep on the trail heading toward the river, you’ll encounter a steep climb. I let the kids lead and, naturally, they headed for the hill. It’s manageable for most abilities.

Going up, up, up on our loop hike at the Platte River State Park.

Going up, up, up on our loop hike at the Platte River State Park.

Once at the top, there’s a clearing with some campsites and picnic tables. You can complete a loop back to the trail to your parked car in under an hour easily.

I think we’ll be back once things are greener and warmer. The park has paddleboats I’d like to take the kids on, and certainly more trails to explore.

Platte River State Park meets the kids' approval.

Platte River State Park meets the kids’ approval.

Your turn: Have you been to Platte River State Park? Where do you recommend us exploring next?

January 13, 2014

Mahoney State Park In The Winter

I love Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, but I’m most familiar with the park in the summer. We recently visited on two unseasonably warm winter days and discovered a whole other side to the park.

Turns out, it’s worth a visit during the winter, especially with kids.

I hate being cold, but even I love visiting Mahoney State Park in the winter...on the rare days in January when the temp is above 40.

I hate being cold, but even I love visiting Mahoney State Park in the winter…on the rare days in January when the temp is above 40.

First, the indoor stuff. This is my favorite since I hate being cold. One must-visit place is the Activity Center. Why have I not been here sooner with the kids?!

For $2 each (FREE for kids 2 and younger), you get endless play on their indoor playground. It’s pretty sweet, even for a grown up. Don’t be shy, put down your smart phone and get in there and play with your kids. It helps if you were a former Chinese acrobat or retired contortionist, but don’t worry, you’ll make it through those tubes somehow.

Helping Mooch conquer the Activity Center play area. It gets a little hectic in there, so I don't mind playing linebacker for her.

Helping Mooch conquer the Activity Center play area. It gets a little hectic in there, so I don’t mind playing linebacker for her.

The Activity Center also has an outdoor ice rink, with a $3 skate rental fee. If it’s fairly warm, part of that rink melts (duh), as was the case on the day we visited.

There is food available for purchase at the Activity Center, like pizza, hot dogs and nachos. You’re not supposed to bring in outside food or drinks. *supposed to*

Not a far walk from there is the conservatory/greenhouse.

Mahoney 9

Exploring the conservatory at Mahoney State Park.

This is a great place for a quick warmup if it’s particularly freezing outdoors. It’s like 150 degrees in there. It’s small but there’s a lot to look at, including a fish pond.

Aunt Amy and Mooch check out the fishies.

Aunt Amy and Mooch check out the fishies.

In a separate room, there are a couple aquariums featuring native Nebraskan animals, like snakes and a turtle. The kids liked looking at them.

Some native species of turtle and snakes on display at the conservatory.

Some native species of turtle and snakes on display at the conservatory.

The park has moved the arts and crafts center over to the marina. We didn’t visit it on that particular day but signs indicated it was still open. The other indoor activity I recommend for kiddos is the junior naturalist place up by the lookout tower (lower level of the building). I peeked in and they were offering warm drinks along with some coloring, the afternoon we were there. There was also a sign of other activities you could do, like a scavenger hunt.

A view of the toboggan run at Mahoney State Park.

A view of the toboggan run at Mahoney State Park.

A big outdoor draw at the park is the toboggan run. On the warm day we were there, people were still trying to sled down the big run. It’s a pretty nice, long hill but not too steep, with bales of hay protecting sledders from trees and other danger spots.

The sledding hill is right by the lookout tower. I can’t imagine it’s a nice climb on really cold days, but it was not bad when we walked up it. The trails near the tower were not too muddy, so we also checked them out.

Exploring the easy-to-hike trails near the lookout tower. If you time it right, you can catch a nice view of passing trains.

Exploring the easy-to-hike trails near the lookout tower. If you time it right, you can catch a nice view of passing trains.

While I prefer my hikes when I can feel my fingers, trails are still open at Mahoney in the winter.

My kids slept 12 hours straight after our visit to Mahoney in the winter. I’m sold on visiting parks in the winter now.

We're smiling because we know these two monkeys are going to sleep well tonight.

We’re smiling because we know these two monkeys are going to sleep well tonight.

My kids loved the Activity Center so much, I’d even make the drive out to Mahoney just for that.

If you go:

Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, 28500 West Park Highway, Ashland, Nebraska

Activity Center hours: Monday, Thursday and Friday, 4 to 8 p.m.; Saturday, 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Ice Rink conditions(402)944-2523, Ext. 7122

Upcoming events and activities at Mahoney

Camping info

Cabin and lodging info

Your turn: What’s your favorite thing to do at Mahoney State Park in the winter?

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