Pets allowed
Allowed with Restrictions
Guided tours
No
Backcountry camping
No
Lodging
No
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

There’s a forest in the Sandhills of Nebraska? That’s right, in the midst of 19,300 square miles of one of the largest grass-stabilized sand dune systems in the world, there’s a forest. The Sandhills region in central Nebraska is one of the largest continuous areas of native grassland in all of North America. Of the state’s nearly 23 million acres of range and pastureland, half of it is in the Sandhills. Yet, like an island surrounded by vast expanses of wide-open ranchland and prairie, a forest grows here.

Located 2 miles west of Halsey on State Highway 2, the Nebraska National Forest is an oasis in the Sandhills. The shade from a variety of trees including ponderosa pine, eastern red cedar, and jack pine offers a refreshing welcome for adventurers. Here, you can go fishing in the 7-acre stocked pond with an ADA-accessible fishing pier; go mountain biking; ride horses; or ride an off-highway vehicle on 33 miles of trails through forest and grasslands.

You’ll want to be sure to visit the Scott Fire Lookout; it functions as both a fire lookout and a forest observatory for visitors. In 1965, the tower’s wooden steps burned when a lightning strike caused a devastating forest fire that consumed 10,920 acres. Today, you can climb the tower for a magnificent 360-degree view of the landscape. You can reach the tower by driving a paved road or enjoying a 3-mile hike from the ranger station.

The Nebraska National Forest at Halsey has three campgrounds. Bessey Recreation Complex and Campground has three camping loops and a group campground. Natick Campground offers 17 sites plus 20 corrals. Whitetail Campground has 10 sites with nine horse corrals.

Located within the park is the Bessey Recreation Complex. For a small parking fee, you can enjoy beautiful, shaded picnic grounds, play basketball, go tubing, canoeing, or cool off with a swim in the river. It’s good to know the complex also has a tornado shelter.

Adventurers should know the Nebraska National Forest has two distinct areas. One is located in the northwest panhandle near Chadron, the other is the 90,444-acre Bessey Ranger District in central Nebraska near Halsey.

In the late 1800s, a professor of botany, Dr. Charles E. Bessey, believed the Sandhills had been previously forested. He petitioned President Theodore Roosevelt, who issued a 1902 proclamation creating the Dismal Forest Reserve and the Halsey Nursery. Trees from the nursery were hand-planted in the reserve. Today, the nursery provides trees for forests around the country and was renamed the Charles E. Bessey Tree Nursery.

The Dismal Forest Reserve became the Nebraska National Forest at Halsey, where today’s adventurers can enjoy over 20,000 acres of trees that were hand-planted to create the “World’s Largest Man-Made Forest.”

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)

Spring
Fall

Congestion

Moderate

Parking Pass

None

Open Year-round

Yes

Pros

Amazing hand-planted forest. Lookout tower with expansive view. Hiking and OHV trails.

Cons

Many park roads require four-wheel drive.

Features

Vault toilet
Historically significant
Wildlife
Family friendly
Big vistas
Fishing
Picnic tables
Dump stations
Baseball
Near lake or river
Wildflowers
Bird watching
Horseback riding
Potable water
Covered picnic areas
Basketball
Shelters
Horseshoes
ADA accessible
Flushing toilets
Bicycling

Location

Field Guide

Nearby Lodging + Camping

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