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Looking for assistance - places to camp and eat
Paul from Lincoln, NE on 05/24/2012 07:51 PM
We have a group of 7 guys head from Valentine to Norfolk in about a week. Reading the posts on here, it would all suggest trail conditions are not the best. We are planning on camping in Valentine, then Bassett one night and then Ewing. Any suggestions on where to camp for those areas. Also looking for good places to eat. And of course, any input on trail conidtions is always helpful.

Anonymous on 05/30/2012 12:15 PM
We are going June 21, will you post updates when you finish?

Rob from Lincoln on 05/30/2012 01:35 PM
I got back from a ride from Stuart to Valentine and back a couple weeks ago. Camped only in Valentine.
Highly recommend Riverside Campground and RV Park ( We stayed in a cabin. $25 a night per person. Had a fridge, microwave, firepit, clean showers and bathrooms. The owner even let us borrow his truck to head to Valentine, which is 2 miles away, for groceries and beer.

Ainsworth has several options from Subway to Diners. That should put you from Valentine around lunchtime. Wood Lake has a cafe that's supposed to be pretty good. That's the only place to stop for food or water between Valentine and Ainsworth as Arabia is not a town but a ranch and Johnstown has nothing to offer.

Bassett is decent sized and a good place to stop for groceries. They have gas station also but I don't remember much for restaurants.

Highway is recommended from Valentine to Johnstown. Even all the way to Bassett. North and south of Ainsworth provided thorns on the trail both ways. The trail from Bassett to Stuart isn't bad. A couple hickups but worth checking out.

Enjoy your trip.

Dave from Lincoln on 05/31/2012 01:56 PM
Rob, thanks for the report.

We're (BoyScout Troop) are leaving Valentine heading East on Saturday morning (to Norfolk). We hope to stay on the trail as much as we can but may opt for Highway 20. We're bring spare tubes and lots of slime. Mountain Bikes and 1 hyrid (no road bikes)

Rob from Lincoln on 06/01/2012 10:50 AM
Hi Dave,
If you're mountain bikes have at least a front shock, the trails might not be too bad for you guys. I had a cross bike with no suspension so it was rough in some spots. Spare tubes and slime will definitely help.

Trail Conditions
Rob from Lincoln on 05/08/2012 04:46 PM
We're taking a ride from Atkinson to Valentine and back next Friday. Can anyone comment on the trail conditions on that stretch?

Abby from Fort Collins,CO on 05/15/2012 03:47 PM
Did you hear anything back? We aren't riding until June but would like to see more discussion on the forum!

David @Colorado from Denver on 05/16/2012 10:27 PM
I delayed a planned Cowboy Trail trip for another year - going to do the Allegheny, C&O Canal Trail instead. No progress on trail repairs, no progress on trail extension, and poor reports on trail maintenance.

Rob from Lincoln on 05/21/2012 11:51 AM
Hi Abby,
Just got back from the ride. We started in Stuart and rode to Valentine. 85 miles each way. The limestone is a little thick due to minimal traffic but not unrideable by any means, however, there has been some cattle and horse traffic so some of the stretches were bumpy for around 100 yards in a few spots. One stretch just north of Johnstown was so bad I had to walk my bike for about a 1/4 of a mile because the trail was so rough. I jumped on highway 20 after that all the way to Valentine. A friend continued on the trail and said he came across a lot of washboards up to around 6 miles south of Valentine.

On the way back I took highway 20 until Basset and was much better. Minimal hills for a few miles but flat the rest with good shoulders. You could take highway 20 all the way to O'Neill with minimal hills and still have a good ride, or hop on the trail for a change of pace, but highway seemed faster and more comfortable in the long run. We had several flats primarily south and north of Ainsworth with thorns and one or two on the rest of the trail also, but highway we had no flats.

Regardless, the scenery was great and we'll definitely be doing it again next year. Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any other questions.

Anonymous on 05/22/2012 10:19 AM
Thanks so much! It helps a lot. We'll be traveling with 2 kids, the 11year old will ride her own bike (she is very experienced but still only 11!!) and 8 yr old on a tandem. How was the traffic on 20? We've decided to take a car as a sag since we are also bringing our dog (and heaven forbid she should get hot :)). So I figure we can always shuttle the kids past a bad part. Just my husband and I are planning to do the GAP/C&O the end of September.

Anonymous on 05/22/2012 03:52 PM
The traffic on 20 was fairly busy. Quite a few semis. Not sure I'd take a child on the shoulder. I would stick to the trail. I would say about 70% of the trail was parallel with highway 20 so getting off the highway to the trail was pretty easy. Where were you going to start and finish?

Anonymous on 05/23/2012 10:16 PM
We are going to start in Valentine and finish around Neligh or wherever we end up. We are going to leave a car at the police station there. Since we are taking a sag wagon this time it seems pretty easy. I've never done a ride with any kind of support. This will probably lead to overpacking. :) Thanks for the traffic info. She was a trooper last year riding with logging trucks in Idaho but it took a few years off my life!!!

Current Trail Conditions and Re-opening
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission from Lincoln, Nebraska on 06/03/2011 10:33 AM
Thanks everyone for your interest in the Cowboy Trail. Here at Game and Parks Commission, we just learned this site existed so sorry for the delay on getting responses back about current trail conditions.

The following press release is set to go out today and should answer most of the inquiries. If any questions still exist, feel free to shoot an email directly over or post a follow up here. Thanks again.

Cowboy Trail Re-Opened from Norfolk to Valentine!
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission recently re-opened 68 miles of the Cowboy Trail, which was damaged in the June 2010 flood of the Elkhorn River. Approximately 72 miles of trail, from Norfolk to O’Neill, were closed and multiple bridges damaged from the event. Three areas of the trail remain closed due to safety concerns, but alternate routes have been designated around those segments. The alternate routes take users on street, so the rules of the road apply. Cyclists, equestrians and pedestrians should stay alert when using the designated alternate routes. The map of the trail, including the alternate routes may be found at: Users may encounter rough surfacing in some locations, but the trail is still passable. Those areas of rough surfacing have been identified on the map.

A new bridge is being designed to replace the old Railroad Bridge along with a wash out of the trail near Norfolk and is expected to be completed by spring of 2012. Trail surfacing repair to 11.5 miles of trail from Norfolk to Neligh will occur by the end of fall of 2011. An additional 12 miles of trail from Neligh to O’Neill and replacement of a bridge near Ewing are slated to be completed by fall of 2012. Funding for these projects will be from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Recreational Trails Program of the Federal Highway Administration and the Cowboy Trail Maintenance Cash Fund from Nebraska Game and Parks Commission.
Pat from Lincoln, Ne on 04/02/2012 05:56 PM
It is April 2012 and I didn't see any evidence of "trail surfacing repair" on the trail between Norfolk and Oakdale. The trail is not crushed limestone and is very soft and looks like repairs were done with sand. Tough cycling. There is damage from farm and livestock use. On the trail website nothing is noted about the bridge not being completed and no explanation of where to access the trail.
It would have been so lovely to have the expected "Rails to Trails" surface that I find on the Katy, the East Mopac, the Homestead, Wabash, Jamaica and other Rails to Trails in surrounding states.
Is there a volunteer group that could help maintain the trail?

Observations about the Trail and this Website
Barry from Minneapolis on 06/28/2011 05:11 PM
We tried to do the trail starting June 19 in Valentine, but after 2 days called it because of pouring rain, hail and tornado warnings. These things happen, so that's not a gripe about the trail. We made it about 80 miles before being rained out.

But the trail, at least the parts we were on, has "issues". I have ridden hundreds of miles of "rails to trails" in the last few years. Crushed limestone is a good surface material for these kinds of trails, even in wet weather. But the Cowboy trail is not crushed limestone - it is small gravel (not "crushed gravel" as stated on this site)that, especially when wet, your wheels sink in and it feels like you're riding in 2 inches of peanut butter. We were doing 7mph on the trail and, when we switched to the road, were doing 13 mph - that's just not an acceptable variation - we quickly made the trip a road trip, which was fine, but not why we came, we wanted a trail ride. Even when dry, there was a significant speed loss on the trail, way more than with limestone. I think this was a pretty significant design flaw when they built this trail.

The trail is supposed to be off limits to vehicles, but at least on the 80 miles we covered, there were some adjacent ranchers that apparently used the trail like farm roads, which created a lot of ruts and washboarding in the trail, again we had to switch to the road to move at more than a couple of mph.

The Cowboy Trail is through pretty country but the part we were on was almost entirely right next to the highway, useful since we ended up riding most of the way on the highway, but it would have been nice to have the trail farther away on occasion.

Finally, a comment about this site. It fails to note a lot of facilities along the trail. Ainsworth in particular shows no facilities on this site, but it is one of the larger towns on the Trail, with several large chain motels and a number of restaurants, bars and other facilities. I'm not sure if this

Pat from Lincoln, Ne on 04/02/2012 05:46 PM
I agree with your write up of your ride last June. I rode from Norfolk to Oakdale in March and was so disappointed in the trail. Yes, not limestone and lots of sand. I was creeping along at 7 miles an hour on my Fargo with 2.2 tires. Lots of livestock and tire tracks on the trail. I was hoping the trail was in better shape around Valentine and LongPine but it doesn't sound like it.

Fees, Permits?
Tom from Mammoth Hot Springs, WY on 02/21/2012 12:27 AM
Are there any fees or permits needed to use the Cowboy Trail?

Russ from Indiana on 04/01/2012 11:50 PM
No fees or permits to ride the trail. If you plan on camping, you might have fees. Neligh has a $5 fee for the city park but Battle Creek has no fee for their park. You can ask at other places.

Trail condition
Bike Guy from Yankton,SD on 08/17/2011 03:45 PM
Rode from Battle Creek to Tilden yesterday(8-16-11)Trail condition is terrible. sand 3" deep many places,deep holes and overall not a good experience.

Russ from Indiana on 08/19/2011 11:43 PM
Thanks for the comment on the trail. I heard the bridge was out between Norfolk and Battle Creek. My plans were to ride the trail in late September pulling a Burley Bugger. Any suggestions?

Pat from Lincoln, Ne on 03/31/2012 04:08 PM
Yes, from Battle Creek to Tilden still as of 3/24/12 pretty rough trail with sand and holes. But still fun and a hard workout. :) The bridge is also still out between Norfolk and Battle Creek. I wandered around for quite a while and did find the way back to the trail. I should have asked someone before starting the ride. It is a short ride on the paved road to a place where I could access the trail. Rough trail but a good ride.

Peppermill Steakhouse in Valentine
RNJ from Valentine, NE on 01/17/2012 06:15 PM
The Peppermill is now known as the Peppermill Restaurant and E.K. Valentine Lounge. It has moved to 502 East Highway 20 in Valentine.


Anonymous on 11/10/2011 12:58 PM
Noticed some errors on this website in regards to the attractions in O'Neill:
Yum Yum Chinese doesnt exist in O'Neill (I have lived here almost all my life and never even heard of that restaurant.) & unfortunatly the Lil Irish Billiards closed down. Sun Mart is now called Super Foods...just so ya know.

Russ from Indiana on 11/15/2011 12:01 AM
You're correct about things on the trail. The state of Nebraska needs to have an intern or somebody update this website or another site. While I only went to Neleigh, the Fountain Cafe has been closed for five years. Daddy's Cafe is open but not listed. Tilly's convenience store in Battle Creek has an ATM machine but tha'ts not listed. There's a need to attract more riders and tourists but the updated information is not there. Great people. I think I'll be back next year and ride more.

Russ from Indiana on 11/05/2011 12:14 AM
Rode the Cowboy trail for two days from Battle Creek to Neiligh and back. Camped at the City park in Battle Creek and Neleigh in late September. Great places. If the restrooms aren't open in Battle Creek, a person might go to the Police Department at City Hall and ask them to unlock them. Also, Tilly's convenience store has an ATM when needed. Temps at night were in the 30s but had a good time.

Wood Lake
Bob from Bellevue,NE on 10/04/2011 06:52 PM
It's not listed but there is a wonderful campground here right on the trail! There is a modern bathroom and electricity. Sign the guest book and leave a donation. I spent a very nice evening there.

Ted from Grand Island,Ne on 06/20/2011 06:26 AM
I have never done a trail this long and also recently had my bike stolen. So I plan on getting a new bike and all new packs for it. I was wondering what kind of gear I would need for a ride from Norfolk to Valentine and back and also what kind of packs I would need to store it all. I plan on taking no more than 9 days riding. I plan on camping in the city parks. So like food, water, camping stuff, firstaid..etc. If someone could give me a rough list of the easiest/smallest stuff I could use for the trip I would appreciate it.

Cowboy Trail trip, the whole story
Jimmy P from Omaha on 06/13/2011 10:49 PM
Cowboy Trail, June 9 – 11, 2011
Started out at the Trailhead in Norfolk, just south of Hwy 275 on Hwy 81 on June 9 at about 10:00 am. I rode a Giant Iguana mountain bike. I have never ridden more than 30 miles in a day, but I have been riding regularly 2-3 times a week since March. My Dad rode a Raleigh touring bike. He is an experienced commuter and road cyclist and had finished BRAN in 2010. Our Logistician (my grandfather) pulled a camper to each of our planned overnight stops, and we ended each day with a few stories and a hot meal.

Temperature at the start was 55-F, winds out of the northwest at about 5-10 mph. Overcast skies with rain showers and thunderstorms scattered in the area.

The trail closure just west of Norfolk was well-marked, and the detour was a paved county road.

Stopped in Battle Creek as the first BRAN riders were heading in. Waited out a thunderstorm at a filling station over coffee and snack cakes. Continued back on the trail as the rain eased and the lightning stopped. Despite the moderate rain, the trail was firm and comfortable.

Stopped for lunch at the Sportsman’s Bar west of Meadow Grove. Go for the lunch buffet. This stop required less than 1 mile on Hwy 275 out of Meadow Grove.

After lunch, we continued past Tilden and Oakdale on the trail. Our water supply was adequate, so we did not look for water at either town.

Stopped for water at the Neligh City Park. The trail west of Neligh was becoming increasingly “soft,” as we were preceded by heavier rains than we saw in Battle Creek. High amounts of gravel and a soft base resulted in enough rutting to put us to work. Don't worry, we didn't hurt the trail any.

The trail closure east of Clearwater was not marked. It was evident by the lack of trail. It became completely washed out…and we could see the bridge out a couple hundred yards ahead. The closest detour was an unimproved county road heading north about 250 yards to Hwy 275. It was

Jimmy P from Omaha on 06/13/2011 10:51 PM
It was 1-3 inches of thick mud, which we tried unsuccessfully to ride. My bike was so full of mud that we were forced to ride Hwy 275 into Clearwater and wash off at a filling station (the hose out back). Miserable but pretty fun at the same time.

The rain increased to a heavy downpour, so we continued on Hwy 275 to Ewing. This was our first overnight stop, and we camped at the City Park (water, electric and dump station, no restrooms). We had planned to make 10 mph on the trail, but arrived over an hour past schedule due to the weather and trail conditions. Our logistician had the camper heated and the grill going which was a welcome sight.

June 10.
Overnight was cloudy and cool, but no rain. At dawn, the temperature was about 50o F with overcast skies, winds still northwest at about 5 mph. We decided to rejoin the trail, heading out at 7:15 am, but quickly found it too soft to ride, and continued west on Hwy 275 about 3 miles west of Ewing.

We passed Inman on the highway without needing water or supplies.

We stopped for coffee and snacks in O’Neill. The cloud ceiling began to scatter out, but the highway shoulders still held water so we stayed off the trail until Atkinson. We passed Emmet without stopping there because it was a bit south of the highway, as was the trail.

In Atkinson, we ate lunch at a restaurant downtown, I don’t remember the name, although “Hunter’s Welcome” was their claim. Pretty decent burgers.

Weather now was partly cloudy and the temperature was approaching 70oF, so we rejoined the trail in hopes that it had firmed up throughout the morning.

From Atkinson to Bassett, the trail was in good condition. Though at times, the gravel was deep enough to cause steering problems (a runner’s delight), it was still very good overall. We stopped at the City Park in Stuart for water, though it was on the north side of town, still not too far a ride.

Stopped for water at Grandma’s Park in Newport:

Jimmy P from Omaha on 06/13/2011 10:51 PM
: A small park which we didn’t even notice until a local resident pointed it out, and features only water and a picnic table. The Spring Valley Park was south of town along Hwy 20, which we were not inclined to visit on account of its distance from the trail.

Stopped for the night at the City Park in Bassett. Now, the “Cowboy Trail Park” in downtown Bassett is nothing more than an empty lot with a water pump and camper electricity behind a warehouse near the creamery. People in town didn’t even know about it. It is close to the trail, but you’d miss it if you didn’t know it was there. The City Park, however, was on the south end of town along the highway, and had water, restrooms and showers available. No dump station for campers.

June 11.
Overcast skies, temperature about 50o F, calm winds. The trail from Bassett to Ainsworth was the best condition for cycling along the entire trail. Long Pine Creek was beautiful. Ainsworth to Johnstown, rough trail (from livestock movement) forced us to ride considerably slower, and we eventually picked up the highway into Johnstown. The City Park had water and a table, which was convenient while I fixed a flat.

To make up time from the flat, and allow us to sit down for lunch at Wood Lake, we continued on Hwy 20 into Wood Lake. Lunch at the Wood Lake Cafe (delicious), fixed another flat. Could have been sand burrs, I don’t know, and I haven’t looked closely yet at the tubes to see. We picked up the trail out of Wood Lake on principle, and continued toward Valentine. We had stiff winds from the southeast at 20 mph, which helped our mood. We knew there would not be water at Arabia, so we carried another 2 quarts at the day’s start in preparation for the Wood Lake to Valentine leg.

Jimmy P from Omaha on 06/13/2011 10:52 PM
Because we came to ride the Cowboy Trail, not the highway which is sometimes near the Cowboy Trail, we tolerated very rough trail conditions toward Valentine, especially west of the Arabia Ranch. Very heavy ranch use, including large numbers of horses, cattle, pickups and ATVs, had damaged the trail. Some heavy equipment had rippled the surface at points and displaced the gravel into rows and mounds. The posts which blocked vehicle traffic were removed on portions of the trail east of Valentine, and we paid dearly for the poor conditions, in terms of slow travel and high pain. Our reward was the most beautiful tour of the Sandhills one could hope for, with sights the highway cannot reveal. Wildlife was prevalent with marshy conditions along the trailside, about every kind animal that lives in the Sandhills was close by.

195 miles in 3 days. Maybe next time we’ll take 4 days.

Trail near Wood Lake
a from a on 03/12/2011 10:13 PM
From past to current date, 3/12/2011 seven or more dead livestock (cattle and goats) in various states of decay are next to the trail at this date, near an adjacent livestock operation within the city limits. This is just west of main street before the old rail road bridge on the north side of trail near and around hay bales and pens within 15 or so feet of the trail.

Jimmy P from Omaha on 06/13/2011 10:38 PM
Those creatures were not present on 6/11/2011.

Super 8 Motel in O'Neill
Jason from Papillion, NE on 06/12/2011 12:34 PM
Stayed here one night in June 2011. No laundry room and hot tub was closed. Didn't have a reservation so I got a smelly smoking room. Otherwise an okay hotel. Next to a truck stop.

Stuart Village Inn in Stuart
Jason from Papillion, NE on 06/12/2011 12:32 PM
Stayed here one night in June 2011. Adequate hotel room. Checked in and out at the convenience store next door.

Norfolk to Valentine
Dave from Lincoln on 06/09/2011 12:32 PM
I plan to start Monday from Norfolk.. Did the trail about three years ago and had a great time. Pulling a BOB trailer....just like the pioneers only alittle faster. Camping in city parks. Where's a good place in Norfolk to park my truck for the week?

Riding the trail
Craig Hamnett from Manchester, UK on 06/08/2011 12:02 AM
Currently shacked up/escaping the heat in Norfolk and I'm going to be riding the trail over the next 2 days, stopping at O'Neill in between.

I shall endevour to report back on the trails current condition once I get to Valentine.

I'm doing this as part of my ride across America - feel free to join me if you fancy doing some riding!


volunteer help
Gary Redinger from Caledonia, Missouri on 06/05/2011 10:52 AM
From the amount of trail damage it sounds like you should form a volunteer organization like the Ozark Trail assn.
and the Highland trail assn.
to help build and maintain your Nebraska trails.

Steve Iskovitz from Pittsburgh on 05/30/2011 10:31 PM
Hey, where is everyone? I'm thinking of riding the trail later in June. Are there any changes I should know about? Has there been much traffic on it lately, or have people been hiding out from all the storms?

trail condition
jerry from fremont on 04/08/2011 09:08 AM
Can anyone tell me if the trail is rideable from norfollk to o'neill?

Sayre from Bensalem, PA on 05/19/2011 09:53 PM
My sister lives in Norfolk and bikes the trail regularly but there is a bridge that was washed out a few miles out of Norfolk on the way to O'Neill which will probably cause you some problems. Not sure why they don't have anything posted about this on the website...

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