PONCA STATE PARK
Situated astride the picturesque Missouri River bluffs in northeastern Nebraska, Ponca State Park is at the eastern gateway of the Missouri National Recreational River, a 59-mile section featuring the only unchannelized section of the river bordering Nebraska.
Designated under the Scenic River Act in 1978, this section of river gives visitors a glimpse of how the untamed river looked before modern man changed it forever.
The park is two miles from the town of Ponca. Both the park and the town are named for the proud Native American tribe that once inhabited the area. It was the famed Ponca Chief Standing Bear who fought and won the court battle to have the Indian declared a "person" under American law. His achievement won him a place not only in history but also the Nebraska Hall of Fame.
Here, too, Lewis and Clark passed through during their epic journey up the Missouri.The National Park Service has designated Ponca State Park as part of the Lewis and Clark Historical Trail.
Ponca State Park encompasses nearly 1,400 acres of heavily forested rolling hills and Missouri River bottomland. The superbly scenic area offers park visitors all the amenities of a modern state park. Established in 1934, the first 200 acres were donated by local citizens, sponsored by the Ponca American Legion Post.
The dense woodlands offer a haven for many types of woodland wildlife. During the day, white-tailed deer and wild turkeys often are seen throughout the area. Toward evening, the howls of coyotes and "who-who-are-you" of the barred owl echo through the hills. Red foxes, gray foxes (an uncommon relative of the red fox), bobcats, raccoons, opossums and other small mammals also occasionally are seen by visitors.
In spring, the woodlands come alive with sounds and sights of migrant and resident songbirds. During peak migration (late April and early May), the park attracts both amateur and experienced bird watchers. Warblers, scarlet tanagers, northern orioles, red-breasted grosbeaks, indigo buntings, and ruby-throated hummingbirds are just a few of the highlights.
The woodlands and prairie ridgetops burst into bloom from late April to early June. Among the most common woodland flowers are Dutchman's breeches, bloodroot, Canada violet, blue phlox, columbine, waterleaf and white cicely. Prairie plants include yucca, shell-leaf penstemon, prairie larkspur, purple coneflowers, pasque flower and purple prairie clover. Native shrubs include gooseberry, wild plum, chokecherry, Eastern Wahoo, and buffaloberry.
Bur oaks are the predominant tree species at the park, but they are liberally interspersed with walnut, elm, basswood, Kentucky coffeetree and hackberry. Almost at the heart of the park is the "Old Oak Tree." In 1964, this ancient specimen was officially aged at 320 years old. It was a sapling 24 years before the Mayflower landed at Plymouth Rock.
On summer nights, the repetitious call of the whippoorwill and a chorus of tree frogs and crickets echo through the bluffs and canyons. Turkey vultures can be seen soaring overhead during warm summer days. In late June, snow-like showers of cotton from nearby cottonwood trees signify it is time to catch catfish in the nearby river.
In fall, the skies are filled with migrating ducks, geese and other birds. In winter, the park is home to bald eagles, often seen roosting, soaring and now nesting along the river. Winter is also a great time to view a variety of hardy songbirds at the park's bird feeders.
Full Hookup Sitesyes
Ponca State Park has 14 modern, two-bedroom, air-conditioned housekeeping cabins. Each has two double beds, bedding, towels for four, bathroom with shower, kitchenette and large screened porch. Kitchenettes are furnished with a range, refrigerator, cooking utensils, dinette, dishes and tableware for six. Lodging is normally available from late May through September, but dates are subject to change. Reservations are accepted up to one year in advance for two or more nights and will be confirmed with a deposit for two nights lodging.
All campers must register. Reservations are accepted. Reservations are taken for 50% of the modern camping. Reservations are taken up to 1 year in advance of arrival day. Year to date reservations begin at 9 .m. CT, by phone, in person or over the Internet.
Ponca State Park provides excellent camping. Paved electrical camp sites in two modern campgrounds with 30/50 amp electrical hookups. There are showers, picnic tables, fire pits, water spigots (not hookups); dump station, and playground. Modern facilities operate from April - October, weather permitting. Primitive camping is available year-round.