Chadron, NE: Norwesca Trail

Dip into hidden valleys, skirt rugged buttes, and even surprise a few wild turkeys on this 5.2-miler that loops from top to bottom of Nebraska's Pine Ridge in Chadron State Park.
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Dip into hidden valleys, skirt rugged buttes, and even surprise a few wild turkeys on this 5.2-miler that loops from top to bottom of Nebraska's Pine Ridge in Chadron State Park.

Pine Cone Butte is the start point for this clockwise loop that combines several trails in Chadron State Park. From the picnic area, head 100 yards downhill on the road and then turn onto a wide, grassy trail that skirts the top of a tree-choked ravine. Just before mile 1, you'll pass the park's main cabin area on the Orange Trail before crossing the road, joining the Norwesca Trail and dipping into a valley on the park's south side. The trail follows a small creek up a valley headed west—look for evidence of selective logging and forest maintenance on the surrounding slopes.
A ponderosa-shaded climb leads to this loop's high point on the Black Hills Overlook Road near mile 3. But the best part of the hike is ahead: a 1-mile stretch through a rocky ravine below Steamboat Butte. The southbound jog to the trailhead climbs the Black Hills Nature Trail to within a few hundred feet of the parking area, but this route turns uphill for a 10-minute exploration of the Pine Cone Butte before returning to the trailhead parking lot.
-Mapped by Kristy Holland

Trail Facts

  • Distance: 8.4

Waypoints

NOR001

Location: 42.709411, -103.0172217

This loop begins and ends at the small Pine Cone Butte Shelter parking lot. There's a playground here, a large covered picnic area (with BBQs), and primitive restrooms. Head down the park road for about 100 yards and then turn right onto the trail.

NOR002

Location: 42.7086778, -103.0166316

The wide, mowed path is also a service road for park officials. Stay straight at the 3-way junction just ahead and look for wild turkeys as you wind above several ravines.

NOR003

Location: 42.7023863, -103.0162454

Turn left at T-junction and turn downhill on the wide, grassy trail toward the park's main cabin area.

NOR004

Location: 42.7053193, -103.0143142

Stop to admire restoration efforts in this meadow area just south of the cabins, then take the center of the three trails uphill and follow the old forest road along a string of interpretive signs. Stick to the trail as you round the hillside and begin heading south.

NOR005

Location: 42.7031905, -103.0118787

Cross the park road and turn uphill. Within 100 yards, the trail splits. This route follows the wider grass trail straight and bypasses the tree-littered singletrack on the right.

NOR006

Location: 42.6987121, -103.0086493

At the bottom of the hill, turn right to stay on Norwesca Trail. You'll follow the bottom of a Chadron Creek tributary and leave the park briefly as you pass north of the camp facility where this section of trail gets its name.

NOR007

Location: 42.6978447, -103.0191851

From the flat creek bottom, the trail turns uphill toward a gate near mile 2.5. You'll continue climbing and turn right to join a gravel road up ahead.

NOR008

Location: 42.7035059, -103.024056

Turn left on the more established (but still gravel) Black Hills Overlook Road and follow it 300 yards to the cattle guard and old windmill.

NOR009

Location: 42.7034507, -103.0273497

Turn right onto a service road just after the cattle guard. You'll bear right onto a white-diamond blazed singletrack trail just a few hundred yards ahead and descend into a valley.

NOR010

Location: 42.7106301, -103.0273173

This steep section of trail is crisscrossed with roots, but the surface can be loose as you head deeper into the ravine below. Watch your footing, but be sure to look up for a view of Steamboat Butte.

NOR011

Location: 42.7118864, -103.0276501

A huge cliff face lines the ravine just before the trail crosses back into the state park from the national forest. Ahead, the park re-enters a softer, more prairie-like landscape.

NOR012

Location: 42.7141015, -103.0232191

Turn right at 3-way junction toward the Black Hills Trailhead. It's a gentle uphill toward a cattle guard and a fenceline offering great views to the northeast.

NOR013

Location: 42.7124697, -103.0194318

Turn left at T-junction, continuing uphill along the fenceline.

NOR014

Location: 42.7110795, -103.0191333

Turn left at the park road.

NOR015

Location: 42.7104359, -103.0181229

Turn right to explore the trails that wind around the butte. The road continues straight to the Pine Cone Butte Shelter.

Windmill

Location: 42.7034665, -103.0272746

This dilapidated windmill marks the turn back onto the trail.

Pine Cone Butte

Location: 42.709411, -103.0171144

The shelter and picnic area serving as the start point for this loop hike.

Trail

Location: 42.7086857, -103.0165458

The trail doubles as a park service road, but expect to see only foot and bike traffic.

Snag

Location: 42.705477, -103.0137241

Snags like this one in the surrounding forest provide homes for many different animal species.

Junction

Location: 42.705335, -103.0142069

Follow the center trail as you leave the meadow.

Road

Location: 42.7031905, -103.0117607

Cross the park road and join the Norwesca Trail up ahead.

Flowers

Location: 42.7032063, -103.0107093

Flowers on the hillside begin blooming in April, but be prepared for fluctuating temperatures and weather conditions year round.

Logging Debris

Location: 42.7004309, -103.0086493

Many of the trails on this loop are old logging roads, but selective logging and forest maintenance is common in this park in response to a huge fire that swept through the neighboring National Forest a few years ago.

Cliff

Location: 42.6975766, -103.0148721

This impressive 40-foot cliff is one of many rocky, creek-side displays on this loop's southern side.

Fence

Location: 42.6978447, -103.0189705

This fence is on the long uphill from the creek bottom, and it marks the park's southern boundary near this loop's mile 2.4.

Bird House

Location: 42.7024967, -103.023541

There are bird houses all over the park, there are plenty of bluebirds and as many of 50 feathered species in the area.

Trail

Location: 42.7035059, -103.0270493

The trail along the fenceline is outside of the State Park Boundary. This route winds between the State Park and National Forest several times.

Valley

Location: 42.7064073, -103.0274677

Biking is also allowed on this singletrack trail into the valley, but you'd have to dismount for occasional obstacles like this log across the trail.

Cliffs

Location: 42.7114765, -103.0271566

Alongside the trail toward the low end of the valley.

Narrow Trail

Location: 42.7100732, -103.0273283

The rocky hillsides in the valley narrow as the trail approaches the park border again.

Cliffs

Location: 42.7116578, -103.0273497

National Forest

Location: 42.7123988, -103.0281973

This red post marks the boundary between the National Forest and the State Park.

View

Location: 42.7110744, -103.0190241

The trail heading back to the Pine Cone Butte Shelter offers northeast views of the national forest on the opposite side of US-385.

Crack

Location: 42.7071011, -103.0183053

An impressive rock crack 2-3 feet wide offers a peek into the valley on the other side of the butte.

Walls

Location: 42.7089616, -103.0181122

Walking below the rocky lower faces of the buttes above the trailhead.

Steps

Location: 42.7091745, -103.0181229

Though makeshift stairs lead the way to the top of the butte, they are slick and can be dangerous, especially on the way back down.