About this Itinerary
Named after the Homestead Act of 1862, this recreational trail runs through the Nebraska prairie and farmland that once drew scores of hopeful settlers to the region. Tucked in the southeastern corner of the state, the Homestead Trail (HT) follows the abandoned corridor of the Union Pacific Railroad for 40 miles between Beatrice and Lincoln. A rural route, this rail-trail passes through several small communities as well as grass and crop lands, timber and pasture habitats.In the north, the Homestead Trail links with the Jamaica North and Salt Creek Levee trails to extend travels northward deeper into the heart of Lincoln.
The limestone-surfaced trail (with some paved patches) winds through acres of cultivated agricultural land though much of the trail itself is within a narrow wooded corridor which provides some tree shade. Amenities are limited along the way, so come prepared with enough water and food supplies for the entire ride. Your best bet for restrooms will be to inquire within local businesses. If you need to rent a bike, visit the Bike Rack in Lincoln. Ride the full length of the HT with a pre-arranged shuttle pick-up or experience a round-trip ride in one long day or an easy overnighter. There are lodging accommodations at both ends of the trail. We suggest beginning your ride from the northern trail terminus in Lincoln.
Lincoln is Nebraska’s State Capitol and offers many of the attractions you would expect from a large city. The Lincoln Airport is five miles northwest of downtown’s historical Haymarket and P Street Districts which contain all the shops, restaurants, and arts and entertainment venues you’ll probably have time for. There are a number of modern hotels in the vicinity similar to Hyatt Place in Haymarket. If you prefer bed and breakfast-type accommodations, consider Rogers House B&B Inn, located a couple of miles south of downtown and that much closer to the HT trailhead. At the inn, you’ll be well-prepared for the ride with a full two-course gourmet breakfast. Downtown, there are numerous coffee shops and cafes for heartier breakfast/lunch fare, including Bread & Cup and Maggie’s Vegetarian Café, which offers made-from-scratch baked goods and a great variety of wraps.
While you are wandering around town, keep an eye out for spots to return to after your Homestead Trail ride. Here are a few suggestions: Ivanna Cone for homemade ice cream, Lazlo’s Brewery & Grill for a beer and burger, or The Green Gateau for delectable French and American fine cuisine. There are plenty of amazing restaurants in Lincoln, including a diverse range of ethnic cuisine. Enjoy exploring and tasting.
Day 1 The northern trail terminus and parking area is off of Saltillo Road, 10 miles south of Lincoln’s downtown district. You can park here or ride to this point via the Jamaica North and Salt Creek Levee trails. For the first several miles the trail loosely follows the meandering Salt Creek. You are quickly surrounded by the Cornhusker state’s predominant landscape: expanses of corn, wheat, soybean, hay, and other crops. You may see, hear or smell evidence of livestock nearby as well. At mile 2.8, the trail meets Roca Road which leads east for a half mile to the small community of Roca.
The HT continues south without much to interrupt your journey besides an occasional country road crossing. You’ll know you are passing by Princeton (mile 9.5) when you see large grain elevators next to the pathway. From here, the trail parallels Highway 77 for the next five miles to the village of Cortland. In 1884, a branch line subsidiary of the Union Pacific (UP), the Omaha & Republican Valley Railroad, was established to run between Lincoln and Beatrice. Cortland, centrally located between Lincoln and Beatrice and along the UP route, became a convenient shipping center for grain and livestock.
The Railroad Act was passed at the same time as the Homestead Act (1862), both influential in moving emigrants to the west for settlement. The Union Pacific was among the rail companies chartered to construct a continuous transcontinental railroad. In the 9 miles between Cortland and Pickrell, the HT repeatedly crosses over Indian Creek on restored railroad trestles. The Pickrell trailhead is located on the east side of town (mile23.5). Like Cortland, Pickrell was originally established as a sort of loading dock along the rail for sheep, cattle, hogs, and other merchandise. One of the village’s first acts, upon incorporation in 1913, was to grant a local entrepreneur a saloon license, giving the town an economic boost over their “dry” neighbor, Beatrice. True to form, depending on the time of day, you can still wet your whistle at Pickrell Tavern, just off the trail on W. Pickrell Road.
The Homestead Trail currently ends in 8 miles at downtown Beatrice, though there are plans to extend the trail to Marysville, Kansas. The Beatrice trailhead is located in a restored 1906 Burlington Railroad Depot Passenger Station at the Gage County Historical Society and Museum. Beatrice is the largest city and county seat of Gage County and this museum displays photos and exhibits describing the town’s heritage as well as the history of the rail corridor you just traveled upon. Walking through Beatrice you can still see many historical buildings with original construction dates from the late 19th century. The beautiful Gage County Courthouse, which opened in 1892, is just a few blocks from the end of the Homestead Trail. The DeRoin Trail, a frontier route that once led west to join with the Oregon Trail, is now the site of Court Street, the main thoroughfare that runs through town.
On or near Court Street are numerous shops and restaurants, including bakeries, cafes and a good place for a celebratory end-of-the-trail meal, the restaurant and bar The Black Crow. Most of the hotels and motels in Beatrice are located on N. 6th Street nearer to the Beatrice Municipal Airport. Victorian Inn is a block off of the trail as you begin to enter Beatrice at Dorsey Street; Holiday Inn Express & Suites and Capri Inn & Suites are 1.5 miles farther north. On the banks of the Big Blue River in southern Beatrice, Chautauqua Park provides camping and picnic facilities as well as a chance to do some river fishing. If you have the energy and time, consider biking to the Homestead National Monument, a 5-mile ride along Route 4 from Beatrice (although an off-road connection is planned for the future), which commemorates the impacts of the Homestead Act on the United States.
If you stayed overnight in Beatrice, today is set aside for your return northward. Or, if you returned yesterday via shuttle or a long biking day, spend today enjoying the many attractions that Lincoln has to offer.