Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail

Trail Map

Description Suggest an Edit

Portions of the Cowboy Trail are closed because of damages from flooding of the Elkhorn River in 2010. Please refer to Nebraska's Game & Parks website for updates.

The Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail, or for short, the Cowboy Trail, stretches 195 miles between the Nebraska towns of Valentine and Norfolk (beginning at Ta-Ha-Zouka Park south of town). When complete, the trail will continue west another 126 miles to Chadron. The Cowboy Trail is mostly surfaced in fine crushed gravel but horseback riders should stay on the adjacent natural surface only. Some short sections are paved.

One of the country's longest rail-trails, the Cowboy Trail follows the route of the old Chicago and Northwestern Railroad through some of the Midwest's most dramatic landscapes. On the east end near Norfolk the trail courses through the Elkhorn River valley, which is dotted with farmsteads and cultivated fields. The river banks are lined with tall trees. West of O'Neill you'll experience more native prairie lands, and in Long Pine the stunning Sandhill country takes over. These grass-covered dunes, the largest in the western hemisphere, carry you along the trail en route to Valentine. Here the Cowboy Trail crosses the Niobrara River Valley—where five major ecological systems converge—via a dramatic 0.25-mile trestle 150 feet above the river.

Each town along the way offers a variety of services and local attractions. For more detailed information about each segment, click on the link under Related Links.

Parking and Trail Access

There are numerous access points and places to park along the Cowboy Trail. For more detailed information about trail access and parking, click on the link under Related Links.


Minimum Maintenance east of Valentine

   August, 2013 by bert16

My family bicycled over 100 miles of the Cowboy trail starting in Valentine. Although the first 5 or so miles near the trestle bridge are good, east of Valentine we encountered abused sections of trail. Clearly local ranchers and farmers view the trail more

May 2013 - It is still bad

   May, 2013 by marvin58

Started from Norfolk. Trailhead(?) was supposed to be at the end of city street (Omaha?), but not marked. Went left and ended up in city park. Reversed course (2+ miles back) and shortly after leaving the pavement started sinking a 1/4 inch into trail. more

   July, 2012 by bobkaylor

This trail is basically unused due to its surface. One 6 mile stretch east of Valentine had washboard ~ 3-4 inches deep. Two other stretches farther east had had cattle and horses on it when wet, so was very chopped up. The entire trail was surfaced with more