By Renae Blum, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
Don’t let the cold stop you from getting outdoors and having fun this winter. Nebraska state parks offer plenty of space to enjoy a wide range of activities — from sledding and snowboarding to ice skating and wildlife watching.
Here are a few ideas to keep you off the couch and having fun this winter.
Sledding and snowboarding
Racing down a hill on a sled or snowboard is an exciting way to spend time outdoors. And luckily, there’s plenty of opportunity for it at Nebraska’s state parks. Ponca, Chadron and Eugene T. Mahoney state parks have dedicated sled hills; Mahoney even has snow-making capability. And Fort Robinson and Niobrara state parks and Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area have plenty of rolling hills to choose your own slopes.
Get off the beaten path and go cross-country skiing this winter. It’s a chance to explore a different side of a Nebraska state park: what they look like in all their winter beauty. It also gives a great chance for wildlife watching.
Some of the best parks for cross-country skiing in Nebraska are Ponca State Park and Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area; both offer groomed trails. Other good parks to try include Eugene T. Mahoney, Platte River and Indian Cave state parks.
Enjoy a meal of fresh fish you caught yourself this winter after some ice-fishing. Ice-fishing can be a lot of fun, with the chance to potentially catch lots of fish. If you’re new to ice-fishing, go with a more experienced friend to learn the ropes. Dress in layers to stay warm.
Watching birds at a nature center
At several state parks, you can enjoy some great birdwatching from the comfort of the indoors. Wildcat Hills and Schramm Park state recreation areas offer nature centers where you can watch birds at feeders outside the windows. Eugene T. Mahoney State Park offers indoor bird watching opportunities at its administration building.
Gliding across the ice on skates is a fun way to spend an afternoon or evening. The open-air ice rink at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park is one great destination, with nearby opportunities to sled or visit the activity center with climbing wall. Or you can head out to a state park near you. Any lake with safe ice thickness can serve as your playground for the day. Remember to dress in layers and use the buddy system.
Winter is a great time to explore the outdoors and look for wildlife. Species like bald eagles, jackrabbits, owls, hawks, turkey and deer can be spotted at this time of year. Lake McConaughy is a great place for viewing birds thanks to its open water, as is Branched Oak State Recreation Area. Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area and Ponca and Indian cave state parks are other good choices.
Stay in a cabin or lodge
Sometimes the best way to enjoy a chilly winter’s day is to hunker down inside a cabin or lodge room. Looking for a place to stay with lots to do nearby? Choose a location like Eugene T. Mahoney and Platte River state parks, both located near larger cities and other amenities. If you’re looking for more peace and solitude, pick a place like Niobrara state park that is more out-of-the-way.
When you venture out into the cold, remember to dress for the weather, bring water and a friend, or tell someone where you’re going. Learn more about the state parks mentioned above at OutdoorNebraska.gov.