Indian Cave State Park
Ancient native rock art isn't the only attraction at this northeastern Nebraska hideaway located 4 miles east of Barada, along the Missouri River's western shore. Twenty miles of up-and-down trail wind through eroded sandstone hills, hardwood forest, and braided flood channels. Rock Bluff Run and Hardwood are prime trails for exploring the park; both offer loop-hike opportunities with overnights at Indian Cave's ridgetop shelters.
Contact: Indian Cave State Park, (402) 883-2575; www.ngpc.state.ne.us.
Nebraska National Forest
Two miles west of Halsey, on NE 2, 90,000 acres of rolling sand hills and sage country adjoin a 20,000-acre evergreen forest, beckoning dayhikers in search of old-fashioned peace and quiet. One signed trail runs for 3 miles from the campground to a backcountry lookout tower. All other trails and campsites are unmarked.
Contact: Bessey Ranger District, Nebraska National Forest, (308) 533-2257; www.fs.fed.us/r2/nebraska.
Oglala National Grassland
Nebraska's western panhandle hides this 94,400-acre mosaic of native midgrass prairie and clay-sandstone badlands. Pronghorn antelopes and swift foxes live here amid mushroom-shaped hoodoos, prehistoric mammal tracks, and ancient bison-hunting sites. Most travel is cross-country, but the Bison Trail between Toadstool Park and Hudson-Minge Bone Beds offers superb views all the way to the Black Hills.
Contact: Oglala National Grassland, (308) 432-4475; www.fs.fed.us/r2/nebraska/oglala.