Situated in the picturesque Missouri River bluffs in northeastern Nebraska, Ponca State Park is the eastern gateway to the 59-mile section of the Missouri National Recreational River, one of two picturesque, unchannelized stretches of the river bordering Nebraska.
One of Nebraska’s most visited state parks, Ponca State Park is popular for its forested hills, scenic vistas, great wildlife watching, Missouri river access and beautiful and varied lodging options. During the spring months, the wetlands at Ponca State Park are a popular layover spot for many migrating bird species, and the park draws many bird watchers. The park offers many seasonal activities, including guided bird tours during the spring, naturalist events and family activities during the summer, haunted hayrack rides complete with local actors and impressive props during the fall and its nationally famous Fruitcake Fling each winter. Comfortable lodging, unique events and sweeping views of the river have made Ponca state park a popular destination for all types of family gatherings, from family vacations to weddings.
Guests can explore the park’s backcountry on 22 miles of hike/bike trails. Mountain bikers in particular enjoy the diverse and often challenging trails. Guided hikes are offered to the public throughout the year and give visitors an opportunity to learn about the diversity of plants and animals within the park.
In the summer, swimmers can cool off at the park’s new aquatic center. The center is open daily Memorial Day through mid-August and is open on weekends only from the middle of August until Labor Day. Daily pool hours are 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Annual Family and Individual pass are available.
Experienced wranglers guide organized horseback rides through the scenic woodland bluffs and river overlooks. Rides run from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Additional information, schedules and tickets are available at the park office.
The Highland Oaks Public Golf Course is located on the southern boundary of the park. This challenging 9- hole course offers spectacular park vistas. The clubhouse offers a rental room for small family and business functions.
Eric Wiebe Memorial Shooting Complex
The Eric Wiebe Shooting Complex features all-weather ranges for pellet gun, archery, muzzle-loader, .22 rifle, shotgun, tomahawk and atlatl and slingshot. Visitors are welcome to bring their archery equipment to the 3-D archery range. No firearms or pellet guns/BB guns are allowed in the park. Firearms are provided by the park for all shooting sports programs.
Two boat ramps, canoe/kayak launch/take-out and three miles of river access offer boaters and anglers many opportunities to experience the Missouri National Recreational River. Those floating or boating the river can take in the bluffs and experience the river as it was before it was channelized. The river also offers ample wildlife viewing opportunities, perhaps even including a sighting of a bald eagle. The river has great fishing and anglers commonly catch catfish, sauger, walleye, drum, and other river species. The park offers youth fishing programs weekly and a Fishing Tackle Loaner Program. Backwaters are an important habitat for wildlife and also serve as an excellent area for beginning kayaking.
Those interested in boating, fishing or floating on the river are encouraged to view the interactive Missouri River Outdoor Recreation Access Guide, which shows public access sites for fishing, hunting, boating, camping and more. It also serves as a navigation guide.
Ponca State Park’s dense woodlands offer a haven for many wildlife species. During the daytime, whitetail deer and wild turkeys are often seen throughout the park. In the spring, the woodlands come alive with the sound of migrant and resident songbirds. During peak migration (late April to early May) the park is a must-stop for any birdwatcher; in fact, Ponca State Park is listed by the National Audubon Society as one of the most important bird watching areas in the United States. Warblers, scarlet tanagers, northern orioles, red-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings and ruby-throated hummingbirds are just a few of the possible sightings.
Outdoor education programs, kayaking sessions, playgrounds, hayrack tours and a fishing tackle loaner program are available to park guests during the spring, summer and fall, weather permitting. During the winter months, the park offers a snowman building contest, ice fishing, a popular sledding hill, as well as groomed trails for cross country skiing. All programs are subject to change due to staffing or weather. For questions, call the park at 402-755-2284.
Towers in Time: This sculptural representation of three towers celebrates the origins of life, geological formations and the mammals found in the region from past eras through the present day. A waterfall titled Stairway of Falls and Reflecting Pond celebrates the water and its foundation for all life in the earth’s ecoystem.
Tri-state Overlook: This spot offers a picturesque view of the Missouri River, as well as views of three states: Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa.
Historic shelter houses: Two shelter houses built by the Civilian Conservation Corps are perfect for group picnics.
Old Oak Tree: Almost in the heart of the park is the Old Oak Tree. In 1964, the tree was officially aged at 320 years old, which means it was a sapling 24 years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock.
Ponca State Park offers 92 camping pads with 30- and 50- amp hook-ups, 43 primitive sites and four group campsites. Campgrounds include showers, picnic tables, fire pits, nearby water spigots (not hookups), a dump station and playground. Camping is available year-round; however modern facilities operate from April-October, weather permitting.