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 Trail, one of the country’s longest rail-trails, stretches 198 miles between the Nebraska towns of Valentine and Norfolk (beginning at Ta-Ha-Zouka Park south of town). The rail-trail is mostly surfaced in fine crushed gravel, but horseback riders should stay on the adjacent natural surface only. Some short sections are paved.
When complete, the trail will continue west another 126 miles to Chadron. In 2015, a short portion of this western extension—3 miles of crushed limestone—opened between Gordon and Rushville. The vast trail can now be found in seven counties: Antelope, Brown, Cherry, Holt, Madison, Rock, and Sheridan.
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. The entire trail includes more than 200 bridges.
The rail-trail follows the route of the old Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. The original corridor fell into disuse in 1992, after which Rails-to-Trails Conservancy bought the corridor and donated it to the state of Nebraska for trail development. It was designated a National Recreation Trail in the National Trails System in 2001.
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 Content.