Backpacking in Nebraska: TOP 5 Multi-Day Trails

Ultralight Backpacking in Nebraska: a sunny field trail

In this post, we'll take a look at:

Backpacking in Nebraska may not compare to other states in terms of vast wilderness areas or long-distance trails. However, for those seeking a scenic multi-day adventure amid the Cornhusker State’s natural beauty, there are still opportunities to be found.

From woodlands along the northern Niobrara River valley to rolling sand dunes in the central regions, Nebraska still offers diverse landscapes to explore.

And that’s what this post is all about – backpacking in Nebraska. We’ll provide tips to help you prepare for backpacking in this state as well as showcase the TOP 5 multi-day backpacking trails.

Interested? Let’s get started.

Key Tips for Backpacking in Nebraska

  • What to expect: You’ll walk through big grassy prairies, sandy hills, and wooded bluffs by rivers. The trails are mostly flat or gently sloping, but they might get muddy after rain. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, especially for unexpected thunderstorms.
  • Essential gear: Bring a water filter and tools like a map, compass, and GPS to stay on track if the trails are hard to see. Take a first aid kit and emergency supplies. Be ready for mud with gaiters and waterproof shoes. You don’t need bear canisters, but use bags that block smells and hang your food away from animals at night.
  • Wildlife: While unlikely, Nebraska’s backcountry contains potentially hazardous wildlife like mountain lions, bison, rattlesnakes, and bears that can attack if provoked. More common are coyotes and bobcats that may become aggressive if perceived as threatened.
  • Wild camping in Nebraska is restricted and requires permits on most public lands like state parks and national forests, only allowing backcountry camping in designated primitive sites. Camping on private ranches may be allowed with owner permission. However, conservation and wildlife areas prohibit camping. Laws vary locally, so directly contacting the land manager is key for camping permissions. While not fully outlawed, legal wild camping spots are still limited in Nebraska compared to some western states.
  • Best times to go are spring (March-May) for mild weather and blooming wildflowers, early fall (September-October) for cooler temperatures and colorful foliage, and winter (December-February) for fewer crowds and snowy landscapes. However, winter requires experienced backpacking skills and preparation for shorter days and frigid nights.

Top 5 Backpacking Trails in Nebraska

Discover the most stunning long trails in Nebraska for amazing adventures:

1. Cowboy Trail: Norfolk to Valentine

Breathtaking overlook showcasing the vast prairies and winding Niobrara River in the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge near Valentine, Nebraska

Diana Robinson, CC BY-SA 2.0, via flickr

Length: 187.2 mi / 301.3 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 2378 ft / 724.8 m
Location: Norfolk
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 54 800 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The Cowboy Trail is a 187.2-mile point-to-point trail in Nebraska, offering a moderately challenging backpacking experience through the vast, monotonous landscapes of the Great American Plains. With crushed limestone and well-maintained bridges, it provides solitude and connection with nature, though the scenery can become monotonous. Expect to spend around 54 hours to complete the entire trail.

2. Homestead Trail

A straight, paved path on a sunny day along the Homestead Trail in Roca, Nebraska

Becky, CC BY-SA 2.0, via flickr

Length: 31.5 mi / 50.7 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Gain: 616 ft / 188 m
Location: Roca
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 7900 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

The 31.5-mile Roca Trail is a point-to-point route near Roca, Nebraska, considered an easy hike taking around 9.5 hours to complete. Ideal for backpacking and hiking, the well-maintained, compact gravel trail offers a peaceful experience with few other visitors. The trail follows an old railroad corridor, often lined with trees, though some open, windier sections exist. Watch for animal holes along the way. The trail is open year-round, making it enjoyable to visit anytime.

3. MoPac East Trail

An autumn trail with colorful fallen leaves lining a path, captured in Lincoln, Nebraska

Jonathan Reyes, CC BY-SA 2.0, via flickr

Length: 21.7 mi / 34.9 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Gain: 597 ft / 182 m
Location: Lincoln
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 5400 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

This 21.7-mile point-to-point trail near Lincoln, Nebraska offers a moderately challenging hiking experience. Generally taking around 6 hours and 49 minutes to complete, the trail provides solitude and is open year-round. The well-maintained crushed limestone path is mostly flat, with some paved sections. Scattered shade and pretty horse properties line parts of the route. Overall, it’s a simple but enjoyable trail for exploring Nebraska’s landscape.

4. Pine Ridge Trail

A serene lake reflects the ponderosa pine forests, buttes and ridges of the Pine Ridge escarpment in northwestern Nebraska

Length: 40 mi / 64.4 km
Type: Point to point
Difficulty: Medium
Elevation Gain: NA
Location: Chadron
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 8700 calories
More Details: See on US Forest Service

A 40-mile hiking/biking/equestrian trail spanning the Pine Ridge area near Chadron and Crawford. Traverses varied landscapes like grasslands, pine forests, canyons and ridges. Fire-impacted in parts. Multiple access points including East Ash and Chadron State Park trailheads. Scenic but rugged route showcasing northwest Nebraska.

5. Hawthorne to Marsh to Missouri Loop

Delicate spider web draped over a wooden walkway path

Length: 10.5 mi / 16.9 km
Type: Loop
Difficulty: Hard
Elevation Gain: 1512 ft / 461 m
Location: Fontenelle Forest Nature Center
Estimated Hiking Calorie Burn: 4700 calories
More Details: See on AllTrails

This 10.5-mile loop trail near Bellevue, Nebraska, offers a challenging hiking experience with a mix of inclines and declines. Generally taking around 4 hours and 35 minutes to complete, the trail is popular for birding and hiking but can provide solitude during quieter times. The trails are well-maintained, with some muddy spots expected, and are easy to follow. The best time to visit is from April through October.

Annual Weather Averages

Nebraska’s backpacking weather varies greatly across seasons:

  • Spring (March-May): Daytime highs range from 50-70°F, with occasional rain. Spring brings blossoming trees and flowers.
  • Summer (June-August): Warm to hot temperatures prevail, with daytime highs averaging 80-95°F. Summers are generally dry, with occasional thunderstorms.
  • Fall (September-November): Daytime highs range from 50-75°F, with cooler nights. Fall foliage is prominent, creating colorful landscapes.
  • Winter (December-February): Winters are milder compared to northern states, with daytime highs around 30-45°F. Lows can dip into the teens and 20s°F. Snowfall is moderate, and winter conditions are less severe than in colder regions.

Before making your gear selection, take a look at the weather statistics for Nebraska (Omaha):

High °F333851647483878578654935
Low °F141828405161666454422917
Rain/Snow (D*)3358111211108643
Note: This table is approximate; weather can change with altitude.
D* – Days of rain or snow.

Alternative Backpacking Destinations

Not sure if Nebraska is right for you?

Don’t forget to check out our backpacking guides for Iowa and Colorado.


Can I have a campfire while backpacking in Nebraska? 

Campfires are allowed but have some rules when backpacking in Nebraska. In places like wildlife management areas and state parks, fires must stick to designated sites or fire rings. Check for burn bans during dry times. Some trails may not allow fires or need permits, so know the rules where you’re hiking. If fires are okay, use existing fire rings, only gather dead and down wood, and keep your fires small.

What are some safety tips for backpacking in Nebraska?

When you go backpacking in Nebraska, be ready for strong sun, storms, wind, and sudden temperature changes. Bring gear to handle all of that. Also, have tools and skills to find your way in the big prairies. Watch out for rattlesnakes, ticks, and tricky river crossings. Don’t camp under dead tree limbs that might fall in storms. Tell others about your route and when you’ll be back. It’s safer to hike with a buddy or group. Be aware of hunters during hunting seasons. Be careful on private land and ask for permission. And don’t get too close to wildlife like bison or elk.

How to deal with wildlife encounters while backpacking in Nebraska?

When you come across wildlife in Nebraska, give them plenty of space. Stay calm, avoid sudden movements, and don’t try to get too close. Watch out for snakes in tall grass and look for signs like animal tracks. If you encounter a mountain lion or coyote, back away slowly and make yourself look big. Keep away from bison, especially calves and agitated adults showing signs of charging. If you hear or see a rattlesnake, take a different path. Let elk and deer move through without disturbing them. Tell authorities about problematic animals and use noise to keep curious skunks or raccoons away from your camp. Carry bear spray just in case animals get aggressive.

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