Description - *This information provided by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commision*
Situated astride the picturesque Missouri River bluffs in northeastern Nebraska, Ponca State Park is at the eastern gateway of the Missouri National Recreational River, a 59-mile section featuring the only unchannelized section 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 1,400 acres of heavily forested rolling hills and Missouri River bottomland. The superbly scenic area offers park 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.
- Ponca 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, water spigots (not hookups); dump station, and playground. Modern facilities operate from April - October, weather permitting. Primitive camping is available year-round.
Ponca State Park has 14 modern, two-bedroom, air-conditioned housekeeping cabins. Each has two double beds, bedding, towels for four, bathroom with shower, kitchenette and large screened porch. Kitchenettes are furnished with a range, refrigerator, cooking utensils, dinette, dishes and tableware for six. Lodging is normally available from late May through September, but dates are subject to change. Reservations are accepted up to one year in advance for two or more nights and will be confirmed with a deposit for two nights lodging.
All campers must register. Reservations are accepted. Reservations are taken for 50% of the modern camping. 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.
Recreation - Ponca State Park features one of the state's most comprehensive outdoor/environmental education programs. Onsite staff and volunteers help guide and educate visitors on the history, biology, ecology, astronomy, geology and archeology of the area. Many how-to programs on outdoor recreation are also given, including fishing, backpacking, wilderness survival, cooking and others. During late spring, summer and early fall, programs are given daily for both adults and children.
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.
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. the 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 and 2 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.
Hayrack rides are available during the fall. Reservations are taken for groups of 15 or more. Haunted hayrack rides are given for two nights during the Park's annual Hallowfest - the second weekend in October.
Cookouts are scheduled every Saturday of each holiday weekend and on other special events. Buffalo burgers, Lewis and Clark Stew and fish fries are given in the summer and fall. Call the park for more details.
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 foxes, gray foxes (an uncommon relative of the red fox), bobcats, raccoons, 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.
2 miles North of Ponca, NE on Spur 26E. About 25 miles north/west of Sioux City, IA on the Missouri River.
From Omaha, we are about 2 hours. North on I-29 to just south of Sioux City. Take the Highway 20 West turnoff about 14 miles. Turn North (right). It is 9 miles to Ponca from this point. Turn into the town of Ponca - there is a sign on each intersection and you will dead end into the park.
From Lincoln we are about 3 hours. Take Highway 77 North to South Sioux City. Go west on Highway 20 to Highway 12. It is 9 miles to Ponca. Turn into Ponca, there is a sign on each intersection and you will dead end into the park.