Nebraska’s 2,400-acre Ponca State Park is less than two hours from Omaha, Sioux Falls, and Sioux City. It offers a great way to get out in nature.
Maybe it’s due to working in an office most of my adult life, but I love to experience the great outdoors whenever possible. I aim to eventually visit all 63 US National Parks, and I’ve hit a few this year already! I live in Nebraska, and while we have national monuments and national historic sites, there are no National Parks here. Thankfully, Nebraska has a great state park system, with lots of state parks and recreation areas to visit. One of Nebraska’s most popular state parks is Ponca State Park, named for the Ponca Indians who inhabited this area. Located along the Missouri River in northeastern Nebraska, this 2,400-acre park is only two hours from Omaha, about 2 hours from Sioux Falls, SD, and only a little over an hour from Sioux City, IA.
History of Ponca State Park
As a history lover, I’m always fascinated by the past. There is a lot of history attached to this park. Lewis and Clark came through these parts on their quest to the Pacific. The National Park Service has named Ponca State Park part of the Lewis and Clark historical trail. And this is where Ponca Chief Standing Bear began his battle to have American Indians be recognized as “persons” under American law.
Best Time to Go
Any time of year is a good time to visit the park, depending on what you’re looking for. We like to hike with our dogs, so I prefer spring and fall in the park. In springtime, the Ponca State Park wetlands are a stopping point for many migrating birds, so it’s a great place to do some bird watching. Fall is also a great time to visit. You’ll see the trees in the park turn brilliant shades of oranges and reds.
A day trip to Ponca is a perfect way to spend the day. But the park does offer cabins and camping if you want to extend your stay. Twenty-seven cabins are open year-round. There are four-bedroom mini-lodges with two full bathrooms, a kitchen, a living room, a patio, a big-screen tv, wireless internet, a wood fireplace, and a gas grill. If you want to “rough it,” a few rustic cabins are open seasonally. Ponca also now offers glamping tents that I’m super excited to try. And they also offer a variety of camping options.
Ponca State Park Activities
There are lots of things to do in Ponca. Activities range from hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, boating, hunting, and guided trail rides, to trying your skill on the archery range. Plus, the Highland Oaks Public Golf Course is right outside the park.
Hiking at Ponca State Park
Since we like to hike, we discovered that Ponca offers 17 miles of trails, which I’d classify as easy to moderate. Our favorite is the Old Oak Trail, the hike that leads to the more than 300-year-old Oak tree in the middle of the park. According to the park, in 1964, the tree was officially 320 years old, meaning it was a sapling 24 years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock. That’s a really old tree!
The 1-mile hike through forested areas was beautiful, with prairie wildflowers nestled among the trees, and it was fairly easy to navigate. The old oak was something to see!
Experienced hikers may want to try the Corps of Discovery trail, the trail names after the Lewis and Clark Expedition that came through the area back in 1804. The trail goes through an old encampment complete with stone staircases. Once you get to the top of the ridgeline, you’ll be rewarded with awesome views of the Missouri River.
As much fun as the hiking was, what made it even better was bringing along our three dogs. They love to get out and explore just as much as we do, so it’s nice when they can come along for fun.
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When You Head to Ponca State Park in Nebraska
If you’re looking for a great way to spend time in nature in northeastern Nebraska, I highly recommend venturing out to Ponca State Park. Many people have visited this beautiful park for years, and I can see why. Let Wander With Wonder be your guide when planning your next outdoor adventure or a trip to Nebraska.