It’s not often that most of us get on a saddle and enjoy nature from the back of a horse. Fortunately, if that sounds like something you want to try in a controlled and safe environment, there are numerous opportunities to go on guided horseback rides at a Nebraska state park.
Options in the Lincoln area include Mahoney State Park, which provides horseback rides as well as pony rides for kids, and Platte River State Park.
Mahoney offers a 45-minute ride through oak woodlands overlooking the Platte River, with quiet, peaceful surroundings and opportunities for viewing wildlife. The equestrian trails at Platte River State Park wind through shady trees along the bluffs of the Platte and are kept for horseback riders only.
“It’s a trail that we don’t put mountain bikers on or anything else,” said Bob Hanover, an assistant parks administrator with the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. “It’s beautiful.”
About an hour and a half from Lincoln is Indian Cave State Park. Riders at Indian Cave enjoy views of a hardwood forest along the bluffs of the Missouri River, as well as a location far away from traffic or outside noise.
“You just feel a little more relaxed and out in nature,” Hanover said.
Hanover added that all parks have additional activities for visitors to enjoy, such as camping, fishing, hiking, swimming, cabins, restaurants and disc golf.
Farther out in the state is Fort Robinson State Park, which is one of the premier places in Nebraska for horseback riding. Riders from near and far enjoy its stunning Pine Ridge scenery and excellent accommodations, Hanover said.
At Buffalo Bill Ranch State Recreation Area in North Platte, you have the chance to ride horses on Buffalo Bill’s historic ranch property. The concession that offers the rides also rents out tubes, tanks, kayaks and canoes for floating on the Platte, so it’s easy to make a rental while signing up for a horseback ride.
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Additional parks with guided horseback riding options include Ponca, Niobrara and Chadron state parks.
“Ponca has a little bit of everything — shooting ranges, a conference center, kayaking, camping, a very nice aquatic center,” Hanover said.
Chadron and Niobrara have a rich history: Chadron State Park was Nebraska’s first state park, and Niobrara State Park is located along the Lewis and Clark Trail.
For those who own horses, Rock Creek Station State Recreation Area is a must-visit, Hanover said.
The park, located about 6 miles east of Fairbury, offers a shady equestrian campground, oak woodland scenery, wildlife viewing and the chance to ride where pioneers crossed the state on the Oregon and California trails. It was also the site of a Pony Express station and where Wild Bill Hickok got his bloody start.
At all parks, those conducting rides are qualified wranglers, and the horses are trained and have good temperaments, Hanover said. Rides are comfortable, with no river fording or steep uphills. Guides also offer information about the park during the ride.
At all parks where guided horseback rides are operated by Game and Parks, rides cost $25 per person and are for ages 6 and up. Riders are asked to pay close attention to the training given before the ride and to follow all safety regulations.
“Horseback riding is a fun and unique experience that I encourage everyone to try,” Hanover said. “Come to a state park this summer and make some memories.”
See Outdoornebraska.org for more information. A park entry permit is required.