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Fully supported Valentine to Norfolk 4 day bike Adventure Sept. 2020
North Fork Outfitting LLC from norfolk on 12/17/2019 12:38 PM
Hey folks, I want to promote a fully supported 200 mile 4 day Cowboy Trail Adventure ride in September of 2020. I am looking for volunteers from Neligh, O'Neil, and Long Pine or Bassett to use money provided to purchase food from local grocery and prepare it for the evening meal in the city park, along with local entertainment. I am planning to cap at 100 riders, who would either camp in the park or rent local hotel/motel rooms.(camping costs would be included in ride fees.) I will be calling a meeting of those interested in promoting your city in Norfolk in early January. Please get me your contact info if you would like to be included. Thanks!

North Fork Outfitting LLC from norfolk on 12/17/2019 12:41 PM
We will be donating a portion of the proceeds to help repair the flood damaged areas of the trail.

Trail Rider from Hampshire, IL on 01/02/2020 03:52 PM
I see that you are maybe planning a 4 day ride on the Cowboy Trail. I would love to ride with this group. I will keep watching for more information. What a great fund raising idea. I would gladly contribute.

North Fork Outfitting LLC from norfolk on 01/11/2020 10:45 AM
A bit more planning to do, but looks like the ride will be Labor Day weekend. $300 per person will include shuttle to Valentine, snack/water checkoints every 15-20 miles, 3 nights of camping with evening meal and local entertainment, town to town gear shuttle, 2 on trail support riders and 1 on highway, An event T-shirt and a local business "goody bag"! Please like us on Facebook for more info. We have a final planning meeting the first week in Feb., web site will be up to date and ready to start registering then.

North Fork Outfitting LLC from norfolk on 02/02/2020 01:03 PM

Panda Transportation in Valentine
Nancy Working from Golden CO on 12/29/2019 02:35 PM
Hoping to ride 100 miles of this trail from Valentine this spring. Where will you pick up along the trail and how much is the cost per person?

HEARTLAND FLOOD: The long road to recovery for Nebraska's Cowboy Trail
Ray (webmaster) on 12/07/2019 10:54 AM
Eight months after massive floods in Nebraska washed out chunks of one of the nation’s longest stretches of trail, crews are still trying to repair the scenic pathway used by hikers, bikers and horse riders

Source: WOWT

Full story:

Goathead thorns
Lee from DENHAM SPRINGS on 11/11/2019 10:13 AM
When is the WORST time for Goathead thorns? I'm planning a trip for the cowboy trail in late May or early June. Or should I plan for a different time of year?


Donna from Glasco on 11/11/2019 10:32 AM
Early spring before they firm up and dry out to reek their

Maynard from Lincoln on 12/05/2019 09:12 PM
The only place I found thorns was just west of Ainsworth, and it was only for 1/4 to 1/2 a mile. I bought thicker tires and put kevlar inserts in them. Never had a problem after that.

Alex from Lincoln on 12/06/2019 10:25 AM
I'll second "goatheads just west of Ainsworth". That's the only place I've ever had trouble getting flats with them on the entire trail.

Marna from Belle Fourche, SD on 08/24/2017 05:04 PM
My husband and I have ridden the Katy Trail End to End and the entire Mickelson Both Directions.

We are planning a trip to Nebraska to ride one the Cowboy Trail from Valentine to Arabia.

We heard that some sections of the Cowboy Trail are being illegally fenced by ranchers there. Does anyone know if this are we are going to be riding is fence free and in good repair?

Cynthya from Salina on 08/25/2017 01:35 AM
This trail is definitely not the Katy Trail. We just rode this section earlier this month. It is rougher than Katy. Some weedy areas and holes, lose gravel. None of it was fenced off (though we got that impression from the local police in Valentine). The big bridge you will ride across is spectacular and the scenery along this section beautiful. It is disappointing that there is opposition, however we did not run into any of that and we rode to Norfolk. The lack of maintenance in parts of the trail is disappointing also. They have a great treasure here and I hope that they will keep it up and folks will come to ride!

Marna from Belle Fourche, SD on 08/25/2017 11:30 AM

We knew it was not the Katy and or the Mickleson..... and I am so glad to have your input.

I bought the book on the Cowboy Trail, but could tell right away when I started reading it that it is PC Bull....especially after talking to others that have ridden the trail.

We are looking forward to starting this Trail and again, THANK YOU FOR YOUR REPLY!

Stephen McGregor from Hannibal, MO on 09/13/2017 11:38 AM
Everyone we met was friendly. And yes, a little maintenance would be good, just trying to keep some of the vegetation down, and the only place the trail was really bad for "mushy" conditions was from Bassett to Newport, that's where my friend Lisa took a tumble and cut her elbow and knee. There seemed to be a lot of "loose" granite gravel, and were later told by one of the local ranchers we were talking to that the ground is really "sub irrigated" from the aquifer, and there is little you can do about it. He (and correctly so) advised the ride from Stuart on would be different. One rancher's wife that was out walking with her dog on the trail in that area told us that water was only about 2 feet down.

But I think if they would brush out their four wheeler tracks a bit with something behind them when they spray that would help some. Most of the roughness we found was from fourwheeler tracks.

Marna from Belle Fourche, SD on 09/14/2017 09:30 AM
Thanks for your reply!
And again, I really enjoyed reading about your trip on the Cowboy....
Let us know when you come do the Mickelson....we will try to meet you for at least a short ride and perhaps a meal together.

Stephen McGregor from Hannibal, MO on 09/14/2017 02:46 PM
Hi Marna, yes, if we get to come back up that way next year and ride the Mickleson, we certainly will. Right now that is in our sights...

Marna from Belle Fourche, SD on 09/17/2017 11:20 AM
Sounds Great!
We are hoping to get back out on the Mickelson this week....although we got a LOT of recent rain. I do have a Blog about Mickelson if you were interested in seeing it....

We are also hoping/praying to get to ride some of the Katy Trail later this year with our Children and Grandchildren who live in St. Louis County. We started riding bicycle with our children as babies....and they are still riding bicycles and now riding with their children.

Still planning that Cowboy Trail Trip for this Fall...hoping this month or next.

Stephen McGregor from Hannibal, MO on 09/18/2017 08:31 AM
Hi Marna, I looked at your blog (I'll print it, I don't read well on the screen), but I like how you've done this. Lisa and I have ridden the Katy extensively (except the little piece from Clinton to Sedalia)... And we love it. The Cowboy Trail was lots more challenging, but it was a great time. If you come to Missouri (StL) let me know and we'll try and ride a bit with you.


Marna from Belle Fourche, SD on 09/18/2017 10:13 AM

IF you enjoyed the Cowboy Trail for the adventure, you might like the Ice Age Trail in WI. There is (or was) camping on or near the trail in some areas and WI IS LOVELY! We lived there 9 years and left kicking and screaming. ;-)

The Mickelson is not the Katy, but I bet you guys will LOVE IT!

Again. Thanks for your note.

ps.... I do not like reading 'on screen' either. I often print out pages to sit down and read.

Brad Hayward from Bolivar MO on 10/06/2017 11:03 AM
We just rode the trail from Atkinson to Valentine and back and we never noticed any illegal fencing going on. As for the section between Valentine and Arabia one should prepare for some pretty major washboarding for a few miles west of Arabia.

Stephen McGregor from Hannibal, MO on 10/13/2017 11:23 AM
Videos of our three day ride from Valentine to Inman (Glad to see the car still where we left it three days earlier in the last of the day 3 video). But you can get some ideas of trail conditions from each of our days. One WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE:

Kevin Meier from Huntsville, Alabama on 10/15/2019 01:41 PM
My wife are planning a trip that will start at the top of the Mickleson Trail and end at the eastern terminus of the Cowboy Trail. But we are unfamiliar with the dirt roads of South Dakota. (Which Google has us on from Edgemont to Oelrichs.) Are they traversable via bicycle or should we only stick to paved roads? Thanks!

Bassett to O Neill
Pepper from Grant NE on 10/14/2019 11:12 AM
My friend from S D just biked the trail from Bassett to O Neill ( we l picked up there from biking from Valentine a year ago). This year was a bad year for flooding I. This area, so we rescheduled our trip 3 times before we were able to meet up! We love to bike this trail, but this time parts were rough and one bridge was washed out. Just be careful and alert! We camped in the Stuart and Adkison City Parks! Great facilities in both Parks. Hope you will take the time to explore these towns along The Trail! We are planning to meet in O Neill and finish at Norfolk!!

Mickelson Trail
Ray [webmaster] on 02/26/2017 04:02 PM
I have created a new website for the Mickelson Trail in South Dakota: follows the same design and features as this website. It doesn't have photos yet, but the trip planning tools are all there. If you've ridden the Mickelson, I welcome any photos you'd like to send. And I welcome any feedback, whether you have ridden it or not.

Happy trails!

Paula DeWald from Fort Wayne indiana on 09/10/2019 09:20 AM
Hello Ray, I have used your web site for the Katy Trail and this year I used your web site for the Erie Canal. I am using the site for the Mickelson Trail this September, I think you do a great job. Keep up, the great work to help bicyclists. Your info is great for self guided trips. I take pictures of the lists of restaurants and bike shops, bathrooms on the trails for each town I want to check out and keep the, on my phone for quick reference as we bike. I sometimes use your info to take a picture of the eatery restaurant or beer place so I’m sure not to miss it. Thanks very much and happy planning! Paula ???????

Opedaler from northeast Nebraska on 09/12/2019 11:47 PM
My wife and I are heading up to ride the Mickelson Trail next week. I'm not sure of its current condition but look forward to the ride. Sorry but no pictures from my end.

Outside of a few sagged group rides we spend much of our riding time on trails and bike paths. Rails to Trails have become our "go to" choice of riding. They are scenic, fun and SAFE. Do I miss the continuous roar of traffic in my ear? Not one bit.

I was attending a meeting in O'Neill, Ne some years back when the speaker from Tampa, Fl asked why he was the only one on the (Cowboy) trail. He said back home this trail would be elbow-to-elbow. He said he hoped the few of you who use this trail know what a gold mine you have.

Cynthya from Salina on 09/13/2019 05:28 PM
We rode the Cowboy Trail in August of 2017. It was a great ride. As the gentleman from Florida said..not many riders on the trail. Lots of potential and we would love to be able to see it finished and open all the way to Chadron.

Jeff from Lincoln on 10/10/2019 02:53 PM
The website for the Cowboy is very helpful in preparation for our tandem ride from Valentine to Norfolk this month. We hope the snow doesn't accumulate and the temperatures rise quickly. Our goal was to see the leaves changing and spend some quiet time together. We rode the Mickelson Trail this summer and were impressed with the scenery, rail tunnels and the condition of the trail. That 17 mile climb out of Deadwood on a tandem is no joke. There is also a fee per day for riding the Mickelson Trail while the Cowboy is free. We also purchased a Michelson Trail guide book off their website and it was very helpful. I recently purchased the Cowboy Trail book and love the history and information. I would like to see some of the information you provide on your website to be included along with pictures, history and general information in one handy book that would pack nicely in a bike bag.

I want to thank you for all the work you have put into creating and maintaining the website! Excellent service and I am using it again today nailing down our trip details. Thanks again.

Trail closures and detour information
Dougt from Onawa, Ia on 07/30/2019 12:05 PM
Looking at doing the trail from Norfolk to Valentine and back in Sept. and hopefully will be getting some feedback so I can make plans.
The map shows the trail closed going through Long Pine, but I called the Bunkhouse and was told that there is a mile detour onto a gravel road to get around this. That's good news. There's an awesome bridge just outside of Long Pine and the Bunkhouse is decent lodging at a good price.
The issue is day one from Norfolk to O'Neill. Unless there are roads not shown on the map, it looks like there are about 40 miles of detours to 275 or 20 on an 80 mile day:
9 miles from Battle Creek to Meadow Grove on 275
13 miles on 275 from Tilden to Neligh
10 miles on 275 from Neligh to Clearwater
8 miles from Inman to O'Neill on 20.

Do I have this right? Has anyone found that these detours to pavement can be shortened on gravel? Thanks for any help!

Dougt from Onawa, Ia. on 08/26/2019 05:34 PM
Any trail updates from ANYONE this summer? What's the thorn situation out west? After lots of detours from Norfolk to O'Neill it's wide open to Valentine? Two of us going all the way west in Sept and then turning around and coming back(6 day trip). Any new information would be appreciated. Thanks!

Alex from Lincoln on 08/27/2019 02:14 PM
The map was updated a few weeks ago to show current closures. In the open sections there will be a few rough spots but it is passable currently.

Dougt from Onawa, Ia. on 08/27/2019 04:52 PM
Hey, thanks Alex!! I didn't realize that the map had been updated since I posted 7/30 and a lot of progress has been made! Looks like the 40 miles of detours from Norfolk to O'Neill that I'd expected are down to 20 or less. Good deal!

Carrie McGill from Omaha, NE on 09/03/2019 12:21 PM
I just met a lady riding across USA and rode the Cowboy Trail all the way from Valentine to Norfolk on Aug 31,2019 and she said very few miles were unrideable, but had easy access adjacent highway and no flat tires the whole way.

Dougt from Onawa, Ia on 09/03/2019 01:36 PM
Excellent update!! Thanks!!

DandyDon from Fairfield, Ohio on 09/04/2019 09:45 PM
My group of 6 bikepackers did the trail from Valentine to Norfolk in early August. Very minimal trail closures, well marked, easy transfer to highway, and no goathead thorns. Everyone super friendly in every town. In a few spots the trail is a bit soft with loose gravel, that will have you searching for the hardpack. (Firm surface for your bike tires to ride on.) Hope you enjoy your adventure.

Dougt from Onawa, Ia on 09/15/2019 06:32 PM
Last week was rough on the Cowboy Trail. Two of us took off from Norfolk on the 9th to ride to Valentine, then turned around and biked back to Norfolk, arriving on the 14th. We knew that we'd have to detour to the highway from Oakdale to Neligh, and from Neligh to Clearwater due to the spring floods. Evening of the 10th we spent the night in Long Pine and it rained all night. We were told Ainsworth got 5". We rode through water on the trail more times than I can count that day. Even 6" plus over the highway at one point. Some places the trail is higher than the highway but not always. Trail isn't as well maintained from O'Neill on, and you're riding on weeds/grass a lot, which makes it rougher than a cob. 4 flats from goathead thorns that day even with tire liners. 5 miles east of Valentine the trail was washed out and we walked bikes through the 2' or so washout completely dividing the trail. rained 6" or more in Valentine that night. The washout from the previous day was way deeper but we got through it with our loaded bikes(not a one-person task). Then rode through water more times than I can count to get to Long Pine. At one point we were riding through 8" water which got deeper and turned into a 3' deep hole that I rode into and went down. Adios cell phone....the current sucked it out of my jersey pocket. We made it into O'Neill the next night and figured that the excitement was over. Next day we again rode through a lot of water, came up on one bridge that had the approach almost entirely washed out(again, two of us working together got the bikes through). We marked that bridge as well as we could so no one came from the opposite direction and disappeared forever. Two more goathead thorn flats that afternoon. We were looking for adventure and we got it, but I would strongly suggest that everyone get a status update on the trail because all of that water out west was flowing east and doing a job on the trail. Good luck!

Alex from Lincoln on 09/17/2019 11:14 AM
Sorry to hear about the tough trip. Last week was rough all along the trail due to these heavy rains we keep getting causing additional flooding and damage. Please exercise caution if using the trail as hazards are appearing rapidly. We do our best to mark them. If you see hazards please take a picture, note gps location if possible or bridge #, and send me a an email at

Alex from Lincoln on 09/17/2019 11:14 AM
Sorry to hear about the tough trip. Last week was rough all along the trail due to these heavy rains we keep getting causing additional flooding and damage. Please exercise caution if using the trail as hazards are appearing rapidly. We do our best to mark them. If you see hazards please take a picture, note gps location if possible or bridge #, and send me a an email at

Biker4 from PAPILLION, NEBRASKA on 09/17/2019 02:34 PM
I wonder if Alex could explain how he handles these issues on the trail. Are they inspected by the state employees and how fast the address the issue.

Diane McCallum from Montrose on 10/03/2019 07:58 PM
There is a section of trail completely missing at the eight mile make east of Valentine. There is running water through the cut. The cut is approximately three feet wide and two to three feet deep.
Section coming into Ainsworth from the West is unrideable. It's a hike a bike.
Many other rain washout hike a bikes toward Long Pine.

Bear Bag
Tim from Cambridge on 09/22/2019 02:58 PM
Hey guys, Tim here.
I’m new to the bikepacking world and am in the process of packing my rig for a trip on either the Michelson Trail (Black Hills) for three days, or a trip on the Cowboy Trail. My lean is the Cowboy, as it seems less dangerous and is something I could probably do on my own.
My question is this: I own a bear can from previous backpacking trips to Rocky Mountain National Park and the Wind River Range in Wyoming. However, it is large and I do not have the equipment nor the desire to pack it on my bike.
I’m aware that there is no risk of bears on the Cowboy Trail, but is it necessary that I buy a bear bag to protect against other varmints and nuisances on the trail? Let’s just say I planned to camp every night. Do I need a bear bag, and if so, do I need to hang it?

Thank you in advance for any responses!

DandyDon from Fairfield, Ohio on 09/23/2019 09:07 AM
I bikepacked both the Michelson and the Cowboy trails on the same trip last August. I had no critter problem, I even kept all my food items inside my tent, well sealed in Ziploc baggies. Have done the same on the Katy, C&O, GAP, Natchez Trace, and other trails and had no problems.

Dougt from Onawa, Ia. on 09/23/2019 11:23 AM
You'll be camping in towns on the Cowboy Trail, and I'd be surprised if any critters bothered you, although a racoon can pop up anywhere. I did the Cowboy Trail out and back Sept 9-14 and there was water over the trail in a lot of spots and some trail washouts in several places and at a couple of bridges. I haven't seen any updates as to whether these have been repaired so be advised. I've done 160 miles on the Mickelson Trail a couple of years ago and it's beautiful and well-maintained. Better maintained than the Cowboy Trail by far. The Cowboy Trail is more of a "roughing-it adventure" than the Mickelson, in my view. Just my 2 cents worth.....

DakotaRose from South Dakota on 09/20/2019 11:47 AM
Be sure to just take a little spin down Main Street. Every little town has something interesting to offer or see.

DakotaRose from South Dakota on 09/20/2019 11:46 AM
We tent-camped at Mill Race Park just outside of town. New bathroom facilities with flush toilets, sink, and HOT showers. Grills and picnic tables. Storm shelters available in the park. A little busy with drive-through traffic until 10:00, or so,(traffic from the golf club) but otherwise quiet and peaceful. $7 fee fee for tents.

DakotaRose from South Dakota on 09/20/2019 11:41 AM
We tent-camped at the City Park in Stuart. Very nice location and well tended. Bathrooms with flush toilets and running water. Grills and picnic tables.

Best Trail Sections / Min Tire size
Brad from Denver on 08/01/2019 08:03 AM
I'm planning on doing a few out and back day rides on the trail in September, at least one near the Valentine end of the trail. I'm wondering if anyone has a suggestions on which are the nicest sections to ride? I'll do about 40 miles per day (20 out and then back).

I also need to know if 38x700c (1.5" wide) tires on my "urban" bike are going to be OK to ride the trail. If not, I can bring my mountain bike but for other rail trails the 38c tires have worked fine.

Alex from Lincoln on 09/05/2019 01:58 PM
The western section is really scenic between Valentine and Long Pine if you like open grasslands. 38c tire width will be alright, but I always recommend going with the widest tire that fits in your bike.

Riding through Nebraska
Dan from Evanston, IL on 05/22/2019 05:38 AM
I was planning on doing the Cowboy Trail mid-June (going from Denver to Lincoln), but I've changed plans due to the flooding and trail closures/uncertainty. Does anyone have any thoughts on doing the Lincoln Highway instead? I would still like to do a Nebraska ride, but I'm not sure about alternatives. Thank you.

Alex from Lincoln on 05/22/2019 08:22 AM
Hi Dan,

Here is a map for the current Cowboy Trail closures:

The trail is passable from Valentine to Norfolk but there are a number of detours needed to get around the closed sections.

If you are in search for some rail trail riding in NE, you can combine the Homestead and Chief Standing Bear Trail for some good mileage from Lincoln to Marysville, KS. It's a nice route with some neat historical stops along the way such as Homestead National Monument.

Or if you have the proper bike setup I'd highly recommend these routes listed on

I have not ridden the Lincoln Highway before but have driven it. The highway traffic in some areas could posed a problem as there is not a shoulder in many sections.

Check out NDOT's bike map with traffic counts to see if you're up for that.

Let me know if you have any more questions!


Biking Brian on 05/30/2019 07:10 AM
If you do end up doing Lincoln Hwy, I rode it back in 2016 across Nebraska up to Scotts Bluff then down to Denver and most of that is nice wide shoulders, easy for biking. I have some videos in this playlist of my ride if you want a better look. Looking forward to riding the Cowboy Trail up through the Black Hills in June this year. Safe Travels!


Lefty from Oklahoma City on 09/03/2019 08:53 AM
Is this mainly a bike trail? Also, can you camp anywhere?

Alex from Lincoln on 09/03/2019 09:40 AM
The cowboy trail is open to non-motorized uses. Most folks either hike or bike but it is also open for equestrian use (horses are to stay off the main trail surface except when crossing bridges. Camping is not allowed along the trail right of way but there are many towns along the trail that allow for camping in their city park.

Opedaler on 09/02/2019 02:23 AM
What does the future hold for the Cowboy trail? We love it and use the east end often. Currently we are stuck going from Norfolk to Battle Creek and back. There are some stretches that appear to be a long time from completion. Is it in the plan to repair all of it? And if so what timeline are we talking about?


Panda Transportation in Valentine
JO from COLORADO SPRINGS on 08/30/2019 06:00 PM
Not sure how your shuttle works. If I start at Valentine and bike to Norfolk would you be able to pick me and my bike up and take me back to Valentine? Is there a spot to park your car at Valentine?

Stay on the Trail and detours!!!
Sally Davis-Jackson from Long Pine on 08/06/2019 02:37 PM
Please Remember to stay on the trail and follow the detours when posted. Please don't cross fences without permission of the landowners. We love this trail and use it often.

New website features
Ray (webmaster) on 08/01/2019 10:35 PM
A couple new features in the website:

- Forum Search: now you can search the Forum, so you don't have to page through and scan through 20-something pages of discussions to find a topic. Near the top of the Forum page, look for the "Search the Cowboy Trail Forum" next to the magnifying glass icon.

- Export Planner to Excel: at the bottom of the Trip Planner page, you will find a link to to download the contents of your trip planner to an Excel file.

Happy trails!

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