For those in the know, the words ‘camping in Nebraska‘ bring to mind some pretty epic images. The experienced campers in this state know where to find waterfalls, caves, and fossil beds. They can choose whether they want to see rolling hills covered in tall pines, or grasslands and high prairie outside their tent door. Perhaps an exciting weekend of tubing, jet skiing, and kite boarding? Or maybe a quiet morning fishing for bass or crappie on a secluded bay.

No matter what the ideal camping activity, odds are they will find it, as well as fewer crowds and more beautiful views at campgrounds in Nebraska.

For many other people, the state of Nebraska is little more than the backdrop of I-80: a place to drive through from one city to the next. But if you get off the highway, slow down, and pitch a tent or park your RV, these campgrounds in Nebraska offer hidden gems for all types of outdoor enthusiasts.

6 Local Experts Share Their Favorite Campgrounds in Nebraska

We turned to the campers who have wandered, hiked, explored, and uncovered the best of Nebraska campgrounds. Here are some of their favorites:

1. Willow Creek State Recreation Area

willow creek campgrounds in nebraska

Photo from Visit Nebraska

In Northeastern Nebraska, near Pierce, Willow Creek State Recreation Area is a great camping opportunity for those who want to get outside without an epic road trip. The campground is shaded and peaceful, bordering the reservoir with lake views in some sites. Visitors can fish or swim, or take advantage of the archery range. Be sure to bring your bike and ride the eight-mile limestone trail that winds around the reservoir. Equestrians are welcome on a ten-mile mowed horse trail.

One of the highlights of this campground is its proximity to the Ashfall Fossil Beds. The fossil beds allow visitors to tour through open excavations showing a very rare tableau of fossils in which the specimens are preserved exactly how they died.

In the Hubbard Rhino Barn, visitors can not only view the fossils, but watch as paleontologists work on unearthing new discoveries.

“We found this campground a few years back and have visited multiple times. The lake is huge and great for fishing. There are miles of trails that we enjoyed.” – The Dyrt Camper Pat V.

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2. Smith Falls State Park

smith falls campgrounds in nebraska

Photo by The Dyrt Camper Rebecca S.

Whether you go there for the scenic waterfall (tallest one in the state), or because you plan to float the scenic Niobrara River and want to take out next to your tent, Smith Falls provides a unique opportunity for water lovers.

Situated in the North-Central plains, the park is off the beaten path, and gives visitors a more rugged experience than many of the more manicured campgrounds in Nebraska. It is a great place to tent camp, with the main attractions being the waterfall, and the tubing, canoeing or kayaking available on the Niobrara. The nearby 76-mile stretch of this river is nationally designated as a scenic stretch of river which means no motor craft and very little civilization is to be found.

“We had a great time playing in the falls and wading close to shore in the river. This area is amazing for stargazing because it is incredibly dark at night but bring a lot of bug spray, the mosquitoes could carry away small pets.” – The Dyrt Camper Rick J.

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3. Merritt Reservoir

merritt reservoir campgrounds in nebraska

Photo by The Dyrt Camper Jennifer M.

If you are a water lover who is looking for a little more room to stretch out with your rod or perhaps a jet ski, then Merritt Reservoir is second only to the famed Lake Mac for size and depth in the state. Fish for walleye, white bass or crappie with the great inflow from the Snake River. Launch your boat from any of five different ramps, and tie off at seven different docks.

With five different campgrounds to choose from, most of which have gorgeous, shady lake-view sites, both RVers and tent campers can find exactly what they are looking for. Camp on the sand, and wake up on the beach.

Seasonal hunting opportunities are also available for small game and waterfowl.

“We come here every year with a small group of friends and have a wonderful time. Whether we are out on the lake boating, or fishing, or this year trying to kayak, or by the camp fire telling stories, we always have fun.” – The Dyrt camper Shannon G

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4. Buffalo Bill Ranch State Recreation Area

buffalo bill campgrounds in nebraska

Photo by Outdoornebraska.gov

Just minutes from Interstate 80, Buffalo Bill Ranch State Recreation Area is a great place to camp on your way through Nebraska. In fact, the roadside attraction quality is part of the appeal to this place. The recreation area was created from the 4,000-acre ranch owned by its namesake, Buffalo Bill, during his Wild West Show days. Tour the homestead and enjoy five miles of hiking trails to stretch your legs. In the summer, the park also offers horseback trail rides and float trips down the North Platte River. Both tent pads and RV hook-ups are provided.

Another unique value to this place, which brings it to our list today, is that it is one of the best places in the state to view the sand hill crane migration. Famed for their beautiful mating displays and piercing calls, sand hill cranes flock to the wetlands to rest on their thousand mile journey twice a year. Bird watching enthusiasts can use a large bird blind on the property to watch this natural phenomenon up close.

“The sites were nicely secluded and the campground was quiet. We didn’t plan on doing much exploring in the area, but ended up spending the better part of our day here.” – The Dyrt Camper, Sara S.

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Your State by State Guide to Camping the Oregon Trail

5. Eugene T. Mahoney State Park

eugene mahoney campgrounds in nebraska

Photo by The Dyrt Camper, Megan H.

Located right between Lincoln and Omaha on the Platte River, and just off I-80, Eugene T. Mahoney State Park is just plain fun when it comes to modern campgrounds in Nebraska. Besides beautifully manicured, shady tent sites and full RV hook-ups, the park has… get ready for it… water slides, a swimming pool, hiking trails, fishing, tubing, a petting zoo, an indoor playground, paddle boat rentals, fishing, rental cabins, arts and crafts, and an observation tower you can climb for a wide open view of the Platte River valley!

This very well-maintained campground is open year-round with sledding and ice skating available as weather permits in the winter. It is the perfect family friendly introduction to camping.

“Wow, what a wonderful State Park. This park has so much to offer and is well kept and beautifully landscaped. Make sure to reserve you’re spot well in advance because everyone loves this park. We enjoy the sites right by the water where the geese come up into our site.” – The Dyrt Camper, Shannon G.

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6. Chadron State Park

chadron state park campgrounds in nebraska

Photo by The Dyrt Camper, Shannon G.

In the tall pines of Nebraska National Forest, campers can find tranquility and a sense of removal from the fast pace of the world. Pull into the State Park with an RV or pitch a tent to take a deep breath of fresh mountain air. This beautiful Nebraska campground has views of rolling hills and the Pine Ridge Buttes.

Families will appreciate the pool, as well as horseback tours, paddle boats, evening programs in the summer, and the playground. Chadron State Park is also adjacent to over 100 miles of mountain biking trails and old roads available in the National Forest. Mountain bikers of all skill levels will find trails at their ability level.

“The views from here include cliffs, prairie/grassland, rolling hills, waterways and little lakes, and amazing sunrises & sunsets. Close to historic Ft. Robinson and other national forests and grasslands…The park itself is a lovely find.” – The Dyrt Camper Dan N.

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Lindsay DeFrates

Lindsay DeFrates

Lindsay DeFrates is a freelance writer, mother of three, whitewater raft guide, as well as a former English teacher and Outward Bound instructor. Currently loving her sleep-deprived existence in Glenwood Springs, CO, she and the family often pack an absurd amount of stuff and their one-eyed dog, Ahab, into a mini van and get a little lost in the mountains or on the rivers of Western Colorado and Eastern Utah. She can be reached at www.roaringforkwriter.com