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The Steamboat Trace Trail in southeastern Nebraska rests on a former Burlington Northern railroad corridor stretching from Brownville to just south of Nebraska City. The corridor was railbanked by Rails-to-Trails Conservancy and deeded to the Nemaha Natural Resources District—the trail's current manager—in 1995.
Nearly 22 miles of the Steamboat Trace Trail are open from west of the Omaha Public Power District (OPPD) Power Station (south of Nebraska City) to Cooper Nuclear Station (south of Brownville). The route, like most rail-trails, is quite flat, and the surface consists of crushed limestone screenings.
Both the scenery and history along the trail are its main draws. The trail follows the wooded bluffs along the Missouri River, and at times, the river rests immediately at the trail's edge. Cottonwoods, oaks and other deciduous trees form forests that lend welcome shade to trail users during the summer months. The river and forests are not the trail's only scenery—at more than a few locations, the Steamboat Trace Trail runs adjacent to open farmland.
The trail is steeped in history, too. Lewis and Clark passed through the area more than two centuries ago on their journey westward. In the mid-1800s, the development of the steamboat led to the establishment of trading towns along the river (and later gave the trail its name). In the late 1800s, the Midland Pacific Railroad built the corridor that the trail now occupies.
Be sure to check out the small towns along the trail. In Peru, visit Nebraska's first 4-year college. The town is a popular place for trail users to grab a bite to eat. It also offers clean well-lit modern public restrooms with water right next to the trail, making it a good spot to refill water bottles, or use the facilities on longer excursions. South of Peru, Brownville offers its own fine eateries, as well as a winery.
No permits are required to enjoy the Steamboat Trace Trail, but voluntary donations are suggested. Donations may be submitted at collection boxes along the trail's route. The trail is closed to all uses from mid-November to early January, as the surrounding area is a popular deer hunting site.
Parking for the Steamboat Trace Trail can be found in the north at the large Arbor Station Trailhead, located just west of the Omaha Public Power District station on County Road L. Near the trail's midpoint in Peru, park at the intersection of 5th Street and Plum Street. In the south, leave your car at the Lewis and Clark Campsite in Brownville. The recreation area is located at the intersection of 648A Avenue and E. Water Street, about a mile north of the trail's southern endpoint.
I previously reviewed this trail from a ride from its southern end, at Brownville, to Peru, NE. This review is of the leg from Peru to just south of Nebraska City. It is an attractive stretch of trail, and the trail itself was generally in good shape. The only negative that keeps me from giving more stars is that much of the trail is exposed to whatever wind may be blowing, and in Nebraska the wind is usually blowing. If it turns out to be a headwind then that is a serious negative. That would be significantly reduced if some windbreaks were planted alongside the trail, especially on the west side since that's where the wind usually comes from.
Great flat ride! Only drawback would be lack of service (restrooms) along the trail, but that also makes you feel like you are exploring! Great scenery. Trail can get bumpy at times, so make sure your bike can handle it.
The stretch from Brownville to Peru reminds me of the particularly attractive stretch of Katy trail in central Missouri, from Rocheport on to the southeast, with much of it having a tall embankment or bluff on one side and the Missouri River on the other side. Also appealing is that there is a lot of shade in the afternoon and evening. However, I am giving just three stars because as of August 2015 there are a lot of eroded ruts across the trail, requiring frequent slowdowns in order not to get a big jolt on one’s bike. If those were fixed then this could be a four- or even five-star trail. In the meantime, best that you ride a mountain bike or be prepared for an uneven ride.
I parked at the north trailhead just south of Nebraska City. The sign says its ',6 miles to the trail', so add another mile (round trip). if you ride the full trail, which goes a couple miles south of Brownville, you will go (round trip) about 45 miles. if you ride off trail to explore towns or anything....more. The whole trip for me was about 47 miles.
for a rail trail, it does have lots of sudden rises and falls, but none are long. and yes, it does go thru a section of farmland, but this just keeps the whole things interesting. you go thru trees, then corn, the sorta trees, the by the river, then more trees....while the trail is some flat, some bumps and some rises and falls, but all this adds up for a constantly changing, and interesting ride, that keeps giving you something new to experience. I liked it - it was not 47 miles of the same thing after thing after thing.
There is a big shelter at Peru with a ground water pump. There is also a campground there, and stores nearby as others have said.
There is an official 'off trail' picnic area called "Genie Hollow", that is pretty nice, in the trees, near Peru.
Also near Peru is There is a pretty lengthy section of trail that has sand carvings. Most are just names and such, but there are several that are pictures and neat to find. This area is called It is marked with a sign that reads "Roland Sherman Memorial Area". here is a Journal Star link:
the ride from Nebraska City trailhead to here is the easiest section. as you get closer to Brownville, I was happier and happier to have used the mtn bike this day. there is upkeep being done to this trail, but since it is in need of rather constant need of repair being where it is, there are things to look out for. a few places have small washouts under the bridges, so be careful on those, and the trail itself has some places where water running off the hill has worn grooves across the trail. having said that, tho, none of them are 'bad'.
the place that made me the happiest to have the mtn bike, was just north of Brownville, where there is lots of fresh crushed limestone on the trail...it was very mushy, and there was lots of it. the skinny tires would have been hard to use here.
I rode to the end of the trail (just a couple miles past Brownville), then came back up to Brownville for lunch, near the steamboat. FYI - the steamboat museum is open from 1pm - 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday. There are picnic tables there at the park (by the steamboat) for lunch.
I gave 4 stars, only due to the maintenance it needs, but that might not be fair, cause this trail is in a location where constant needs are necessary. ...BUT, in a perfect world, we want the maintenance done, so ...4 stars.
I biked the trail from Peru to Brownville one weekend and Peru to Nebraska City the next. Had a very good ride, it is very pretty , tree lined in a lot of the area, along the river in some parts and going thru fields in other area, very diverse. At Peru there is a water pump that has very cold water, nice clean restrooms and ample parking. Saw coyote, some deer, squirrels and plenty of birds. It is not a very crowded trail, saw 6 people one day and 3 people the next ride. It is the only limestone trail I have ridden on, to me it seemed in pretty good shape, but I do not have anything to compare it to.
The crushed limestone trail is good for running. The limestone is softer so it is easy on the legs and the trail is flat. There are trail heads that are accessible by car so I can leave water along the trail prior to a longer run.
The first six miles south of Nebraska City (OPPD) is tree lined and next to the bluffs so it is scenic and provides shade. It is probably my favorite part.
The six miles north of Peru is basically through corn fields and is my least favorite part. There is little shade and not much to look at.
South of Peru is also very cool. There is the limestone wall with carvings and the trail is next to the river at times.
Over all it is a nice easier running trail that is flat with some nice shade.
We began our hike at the most northerly end, by the power plant. It was the perfect day, a nice northerly breeze, sunny skies, my husband, dog and I all out to enjoy this wonderful trail. We had plenty to see with so many different things hopping about, flying about, buzzing around us. There were no issues that we could find with this trail. The trail itself was in fine shape, no ruts or washouts to really talk about. We were pretty much on our own the entire 6 miles that we covered. The trees provided ample shade along the trail and the view of the bean and corn fields were beautiful. The old grain storage area where the trains once went through made the perfect back drop for a few pictures, along with the windmill that is still partially there. We did happen upon another person with his dog along the trail. There were many species of small and large birds flying about and chattering. We saw what appeared to be a large millipede on the ground, as the dog sniffed it out first. We saw many frogs, small and large jumping about the trail but didn't really know where they came from or where they were going to. The large rocks on the hillside next to the banks that were dug out for the train tracks are pretty interesting. I'm not sure what is burrowed in the openings, but I'm sure some critter resides within. We enjoyed a very peaceful and fun hike with our dog on this day hike for the 3 of us! The trail is in wonderful shape and I applaud the Nemaha NRD for keeping it so nice for everyone.
This is our 3rd visit to this trail. We started our first hike in Peru 3 years ago, then went last year on bikes. This is a very nice trail for all to use.
We rode the trail a few years ago. We started south of Nebraska City and rode to Brownville. Beautiful Trail - some washout from the river's rise - made the trail very interesting and fun! Was fun to stop for a break at Peru before we continued on to Brownville. Some of the best, coldest beer we've ever had!
Wish list - a shuttle to take us from Brownville to our car at Nebraska City. :)
Note: We heard the trail is closed during hunting season. If it's not - use caution when planning your trip.
I rode this trail on July 1st. It has suffered from the Missouri River Flood of 2011 and subsequent neglect. The roadbed was washed away in several places in the flood and has not been rebuilt. Instead it appears that the crushed stone road base was simply spread on the ground. This has been susceptible to and damaged by rain runoff. It is very "washboardy", rutted and rough. This is particularly true of the stretch from Brownsville north for about 4-5 miles.
The north half of the trail (from Peru north)is in pretty decent shape except for a couple of places where gravel roads cross it and rain gullies have occurred.
Hopefully the Nemaha Natural Resources District which maintains the trail will expend some resources on it to improve the condition of the trail.
Aesthetically, the trail is beautiful. Trees make a great canopy over long stretches. And then the wide-open stretches across corn fields give one some sun and a chance to view the bluffs. The wildlife is varied and interesting.
A word of caution - Brownsville, a tourist town, is closed down on Mondays. Nothing, and I mean nothing is open. So take some nourishment along if you venture onto this trail on Mondays.
I have had the opportunity to access the Steamboat Trace on multiple occasions. I believe it's approximately 26 miles from north to south, but starting at Peru is what I would recommend.
Peru, the home of Nebraska's first and oldest 4 year college (Peru State College) is a quaint community. If you ride on a fall Saturday, you may just find yourself a short distance from the Oak Bowl and a chance to watch some great college football.
Services are available in Peru at Cotty's Restaurant, grocery store for supplies, a bank, etc. . A parking area with a spot to camp, water, and restrooms are right next to the trailhead.
If you aren't an expert rider, start the day heading south to Brownville, about 7-8 miles from Peru. You'll hugh the soaring bluffs for a few miles, and will glimpse the Missouri River itself just a few feet from the trail. Before the river cut a new path away from Peru, it's said that Lewis & Clark noted these very cliffs in their journals because of all of the bird nesting holes that are evident still today. Nice to have some history in your mind as you pedal on!
There's a conservation trail (walking only) that's located off this section for a respite, but the trail then crosses the floodplain and meanders towards Brownville. At Brownville, a great place for lunch or supper is the Lyceum or stop at the winery and pick up a bottle for a picnic on the way back!
So when you make the loop, you've got 14+ miles under your belt by lunch or so. If you're feeling good, you can ride toward Nebraska City in the afternoon and put in another 38 miles roundtrip.
Many of the comments concerning the condition of the trail are correct, but wrong at the same time. Because the trail is located along the Missouri River, it is damaged or flooded when the river is out. This occurs on an infrequent basis, but it does occur. Once the water recedes, the NRD staff gets in there and does a yeoman's job of putting the trail back in shape. I've seen fliers organizing the local community to pitch-in on designated days for trail cleanup as well, so I think people do what they can to keep it up. But if there's been a big rain a few days before, expect some light damage or soft spots (especially near county road crossings). My daughter and I typically use our mountain bikes and never experience more than a bit of mud on the worst days. One has to be reasonable though and understand that this is a rural trail in a rural area, that runs through very soft Missouri River soil. Despite lots of work, it sometimes appears that it lacks maintenance, but of the ten times I've been on it, I've seen workers about five times. Frankly, I'm impressed that the small cities and NRD are doing what they are so I always try to encourage them and make them know they're appreciated.
If you're considering this as part of a larger biking trip, I take this on a day and then strike out on the Wabash in Iowa for a while. Great variety and I wouldn't give up the tremendous scenery and nice people around Peru and Brownville for a longer stretch. Cowboy and several other trails developed by the Nebraska Trails Foundation make Nebraska a mecca for biking anyway, and if you're near Peru you wouldn't have a complete experience without stopping in.
Use is kind of a fickle thing. Summer and late fall, we're scooting over all of the time for packs of bikers and nearer Peru and Brownville, it's full of walkers and runners. Of course, we actually like the trail because it's less crowded than others in-between urban areas, so I guess it's a matter of perspective concerning whether it's used much.
If you live in the Kansas City - Omaha - Des Moines - Topeka region, I can't think of a more fun trail for a day trip. Give it a whirl and see if you share my opinion. Recommend the onion rings at Cotty's!!
Only caveats are that the trail is closed during deer hunting season I'm told. I'm guessing the way to find out when that is may be by contacting the Nebraska Resource District for the area. Hasn't come up for me as my trips haven't included November and December.
Nice story in the spring/summer `10 RtoTs on this ride. Sartore is the best photographer in Nebr. Having ridden this trail in the fall several times when we lived in Lincoln I can attest to the beauty of it. Best part is Peru to the charming town of Brownville. There is a health food store there run by an old lady. It was featured on HGTV a few years ago. Great stop for a healthy drink and cashews. It is a quiet trail with few riders and good wildlife. Don`t hurt the bull and garter snakes that like to sun on the trail! Yes it can be a little rough in spots. My chief complaint is the industrial farmers along the way who plow up to the edge of the trail. This was a contested trail by the locals who do not understand the resource. I know they are trespassing and farming land that is not theirs. It would be much more scenic if the original railway right of way was in natural grass. It is quite disgusting what the "farmers" are being allowed to do. I`m glad I`m biking Boulder now!
April 24th, 2009. My two boys (ages 10 & 14) and I rode our mountain bikes from Brownville, NE to about 4 miles north of Peru, NE. I noticed my front tire was getting a little soft. Had a small hand pump and some tube patches but we decided to go back and have lunch at Peru. After the rest and lunch at "Cotty's" in downtown Peru the tire was completely flat and could not locate the hole so that ended the ride for that day. Trail was in pretty good condition, a few places had some erosion where the gravel had washed away leaving ruts but nothing too bad. Peru State College was having their alumni appreciation weekend so there were a lot of people walking/running the trail around Peru. Seen a lot of wild life, deer, red-winged black birds, squirrels and several black snakes sunning themselves on the trail. Next time we will start in Nebraska City and go south to Brownville. Great ride and the boys and I had a real good day.
I biked the Steamboat Trace in early August, 2008. The damage from the June storms is very evident. Much erosion, rocks and branches on the trail. The gravel used to attempt to repair some of the damage is very loose and can cause a bike to lose traction and even crash. Trail doesn't seem to be getting much use, except for the deer. Jim Young Milwaukie, Oregon
Just finished the Nebraska City to Peru section - I'd say about 20 -33% of it was fairly rough. The trail maintenance amounts to posting a sign warning that the trail is rough. I'd advise walking - riding can be hazardous to certain sensitive areas of the body. Maybe Peru to Brownsville is better.
"It is wonderful to visit the Steamboat Trace Trail during the spring. Since most of this trail is protected by bluffs found along side the Missouri river, spring comes early to this trail. I like to start to walk or bike the trace in late March or early April. This is a nice way to escape the long cold winter of Nebraska. Be sure to watch for the cliff carvings along this trail near Peru."
"This is more of a correction: the OPPD road off Hi. 75 is really only one mile south of Nebraska City (intersection of Highways 2 and 75), not 4.
Fall is a great time to be on this trail. The bluffs are beautiful."
"We biked from B-ville north to Peru (and back) August 19, 2001. The trail follows the river for a couple of miles out of Brownville and is mostly canopied in this part. The river bends away to the east and the trail hugs the wooded bluffs on the west with bottom land crops to the east. The trail in this section was partly shady in the early afternoon and nearly full shade in the later afternoon as the sun got lower in the sky. After about two miles, the river makes its way back west toward the bluff and trail. This was one of the nicest parts of the trail in that section. Low limestone bluffs line the trail on the west side broken by wooded valley views with the river on the east side of the trail. Some interesting carvings can be found in the yellow limestone walls. Peru Landing is just beyond the limestone walled section. Facilities are being built at the Peru trail head but were not ready the day we were there. A short ride up the brick street hill took us to a restaurant, small grocery store, and a B&B. The Cottonwood Restaurant has a varied menu with combo meals competitive with McDonald's prices. The overall condition of the trail was good with a few washed out and washboard areas to watch for. There was an approx. 200 yd section of the trail in bottom land just before the limestone bluffs area which was not graveled. It was fine the day we were there but certainly has the potential to be a bit of an impediment in wet weather. A very enjoyable ride we will do again. "
"This trail follows the Missouri River through some of the most spectacular farmland in Southeast Nebraska. The trail surface is rough in areas, but the wildlife is abundant. This area of Nebraska has a rich history and the small agricultural towns that dot the trail are in tact. A stop in Brownsville is a must. Camping is nearby as are services. This trail is a must!"
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