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Calamus River

Calamus River General | Described | Characteristics | Access Points | Scenery | Services Available | River Map | Cedar River | Dismal River | Elkhorn River | Lower Missouri River | Niobrara River | North Loup River | Platte River | Republican River | Upper Missouri River | Canoe Trails Guide with List of Outfitters

General Information

The river takes its name from the calamus plant (acorus calamus). The Sioux called the river Sinke ta Calamus River wote wakpa, “food for the muskrat river.” It rises from two forks at Moon Lake and Clapper Marsh in the Sandhills. It flows even in the hottest and driest summer months because of groundwater from the underlying Ogallala Aquifer which extends into Texas. Water seeps clear and cold from artesian wells, outcrops and from springs of loosely compacted sand and silt along the riverbed. The river once was considered for designation under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System until completion of the Calamus Dam and Reservoir near Burwell.

River access is limited because the land flanking it is privately owned. Leased campsites on private land are primitive and are accessible only from the river. Currently only two sites are available. Camping on private land requires permission from the landowner.

Section Described

Nebraska 7 to Calamus Reservoir SRA - 56. 6 miles.


The Calamus flows slowly and gently flows toward its eventual destination, the 5,123-acre Calamus Reservoir State Recreation Area. A sand blanket covers the stream - bed and renders the water relatively clear but not crystalline. For more than half its length, beginning at the Nebraska 7 highway bridge, the stream is extremely meander-ing and passage will be slower. Some bends in the river are nearly 360 degrees and one can look across a narrow barrier of reeds and sand to a spot where the canoeist was a short time before. As you approach the reservoir, the bends lengthen, the stream widens and becomes shallower allowing more sandbars to form. Water drawn off for irrigation and by evaporation, also contributes to the formation of the sandbars. As you approach the reservoir’s tailwaters at Hannaman Bayou, the current slows and the water is shallower.

Barbed wire fences are common across Sandhills streams. In fact you will see the first fence about 200 yards from where you get in the river at the Nebraska 7 bridge. At these locations you should stop, plan your passage, and if necessary, get out of the canoe and walk under the wire. Some might require portage where they are connected to bridges. Also, there are several low, private bridges which might require portage. Again, stop and plan your route. Floating under low bridges can be dangerous; you might get lodged under the structure. Please respect private property and do not disturb the wire fences and bridges as they are essential to ranch operations. Early in the trip there is a twin, steel tube bridge. Approach it straight on and well ahead of the tubes or, if unsure, portage.

Access Points

The Start access point is on the north side of the river and east of the bridge on Nebraska 7. Be cautious, the highway right-of-way is narrow. The bridge is 18 miles north from the junction of Nebraska 7 and 91 at Brewster, or 23 miles south of Ainsworth on U.S. 20. Also, you could take a gravel county road from U.S. 183 to the access point. This gravel road is more difficult to find; watch for the Loup - Rock County line sign then turn west and go 25 miles.

From the Nebraska 7 bridge to the first county bridge is 17.6 river miles (8-9 hours). There is a public campsite at this location; to camp here you must make arrangements with a landowner. From the county bridge, to the first primitive camp on the north side of the river is 14.2 river miles (7-8 hours). From the campsite to the next primitive campsite, near U.S. 183 on the Upstream Ranch, is 14.5 river miles (7-8 hours). It is then 10.3 river miles (6-7 hours) from the Upstream campground to Hannaman Bayou at Calamus Reservoir State Recreation Area where there is a boat ramp on the west side in the tailwater of the lake. As you enter the lake’s tail water, it becomes shallower, you might have to walk to the ramp.


The land flanking the river is low and gently rolling and is part of the Sandhills; nearly 20,000 square miles of loosely compacted, windblown grass-stabilized sand dunes. They are essentially treeless except for planted groves and isolated individuals or clusters. You might encounter river otters, beavers, muskrats, kingfishers, blue and green herons, waterfowl, long-billed curlews, and deer. Catfish, pike, carp and bass are in the river.

Services Available

Full services are available in Burwell where there are two medical clinics: (308) 346-5544 and 5442. At Calamus State Recreation Area there are boating, camping, picnicking, and modern restrooms and shower facilities; telephone is (308) 346-5666.

Also, the state fish hatchery below the dam is open for public tours. There are many private boating supply and repair businesses in Burwell. In Burwell, at city-owned Riverside Park, you can enter the North Loup River and canoe 18½ river miles to the city of Ord.

Dialing 911 will reach emergency personnel in the area.
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