Ride Report -
Jess from Omaha on 07/12/2020 03:47 PM
Just completed the full length this weekend from Valentine to Norfolk starting last Thursday afternoon. We stayed in Ainsworth, Atkinson, and Neligh in each towns camping areas and had a great experience.
We road two hard tail 29’s and a fat bike with 4.8” tires all set-up tubeless. During the third day we has a side wall puncture on one of the hardtails that we were able to get sealed by laying bike on side so sealant could get to side wall but had no other tire issues.
We had a really good time and with the right equipment this trail is really fun. It is a shame it isn’t utilized more.
Cynthya from Lewis,KS on 07/12/2020 04:23 PM
I am so thrilled to hear you had a great ride,despite a few difficulties.
We rode Valentine to Norfolk and back in 2017. We had no flats, we had a great time and met wonderful people.
In complete agreement with you. This is a great treasure and it needs to be utilized more.
Would be nice if it were totally finished from Chadron to Norfolk, but even so, I would ride it again.
Glad you has a good ride.
Thanks for posting your positive experience. Maybe it will encourage others to get out and ride!
Dougt from Onawa, Ia. on 07/13/2020 02:12 PM
Good ride report Jess, although I've got to say that your original post saying from Chadron to Norfolk got my attention before it was corrected. I do it out and back each year and am planning on late Aug. Were you able to stay on the trail for the entire ride other than the detour between Neligh and Oakdale? Did you pick up a lot of goatshead thorns, even though only one caused a problem? I had none in '18 but LOTS in '19. Just wondered what to expect this year. Thanks!
Don from Des Moines IA on 07/14/2020 02:47 PM
I also completed the CBoy Trail last month. I rode from Norfolk to Valentine 6/21-6/24. I continued to Hot Springs SD using highway 20 in NE. Highway 20 was VERY quite and I never felt uncomfortable off the trail. I loved the 6 foot wide shoulders on all the highways I rode in NE. Nice to see taxes being used on roads!! I did ride the additional 15 mile stretch that was added outside Gordon. I lucked out on weather. Only had a storm burst just outside O'Neil where I flew into a garage ASAP. I rode tubeless 650x47 tires and amazingly had zero flats/punctures. I alternated camping with a motel option and called bars and grocery stores ahead of time in towns I planned to stay-in or eat a meal in. I brought 3 freeze dried dinners just in case and ended up using only one of them because I just wanted to. So no issues with finding water, food (or beer). There were a couple of times I had to exit the trail due to bridge outs but was able to ride 95% of the trail (yah!). Folks I met were fabulous. I did take a mask and hand cleaner and for what it's worth I found most grocery store employees masked and customer not so much. As I went west the amount of Covid was slim to nil but I still did not want to take chances. When I hit Valentine I tried to find a Cowboy jersey or shirt to reward myself but found nothing. Even stopped at Chamber of Commerce and struck out. I agree it's a shame that this trail is not utilized more (I never saw another person on the trail) or marketed better. I do hope to come back and with friends!!
Jess from Omaha on 07/15/2020 10:04 AM
The outages on the Cowboy trail are marked at this website: https://maps.outdoornebraska.gov/Trails/
And were accurate when we road 7/9/20 to 7/12/20. HWY 20 was a nice option for the outages.
We probably ran over a few goat heads evidenced by some slime residue on our tires, but we never had another tire go flat during the ride. The one mountain bike tire that went flat was easily sealed when we found the hole and turned rim sideways so slime could get to the hole.
The aggregate seemed a little heavier from Atkinson to the west. The trail from Oakdale to Meadow Grove had some pockets that were pretty rough but passible.
Current Trail Conditions -
Amanda on 07/14/2020 12:32 PM
We are planning to bike the trail from Clearwater to Valentine, starting this weekend. Has anyone been on that section recently and know the condition of the trail? I've done other sections in years prior that had small distances that were so soft you had to walk your bike through them. Not sure how common that is on other parts or if there is anything else to be aware of. Thanks for your insight!
Don from Des Moines IA on 07/14/2020 02:58 PM
Amanda, I rode this section on 6/25. The trail is fine. I recall a short section before Long Pine where you need to exit and ride a gravel road but you are able to hop back on and appreciate the bridge in Long Pine.
trail progress or condition west from Valentine to Chadron -
Brad Hayward from Bolivar Missouri on 07/14/2020 11:10 AM
We rode the trail a few years back but stopped at Valentine. I was curious about the trail condition or progress on west from Valentine to Chadron. Is it rideable?
Parking in Valentine -
Bill Heistermann from Fort Collins on 05/25/2020 10:46 PM
Thinking about doing the trail out and back over the course of a week starting in Valentine. Is there a place to safely and securely park for a week? Thanks
Greg Lanning from Omaha, NE on 06/17/2020 12:56 PM
You will have no problems parking for a week. Just ask someone and they will be glad to keep an eye on your vehicle. Nebraska nice!
BIKER4 from PAPILLION, NE on 06/18/2020 08:35 PM
YOU SHOULD LET THE POLICE DEPARTMENT KNOW AND THEY WILL KEEP AN EYE IT.
Bill Heistermann from Fort Collins on 07/14/2020 09:19 AM
Thanks for the info. Looks like it will be a very chill and wonderful trip
Trail damage -
Ean from Omaha on 07/07/2020 08:37 PM
My family is planning a trip up near valentine. I am riding gravel from lincoln to Norfolk and then the trail from Norfolk to valentine. I’d like to know what sections of the trail are damaged? How long are the damaged parts? And are the any of the damaged parts hike a bike accessible? I would like to stay off the highway as much as possible.
Other than the trail damage from the flood, how is the condition of the rest of the trail?
Thank you all in advance.
Neil from Kearney/Plainview on 07/09/2020 05:56 PM
July 5th I rode from Neligh to Norfolk. The bridge between Neligh and Oakdale is out so you will have about 4 miles on the highway. THe detour is well marked. Leave the trail at Oakdale and get back on about 2 miles east of Neligh.
That piece is fairly packed but some sections have had new gravel put on so their are soft spots.
Road bikes -
Brett from Omaha on 07/06/2020 06:56 AM
I need to do a 150 miles for an MS ride in August but I only have a road bike. Roads around Omaha aren't really safe and our longest trail is about 18 miles so prefer to find a better stretch of trail. Is there a good long stretch on this trail that you can ride a road bike?
Alex from Lincoln on 07/06/2020 09:04 AM
While I do not recommend using a road bike on the trail, it is possible. My recommendation would be to use the largest size tire that fits in the frame if you want to attempt it. This will make your bike a little more supple as there will be some soft/rough spots that may give you a hard time though. The nice thing about Cowboy Trail though is if the trail is not your cup of tea, HWY 275 is right there with a nice wide shoulder to ride on. Another option if you haven't checked out the Wabash Trace in Iowa, that might be another good spot to do this as that trail is pretty hard packed.
Brenda from Texas on 07/06/2020 02:48 PM
Just rode the 35 miles from Norfolk to Neligh and there were some parts that would be easy on a road bike and some areas of dense gravel that would be tricky. Just stay on the tracks and you will do okay.
Lodging between Valentine and Chaldron -
LD from Carlsbad, CA on 07/05/2020 04:22 PM
We’d like to extended our bike trip West past Valentine. Any lodging recommendations along highway 20 between Valentine and Chaldron? Thanks!
September/October ride Norfolk to Valentine (and beyond?) -
gtojr from Papillion on 06/29/2020 08:39 PM
Considering a full length ride on the trail just to do something off the TO DO list this year. most of our riders are advanced, I am mediocre at best. Did about 10 miles of the trail last near near Norfolk and it was spongy (it was the day after a storm to be fair). My question is this: most of the crew is thinking 60-70 miles a day. I am wondering if this is biting off too much since this is not a hard pack trail. I know we can ride the shoulder of the road but prefer to stay on the trail if I can
Alex from Lincoln on 06/29/2020 09:36 PM
The trail hardness does depend on how much recent precipitation the surface has had. That being said it does take more energy to ride on the trail vs pavement. 60-70 miles per day on the trail can be a challenge, especially if it is windy. If you can do 70 miles on pavement you can probably do the trail but it will be more difficult. Also there are still segments of trail surfacing that hasn't been fully repaired from the 2019 flood so there will be some rougher segments still present. Using a suitable bike for the trail is key, I don't recommend road bikes on the trail, or really anything with tires 35c or 1.5" width or less. The surfaced trail currently ends in Valentine, the trail west of there is closed except for a segment between Gordon and Rushville. Hope this helps!
Backpacking on the Cowboy Trail -
Wazo from Phoenix, AZ on 06/22/2020 05:13 PM
I am looking at the Cowboy Trail as potentially being a very cool way to have a "non-wilderness" backpacking trip. It looks like most of the towns are very doable milage-wise. So, I do have a few questions:
What is the weather like in August/Early Sept? It could not be worse than Phoenix!
Do many people backpack the trail?
How available is water?
A woman I know who has backpacked all the major national scenic trails suggested this as a different type of backpacking experience. It could be a lot of fun.
Is there a way to get from one end of the trail back to the starting point?
Alex from Lincoln on 06/25/2020 11:11 AM
Nebraska always has the potential for weird weather but during that time I would prepare for wind and rain. Average high in August is 85F and low is 59F. Nebraska always has potential for extreme cold or heat in August though so just check the forecast frequently, as it can change quickly. People do backpack on the trail as the towns, like you said, are close enough and offer services needed to re-supply. Water can easily be found at each town, usually at a restaurant, city office, bar, or library. Most of the towns have city parks which will have a spigot for water. There is an outfitter in Norfolk called North Fork Outfitting that offers shuttle services on the trail. https://www.nforkoutfitting.com/
EKG from Spearfish SD on 06/21/2020 10:05 AM
We are thinking of just a day ride- out and back- from Valentine. Is there much shade along the way, about ten miles?
Alex from Lincoln on 06/22/2020 08:58 AM
Not really much shade to be found on the western part of the trail. Depending on the time of day you might be able to find some shade from a pine tree close to the trail but but that's about it.
Biking and camping from Valentine -
Peg from Denver on 05/06/2020 08:57 AM
Four of us are planning to bike the Cowboy trail from Valentine to Norfolk starting May 16. Anyone know the status of traveling to Nebraska from out of state and also if campgrounds or town parks for camping are open? Any trail conditions we need to know about?
Thank you for any advice.
Alex from Lincoln on 05/07/2020 08:55 AM
The trail is open but does have some closures still from the flood sustained last year. You will have to detour around the areas marked as they are impassable for the most part, most use the highway shoulder to get around the detours.
As far as camping, the towns along the trail have city parks available for camping but as to their open status, you will have to call ahead.
Enjoy your trip!
LMorf from Leigh on 05/08/2020 04:44 PM
We have this same question! Three of us were planning on walking the trail this month/June. Are the detours troublesome and really out of the way? (I'm not sure how close the highways are to the trail.)
Greg Lanning from Omaha, NE on 06/17/2020 01:05 PM
The detours are easy. Highway 20 parallels the trail most of the way. No problem!
Jess from Omaha on 06/18/2020 09:33 AM
Greg, Thanks for the updates. Hitting the trail the weekend of 7/11 and looking forward to it.
The Pretender from Colorado Springs on 05/17/2020 02:28 PM
Can you camp along the side of the trail or do you have to use the campgrounds?
Brenton Lammers from Lincoln, NE on 05/18/2020 10:36 AM
You can camp in almost all of the small towns along the trail. You are not allowed to camp along side the trails.
Greg Lanning from Omaha, NE on 06/17/2020 01:02 PM
As mentioned already, every town along the trail has a campsite you can use. If you are not into public campsites and want to do dispersed camping just ride down a gravel road and/or find public land to camp on. Using Google Maps or other camping apps can help you find these out of the way spots too. Cheers!
Article for Adventure Cyclist Magazine -
Chuck Haney from Whitefish, MT on 05/28/2020 09:21 AM
I'm coming over to ride from Valentine- Inman (looping down from Hwy 12) and writing/ photographing an article for Adventure Cyclist Magazine the first week of June. Are there parts of the trail that are closed on this section? Thanks.
Greg Lanning from Omaha, NE on 06/17/2020 12:54 PM
Yes. There are a few sections of trail closed as a result of 2019 floods. They are short and easily detoured by riding on the adjacent highway. Still worth the trip for sure. Please post your article! Cheers!
Current Trail Conditions -
Jimmy from Seward, NE on 06/11/2020 12:49 PM
Some buddies and I are doing the trail this Saturday starting in Neligh. Does anybody have current trail conditions? From what I've read, stickers and puncture are most common after Ainsworth. Is that still the case? Thanks!
Alex from Lincoln on 06/12/2020 12:49 PM
There are some closures on the trail from the flooding last year:
They are marked in red on the map, detour around then on the highway shoulder or gravel roads.
Greg Lanning from Omaha, NE on 06/17/2020 12:52 PM
Was on the trail June 11, 2020 from Norfolk to Stuart. Trail is in very good condition other than the closed areas. These are easy detoured around by just riding on the highway parallel to the trail.
I recommend a tubeless tire setup to avoid flats. However, I will tell you that I ran tubeless and my partner ran with tubes and neither of us got a flat. (both ran 36mm tires)
Christy from Frederick, Colorado on 06/07/2020 11:45 AM
I and my sister are considering hiking the Cowboy Trail later this summer or fall. I am wondering about any affects the COVID-19 might be having on the towns along the way. Are businesses and services in the towns mostly open? Are the camping places, especially in city parks, allowing camping this year? Are people wearing face masks? Any information from people who have done the trail this summer or live in these towns would be appreciated!
Greg Lanning from Omaha, NE on 06/17/2020 12:48 PM
We rode from Norfolk to Stuart on June 11-13, 2020. All businesses and services are open. We found one campsite, in Neligh, that did not have their restrooms open but the campground itself was open. That was our only instance of things being closed.
We did not ride with masks on and I didnt run into any other riders who had masks on either.
I think you are good to go. Enjoy!
Best time to ride? -
xstr8edgMTBMXerx from C-bus Ohio on 06/14/2020 09:49 PM
was just wondering what is the best time of year to ride the trail? I am thinking about riding in late March/early April...
Greg Lanning from Omaha, NE on 06/17/2020 12:37 PM
Nebraska weather is tricky. I doesn't get warm enough until late May/early June. Gets too hot and humid starting in August.
Long Pine to Valentine -- best campsites? -
Anonymous from Lincoln on 06/16/2020 07:21 PM
Some friends and I are planning to ride from Long Pine to Valentine and back this weekend. Looking for suggestions on camping spots along this stretch, and any smaller trails or features we should check out. Thanks!!
Trail from Valentine to Chadron -
Don from Des Moines IA on 05/28/2020 05:41 PM
Hello. I plan to leave Des Moines mid June self contained and ride the trail from Norfolk to Chadron. From what I've gathered the trail does continue on from Valentine but the surface changes. Can anyone provide details on what I'll encounter after Valentine? I'm riding a gravel bike with 650B x 47 tires which have worked well on Iowa gravel and B grade roads. Also bringing tubes and patches. Thanks in advance!
Karl from West Nyack,NY on 05/28/2020 08:13 PM
Tried that last year this time. There is no trail west of Valentine - most places, the cattle fencing comes right up to the US 20 ROW. Occasionally you will see an old trestle or stream crossing where the RR used to be. But with a few small exceptions, you cannot ride it, plan to ride US 20.
Don from Des Moines IA on 05/29/2020 01:01 PM
Thank you for the info Karl!
Craig from Windsor Heights, IA on 06/03/2020 08:10 PM
I just returned from the Cowboy Trail yesterday. I was riding self-contained with three friends. I was riding a gravel bike. 38s with tubes. First day we rode from Norfolk to O’Neill. Camped at the city park. Second day we continued on to Long Pine, where we stayed at the Bunkhouse. We did have to ride a few stretches on the wide highway shoulder, due to trail wash-outs. 138 miles and no flats yet. Well day three was another story. We reached Ainsworth, and stopped at a convenience store before moving on, as we were heading out of Ainsworth, the trail became very rough and sketchy. After two miles, I had two flats. We had finally discovered the legendary Cowboy Trail thorns. My riding partners decided to move to the highway shoulder. I chose to walk my bike back to Ainsworth and arrange a ride back to Norfolk. I did not come on this trip to ride the last 45 miles on the highway shoulder. The trail was monotonous enough. My riding partners went on, but sent me a message about two hours later that they too were turning back and cutting their trip short. If you are counting on any food or drink in the towns, be sure to research amenities carefully. Several of the towns on the trail had no businesses at all. All in all I went away quite disappointed by the experience. I will not be going back to the Cowboy Trail.
Chuck Haney from Whitefish on 06/05/2020 01:31 PM
I rode Ainsworth- Valentine this morning. No flats. I would recommend to anyone to run "tubeless" tires (or use slime in your tubes.) Rode about half the route on Highway 20 which had a great wide shoulder. They must have gotten a great deal on gravel as the Cowboy Trail itself had too much loose gravel and made for slow going. You're right, not much for restaurants in the small towns along the way. Most of them are just short of ghost towns.
Cynthya from Lewis,KS on 06/05/2020 01:54 PM
Sorry to hear that some people have not had a good ride. I'm sure the flooding of last year had some impact on the trail. My husband and I rode the trail into the August of 2017... While there were problems such as cattle tracks, 4 Wheeler tracks & 4 wheelers, gravel and some stickers, we made the trip no flats. We rode back-and-forth hopscotch from Valentine to Norfolk and back camping along the way. We did find a great little restaurant in Johnstown, The L Bow Saloon. We stayed in that city park and ate at the LOW twice. Great food and people. For us it was a great experience and we actually were only on the highway for the short part at Clearwater. We did get out on the highway and bypassed the Co-Op at Ainsworth per a local who said that was a really stickery section. My only other experience riding long distance on a rail to trail was the Katy trail. Definitely the Cowboy Trail is not like the Katy Trail but it was a great ride for us in 2017. Hopefully they can get it repaired and people will continue to use it. Would really be nice if it got finished to Chadron. but that is probably a long hard haul.
Don from DES MOINES on 06/06/2020 01:38 PM
Thanks for the info, I considered going tubeless but currently not setup that way. I'll look at the slime option.
Dougt from Onawa, Ia. on 06/06/2020 02:29 PM
Odd thing about the thorns. I've done the trail from Norfolk to Valentine and back twice, both times in mid-Sept. In 2018 I did it solo and had no flats. Last year did it with my brother and we had more flats than I can count, maybe 10-15 between us, and we were both running tire liners. And it seems like it's from Ainsworth on. The trail wasn't nearly as well maintained from Long Pine to Valentine either year, but if you can get by that it's the best part of the trail, you're kind of out there in the middle of nowhere. I look at the Cowboy Trail as an adventure, not just a sterile bike ride on a paved bike path. Services are pretty scarce the day you ride from Long Pine to Valentine so be prepared to fend for yourself like the cowboys did if you have problems. Last year it rained something like 5 inches the night were in Long Pine, and another 6" the next night that we stayed in Valentine. We rode through water on the trail, water on the highway, and two places where the trail was washed out and it took both of us to work together to get the loaded bikes across the chasm to the other side. While riding through about 6" of water on the trail in one spot I dropped into a hole washed by the current and had my cell phone sucked out of my jersey pocket. All in all, we had a great adventure and stories to remember for years. We'll see what awaits us this year...…
The remark someone made about new rock being applied way too thick is troubling because it's almost impossible to ride, even on a mtn bike with wide tires. A little more oversight of trail maintenance would surely be nice. I don't know what they could do about the thorns. I don't imagine that they'll be out there spraying 60 miles of trail given the economic situation.
"That which does not kill us makes us stronger"-Nietzsche
Don from Des Moines IA on 06/06/2020 10:07 PM
Appears no but are there other options besides Valentine to Chadron (gravel roads?) besides riding Highway 20?
Roy Retzlaff from Gordon on 06/13/2020 08:21 PM
The trail is fully finished and taken care of from Gordon to Rushville witch is just 15 miles.
Roy Retzlaff from Gordon on 06/13/2020 08:21 PM
The trail is fully finished and taken care of from Gordon to Rushville witch is just 15 miles.
Cynthya from Lewis,KS on 06/13/2020 08:49 PM
Yeah! That is great news. Wished I was up there so I could ride that little section of the trail. Hats off to all the people that worked on that job. I know from experience that is a hard job to get trails ready to go so appreciate everybody's hard work! Thank you!
Don from Des Moines IA on 06/14/2020 06:52 PM
Comparison to the Katy Trail -
Spencer from St. Louis on 06/08/2020 02:57 PM
I've done a trip riding the full Katy Trail in Missouri, I'm currently planning to ride the Cowboy Trail round trip Norfolk to Valentine and back in mid-July. Has anyone here ridden both and able to provide a comparison of what to expect? Thank You!!
Cynthya from Lewis,KS on 06/08/2020 03:37 PM
I have ridden Booneville to Hermann on the Katy Trail and from Valentine to Norfolk and back on The Cowboy Trail. The similarity is: Both are rails-to-trails.
Katy Trail is hard pack..what I rode. Cowboy Trail is gravel, sometimes sand and can be rough going. We picked up stickers(but fortunately no flats), encountered some weedy parts and one very weedy patch just west of Bassett. We found the trail and rode through it. Some paving through some towns closer to Norfolk.
We stayed in city parks along the way. Some had facilities and others had an outhouse and a hydrant. At the time we rode The L Bow Saloon in Johnstown was open.. great food and friendly folks..We stayed in an RV park in Stuart and Ewing and ate at a local bar..
We rode entirely on The Trail except a short portion by the co-op at Ainsworth and a section east of Clearwater that had damage from the flood of 2010
The Katy Trail has shade. Not much shade on The Cowboy (except through some towns). We rode in August 2017 and it was hot! Shade is at a premium. We rested in the shade of a small tree one day and was grateful for that. Then back into the heat for more miles than I can remember with no shade or break from the heat.
All that said...we enjoyed the ride...challenges and all. From reviews I have read there was more damage to the Trail in 2019. Each person has their own perspective. I thought it was a ride to remember(positive memory) and I would go back and ride again. I would love to see The Cowboy completed to Chadron but that might be a long time coming. I think they have a great treasure there and it needs to be kept up and used.
Long Pine -
Jim from Kearney on 06/06/2020 07:11 AM
Is there still a detour east of long Pine? Also, is there a restaurant in Wood Lake?
Cynthya from Lewis,KS on 06/06/2020 08:54 AM
When we were through Wood Lake in 2017 there were no eating establishments there. We did camp in their city park, right next to the trail. Next little town down the way Johnstown had a really good little restaurant called L Bow Saloon. We only peddled through Bassett. Did not stop to eat but it seems like it was a had several businesses in that town.
Chuck Haney from Whitefish on 06/06/2020 12:33 PM
Rode it this morning. Yes, there is a detour east of Long Pine (just 2 miles).
No food in Wood Lake
Lynn M from Leigh on 05/25/2020 07:59 PM
FYI...there is no restaurant in Newport.
There IS a “pool hall” with snacks to purchase, so more of a vending situation.