Untamed natural features and the ghosts of past human inhabitants beckon visitors to Indian Cave State Park, a rugged Missouri River refuge straddling the Nemaha-Richardson County boundary in Nebraska’s southeast corner.
With more than 3,000 acres, it’s the second-largest of Nebraska’s seven full state parks but purposely one of the least developed. You won’t find cabins or a visitors center, but those who prefer to leave some, most or all modern conveniences behind will find this park ideal.
Efforts to preserve the area began in 1939 and gathered steam after the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission acquired the first parkland there in 1962. It took the rest of the 1960s, however, to overcome a protracted legal fight and secure most of the current park. Only when the cave site was secured in 1970 did development — what there is of it, anyway — get underway.
Best known for
Indian Cave State Park takes its name from a three-sided sandstone shelter where Native Americans left “petroglyph” carvings about 1,500 years ago. At the time of the park’s 1962 founding, visible petroglyphs included human and animal figures, including a man astride a horse. Subsequent vandalism has obliterated or obscured many of the depictions.
Visitors can tour a cemetery and some restored buildings at St. Deroin, a Missouri River town founded a year before the Nebraska Territory was established in 1854. The town grew to 300 people by 1900, but it was plagued by flooding and was destroyed when the river washed away most of the remaining buildings in 1911.
» Twenty-two miles of hiking-biking trails and 16 miles of equestrian trails wind throughout the park, offering controlled access to Indian Cave’s remaining petroglyphs and ample vistas of birds, animals and hardwood forests.
» Weekend living-history demonstrations (including old-time crafts) are offered at St. Deroin, where the schoolhouse and general store were restored for visitors in the 1970s.
» A boat ramp offers Missouri River access.
» A 134-unit RV campground with electrical hookups, showers, modern restrooms, a laundry facility, a dump station and picnic tables and grills.
» Primitive camping sites in the park’s hills, including showers, a water hydrant (available in season), electrical hookups, grills and ground-level fire rings.
» Visitors preferring a fuller back-to-nature experience may make use of Adirondack shelters along the trails. A primitive equestrian campground also is available.
Indian Cave State Park is home to some 140 bird species, offering many opportunities for birding excursions.
The park also boasts one of Nebraska’s most spectacular displays of fall foliage.
Did you know?
Camping and electrical hookups are available year-round, with winter camping offered at reduced rates. The park’s water supply, however, is turned off during the winter months.
A state recreation area is nearby at Verdon, 15 miles south and west.
On the calendar
April 30: Fifth annual Outdoor Adventure, 8 a.m.-4 p.m.
May 28: Migratory Bird Day.
June 4: Trail restoration activities as part of National Trails Day celebration, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.
June 18: Dance of the Summer Moon, 2-8 p.m.
July 30: Campfire Christmas in July, noon-7 p.m.
Sept. 3: Fish fry and fireworks display, noon start.
Oct. 8, 14-15 and 21-22: Annual Haunted Hollow, including pumpkin rolls, costume contests and Saturday Halloween decorating contests.
Need to know
Address: 65296 720 Road, Shubert, NE 68437-9801
Admission: Valid Nebraska park entry permit required. Camping reservations available via website or the Nebraska State Parks reservation call center, 402-471-1414, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. weekdays.
Hours: Open year-round. Contact the park for operating hours.