Summer Adventures Part 3: The Cowboy Trail, Nebraska

Summer Adventures Part 3: The Cowboy Trail, Nebraska

Posted by Aero Tech Designs on Feb 22nd 2018

The Cowboy Trail, Facts and Key Details

About the Cowboy Trail

Named after the Chicago and North Western's rail road line, the "Cowboy Line", this rail gave service into Wyoming.  However, in the early 90's the use of the Cowboy line had pretty much phased out, and the rail was abandoned.  Today, much of it has been converted to a biking and hiking trail that most ride reports label as "quiet and peaceful".  Current mileage for the trail is 195, but when completed, the Cowboy Trail will be the longest rail-trail in the USA at 321.

Trail Surface:

The trail is made up of crushed limestone and gravel. A lot of riders report a lot of "sandy spots" and a wider tire is recommended. Extra tubes are recommended because Sandburs can grow or be transplanted onto the trail which can puncture tires. 

Signature Trail Features:

Hands down, the best features of this trail is its bridges.  Crossing the Niobrara River, the former rail bridge spans a quarter mile and is 148 feet high.  Another scenic bridge is at Long Pine around mile 141. This bridge is 595 feet long and 145 feet high.

The beautiful scenic views and wildlife are another key feature. Bald eagles can be seen flying around the Elkhorn River.  Plenty of song birds and game birds can be spotted flying around the tall grass fields. 

The towns you'll pass offer a look into the past.  Building from the 1800's are still standing and some have been restored. These buildings tell a story of the past.  The old railroad stations and rail businesses are still standing to show visitors how life was like back then.  An old grist-mill is still there and open to the public.

Trail Towns

  • Norfolk
  • Battle Creek - 10.6
  • Meadow Grove - 18.3
  • Tilden - 23.9
  • Oakdale - 31.2
  • Neligh - 36.5
  • Clearwater - 45.8
  • Ewing - 58.1
  • Inman - 71.7
  • O'Neill - 81.3
  • Emmet - 89
  • Atkinson - 99.1
  • Stuart 109
  • Newport - 119.9
  • Bassett - 131.9
  • Long Pine - 141
  • Ainsworth - 150.3
  • Johnstown - 160.8
  • Wood Lake - 171.8
  • Arabia - 181.8
  • Valentine - 195

Camping is available in most towns except: Oakdale, Clearwater, Long Pine, and Johnstown


Starting in Norfolk and heading towards Valentine will present riders with a slight uphill grade. Starting at 1522 ft the elevation climbs to 2723 ft in 181 miles.  The low elevation change is thanks to the engineers from when the railroad was designed and built.  Their goal was 2% grade or less for the locomotives back then.

Nebraska Climate Stats:

  • Two separate climate zones
    • Eastern half: Humid Continental Climate
    • Western half: Semi-Arid Climate
  • Avg annual precipitation is greater in the west at 31.5" and 13.8" in the east
  • Temperature is even across the state: hot summers cold winters
  • Nebraska is located in "tornado alley"
    • Tornadoes and thunderstorms are most likely in spring and summer

Other Fun Things to Do On Your Trip:

Why just bike over the Niobrara River when you can float down it.  Little Outlaw offers supported float trips. You can rent a kayak, tube, or canoe for your trip. If you plan on doing a float trip down the Niobrara, plan on spending around 4 to 5 hours.  

While you're in the around the town of Niobrara, check out the state park.  This park offers great hiking trails.  Cabins are available for renting.  Other activities you can do at the Niobrara State Park include horseback riding, fishing, swimming, etc. For more information, check out Nebraska Game and Parks.

What to bring:

ATD Tempo 2.0 Gloves

Multi-Sport Short

Wind Breaker Jacket

Arm Sleeves For Sunblock

Top Shelf Short

Baggy MTB