Ponca State Park
Click here to view 2013 Ponca State Park Events
View the Cabin Photo Gallery
Situated astride the picturesque Missouri River bluffs in northeastern Nebraska, Ponca State Park is the eastern gateway to the 59-mile section of the Missouri National Recreational River, one of two unchannelized stretches of the river bordering Nebraska"
Designated under the Scenic River Act in 1978, this section of river gives visitors a glimpse of how the untamed river looked before modern man changed it forever.
The park is two miles from the town of Ponca. Both the park and the town are named for the proud Native American tribe that once inhabited the area. It was the famed Ponca Chief Standing Bear who fought and won the court battle to have the Indian declared a "person" under American law. His achievement won him a place not only in history but also the Nebraska Hall of Fame.
Here, too, Lewis and Clark passed through during their epic journey up the Missouri. The National Park Service has designated Ponca State Park as part of the Lewis and Clark Historical Trail. Ponca State Park encompasses nearly 2,400 acres of heavily forested rolling hills and Missouri River bottomland, including Ponca State Park's North Addition which is adjacent to the Elk Point Bend Wildlife Management Area. The superbly scenic park offers visitors all the amenities of a modern state park. Established in 1934, the first 200 acres were donated by local citizens, sponsored by the Ponca American Legion Post.
The dense woodlands offer a haven for many types of woodland wildlife. During the day, white-tailed deer and wild turkeys often are seen throughout the area. Toward evening, the howls of coyotes and "who, who, are you" of the barred owl echo through the hills. Red fox, gray fox (an uncommon relative of the red fox), coyote, bobcats, raccoons, beaver, mink, opossums and other small mammals also occasionally are seen by visitors.
In spring, the woodlands come alive with sounds and sights of migrant and resident songbirds. During peak migration (late April and early May), the park attracts both amateur and experienced bird watchers. Warblers, scarlet tanagers, northern orioles, red-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings, and ruby-throated hummingbirds are just a few of the highlights. The woodlands and prairie ridgetops burst into bloom from late April to early June. Among the most common woodland flowers are Dutchman's breeches, bloodroot, Canada violet, blue phlox, columbine, waterleaf and white cicely. Prairie plants include yucca, shell-leaf penstemon, prairie larkspur, purple coneflowers, pasque flower and purple prairie clover. Native shrubs include gooseberry, wild plum, chokecherry, Eastern Wahoo, and buffaloberry. Bur oaks are the predominant tree species at the park, but they are liberally interspersed with walnut, elm, basswood, Kentucky coffeetree and hackberry. Almost at the heart of the park is the "Old Oak Tree." In 1964, this ancient specimen was officially aged at 320 years old. It was a sapling 24 years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock.
On summer nights, the repetitious call of the whippoorwill and a chorus of tree frogs and crickets echo through the bluffs and canyons. Turkey vultures can be seen soaring overhead during warm summer days. In late June, snow-like showers of cotton from nearby cottonwood trees signify it is time to catch catfish in the nearby river.
In fall, the skies are filled with migrating ducks, geese and other birds. In winter, the park is home to bald eagles, often seen roosting, soaring and now nesting along the river. Winter is also a great time to view a variety of hardy songbirds at the park's bird feeders.
The Missouri National Recreational River Resource and Education Center houses the park office and new opportunities in education and recreation are being developed. This 17,000 sq. ft. facility has a large interpretive display/exhibit area, a field laboratory and conference rooms. Meeting rooms will accommodate groups up to 250 or can be subdivided for smaller gatherings. A fully-equipped kitchen is available for rent. Ponca State Park features one of the state's most comprehensive outdoor/environmental education programs. Onsite staff and volunteers are available to provide visitors with hands-on educational opportunities in cultural and natural history, conservation & stewardship, and outdoor skills. Outdoor skill programs include outdoor cooking, shooting sports, fishing, orienteering, hunting, and much more. Programs are given daily Memorial Day through Labor Day and on weekends only during the spring and fall.
With more than 20 miles of trails, the park provides hikers and mountain bikers many opportunities to explore the park's backcountry. Several mountain bike races are held every year making the Park's trail system noted for its diverse and often challenging trails.
In the summer, swimmers can cool off at the Park's swimming pool where lifeguards are on duty. Call the park office for specific dates and times of operation.
Experienced wranglers guide organized horseback rides through the scenic woodland bluffs and river overlooks. Rides run from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Additional information, schedules and tickets are available at the park office.
The Highland Oaks Public Golf Course is located on the southern boundary of the park. This challenging 9 hole course offers spectacular park vistas and a luxurious clubhouse. The clubhouse offers a rental room for small family and business functions.
A boat ramp, canoe/kayak launch/take-out (North Addition), and 3 miles of river access offers boaters and anglers many opportunities to experience the Missouri National Recreational River. Anglers commonly catch catfish, sauger, walleye, drum, and other river species. The park also has Youth Fishing Programs twice a week and a Fishing Tackle Loaner Program.
Special EventsPonca State Park features a variety of special events including the following:
Mother's Day Buffet This annual event features a lunch buffet that includes several entree's, side dishes, salad bar, and dessert/coffee bar. Call the park office for reservations.
Father's Day Fossil Hunt: This event features hands-on fossil digs/hunts that are guided by volunteer, amateur paleontologists and Ponca State Park staff. Learn about the “Ponca Monster”, a giant prehistoric fish, and other great fossils finds within the park. Other activities for all ages are also scheduled on this weekend.
Father's Day Fish and Rib Buffet: This annual buffet features BBQ ribs, fried fish, salads, and desserts. Call the office for reservations.
The Missouri River History Conference - This biennial conference centers on the rich history of the Missouri River. Historians from across the country are featured at this event speaking on subjects ranging from Lewis and Clark (2006 theme) to Steamboats of the Missouri River (2008 theme).
The Missouri River Outdoor Expo:This event is designed to introduce/re-introduce families to a wide variety of outdoor recreational opportunities that are available in this region. This is done by offering over 75 hands on outdoor activities and demonstrations that are free to the public. This event is held annually on the third weekend in September through the 1st weekend of fall.
Hallowfest: The Park's annual Halloween/autumn event that features haunted hayrack rides, pumpkin rolling and carving contest, a campsite decorating contest, and much more.
CampingPonca State Park provides excellent camping. Paved electrical camp sites in two modern campgrounds with 30/50 amp electrical hookups. There are showers, picnic tables, fire pits, nearby water spigots (not hookups); dump station, and playground. Modern facilities operate from April - October, weather permitting.
The Turkey Ridge Campground (electrical sites 1-36) is first-come, first-serve. Reservations are accepted in the Oak Bluff Electrical Campground (electrical sites 37-73). Reservations are taken up to 1 year in advance of arrival day. Year to date reservations begin at 9 .m. CT, by phone, in person or over the Internet.
Primitive camping is available year-round and all are first-come, first-serve. Two group campsites are available – T8 and T29. Several hike-in sites are available for campers looking for a remote camping experience.
In 2008, a Lewis and Clark Group Campsite will be available by reservation. Located on the banks of the Missouri National Recreational River at Ponca State Park’s North Addition, this isolated campsite features Lewis and Clark style tents in an early 1800’s military style encampment. Youth and adult groups can learn and experience first-hand what a night on the banks of the Missouri River was like for the Corps of Discovery.
Reservations are accepted. Reservations are taken for 50% of the modern camping. Reservations are taken 1 year and 3 days in advance of arrival day. Year to date reservations begin at 9 .m. CT, by phone, in person or over the Internet.
CabinsMini-Lodges -15 Mini-Lodges featuring four bedrooms and two full baths are perfect for group & multiple-family rentals. Within walking distance of the Resource & Education Center, these Mini-Lodges are equipped with all modern day amenities including big screen TV, cable, wireless internet, wood fireplace, gas grill & outdoor decks. Open year round. Off-season discount rates available.
Green Cabins-2 strawbale construction cabins feature two bedrooms and fully-equipped kitchen. Amenities also include big screen TV, cable, wireless internet, gas grill, outdoor deck and more. Open year round. Off-season discounted rates offered.
Rustic Log Cabin - Ponca State Park has 14 log style rustic, two-bedroom, air-conditioned housekeeping cabins. Each 2-bedroom log style cabin has two double beds, bedding, towels, bathroom with shower, kitchenette and screened porch. Kitchenettes are furnished with a range, refrigerator, cooking utensils, dinette, dishes and tableware for six. Lodging is available Mid-April through Mid-November.
View the Cabin Photo Gallery
Reservations are accepted up to one year in advance for two or more nights. Weekday discounts (Sunday - Thursday, excluding holidays) are available October - April on mini-lodges.