Ponca State Park in Ponca, Nebraska, is a hidden gem about half an hour west of Sioux City, Iowa in northeast Nebraska. In the river breaks of the Missouri River Valley, the trails are hilly and tree-laden with lush plant life covering the forest floor. It’s along a protected national recreational waterway, so it’s one of the few stretches of the Missouri River that looks much the same as it did when explorers Meriweather Lewis and Clark came through.
This park has cabins, camping, fishing, a nice swimming pool with a water slide, a small fishing pond, a small golf and mini-golf course, horseback riding, shooting and archery range, and runs alongside the Missouri River if you’re into boating and walleye. There’s a very nice but very hilly bike trail stretching from the small burg of Ponca into the state park.
For spectacular vistas of the river and some very old oak trees, we like to start just inside the front gate at the Overlook Trail. You pick your way downhill through an old forest that towers over the Mighty Mo. We take it down the hill to riverfront, walk to the end of the campground, then take the Corps of Discovery Trail to the south up through the woods. We also found an Old Oak Trail that leads to the Old Oak Tree that’s been standing sentinel at the top of a very steep hill since the 1600s. Nearby, you can find a stuffed Sasquatch watching over you.
Hydrants, vault toilets and picnic shelters are plentiful along the trails, so no need to pack more than a couple bottles of water if you come after the spring thaw.