Work continues on the longest Rails-to-Trails conversion in the nation. When complete, the Cowboy Trail will
span 321 miles. Portions are open to the public now. The trail begins in the east by Norfolk in the Elkhorn River basin, will pass through the Sandhills region and end at Chadron, connecting 29 communities in eight counties across northern Nebraska with topography ranging from farms and ranches to canyon lands. The trail encompasses 221 bridges that require more than 3.5 miles of decking. Following the gentle slopes of the old Chicago Northwestern rail line provides easy peddling for biking.
Spanning a sizeable chunk of America's outback, the Cowboy Trail experience is largely what one makes of it. It can be a pleasant escape for an evening nature walk, a family getaway for a bicycling weekend, a course for a grueling long-distance run, or a convenient route to explore the Plains on horseback.
Whether biking, hiking or horseback riding, the trail offers a few givens for all who travel it.
Regardless of where you enter and exit, travel the Cowboy Trail and you will soon be immersed in nature. The eight-foot wide ribbon of crushed limestone and wooden bridges cuts through a right-of-way, normally 100-feet wide, which provides important cover for wildlife and pockets for native prairie plants. While species differ along the route, rabbits, ground squirrels, pheasants, quail, and many song birds find suitable habitat through much of the trail's course.
The corridor is alive with the sounds and sights of creatures, large and small, often missed by travelers in closed cars moving at 60 or 65 mph. Bald eagles patrol the Elkhorn River valley and, farther west, turkey vultures soar on thermals above the Niobrara River. The corridor also functions as an important migration route for wildlife between habitat areas.