With all the traveling I did growing up, I’m surprised we never visited the corner of Nebraska where Fort Robinson State Park is located. I didn’t even really know about it until recently, and then I became slightly obsessed with finding a way to get there. Finally, I planned a road trip that passed nearby and, voila, I got my wish.
Updated: This post was first published in 2015 and has been updated in January 2023.
The Western Nebraska state park attracts a lot of visitors, especially family reunions and other groups, for good reason. I wish I had planned more than a day to visit the park. Next time, I’ll plan ahead and get a cabin there so we can stay a few days.
If you only have a day there, though, you are able to fit a lot of active things in, for a pretty reasonable price (we’d just been at Custer State Park in South Dakota, so prices were much lower at Fort Robinson for similar activities).
We arrived at the scenic park late morning and headed straight to the information booth to make reservations. We booked a jeep ride for the four of us, and while we waited for our departure time, we visited the stables.
Neither Mooch nor Farley are old enough for the trail rides, so they each got a pony ride instead. My daughter rode on a pony called Snowball. They enjoyed it, and the park attendant was super friendly.
With more time to kill, we walked over to the Activities Center, intending to do some sort of craft there. No attendant was in the pottery room, so we checked out the other rooms there. There’s a room of wildlife displays and one with silly photo ops. The photo op room was a hit with my kids.
There’s also a small library and game room in the Activity Center, and it was a nice retreat to cool off on a summer day. There’s a stagecoach at Fort Robinson that you can’t miss, and it’s a sure bet your kids will notice it and want to ride it. It’s pretty reasonable, $10 for all of us to ride, and it lasts about 10 minutes. The route isn’t too exciting, but it’s how you get there that counts. The kids liked it.
The jeep ride was the highlight of our visit. If you can stomach it, I recommend it. It’s a pretty low-cost adventure (our kids rode free). For the four of us (2 kids under 5), it cost $26.
You ride out to Smiley Canyon on a paved road, but once you reach the canyon, it’s dirt from then on out. I was a little nervous at first, checking and double checking the kids’ seatbelt they shared. But they never came close to bouncing out of the jeep, so I relaxed. If you’re lucky, you’ll see some wildlife on your ride. We saw buffalo and long-horned sheep. And you’ll stop for scenic views along the way.
The stop is another chance for you to worry about your kids, this time, thinking your kids will fall off the butte. No kids fell off the butte that day. The driver we had was very knowledgable. Mr. Wonderful sat in front with him and had a much better chance to hear the stories of the area. In back with four kids, whoops of joy kinda drowned him out.
Fort Robinson has a restaurant and a convenience store with sandwiches and snacks. Apparently, they offer some buffalo items you ought to try.
We packed a lunch, plus got some ice cream from Sutler’s Store. Nap time interrupted the adventure, and we intended to return that night – a Thursday night – for the free rodeo. Turns out, the Thursday of Fourth of July weekend means no rodeo. We’ll return, since there’s a lot more to see and do.
Kid-Friendly Activities at Fort Robinson (prices are 2023)
Know when you enter the park, you’ll need a permit from Nebraska Game and Parks. You can purchase a one-day permit or a year permit. I highly recommend paying for a year.
Prices are subject to change.
- Swimming pool – Open daily, 1 to 5 p.m. and 6 to 8:30 p.m.; adults, $6, children ages 3-12, $5; ages 2 and under, FREE.
- Activities Center – Daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., crafts, and rentals for bikes, horseshoes and tennis rackets
- Trailside Museum – April-May and September-October, Thursdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Memorial Day through Labor Day, daily, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; adults (19+), $3, kids (5-18), $1, 4 and younger, FREE. This is where you see the mammoths fighting, paleontology and geology exhibits, educational movies and gallery.
- Learning Center and Landmark Store – Fort Robinson History Center and Museum housed here.
- Horse trail rides – For ages 6 and older; hourly 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., except noon (45-minute ride, $25), and departing at 8 and 9:30 a.m. and 12:30 and 2 p.m. (75-minute, $30)
- Pony rides – For ages 5 and younger, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; $5
- Jeep rides – 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; adults, $15, children $12, kids 5 and under, FREE
- Stagecoach Ride – Adults, $5; children, $4
- Horse-drawn tour (history of the fort) – Departs hourly 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., except noon; adults, $10, children, $7
- Kayak ride and tube rentals – Van departs for river daily at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. for kayaks, and 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. for tubes. $18
- Mountain bike rentals – 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; $8/hour or $25/day
- Rodeo – Thursdays, 8 to 9 p.m. FREE
- Legend Butte Gold Course – Open beginning April 1
- Post Playhouse – Summer schedule with performances six nights a week at 8 p.m. and matinees at 10 a.m. on Saturday and at 2 p.m. on Wednesday through Sunday. postplayhouse.com
- Hayrack Breakfast – Sunday, Monday, Thursday, Friday, 8 a.m.; adults, $17, kids 12 and younger, $13. Reserve tickets the day before.
- Hayrack Steak Cookout – Monday, Thursday, Saturday, 6 to 8 p.m.; adults, $30, kids 12 and younger, $15.
- Chuck Wagon Cookout – Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, 6 to 8 p.m.; adults, $15, kids, $12.
* Jeep, hayrack rides, cookouts and other activities may be arranged for groups in the fall; contact the park office. After mid-August, activities will depend on staff availability. Times are subject to change.
If you go
Fort Robinson State Park
Where: Fort Robinson State Park, 3200 Highway 20, Crawford, Neb.
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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)
Chadron State Park (Chadron, Nebraska)