Set on the scenic steep bluffs on the west side of the Missouri River, Ponca State Park offers an authentic glimpse of the past with modern-day amenities. Named after the proud Ponca Tribe, the nearby town and the park are also linked to the heritage of Lewis and Clark as part of their official Historical Trail.
In addition to stunning views, Ponca State Park provides a wide array of recreational and educational venues. A large outdoor pool with lifeguards combines with fishing, boating, paddling or kayaking on the 6 miles of river access. From the banks of the Missouri to the peak of the bluffs, the 1400-acre heavily wooded park is a showcase of bio-diversity.
Bird watchers and birds flock to the area to join native songbirds that inhabit the park year round due with the help of winter feeding stations. Bald eagles nesting for the winter along with ducks and geese migrating to the riverbanks, add to the population. Barr owls and whippoorwills are common on the bluffs as well as ruby-throated hummingbirds, warblers, scarlet tanagers, orioles and other birds. Coyotes, wild turkeys, raccoons, beavers, deer and bobcats are only a few animals often cited in the park.
Plant life in the park is just as varied as the wildlife. Woodland flowers sprout in the spring adding to the color of columbine, white cicely, purple coneflower, wild plum, chokecherry, gooseberry, purple prairie clover and a variety of native shrubs and other flowers. The park is anchored by a 320-year-old oak tree. Besides bur oaks, other trees in the area include elm, walnut and Kentucky coffee trees.
Outdoor enthusiasts enjoy approximately 20 miles of organized trail system. Whether it’s horseback riding, mountain biking, cross country skiing or hiking, Ponca State Park provides year-round recreation. The impressive Missouri National Recreational River Resource and Education Center helps educate outdoor buffs on topics like the importance of conservation and outdoor skills such as fishing, hunting and cooking over a fire.
The center also houses a variety of exhibits, a lab and the park office.
Other programs offered include cultural and historical information as well as a youth fishing program throughout the summer. With over 17,000 sq ft, the Missouri National Recreational River Resource and Education Center hosts conferences with up to 250 participants. Interested parties can even rent out the fully equipped kitchen.
It doesn’t matter if you are a back-to-nature camper who packs a tent, or a camper who prefers the coolness of air conditioning and the comfort of a mattress and bed, Ponca has something for everyone. Visitors can choose from a two-bedroom air conditioned cabin, a four-bedroom lodge or a cement pad with electricity for a recreational vehicle.
Those who prefer a more primitive experience can pick a campsite without electricity close to playground, restrooms and other amenities or go all out primitive by choosing a spot in designated primitive areas including a remote area with no auto access. For an exclusive back-to-nature military type campout, reserve an 1800’s style tent in the remote Lewis and Clark Campground. Imagining what it was like for Lewis and Clark and others hunkering down to sleep on the riverbanks could be an educational experience in itself.
If camping gets to be too much, find the 9-hole golf course skirting the southern edge of the park. The clubhouse at Highland Oaks Public Golf Course serves meals and beverages for those who need to regroup before heading back to the campground.
Ponco State Park hosts special family events throughout the year on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. For more information on events or any park related resources, check the official Nebraska website at http://outdoornebraska.ne.gov. Click on the state parks tab.
Campers can reserve spots at Ponca State Park on line, by calling 402.755.2284, or writing to Ponca State Park 88090 Spur 26E, PO Box 688 Ponca, NE 68770. Reservations are taken as early as 1 year and 3 days from the scheduled camping date.