Homer's Travels: Hiking Nebraska: The Steamboat Trace - Part One

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Hiking Nebraska: The Steamboat Trace - Part One

The Steamboat Trace, a rails-to-trails project, stretches approximately 21 miles from just south of Nebraska City to the nuclear power plant just south of Brownville.

I'd loaded my pack Friday night.  I'd weighed everything, measured things carefully, and estimated a pack weight of about seventeen and a half pounds.  When I actually weighted it, it was nineteen and a half.  I have know idea where that extra two pounds came from.

On Saturday morning the Wife dropped me off at the Arbor Station trailhead approximately six miles south of Nebraska City (N40° 37.210' W095° 47.891').  The morning was overcast and still a little cool but I expected that to change quickly as temps in the 80s were in the forecast.  The first half-mile runs along the train tracks on the west and a gravel road on the east.  The tracks cross the road and head over to the Omaha Public Power District power plant and the trail splits off from the gravel road.

Being a railroad trace, the trail follows the base of hills staying as flat as possible.  For the next five and a half miles the trace follows a steep forested hill on the west and a forest/grassy/marshy area on the east.  Unlike the Wabash Trace, this section feels much more wild.  The land adjacent to the trail shows little evidence of agriculture and civilization in general.  The few building you do pass are old, decrepit, and in disrepair.  Based on my GPS map, some of the buildings may be remains of Olson, now just a ghost town.  One odd little building near the location of Olsen mystified me.  I suspect it to be a play house but there is no evidence of any houses nearby.  Odd you would tear down the original house but leave the playhouse intact.  The building, along with several others, were behind an electric fence (not sure it was hot or not - you don't think I'm stupid enough to touch it, do you?!?)

About six miles from the trailhead, just past the camp creek bridge, the scenery changes abruptly.  The trace exits the forest/marshy areas and runs through farmland.  For the next six miles there are no trees, no benches, and very little scenery.  The trace blends into the flat farmland so there really isn't anywhere to sit down to rest except on the ground.  The only place I found to sit was a large metal drainage pipe about halfway across this farmland-desert (for some reason I kept hearing America's "Horse with No Name" - strange how the mind wanders).  Fortunately for me the sky was still overcast, otherwise this stretch would have been unbearably hot.  Someone really needs to plant some trees along this section.

At the twelve - thirteen mile point you arrive at Peru.  Peru is a college town, home of Peru State College, Nebraska's oldest college.  I did not go through the campus as it was on the opposite side of the town that I was walking through.  It's a surprisingly tiny town.  I was expecting more for a college town.  I did find the one open restaurant, Cotty's, where I ate a filling Cotty's Double Cheeseburger, Fries, and lots of water and soda to drink.

Starting in Peru and extending some three and a half miles, the trace once again runs through a forested area.  Along this part you pass through the Roland Sherman Memorial Area.  This section of the trace is bordered by a sandstone cliff where students have carved their names and have proclaimed their love for one another - the usual college graffiti.  Mixed in with this mundane fair is the more interesting sculptures of Roland Sherman.  I couldn't find much about Mr. Sherman except for this newspaper article from the Lincoln Journal Star.  Some of his sculptures are pretty good.  Here are some examples of his art.  My favorite is the Genii of Genii Hollow 12.  The hollow is about 300 feet of the trace and would be an awesome place for a picnic.

After leaving the Roland Sherman Memorial Area, the trace snugs up against the Missouri River.  A fence keeps you on the trail but doesn't obstruct your view of the swift flowing river.  At the south end of the river fence are a couple benches and a table (made from an old cable spool) which turns out to be a fine place to stop and rest.  The benches are less than ten feet from the river's edge and the sound of the water is relaxing.

A little further south and the forest once again ends.  The trail passes through smaller farm fields and winds around hills.  As you exit the forest you can catch a glimpse of the Searcey Grain Company elevator in Brownville.  It appears closer than it really is as you still have about five and a half miles to go.  When I came out into the open, the wind, which had been muted by the trees, really began to blow.  I'm guessing it was blowing in the 30 MPH range.  I even had to use my dork strap to keep my hat from blowing off.  Walking into the wind slowed me down a bit and I had to stop at a bench near the Honey Creek bridge.

The next two to three miles have very little shade and spotty wind cover.  I was getting really tired of it when the forest returned some two and a half miles from Brownville.  The Trace follows hills and marsh land, passes close to the Missouri River again, and passes the elevator before entering the town.  The Trace usually passes under the Brownville bridge but they are working on the bridge and the trail is diverted around the work-site.

A half mile further and I arrived at the River Inn Resort.  I checked in, peeled off my sweaty clothes, took a shower, and laid down for a needed nap in an air conditioned room.  Later that evening I walked back into town (a half mile) and ate a Prime Rib dinner at the Lyceum Cafe and Bookstore.  I thought about walking around town a bit but I thought better when I remembered that I still had another 20 mile hike in store for me the next day.

This first day was approximately 20.77 miles.  My average walking speed was 3.4 MPH and my overall speed, taking breaks into account, was 2.5 MPH.  This seems to be my natural pace.  The Wife calls this racing pace but, what can I say, this is my comfortable pace.  Slowing down feels awkward.

I went to bed early Saturday night.  I had trouble sleeping, worried about the hike back, I suppose.  I rolled and tossed a lot and I had some heartburn from the big evening meal.  I still managed to get close to ten hours of sleep.

To be continued ...


  1. Cool trail, especially the heavily treed/vegetated sections. Did yo see anyone else along the way? Fellow hikers? Bikers, perhaps?

  2. I love this! I think the extra two pounds is bacon that the Wife snuck into your pack. Did you smell like bacon?

    I think keeping a playhouse up is easy to figure out. 1. the house burned down. or 2. they demolished the house, but couldn't bear to part with the playhouse they worked so hard to build. 3. it was filled with fridges of bacon.

  3. GH: I saw very few - a few bikers and a boy scout troop. Not much for eight hours on the trail.

    Miss McC: Bacon ... you are so hilarious. I didn't smell bacon but my sniffer ain't the best.

    A Bacon House ... that would explain a lot. :-D