Homer's Travels: Hiking Nebraska: Ponca State Park

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Hiking Nebraska: Ponca State Park

This week I made it back to Ponca State Park in north-east Nebraska.  Unlike my first attempt, the weather was perfect for a hike through the forested loess hills.

My plan was to hike three loops connecting the Old Oak Trail (1.9 miles), Bloodroot Trail (1.6 miles), and the Corps of Discovery Trail (1.4 miles) to make a respectable 4.9 mile trail.  As usual, things didn't quite work that way.  Thanks to my bad map to trail correlation skills I managed to shorten it by over a mile.

I parked near the top of the the loess hills that dominate a large part of the park at one of the several trailheads for the Old Oak Trail.  This particular trailhead was the closest to the old oak tree that lends its name to the trail.  The tree is estimated to be 366 years old.  A sign describes the tree.

The tree marked my first junction and I decided to go right.  This turned out to be a wrong decision.  It wasn't a terrible decision but it would result in me missing most of the old oak trail.

I walked along the narrow packed dirt trail admiring the sunlight filtering through the leaves.  Last month most of the leaves were green.  This time the there was a yellow/golden tinge of fall colors.  Smaller trees sported bright red foliage.

The trail came out on a road, something I didn't expect, and I realized my error.  I decided to just go with it, crossed the road, and followed the trail until it connected to the bloodroot trail.

The Bloodroot Trail is named after a plant that grows in the area.  I followed the trail up and down the hills.  It was very relaxing and yet tiring as a hike should be.  I reached another junction and took a connector trail up to the camping area of the park.  Following a road I made my way to another short connector trail that took me to the Corps of Discovery Trail.

Fall Foliage along the trail.
The Corps of discovery trail is named for the Civilian Conservation Corp who cut the trail and built some of the facilities.  This trail is described as moderate to difficult and I would agree that it has some of the more difficult grades of the three trails I have hiked in the park.  The connector joins the trail at it's highest point.  From here you have views of the Missouri River.  This section of the river is part of the Missouri National Recreational River.  This part of the river is wilder and much wider than the one near Omaha.  It's how I imagine the Missouri River should look like.

Fall Colors and the Wild Missouri River.
After taking in the sights from the top I followed the trail down the hill.  Sections of the trail hugged the hillside and had a fairly sharp drop off along one side.  You could see the river through the trees most of the way down.  The trail eventually came out in a camping area along the river bank.  I walked along the road until I hit the main trailhead and took it back up to the top.  This part of the trail climbed very sharply up the hill climbing 210 feet in under a half mile - the most strenuous of the trail..

From there I hiked back to the road and followed it down to another trailhead for the old oak trail.  I followed this trail back up to the car.  When I arrived I'd hiked 3.48 miles with 893 feet of elevation.  Another short but satisfying trail.  A map of my hike can be found here (The section in red is where the GPS lost track in a deep ravine) and some pictures I took in Ponca State park can be found here.

"Towers of Time" - A sculpture at the park entrance.


  1. I dunno, HD, 260' deep seems a bit wanting to call it a "deep ravine". ;)

    Love the fall colors, quite jealous of that. Stupid brown California chaparral...

  2. GH: In Nebraska, 260 feet is deep. You take what you can get.

    I have to admit that the spring/sumer green and the fall colors do add quite a bit to the hiking experience.