Chadron State Park is Nebraska's oldest state park. The park is set in a rugged area of ridges, buttes, and canyons, with forest in many places. The major forest fires of 2012 took out many trees, but the state has removed almost all the dead trees to minimize snag hazards and also to minimize future fire dangers. Even though the park is just under 1,000 acres, trails in the park have been expanded to fifteen miles. But, that is just where the hiking opportunities begin.
Autumn color in a side canyon at Chadron State Park
The Nebraska National Forest is all around the state park, with thousands of acres of forest and meadow lands, and over a hundred miles of old roads and trails. Fort Robinson State Park and Toadstool Geologic Park are each less than an hour away. A hiker can find weeks of great hiking nearby. The National Forest Service office in Chadron has the best maps available to show all the latest trails and back roads. Plus, they can offer many tips and insights into places in the area you might want to explore.
There are two main canyon systems in the park, and several of the trails run through, or on the sides of, those canyons. The north canyon, which is a larger canyon, sees more traffic because of more trail, plus the vistas are less obstructed by trees. The Black Hills Overlook Trail and the Steamboat Loop Trail provide the best exploration opportunities in the north canyon.
The south canyon, sometimes called Lebo Canyon, is not as rugged and is more thickly forested. The Norwesca Trail runs through the heart of the south canyon. Because this beautiful little canyon is smaller, the opportunities are less. However, it is still work the hike through to see it.
Chadron State Park is 8 miles south of Chadron, Nebraska on Highway 385. The main paved roadway loop through the park is 3.6 miles long, but is connected with several smaller loops that provide cabin and camping access. Free trail maps are available at the park headquarters.
Exploring Canyon Routes
Canyon Trails at Chadron State Park
The map in this section shows how the Black Hills Overlook Trail and the Norwesca Trail offer the greatest opportunity to explore the canyons of Chadron State Park. However, the Steamboat Loop Trail also offers some great overlooks into the north canyon and the Cabin Trail offers a link to these trails as it winds around some of the ravines in the central part of the park.
The Black Hills Overlook Trail loop is approximately 4 miles in length, with the low point on the loop being about 3,800 feet in altitude and the high point about 4,200 feet. If you are hiking this loop, you will have to add the distance of your connecting trail unless you are hiking from the Black Hills Overlook Point or if you park along that section of road loop.
The Norwesca Trail is not a loop, so you will need to decide if you wish to do an "out-and-back" from one end of the trail, or else combine a combination of other trails and/or park roads to create your own loop. The map on this page will help you see some of your options and if you would also like to consult the Nebraska Interactive Trails System, you can click on this link: Nebraska Interactive Trails Map. The low point on the 1.5-mile Norwesca Trail is about 3,860 feet in altitude, with the high point at about 4,160 feet.
The Steamboat Loop Trail is a 1.4-mile loop trail that climbs to the south rim of the north canyon in the state park. At the south end of the Steamboat Loop Trail, there is a spur trail that goes over to the Black Hills Overlook Trail route, which at that point is a road. This trail offers great overlooks into the canyon, a chance to climb Steamboat Butte and a connecting route to exploring more of the park's canyons.
Like all state parks in Nebraska, all vehicles need a park permit - either a daily or an annual. You can get those at the park headquarters at the entrance. No alcoholic beverages or fireworks are allowed in the state park, nor are firearms or hunting. Campfires are strictly regulated. Dogs must be on a leash and their are pet fees for the cabins. Horseback riding is not allowed in the park, except on a special trail set aside just for that purpose. So, hikers should only encounter other hikers or mountain bikers on the trails in the park.
When to Explore the Canyons & Summits
A View Down the North Canyon
Chadron State Park is open year-around. There is not many visitors during the coldest part of the winter, though cross-country skiers are seen there at times. The canyon floors tend to fill with deep snow during average winters, but the trails on the ridges are often still passable. Wet or icy rock can make climbing unsafe.
Ticks are always a problem from spring to late summer, particularly in any grassy area. Good insect repellent is a necessity at times like this.
Vultures in Lebo Canyon
Large sudden downpours, extreme heat and winter blizzards will all create problems for explorers. To check the latest conditions and forecasts, you can visit this weather link:
If you like your visit to be uncrowded, it's probably best to stay away from holidays and warm weather weekends. Check with the park office about any large special events planned at the state park.
Chadron State Park Camping & Cabins
Mystery phone booth near the Norwesca Trail in Lebo Canyon
Cave in a rock outcropping of the north Canyon
There are 22 great small cabins for rent in the park, plus a few dorms, quite a few RV pull-through campsites, and a primitive tenting area. The park has a swimming pool, showers, tennis court, sand volleyball, picnic areas, horseback riding for a fee and a small lake set up for trout fishing and paddle boating.
The primitive tenting area is tucked back into a shady pocket near the RV area, but is just far enough back to be quieter than the RV or cabin areas. For more information about Chadron State Park, check out their website link below. To make reservations or call for more information, the state park phone number is (308)432-6167.