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Best Nebraska State Parks to Visit in the Spring

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Best Nebraska State Parks to Visit in the Spring

Sandhill Cranes at Fort Kearny State Recreation Area - courtesy of Nebraska Game and Parks Commission

The Top Three Choices Offer Opportunities for Sandhill Crane Viewing, to Step Back in Time, and Spring Mushroom Hunting.

Fort Kearny State Recreation Area and Historical Park

Located southeast of Kearney along the Platte River, Fort Kearny State Recreation Area and nearby Fort Kearny State Historical Park, offer 186 acres dotted with sandpit lakes. In the spring, the world's largest concentration of sandhill cranes and waterfowl gathers in the central Platte River Valley. From late February to early April, approximately 500,000 sandhill cranes establish or strengthen breeding relationships while building up fat reserves and absorbing the vital nutrients they will need to survive once they finish migrating to their nesting grounds in northern Canada, Alaska and Siberia.

This extended visit provides residents and nonresidents a great opportunity to observe one of the oldest species of birds on the planet. Thanks to the national and worldwide attention this remarkable event has been getting in recent years, there are now additional and improved opportunities for viewing sandhill cranes in Nebraska. The largest concentrations of cranes usually occur in the Grand Island and Kearney areas, which have several facilities for crane viewing. One of those facilities is nearby Fort Kearny State Historical Park, which provides Crane Tours and information.

Fort Kearny State Recreation Area includes excellent camping facilities, eight sandpit lakes for fishing, a wheelchair-accessible fishing pier, a swimming beach, nature trails and historical exhibits at nearby Fort Kearny State Historical Park. For further information, call 308-865-5305.

Rock Creek Station State Historical Park and Recreation Area

Rock Creek Station might have faded into obscurity, like so many other stage and Pony Express stations, except for one fateful day in 1861. On that July afternoon, one James Butler Hickok killed David McCanles there and began his bloody career as a gunfighter.

Today, Rock Creek State Historical Park encompasses some 350 acres of prairie hilltops, timber-studded creek bottoms, and rugged ravines. Deep ruts, carved by the many wagons that traveled the Oregon/California and Pony Express trails, are plainly visible there, bearing testimony to the history of the area.

Development of Rock Creek Station as a state historical park began in 1980. Archeologists investigated and excavated sites of two ranches dating back to the 1858-1860 time period to determine building sites and to recover period artifacts. Development is now complete on the reconstruction of the buildings and corrals on both the East and West ranches. Visitors will find an excellent interpretive center, picnic areas, hiking and nature trails, as well as a modern campground on an adjoining tract.

Bring the family and enjoy Rock Creek Trail Days June 2-3, 2007. Visitors can pack a picnic or enjoy a buffalo stew cookout while they enjoy the many historical interpretations. Popular events include re-enactment of the Hickok and McCanles fracas, mounted cowboy action shooting, Dutch oven cooking, Pony Express runs, basket weaving, pine needle weaving, black powder fun demonstrations, living history of early trail period, and ranch interpretation. Rock Creek Station is open year-round. For further information, call 402-729-5777.

Rock Creek Station Recreation Area is a 40-acre campground adjacent to the Rock Creek Station State Historical Park. It has a designated area where visitors can camp with their horses and enjoy the park’s trails.

Indian Cave State Park

Bordering the mightly Missouri River, Indian Cave State Park features 3,052 rugged acres of majestic hardwood forest and hills. Twenty-two miles of multi-use trails in the park cater to hiking, biking and horse trail riding. For those who do not own a horse but would like to see the park via horseback, Indian Cave State Park offers guided horse trail rides from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day.

Indian Cave State Park is the perfect setting for mushroom hunting. Late April through June provides the best conditions in soft, most soils throughout the state, usually along rivers. The park maintains a 134-unit RV campground, which is usually open from May through October; primitive camping is available year round. For horse lovers, Indian Cave has a special camping area for those who bring their mounts to the park. For further information, call 402-883-2575.

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