Floating with Your Own Gear

A canoer sitting on a canoe with a canyon wall to the left and river to the right. The sky is blue.
A canoer taking a break along the canyon walls at Fort Niobrara.

NPS Photo

The Niobrara River is open year-round for the enjoyment of the people. A self-guided float on your own equipment can be a fun way to explore what the Niobrara River is best known for!

Floaters need their own vessels, transportation to and from the river, and safety equipment. Tubes, canoes, and kayaks are the most commonly used personal vessels used on the Niobrara. Stand-Up Paddle Boards (SUP's) are becoming much more common on the river too!

Self-guided floaters typically use public-access landings on the river to avoid paying fees to use outfitters private landings. Most land along the Niobrara River is privately owned, so here is the list of public access landings that we recommend:

Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge: Fort Niobrara Launch Site, near Cornell Bridge.

  • $1.00 launching fee per person at this location, collected by Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge. There is a fee box located at the information board that has fee envelopes and wristbands. It is important to register each floater in case of emergencies.

  • Landing #6 is designated for self-guided floaters with their own equipment.

  • If you need handicap access, there is a second launch area downstream of the bridge on the Burr Oak Road. Fill out your envelope prior to heading to the landing.

  • Parking is free at the Cornell Bridge Launch Site and at the Handicap Access.

  • While floating through the Refuge be aware of their rules and regulations.

  • During the summer months the bison have been moved to the south side of the river. The north side of the Niobrara River is a wilderness area, while floating through the Refuge take time to get off the river and explore the land. You might find hidden waterfalls along the banks or find that perfect spot for a wonderful picture of the river valley.

Kayaks resting on the shore of the river.
The rivers gentle flow allows floaters to pull off and take breaks or go on adventures.

NPS Photo

Berry Bridge: Public Access Right of Way

  • There are 8 feet of free public river access on the Northeast embankment of Berry Bridge. The 8 feet of public access are surrounded by private lands, but there is public parking available along the fence on the North side of the bridge.

Smith Falls State Park: Nickols Landing

  • Smith Falls State Park is a wonderful location to base your trip. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission requires a vehicle permit for day use at state parks. For in-state vehicles the price for a day pass is $6, $8 for out-of-state vehicles; annual passes are available for purchase.

Brewer Bridge: Brewer Landing

Setting up your own shuttle:

  1. You'll need two drivers and two vehicles (and possibly a third person to watch over your equipment). One vehicle must be big enough to haul all necessary equipment.
  2. Take both vehicles to your desired launch site. Unload all necessary equipment. Have the third person stay with your equipment staged for launching.
  3. The two drivers each drive one of the vehicles to the desired landing site where you will be ending your float.
  4. Leave the large vehicle that can haul your equipment at the landing and both drivers take one vehicle back to the launch site where your equipment is waiting.
  5. Remember to lock both cars and bring both sets of car keys with when you float!
  6. Enjoy your float, and when your reach the end, load up the equipment in the large vehicle and pick up the vehicle from the launch site.

Last updated: January 20, 2021