Float a Water Trail!

July 7, 2016 greg wagner

“They connect us. They run through us. Our bodies are roughly 60 percent water. Newborn babies are 78 percent. Is it any wonder we are drawn to rivers, is it any wonder we want to return to them again and again?” –  Amy Souers Kober. 

The view from the bow of a kayak looking downstream on the Platte River water trail near Louisville, NE. Photo by Greg Wagner.

Floating one of Nebraska’s various water trails in the summer is great for so many reasons!

You can do it for the adventure of going somewhere you’ve never been. You can do it to make connections and memories with people and nature. You can do it to re-trace history. You can do it to get some fresh air, Vitamin D and burn calories. You can do it to leave technology behind, relax and clear your mind!

The Platte River water trail just east of Platte River State Park near Louisville, NE as seen from a kayak. Photo by Greg Wagner.
The Platte River water trail just east of Platte River State Park. Photo by Greg Wagner.

It’s no secret that I have a passion for and addiction to floating Nebraska’s water trails! In fact, I have paddled nearly all of them in my 37 years at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

And, I think we have such a nice variety of these ‘blueways’ to traverse.

Each has its own distinctive characteristics; its own personality.

Whether it’s leisurely floating a kayak on a Platte River water trail with co-workers to paddling the remote, wild Dismal River water trail through an outfitter with buddies, I thoroughly enjoy exploring any water trail, and I believe you and your group will, too!

Leisurely floating the Platte River water trail near Louisville, NE in a kayak. Photo by Greg Wagner.


Kayaking the challenging waters of the Dismal River water trail near Mullen, NE through an outfitter. Photo by Greg Wagner.


Canoeing the quiet, picturesque Calamus River water trail near Burwell, NE. Photo courtesy of NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.


Paddlers on the scenic Niobrara River water trail east of Valentine, NE Photo courtesy of NEBRASKAland Magazine/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.


Tubers take a break on the Niobrara River water trail east of Valentine, NE. Photo courtesy of Daryl Bauer/Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.

So, what exactly is a water trail?

Water trails are marked routes on waterways such as rivers and creeks for people using small non-motorized vessels like kayaks, canoes, inner tubes, stock tanks, rafts, etc. Like conventional trails, water trails are recreational corridors between specific locations. These not only require suitable access points and take-outs for exit but also provide places to go ashore for resting, camping, fishing and picnicking.

It seems our slow-moving, winding river systems in Nebraska were almost tailor-made for water trails!

Stock tank floating on the Elkhorn River water trail near Waterloo, NE. Photo by Ross Jernstrom.

On the International Scale of River Difficulty, our rivers typically rate Class I: Easy. This is defined as moving water with riffles and small waves; few obstacles; risk to swimmer is slight; self-rescue is easy with a life jacket worn. There are a few exceptions though.

The Dismal River in the central Sandhills, for example, is narrow, spring-fed stream that swiftly flows at about 5-8 mph. Barbed wire fences, downed trees, stumps and rocks in the river present constant hazards. Also, in a handful of places on the Niobrara and Snake Rivers in north-central Nebraska, there are several Class II, III and IV rapids that require portage.

Water trails for float trips on calmer waters have been established by us at the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission on ten different stretches of rivers/creeks for your use.


For specifics on each, please visit our website. Dismal River water trail details can be obtained through a local outfitter.  Other rivers (e.g. Middle Loup, North Platte), also have water trails available to float through nearby outfitters. Find out information about those on the Nebraska Travel and Tourism website.

It is important to note that water levels in some of our rivers and creeks fluctuate with weather, so be sure to check conditions through local outfitters and/or officials.

Keep in mind that only the water in these ‘water trails’ belongs to the State of Nebraska and you are allowed to float it. However, the river beds, bars and banks of them are almost entirely private land and it is up to you to do your homework to get permission for resting, picnicking, camping or fishing on that property. Most landowners along our Nebraska water trails don’t mind floaters as long as they ask permission well in advance of their trip, are careful with campfires, leave the property as they found it and pack out their trash!

Oh, and bring your fishing gear and some bait on that float trip, too. You never know what fish species you might catch!

Your blogger hooks a fish while wade-fishing the Elkhorn River water trail near Waterloo, NE with landowner permission. Photo by Zach Wagner.


Your blogger catches a freshwater drum, one of the many species of fish an angler can catch along a Nebraska water trail. Photo by Zach Wagner.

Savor your trips on our water trails!

The post Float a Water Trail! appeared first on NEBRASKALand Magazine.

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