U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Nebraska National Forest


Custom Search

Forest Information

The Nebraska National Forest is divided into two sections, one in the northwest corner of Nebraska and the other in the central part of the state. The Forest is comprised of 141,549 acres. There are five developed campgrounds, all of which meet the selection criteria.

Yes, Virginia, there is a forest in Nebraska. It is known as the Nebraska National Forest and because it is the largest hand-planted forest in the United States, it is unique.

While Nebraska has the reputation for a monotonous landscape, the diversity of the Nebraska National Forest will make this thought obsolete. Within the boundaries of the Forest, visitors will find the northern Great Plains ecosystems, unique geological formations (such as sandhills and "toadstools"), the diversity of a multi-species conifer forest, originally hand-planted, and some great camping locations tucked into it all.

Indian legend tells of a time when the gentle, rolling sandhills of Nebraska were covered with a pine forest. Around the turn of the century, Dr. Charles Bessey, a professor of botany at the University of Nebraska, envisioned the return of such a forest. In 1902 the Nebraska National Forest began as an experiment to prove trees could be grown on treeless tracts of Nebraska's sandhills. Today, the Dr. Bessey Nursery not only provides visitors insight to this critical component of managing the nation's forests, but the Forest Service also over a million seedling trees are sent annually to forests all over the West.

The Nebraska National Forest also offers its visitors a diversity of recreational opportunities. In the Bessey Ranger District, in the eastern section of the Forest, is the Bessey Recreation Area with tubing on the Middle Loup River, volleyball, a full playground, baseball/softball, fishing and hiking available in at the Recreation ARea. Interpretive programs are offered upon request and electric hook-ups are available for recreational vehicles (RV) and motorhome camping enthusiasts. The Recreation Area also nice spacious sites for car and tent camping enthusiasts.

For visitors to the Bessey Ranger District looking for wide open spaces and less structure, the Whitetail campground, located in the prairie along the Dismal River, will answer these needs. This campground is ideal for the horse set with its many stalls, a corral, and stock watering windmill. But, it is also well suited for those who are interested in experiencing camping under the stars, like in the days of the "Old West".

Far to the West, almost into Wyoming, is the Pine Ridge Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest. Eons of deposits and build-ups, upthrusts, and erosion have given the Pine Ridge District the topographic characteristics of sharp ridges, steep canyons, numerous sandstone buttes, and the Oglala National Grassland. Such diversity of topography provide delightful conditions for fishing, camping, hiking, and pleasure driving.

The Pine Ridge District contains the geologically interesting Toadstool Park. This irregularly shaped area follows generally the edge of the "badlands." Once the Park was an inland sea. Vast sandstone, shale, and gypsum deposits left by the departing sea now form the fanciful shapes and figures found in the Park. "Toadstools" are the main features of the area but the variety of forms produced by wind and rain make the Park very interesting.

Nebraska is world renowned for its deposits of vertebrate mammal material. In the Oglala National Grassland, within the Pine Ridge District, is the Hudson-Meng Bison-Bonebed. The Bonebed was formed some 10,000 years when 600 to 1,000 bison (a now extinct species) died in an arroyo. Covered by the actions of nature, the bison laid undiscovered until the 1950's. Initially discounted as a deposit of sheep bones, a study in 1968 revealed the true identity of the bones as bison. Today, visitors to Hudson-Meng Bison Bonebed can view the excavation only during the field season. An enclosure planned to open in 1998, will allow year-round interpretation for visitors as well as excavation and research opportunities for scientists.

If your only experience to date of Nebraska has been along Interstate 80, the monotonous scenery of truck stops, fast-food restaurants, and flat land broken only by the occasional town, try a visit to the Nebraska National Forest. The variety of topography, the diversity of the Northern Prairie ecosystem, the wonders of paleo-history to observe, and assortment of recreational opportunities awaiting you, will make the Nebraska National Forest a place to visit and enjoy.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 125 N. Main St. Chadron, Nebraska 69337-2118 308-432-0300 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES Bessey P.O.B. 39 Halsey, Nebraska 69142-0038 308-533-2257 Pine Ridge 16524 Hwy. 385 Chadron, Nebraska 69337-7364 308-432-0300

Fred and Suzi Dow