Best Hikes in the Nebraska National Forests (NE)

Nebraska National Forests Overview

The Nebraska National Forests & Grasslands encompasses nearly 1.1 million acres of land in central and northwest Nebraska and in central and southwest South Dakota. The administrative units comprising Nebraska are the Nebraska and Samuel R. McKelvie National Forests and the Buffalo Gap, Oglala, and Fort Pierre National Grasslands. Though there are not many hikes in the Nebraska National Forests, the 40-mile long Pine Ridge Trail is a good option for all. The east end of the trail begins at Spotted Tail Trailhead a few miles south of Chadron. The Western end is at The West Ash Trailhead on West Ash Road about 10.5 miles south of Crawford.

Nebraska National Forest

The Nebraska National Forest began in 1902 as an experiment to produce trees and plant them in what is now the largest human-made forest in the United States. There are two distinct areas of the Nebraska National Forest. One section is situated in the northwest panhandle south and west of Chadron, while the other is located near Halsey in central Nebraska. Both offer unique recreation opportunities in the wide open spaces of Nebraska.

Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest

Located south of Nenzel in Cherry County, Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest is a fantastic representation of the unique Nebraska Sandhills prairie ecosystem. 

Nearest Metro AreaRapid City, SD
Area Size257,943 acres
EstablishedJuly 1, 1908
Hiking Trails 149 miles

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Trailhead Traveler’s Recommended Best Hikes in the Nebraska National Forests

(*** = Best hikes in the Nebraska National Forests)

Black Hills Overlook Trail – 3.6 miles out and back
Pine Ridge Region Near Chadron, Nebraska
Pine Ridge Region, Photo by Ken Lund

The Black Hills Overlook provides views of the surrounding Pine Ridge and grasslands and Black Hills of South Dakota. From the trailhead it’s a short walk to the overlook. As you pass thru this area on Road 714A you can still see the effects of the 1973 Dead Horse Fire. Most recently the area burned in 2012 with the effects being more noticeable in the overlook area. 

Cliffs Trail System – 4.3 mile loop***

The Cliffs is named for the large cliff face above Bordeaux Creek along the east side of the recreation site and trailhead. There are many different combinations that can be taken within the trail system including the 6.7 mile Gobbler Loop, the 5.2 mile Big Bordeaux Loop, and the 4.3 mile Canyon Loop.

Toadstool Trail – 0.9 mile loop
Toadstool Geological Park
Toadstool Geologic Park, Photo by Larry Lamsa

Toadstool Geologic Park is noted for its unusual geological formations and scientifically valuable fossil deposits. During your hike look for signs of fossils that give scientists insight into the behavior of animals as they passed through this area as far back as 30 million years ago.

Featured Image: Nebraska National Forest, Photo by Bkell

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