Despite the name "National Forest," this 116,000-acre national preserve is largely a representation of the Nebraska Sandhills prairies. There is year-round camping available at Steer Creek Campground, which has 23 sites, eight horse corrals, and a 1-mile nature hiking loop. Visitors enjoy horseback riding, mountain biking, hiking, fishing, hunting, cross-country skiing, and photographing wildflowers. Nearby, the Niobrara River Canoe Launch is a day-use site for launching small watercraft, and you can also fish in the Merritt Reservoir.
The Blue Jay Trail loops around in a circle, beginning and ending at the Steer Creek Campground at the southern end of the Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest. The trail follows Steer Creek for part of its path and winds around several sandy dunes that are covered with pine trees. While on the trail, you can see various species of birds, and in the spring and summer, there are abundant wildflowers.
Length: 1 mile
Snake River Falls is a popular destination in the Nebraska Sandhills. The Snake River Falls cascade into a canyon and flow down into the Niobrara River. The falls are located at the eastern border of the Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest and are on private land. Public access is between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. for a small fee at a drop box, but there are no restrooms or potable water.
Length: 1 mile
The Cowboy Trail is a long trail that travels from Norfolk to Valentine in north-central Nebraska for a total length of 195 miles. The trail is created from an old railroad line that is no longer in use and is a "rails to trails" trailway. The trail parallels US 20 and US 275 and features a variety of landscapes: the valleys of the Niobrara River, the sandhills, Long Pine Creek, the Elkhorn River, and Pine Ridge. One of the most spectacular views along the trail is the trestle that crosses the Niobrara River just outside of Valentine. It is a quarter-mile long and is 150 feet above the river. State officials plan on extending the Cowboy Trail to the city of Chadron to the west.
Length: 195 miles
Intensity: Moderate to Difficult
Popular uses of the forest include hunting, fishing, horseback riding, camping, and bird watching. Hunting is allowed within the appropriate seasons across Nebraska's national forests. Hunting opportunities are available across the Nebraska National Forests. Hunting seasons, permits, and rules are managed by Nebraska Game and Parks. There are many opportunities to fish throughout the national forest for species like trout, perch, northern pike, and crappie.
You will find pronghorn antelopes, mule deer, white-tailed deer, coyotes, and foxes within the Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest. There are around 150 species of birds known to inhabit the forest, including pheasant, grouse, hawk, and wild turkey.
Geocaching is allowed in any national forest. The Merritt Reservoir is nearby and provides exceptional stargazing on clear nights.
Address: 25 North Main Street, Chadron, NE 69337
Fee: Day Use Fee $0
There are many outdoor recreational activities available within the Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest in north-central Nebraska. The habitats are varied and include prairies, forests, lakes, and rivers. Visitors can have fun on the water and on land equally during all seasons. The national forest is large and is close to several interesting sites, like the Black Hills of South Dakota and the Niobrara River in northern Nebraska. Taking an RV road trip is a prime way to see and to fully experience all that the Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest has to offer.