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 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 extension3 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.

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 Content.



   October, 2016 by usamade21

This trail has great potential but is just flat out ignored, poorly maintained never open all the way through and very rarely traveled without a flat tire, bring a spare or patches. read more

East end MUCH nicer than West end

   May, 2015 by glhaberman

After a not very pleasant ride on the west end of this trail last fall, tried the East end in May 2015. Much nicer trail. Started in Norfolk and went out 1 mile past Battle Creek before impending rain forced me to turn around and head back. No issues more

Washboard trail

   April, 2015 by glhaberman

We did a 40 mile ride in October 2014, starting in Valentine and, except for the first 5 miles, the trail was not in good condition. A 2 or 3 mile stretch of continuous washboard almost made us turn around. At about mile 18, we hit a stretch that was more