Cowboy Recreation & Nature Trail
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 Great American Plains on horseback.
Wiki information on the
A few things to remember about the trail are…
• The trail is constructed of crushed limestone and compacted to make a smooth surface.
• Generally mountain or hybrid bikes are best for riding, or anything with a wider tire.
• Footwear for hikers is whatever one finds comfortable on hard surfaces.
• All horseback riders are required to ride on the right-of-way and to stay off the prepared surface.
• At times Texas Sandbur seeds (puncture vine) are carried by wind or wildlife onto the trail and are very hard to see. These are unavoidable. Other states advise the use of sandbur proof tires or installing Teflon belts between tube and tire which will save you from not enjoying a good day of riding.
• Most communities along the trail provide camping and all welcome and enjoy travelers to use their amenities. Most are located from 10 to 15 miles apart.
• At present the trail is complete from the City of Norfolk in the east to Valentine in north central Nebraska for a distance of 195 miles. Future expansion will depend on finding more funding opportunities.
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 songbirds 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.
Today's travelers on the Cowboy Trail, and on most other rail-trails, benefit from the work of surveyors and engineers a century ago. To accommodate the needs of locomotives, railroads
were built with grades of two percent or less and with wide, sweeping curves. Those design elements are a blessing to the self-propelled human being, especially at the end of a long day. On these trials, bikers, hikers and horseback riders have fewer hills, dales and swerves than do motorists on most highways.
Along the Cowboy Trail, travelers discover many ghosts from the corridor's railroad past. Some weathered mileposts, originally telegraph poles stand as sentinels, and a few still mark the distance to Fremont, the eastern railhead. Next to the trail in the towns and cities along the route, riders will notice many buildings and structures that once served the railroad or businesses tied to it. One of the most prominent is the Neligh Mills, a water-powered grist-mill that is open to the public and still has its original 1880s equipment inside.
The only brick depot still standing is at O'Neill. This historical building, which was in dilapidated condition for many years, has been handsomely restored. It now serves as a trailhead and is the home to the Circle G Western Wear store. The Long Pine depot, a wooden building, is now restored and the crew quarters next to it is available to rent for overnight travelers. It is typical of the many structures that once dotted the route.
Every Trail has its high points. The Cowboy's signature sites are its long bridges offering spectacular views. East of Valentine, the former railroad bridge - a quarter-mile long and 148 feet high - spans the Niobrara River. And, at Long Pine, a bridge 145 feet high stretches 595 feet over Long Pine Creek.
While no one can foresee the future, the Cowboy Trail offers more promise today than the corridor has seen for years. Certainly, now, with numerous miles of trail completed across the panoramic Plains, it will draw increasing numbers of riders and hikers from Nebraska and beyond in the decade to come.
Interested in other Nebraska Trails? Visit the GIS