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Nebraska Water Trails Guide

General Information

Nebraska’s rivers flow gently making them ideal for family outings and an excellent resource for those who are learning to handle a canoe.

Click location on map for details

On the international scale of difficulty Nebraska’s rivers generally would rate Class I: Easy-moving with few riffles, small waves; few obstructions; correct course is easy to determine. An exception is the Niobrara River where there are several Class II rapids that require portage.

On some Nebraska rivers, lower water levels will occur, during summer months from heat and crop irrigation; such conditions can turn a canoe trip into a hike for a novice who has not planned ahead.

Obstructions include sunken logs and trees, and occasional manplaced objects. Try to avoid these areas; a vessel can become lodged against the obstruction which is very dangerous. Watch for shifting sand- and mud bars which are signaled by swirls and eddies on the waters surface. Barbed wire fences, designed to stop cattle, extend across some rivers, especially in the Sandhills. Do not cut or take down fences.

Helpful Hints

These tips will ensure much safer and enjoyable canoeing experience:

  • Wear your life jacket.
  • Take a spare paddle.
  • Don’t canoe alone.
  • Have tether ropes on both ends of the canoe.
  • Take insect repellant.
  • Take ample water.
  • Take sunscreen, sunglasses, and wide-brim hat. The sun’s reflection off the water can be intense. If it is hot, start early or later in the day and make the trip shorter.
  • Put extra clothing, gear, and food in water-proof bags.
  • Take rain gear but not ponchos.
  • Take first aid kit. Learn what poison ivy and poison oak look like, as well as black widow and brown recluse spiders.
  • Do not attempt to handle wild animals, especially babies. Prairie rattlesnakes exist on the Dismal, Niobrara, and the west end of the Republican River.
  • Avoid contact with all livestock.
  • Protect your feet with tightfitting wading shoes.
  • Camp only in designated areas. Obtain permission prior to camping on, or entering the water from, private land.
  • Read maps and plan ahead. Be off the water before dark.
  • TRASH. Pack it in, pack it out.
  • Build fires only in fire rings, drown flames and coals after use. If no fire ring exists, use only camp stoves.
  • If you encounter a barbed wire fence, STOP and plan your passage. If necessary, get out of the canoe and walk.
  • Use caution when loading and unloading near highway or county bridges.
  • Never canoe flooded rivers.

Boating Laws

Nebraska boating laws are as follows:

  • Nebraskans must register motorized canoes. Nebraska will honor canoes registered in other states.
  • Each canoe occupant must have a U.S. Coast Guard approved Type I, II, III, or V life preserver. Persons under 12 must wear a preserver.
  • Each canoe must have a bucket or sponge for bailing water.

Nebraska Weather

Nebraska weather is characterized by extremes of temperature, humidity, intensity, and rate of change. Summer storms rapidly form, are fast-moving and can have rain, hail, high winds, lightning, and tornados combined. Heed signs of bad weather, get off the water and take cover as quickly as possible.

Additional Information

Do not trespass. Portaging around obstructions is permissible.

State highway and county maps can be purchased from:

Dept. of Roads
Box 94759
Lincoln, NE
(402) 471-4567.

U.S. Geological Survey quadrangle maps can be purchased at:

Conservation & Survey Division
NH 113
Lincoln, NE
(402) 472-7523
Cost is $4 + shipping

A vehicle permit is required for entry into state park and state recreation areas.

Niobrara River Upper Missouri River Lower Missouri River Dismal River Calamus River Elkhorn River North Loup River Cedar River Platte River Republican River end footer

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Nebraska Game and Parks Commission - 2200 N. 33rd St. Lincoln, NE 68503 - 402-471-0641

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