Nebraska National Forest at Halsey


A lone mountain biker pedals up the sandhills.

There are two distinct areas of the Nebraska National Forest. One section is situated in the northwest panhandle south and west of Chadron, while the other is located near Halsey in central Nebraska. Both offer unique recreation opportunities in the wide open spaces of Nebraska.

The Halsey portion of the Nebraska National Forest is managed by the Bessey Ranger District. This unique area encompassed by the Nebraska Sandhills. The Sandhills region is one of the largest contiguous and least-disturbed prairies in all of the United States. The Sandhills are home to a large complement of wildlife: birds, bugs, reptiles, and mammals

Sites to visit include the Bessey Nursery, Scott Lookout Tower, the Middle Loup River, the Dismal River OHV Trail, campgrounds for horses and OHV users, the beautiful Bessey Recreation Area, and acres of wide open spaces.

At a Glance

Operational Hours: Campgrounds are open year-round. Water is not available in winter months.
Reservations:
  • About half the sites at the Bessey Recreational Complex may be reserved at recreation.gov up to a year in advance.  
  • Natick and Whitetail Campgrounds are first-come, first-served all year.
Area Amenities: Interpretive Site,Accessible,Tent camping,Camping trailer,Fee charged for some activities,Picnic tables,Toilets,Drinking water,Parking
Usage: Medium-Heavy
Busiest Season: Weekends, May through November
Restrictions:
  • Motorized travel restrictions apply. See the Motor Vehicle Map.
  • Certified noxious weed-free hay/feed is required on national forest lands.
Closest Towns: Halsey, NE; Thedford, NE
Operated By: Forest Service
Information Center: Bessey Ranger District
40637 River Loop Rd
Halsey, NE 69142
(308) 533-2257

General Information

Parking:

Parking in the main parking lot at the Bessey Recreation Complex costs $5.00 per day, or purchase an annual pass for $20 per year.

Parking at the Dismal and Powerline Trailheads is free.

Parking out in the forest is also free; however, vehicles must be parked within 30 feet of a road designated on the motor vehicle use map.


Recreation Map

Map showing recreational areas. Map Information

Activities

Mountain Biking

Mountain bikers have discovered the sandhills, which have miles of rolling terrain and long views. The mountain biking is best after a rain or in colder weather, when the sand is firm or frozen. The soft sand can be managed by using extra-fat tires.

Status: Open
Open Season: January-December
Fees: $5.00 parking fee in the main lot or annual pass for $20 / year
Usage: Light.
Best Season: Any time but very dry conditions

Areas for Mountain Biking at Nebraska National Forest at Halsey

Campground Camping

The Bessey Recreation Complex consists of 3 camping loops (Hardwood, Cedar, and River) and a group campground.  Natick Campground has no electric hookups, 20 horse corrals, and potable water.  Whitetail Campground is located on the Dismal River, has 10 horse corrals, is near ATV trails, and has potable water.  

Areas for Campground Camping at Nebraska National Forest at Halsey

RV Camping

Areas for RV Camping at Nebraska National Forest at Halsey

Group Camping

The group campground has 11 electrical hook-ups, a picnic shelter, a group fire ring, picnic tables, and a vault toilet nearby.

Fees: $125 / night
Reservation info: Reservations are advised weekends April through November. 
Usage: Use is heavy on weekends beginning in April and lasting through November.

Areas for Group Camping at Nebraska National Forest at Halsey

Dispersed Camping

Dispersed camping is allowed anywhere on the forest.  Vehicles, however, must camp within 300 feet of either side of a road designated on the motor vehicle use map. Always Leave No Trace.

Status: Open
Open Season: January-December
Fees: None
Reservation info: None
Usage: Generally light, except during rifle deer season when use is heavy.

Lake and Pond Fishing

Areas for Lake and Pond Fishing at Nebraska National Forest at Halsey

Ice Fishing

Day Hiking

The Scott Tower National Recreation Trail is a 3-mile trail that connects the main recreation complex with the Scott Lookout Tower.  The tower is open all year.  Hiking and backpacking is open anywhere on the forest. Always know before you go, plan ahead and prepare.

Difficulty Desc. Climbing the tower is tough if you are not in shape - take it slow.  
Status: Open
Fees: None, unless parking in the main lot which is $3.00 per day.
Usage: If you are afraid of heights, climbing the tower is probably not for you.
Hours of Operation: Trails and the tower are open all the time unless otherwise posted.

Areas for Day Hiking at Nebraska National Forest at Halsey

Backpacking

Horse Camping

Areas for Horse Camping at Nebraska National Forest at Halsey

Horse Riding

Areas for Horse Riding at Nebraska National Forest at Halsey

Big Game Hunting

Small Game Hunting

Game Bird/Waterfowl

Prairie grouse populations are on the rise. Here is one near a watering hole, captured on film by the biologist's wildlife camera.

Fees: None
Reservation info: Reservations to camp in the main campground can be made here.
Permit required?: Y
Permit: Information on hunting licenses is here
Usage: Moderate

Trapping

Viewing Wildlife

A spadefoot toad.The sandhills are home to a large complement of wildlife: birds, bugs, reptiles, and mammals. Here a biologist observes a spadefoot toad.

Fees: None

Areas for Viewing Wildlife at Nebraska National Forest at Halsey

Viewing Plants

OHV Camping

Areas for OHV Camping at Nebraska National Forest at Halsey

OHV Open Area Riding

Areas for OHV Open Area Riding at Nebraska National Forest at Halsey

OHV Trail Riding

The district has approximately 36 miles of trails for vehicles measuring 64 inches wide or less.

Status: Open
Open Season: January-December
Fees: $5.00 parking fee in the main lot; annual pass for $20 / year
Reservation info: None required.
Usage: The trails are narrow, only accommodating a single ATV in most places.  Traffic goes both directions, so use caution around blind curves. 

Areas for OHV Trail Riding at Nebraska National Forest at Halsey

Interpretive Areas

Areas for Interpretive Areas at Nebraska National Forest at Halsey

Picnicking

Areas for Picnicking at Nebraska National Forest at Halsey

Group Picnicking

The Bessey Picnic Day Use area is adjacent to the Cedar Loop Camping Area in the main campground.

Areas for Group Picnicking at Nebraska National Forest at Halsey

Boating - Non-Motorized

Amenities

Interpretive Site:
Camping trailer:
Picnic tables:
Tent camping:
Fee charged for some activities:
Toilets:
Parking:
Accessible:
Drinking water:

Recreation Areas

Recreation Activities

Location

 
  Latitude : 
41.9029

  Longitude : 
-100.2691