Located in the southeast corner of Nebraska along a bend in the Missouri River, Indian Cave State Park is the place to be in fall. The park’s 3,000 plus acres of rolling, rugged terrain are covered by a dense hardwood forest that lights up in an array of colors each autumn.
Numerous, scenic campsites are scattered throughout the park, many with electrical hook-ups for RVs. Showers, modern restrooms, and laundry facilities are available. Camping is allowed year round.
The park is named for the large cave at the extreme east end of the park. Actually, it’s not a cave in the traditional sense of the word but rather more of an overhang. It’s believed to have been used for thousands of years by native peoples as both a shelter and a gathering place.
Prehistoric petroglyphs can still be seen in some places on the cave’s walls. Unfortunately, many of these Native American drawings have been obscured or destroyed by vandals who have written over them. The cave can be accessed by a wooden boardwalk that extends along its length.
My wife and I, along with our dogs, visited Indian Cave last October. Unfortunately, it was raining that day so we were unable to take Phantom and Komet hiking. The dogs reluctantly stayed in the car while we explored the cave, partially protected from the rain by its slight overhang.
Down below and across the parking lot, the mighty Missouri was nearly overflowing its banks. Even in the rain, the park was stunning decked out in its beautiful fall colors.
Numerous campsites were also decked out with spooky decorations for trick-or-treaters. Indian Cave hosts a variety of activities in the fall, many of which culminate around Halloween.
On Saturday, September 28, and Sunday, September 29, the park will host a competitive horse trail ride sponsored by NECTRA, the Nebraska Endurance and Competitive Trail Ride Association. For details about this event, call (402) 489-1502.
On Friday, October 11 from 6 pm to 8 pm, the park will hold its annual Trick-or-Treat at the Town event. Children can go trick-or-treating along a decorated trail through the old town of St. Deroin - an abandoned ghost town on the north edge of the park.
Numerous activities are planned for Saturday, October19. From 10 am to 4 pm, the Jack-O-Lantern Junk and Craft Market will be open with vendors selling everything imaginable.
At 11 am, the two-mile Pink Pumpkin Walk fundraiser to fight cancer begins. There will also be a raffle and music.
From 2:30 pm until 4 pm children can Trick-or-Treat by the Buses. This free event is sponsored by the Buskatiers, a group of people who display their vintage VW busses. Club members will hand out candy and popcorn to trick-or-treaters.
On October 12, 18, 19, 25, and 26 the park will hold its 24th Annual Haunted Hollow kids event. There will be pumpkin rolling, crafts, face painting, and food. Haunted hayrack rides will be available for $9 for adults, $7 for children ages 4 through 12, and free for kids 3 and under. Advance tickets can be purchased beginning October 1 by calling the park office at 402-883-2575.
There will also be a Halloween campsite decorating contest held each Saturday on October 12, 19, and 26. Winners will be posted the next day at the park entrance booth.
The Pioneer Longrifle Rendezvous club will hold demonstrations on the first full weekends of October and November. Kid-friendly crafts will be available at the park museum on weekends and holidays in September and October. Trail rides costing $25 per person (must be 6 or older) will be held on weekends and holidays in October and November. Tickets can be purchased at the entrance booth prior to the ride.
The fun doesn’t stop once winter arrives, either. On December 14, there will be a Christmas Bird Count, and on January 1 there will be a First Day Hike through the park.
While all these activities are nice, Indian Cave State Park is simply one of the prettiest places in all of Nebraska to visit during autumn. However, check to make sure the park is open and the cave is accessible before planning a trip. With all the moisture and flooding our state has received this year, conditions are likely to change weekly if not daily.
For more information and current conditions, call park headquarters at 402-883-2575 or visit outdoornebraska.gov/indiancave/. And don’t forget your park permit.
Jarrod Spilger writes an outdoors for The Independent.