Branched Oak Through the Seasons

June 12, 2023 eric fowler

There is not a time of the year when Branched Oak State Recreation Area northwest of Lincoln isn’t busy. But there’s also not a time of year when a person can’t find their own little slice of nature so close to the city.


Branched Oak State Recreation Area

Photo by Eric Fowler

Photos and story by Eric Fowler

Branched Oak State Recreation Area is a busy place. Especially in the summer. Which makes sense considering the 1,800-acre reservoir is the largest body of water within an hour’s drive of more than half of Nebraska’s population.

On weekends from late-spring into fall, the lake is abuzz with boats pulling skiers, wakeboarders and tubers, and with personal watercraft. When the wind chases those folks off the water, the sailboats moored in the Branched Oak Lake Marina or parked at the Lincoln Sailing Club find a little more room to maneuver.

Mike Suding of Santa Barbara, California, and Steve Botts of Ashville, North Carolina, relax at the South Shore campsite during a cross-country bicycle trip. Photo by Eric Fowler.

The park’s three modern campgrounds can be just as busy: show up with your RV Friday evening, or even Thursday, and you’re likely to find all 345 spots are already taken. Demand isn’t as high for the 195 tent sites spread throughout those three campgrounds and five others. When summer heat sets in, the two swim beaches are the place to be for many. Picnic shelters in the day-use areas seldom go unused on summer evenings.

Keith Kyle and Betty Vehring of Howels, Dale and Kathy Matter of Cedar Bluffs and Mike Anderson of Blair ride their horses along a trail above the lake in Area 14. (Per park regulations, dogs must be on leash at all times.) Photo by Eric Fowler.

Anglers fish the lake year-round, in open water or through the ice. Many hope to hook one of the big walleyes, wipers and flathead catfish the lake holds. In the fall, waterfowl hunters set decoys out on the lake and the creeks that feed it, and pheasant, quail and deer hunters search for game in the grasslands and woodlands that comprise the 2,865-acre wildlife management area and 1,000 acres of parkland surrounding it. Birdwatchers flock to the area when bald eagles arrive in numbers in late winter, to watch the colony of bank swallows on the south shore in the summer, and the rest of the year to view many species of grassland, woodland and water birds that spend all or part of the year there.

Brooke Talbott and her dog, Zena, of Lincoln, cross-country ski on a trail on the lake’s south shore. Photo by Eric Fowler.

The park boasts nearly 17 miles of trails. Some are groomed by local mountain bikers, who zoom through the woods and grasslands in Area 7. Horseback riders take care of a maze of trails on the lake’s south shore, many of them setting off for their ride from the equestrian camp in Area 2. During the winter, cross-country skiers never miss a chance to cut fresh powder.

Skiers who prefer snow will find Branched Oak to be a quieter place than those who prefer water. But chances are they won’t have the area to themselves, which can be the case at many of the state’s parks. Not a day goes by that you won’t find someone doing something at Branched Oak.

The post Branched Oak Through the Seasons appeared first on Nebraskaland Magazine.

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