Hiking Indian Cave State Park, NE

This was a wonderful way to spend a couple hours while driving from Oklahoma City to Omaha.

Summary: 6.4 miles, steep climbs (100-300 ft), forested trials overlooking the Missouri River.

I have passed by Indian Cave State Park many, many times over the years. I became aware of the hiking potential of the area several years ago, but timing never worked out for a visit. Monday, the timing was pretty good, so I took advantage of it.

I got to the park around 1615. It has a $4 vehicle entry fee; I only had a fiver so that was my fee at the self-service station. The gate for the park had a sign that it closed at 2200, so that was my hiking limit. There are a few places in the park to get your water bottle filled; I stopped at the pump near the RV pumpout station.

A couple word about signage. The park map shows roads and hiking trails, but there is not a lot of directional signage, so you need to keep an eye on where you are. I was looking for Trail 4, and drove right past it as there was no sign pointing to the trailhead or the road the trail was on. This extends to the trails themselves. They are numbered, and some of the numbers are kind of confusing. There were two Trail 3s, for example, and they do not seem to be connected.

The trailhead itself was well marked.

Trail 4 headed down immediately. Then it went up. Then it went down again. Then it went up. I was targeting the Missouri River bank, and it was, it turns out, three ridges away. This was a hike with a lot of up-and-down.

There are no switchbacks here. If you need to get to the top of a ridge, you go straight up the side of the hill. It gets steep.

Most of the trails are made for horses.

There are some trails that are hiker-only. It’s hard to tell, but this is one of them. Note that you are looking down.

This is another example of “up”.

Trail 4 ended up (literally, UP) at an open area. A little manual recon in the area showed a trailhead for Trail 6 (the trail map shows them connecting; they don’t). Trail 6 eventually gets to a multiple trail connection. There are four trails that converge, and signage for *three* of them. That one leads towards Trails 8 and 8A, which run along the Missouri River. When I got to the intersection of 8 and 8A, there is a really nice view of the river.

I headed down here along the river. The trail along the river (8A) has a lot of debris, doubtless due to persistent flooding.

I looped back on Trail 8. It went up and up and up (you can see it clearly on the altitude plot). The view from up there is amazing.

This is a closeup. You are looking into Iowa; vehicles on I-29 are visible, along with a wind farm.

This is looking north.

Up on the ridge, there is a REALLY neat camp. It has a lean-to. I really like this, it’s one of the coolest campsites I have seen. The view up there is wonderful.

I finished Trail 8, which lead through another set of three lean-tos near the 8/8A intersection. Before you get there, there is a “Trail 3” marker that leads off downhill. I wanted to finish 8 so I kept going, and then after I walked through the camp, there was another Trail 3 marker; I walked down it for a while, and realized it loops around the camp. So it had nothing to do with the real Trail 3. I went back, found the 2/3/6/sorta 8 interchange, and went up the real 3. Up and up and up!

Trail 3 ends up (or starts out, depending on your point of view) on the same road that I parked on to start the hike, about a half mile away. A treat – there was a really neat elevated viewing platform. The interesting thing about the photo, I was on the ridge above the river a short time before.

I finished the hike with a short walk along the road to get to the car. The total was 6.4 miles, but I knew it was hard because certain muscles were telling me so! I really enjoyed it.

I saw a couple squirrels on the hike, and a lot of deer tracks, but no other mammals. There were a lot of birds. I saw what I think was an oriole (a very orange chest), jays, and sparrows, and buzzards up on the ridge. I heard a barred owl hoot a couple times, and I also heard a number of woodpeckers.

I saw a total of three people on the trail – two people hiking along 8A, and a guy on a mountain bike a couple hundred yards away.

The hike on a topo map, a Google Earth terrain overlay, and the altitude of the hike.

This is a scan of the trail map for the park. Notice that I stayed in the central part, and didn’t get near the cave, or into the northern part at all.

I spent right at three hours here, it was well worth it. I only hiked about a third of the park, as near as I can tell. I will be back to hike some more! I like the lean-tos that are along some of the trails, I think they are a great idea.

I didn’t get to visit the Indian Cave for which the park is named. Next time!

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4 Responses to “Hiking Indian Cave State Park, NE”

  1. Fritz Zimmerman (@giantskeletons) Says:

    Nice Blog. More caves are described in this blog. Feel free to share any info. http://cavehikingtrips.blogspot.com/

  2. Dick Clark Says:

    Here are some pics I took on a recent trip. I think most of these were taken right around the same trailside shelter that you wrote about: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjySiQ5o

  3. Michael Sutherland Says:

    I just did a half marathon on those trails this last weekend (on November 3rd), and I must say, it was pretty brutal! About as rough as the Equinox Marathon trail in Fairbanks AK! Thank you for posting that elevation profile, it puts the ups and downs in perspective. It never ceases to amaze and educate me how hilly Nebraska is the longer I live here, which is good, I grew up in Colorado and live in Alaska, so that used to make me pretty snobby, right up until I was here and going up those trails on a rainy day!

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