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Nebraska's Pine Ridge

Nebraska's Pine Ridge

Nebraska\'s Pine Ridge

Page Type: Area/Range

Location: Nebraska, United States, North America

Lat/Lon: 42.66919°N / 103.47079°W

Object Title: Nebraska's Pine Ridge

Activities: Hiking


Page By: panhandletrails

Created/Edited: Dec 24, 2008 / Aug 1, 2014

Object ID: 474261

Hits: 18186 

Page Score: 87.76%  - 25 Votes 

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Fort Robinson Morning Fog
Morning fog dissipates along the buttes at Fort Robinson State Park.
Nebraska's Pine Ridge area is an escarpment on the edge of the high plains. It's about 100 miles long across Nebraska, running through northern portions of Sioux, Dawes, and Sheridan counties. The Pine Ridge extends into South Dakota's Pine Ridge Reservation, and to a lesser degree the north side of Wyoming's Niobrara River watershed. Though the Pine Ridge looks like a narrow arc on the map, it's distance across varies anywhere from 4 miles to 20 miles. Despite it's rugged natural beauty and great hiking opportunities, the whole area is often overlooked due to the close proximity of the Rockies to the west in Wyoming, and the Black Hills to the north in South Dakota.

The Pine Ridge is characterized by several hundred square miles of ponderosa pine forests, meadows, steep buttes, small canyons, minor peaks, and numerous small streams. The altitude ranges from around 3,000 feet in Sheridan County to over 5,200 feet in Sioux County, so not only are there also ash and cottonwood trees in the forest, but small groves of aspen are occasionally seen. There is an abundance of wildlife in the area, with large numbers of deer and wild turkeys. There are also elk, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, porcupines, occasional mountain lions, ducks, wild geese, and pheasants.

There are a large number of hiking opportunities there, due to over 100,000 acres of public access on state and federal lands. Some of the larger areas open to the public would include the Soldier Creek Wilderness Area, Chadron State Park, Fort Robinson State Park, Ponderosa Wildlife Management Area, Bighorn Wildlife Management Area, Bordeaux Creek Wildlife Management Area, Gilbert Baker Wildlife Management Area, Metcalf Wildlife Management Area, Chadron Creek Wildlife Management Area, Toadstool Geologic Park, and the Nebraska National Forest Recreation Area.

Crow Butte
Crow Butte, Dawes County, Nebraska

There are many miles of hiking trails in the Pine Ridge. The length and quality of those trails varies, depending on the agency that is in charge of development and upkeep. And, if there are not enough hiking trails, there are many more miles of old logging roads throughout the region. While some of the best buttes and small peaks to climb are on private property, others are on public lands. Those would include Cheyenne Buttes, Walter Reed Butte, Flannigan Butte, Crown Butte, Barrel Butte, Roundtop Peak, Coffee Mill Butte, Eagle Eye Rock, Pine Butte, Wright Peak, Lover's Leap Butte, Rock Butte, Steamboat Butte, Aristocrat Peak, Giant's Coffin Butte, Red Cloud Buttes, and Saddle Rock. Besides your necessary topo maps, the best general map one can get, is from the National Forest Service office in Chadron.

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Forest fires in the Pine Ridge during 2012, consumed over 200 square miles. The damage ranges from light, where the forest had been thinned, to very heavy in the thickest part of the forest. Winter Storm Atlas in October of 2013 caused a large amount of deadfall from the burned trees. If you are planning any kind of expedition on public lands in the Pine Ridge, please be sure to check with the National Forest Service office in Chadron at (308) 432-0300 for closures. If you are going on WMA land, you can contact the Ponderosa WMA office at (308) 665-2924. Both state parks are open now, and without restrictions.

Area History

Fort Robinson Windmill
Fort Robinson Windmill
While Nebraska's panhandle region provides great hiking and climbing, it also has some places of historical interest. A fur trading post was established on Bordeaux Creek in 1839, not far from the present-day location of Chadron. The post has been restored into The Museum of the Fur Trade. That post continued in operation until 1872. Further west, the landmark Crow Butte was the sight of a famous battle between the Crow and Sioux tribes in 1849. Fort Robinson was established in 1874, and became the place where the famous Sioux chief, Crazy Horse was killed in 1877. Two years later, Cheyenne chief Dull Knife led the famous Cheyenne Outbreak. In 1885, the legendary Buffalo Soldiers made Fort Robinson their home, until 1898.

Getting There

The primary east-west highway along and through the Pine Ridge, is Highway 20. Highway 385 also serves to bring the most north-south traffic through the area. To realize all the opportunities, one really will benefit from obtaining the National Forest Service map for the area.

To view the state trails in the Pine Ridge area, you can check out Nebraska's interactive trail website:

Nebraska Interactive Trails Map

Red Tape

Pine Ridge
This topo map courtesy of Bubba Suess
There is quite a bit of private land among all the public land tracts. So, obtaining permission from landowners for hiking or climbing on private property is essential. The friendly folks at the National Forest Service Office are very helpful in providing contact information. And, the folks at the Ponderosa Wildlife Management (WMA) Area are very helpful in providing information on all area WMA's. If your choice is state park hiking or climbing, you will find assistance at their offices. The state parks require permits, and they will have posted some regulations of their own. Carrying firearms (not concealed) is permissible in all but the state parks. But, if you carry a weapon that is usable for a hunting season in progress, you could face a hefty fine if you do not have a permit for that season.

Resource Links

Mysterious  Face  Boulder
Forest mystery near Crow Butte

Click on any of the links below to obtain more information:
Panhandle Trails

Fort Robinson State Park

Chadron Chamber of Commerce

Chadron State Park

Gordon Chamber of Commerce

Nebraska National Forest

Nebraska Game & Parks Trails

Chadron State Park YouTube Video

Fort Robinson State Park YouTube video


Bison Trail
The scenic Bison Trail at Toadstool Geologic Park
There are several camping areas in the region, but the best are at Fort Robinson State Park and Chadron State Park. If you contact the chambers of commerce at Chadron, Crawford, or Gordon, you can get more specific and up-to-date information on area camping.

Chadron Chamber of Commerce (308) 432-4401

Chadron State Park (308) 432-6167

Crawford Chamber of Commerce (308) 665-1817

Fort Robinson State Park (308) 665-2900

Ponderosa Wildlife Management Area (308) 665-2924

Gordon Chamber of Commerce (308) 282-0730


Master of his territory
Not a creature to trifle with!
Because people tend to think of Nebraska as being all flat and treeless, some might not take seriously some of the risks in venturing into some of western Nebraska's more remote and rugged areas. This would be especially true if one is hiking or climbing alone. One of the beauties of the area is that it is not over-run with people. But, that also means if a solitary hiker or climber is injured, they cannot count on others coming by to rescue them. Cell phone coverage among all the steep buttes and canyons is very weak, and often non-existent.

Ticks are perhaps the most frequent living danger. They are abundant from early March through August, and they carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Fever, and possibly other diseases. Rattlesnakes are occasionally seen along trails and on rock ledges. Packs of coyotes could be menacing. And, there are increasing numbers of mountain lion sightings, with game biologists reporting at least 22 cougars residing in the Pine Ridge as of early 2013. There have been unconfirmed sightings of wolves in the Pine Ridge, and one stray bear from the Wyoming Rockies was shot near Harrison in 2008.

Much of the butte and canyon rock composition is a mixture of sandstone, siltstone, a type of a chalky limestone, and volcanic ash. In some places the composition has been cemented together fairly well by nature. But in many places, it is rather soft or crumbly. Technical climbers will need to evaluate this carefully. Also, if using trees for anchors, the root systems are often very horizontal, as evidenced by those you will see blown over.

Dry stream beds in canyons can have pockets of sand that turn to the consistency of quicksand after rainfall. Dehydration is a real hazard during warm weather. And, like so many other remote areas, people get lost sometimes.

The wise hiker or climber will take into account all these hazards and plan accordingly.