5 Best Kayaking Destinations in Nebraska Lakes & Rivers

Niobrara River, Nebraska.

Niobrara River, Nebraska.

If you’ve never been to Nebraska you may picture it as a barren, treeless, boring prairie filled with, well, nothing. While certain areas of NE are just like that – boring as they are barren – other areas are strikingly beautiful and pleasant. This under appreciated state is actually a hidden gem in the kayaking world.

Nebraska is not the place to go for a fascinating cultural experience (no offense meant to residents of this fine state!), but its large variety of wilderness, lakes and rivers provide a lot of opportunities for peaceful kayak cruises, kayak fishing, family vacations, camping trips, hunting trips, and more.

I’ve spent lots of time in Nebraska, both as a child and as an adult with wife and kids in tow (I had to upgrade to a family tandem kayak) . During that time, I’ve spent a TON of time outdoors, exploring the Nebraska wilderness. In particular, my love for kayaking has led me to discover many great spots to kayak in Nebraska. Some are popular, some are hidden jewels that I was hesitant to share. Read on for more information!

River Kayaking in Nebraska

The Niobrara River

My all-time favorite spot in Nebraska is the Niobrara River. Flowing through a valley of the same name, the Niobrara offers excellent views of sandstone bluffs, waterfalls, and a surprising variety of conifers and hardwoods that line the shores. Part of the Niobrara is classified as a National Scenic River. Many stretches of the river are quite remote, although it flows through more than 400 miles of Nebraska land, so there are put-ins and take-outs close to towns for convenience.

The Niobrara is a relatively slow, easygoing river, so it’s perfect for family trips and beginners. Personally, I love going on multi-day camping trips along this river. The remote nature of the area makes for OUTSTANDING stargazing on clear nights. And outside of peak season (and popular areas) you won’t really encounter many fellow humans – which is perfect for those seeking an authentic nature experience.

A word of warning – during the summer, the Niobrara is filled to the brim with partiers – floating, drinking, and being loud. I have nothing against these youngin’s – after all, there’s not much else to do in the hot Nebraska summers than float and drink – but if you’re looking to bring your family, know that you won’t be alone during the summer.

Thankfully, the water level on the Niobrara is pretty consistent year round, so it’s not one of those highly limited season rivers. I like going in the spring and fall on multi-day trips with a lightweight inflatable yak, or even just 1 day cruises. If you’re looking for inspiration, I just read a cool story about a family floating the Niobrara. It’s also a good river for kayak fishing, given its slow-moving nature.

The Dismal River

Yep, it’s really called the Dismal River. This unfortunately named river is, or should I say was, one of my favorite spots to kayak. Honestly, I’m getting too old for it now. When I was younger, I used to love going out on the Dismal for a 2 or 3 day adventure. If you like peaceful and easy cruises, this river is not for you. If you like challenging, technical, and sometimes simply impassible rivers, this river is for you!

In my experience, kayaking the Dismal River in early spring is all but impossible. There are so many obstructions, challenging features, fast rapids, and strange currents that it’s just a constant challenge. I think that’s why I used to enjoy this river so much – it’s just so wild!

If you’d like to check out the Dismal River but don’t want to deal with so many obstructions, go later in the season, say mid-summer. By then, nature will have taken its course and removed many of the obstructions, but the river will still be a challenge. Regardless of the season, this is not a beginner-friendly river, and should not be taken lightly even by experienced paddlers.

Kayak Fishing in Nebraska Lakes

Carter Lake Nebraska

Carter Lake, Nebraska.

For fans of kayak fishing, or just angling in general, Nebraska has a lot to offer. They do have a lot of fishing regulations so be sure to read up before you head out.

Just about all the rivers in Nebraska are slow-flowing, so they provide decent to good kayak fishing conditions for your and your yak. But, as usual, the best kayak fishing is in the lakes. There are a ton of lakes in Nebraska – below are a few of my favorites.

Lake McConaughy

Known to the locals as “Big Mac”, Lake McConaughy is Nebraska’s largest reservoir at a whopping 30,500 acres. Located near the town of Ogallala, it’s a very accessible lake, which makes it pretty popular. For generations locals and vacationers alike have been flocking to this lake, primarily to fish for walleye.

For kayak fishing, here is a tip, the best time to go is in the spring. When the weather warms up, walleyes tend to flock to deeper waters, making them more difficult to catch from a kayak. But in the spring, most walleyes will hang out right along the shoreline, giving kayak fishers a clear advantage over those in boats.

Carter Lake

For those seeking more variety of fishing opportunities, Carter Lake is a great choice. This 300-acre lake, located just outside of Omaha, is home to a huge array of fish species. You will find common carp, catfish (both blue and channel), largemouth bass, freshwater drum, walleye, bullheads, and bluegill in these waters. It’s a smaller lake and a popular fishing destination, so be warned – it can get crowded on weekends and during peak fishing season.

Olive Creek Lake

Located in southeastern Nebraska, Olive Creek Lake is a small reservoir with a ton of fish! It has a good native population of walleye and catfish, and it has been restocked several times over the years. In 2001, it was restocked with bluegill, bass, redear sunfish (although I’ve yet to catch one!), and catfish. In 2003 and 2004 it was also restocked with crappie and walleye. The governments efforts, combined with an already strong native population, have made Olive Creek Lake one of the easiest places to real something in in the state of Nebraska.

These are just a few of my favorite spots. I love these destinations, but I’m always on the lookout for a new one! What are your favorite spots to kayak or fish in Nebraska?