Nebraska, Cowboy Trail

Cowboy Trail
Location: Nearly state wide
State: Nebraska
Length: 1.5 mile loop
Surface: Crushed Rock/Natural, asphalt
Trail type: Bike, hiking
Difficulty: Easy

Trail Information:

The 19th century’s great western migration laced Nebraska with travel corridors — the Oregon-California Trail, the Pony Express bridge route, the Mormon Trail.

The longest bridge on the Cowboy Trail, near Valentine Nebraska

Most have nearly vanished; their remaining traces are ruts crossing pastures, historical road signs that mark would-be intersections with modern highways, and a few restored way stations.

The routes that have endured were laid with rails and connected population and resource centers. The Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Santa Fe lines, traced by parallel highways, remain sturdy bones in the nation’s transportation network.

Somewhere between the almost gone and the commercially robust routes lies the Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail — a historical corridor in transition.

Once part of the Chicago & North Western railroad’s Cowboy Line, the route covers 321 miles across northern Nebraska from Norfolk to Chadron. From east to west, the trail passes through the farmland of the Elkhorn River valley, into Plains ranchland, across the scenic Niobrara River valley, along the northern Sandhills and to the edge of the Pine Ridge.

The Cowboy Trail is the longest rail-to-trail conversion in progress in the United States, which includes a 148-foot high bridge over the Niobrara River at Valentine.


A five-mile section in Valentine features a Trailhead Park, complete with a windmill and small pond, which is located on the corner of First and Main streets. The surface of the trail through the city is paved. The longest bridge on the Cowboy Trail is on the east end of this section. It is 1/4 of a mile long and is 170 feet in the air.

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