Chadron has a rollicking frontier history including fur traders, tough cowboys, Native Americans, ranchers and railroaders. The community lies between the Pine Ridge and the High Plains.
Founded in 1921, Chadron State Park was Nebraska’s first state park. It encompasses nearly 1,000 acres of Pine Ridge wilderness nine miles south of Chadron on Highway 385. The park offers fishing, camping, hiking, mountain biking, bird watching and horseback riding. Cabins are available April 15-Nov. 15. A swimming pool and sand volleyball courts elevate the fun, and mountain bikes and paddle boats are for rent. The RV campground has 70 electrical hookups, showers, laundromat, dump station and playground. Primitive camping also is available. Hike and bike trails spread in every direction. (308) 432-6167.
The Pine Ridge Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest is 52,000 acres of ponderosa pine and mixed grass prairies. Primitive camping is allowed. The Red Cloud Campground has picnic tables, fire grates and vault toilets; it is eight miles south of Chadron on Highway 385.
The forest has about 80 miles of marked trails for mountain bikers, hikers and horseback riders. The area’s most popular trailheads include East Ash, West Ash, Soldier Creek, Coffee Mill, Spotted Tail, Roberts, Strong Canyon and Outrider. Roberts and Outrider trailheads have horse corrals, a rider ramp and other amenities. Off-road vehicles must be equipped with spark arrestors to reduce wildfire danger. Maps of the Pine Ridge Trails system and the National Forest/Oglala National Grasslands are available at the Chadron Chamber and Visitors Center. Chadron State Park offers the National Forest/Oglala National Grassland map showing trails. (800) 603-2937.
The Pine Ridge National Recreation Area is a 6,600-acre parcel limited to non-motorized recreation. There are corrals, a rider ramp, modern toilets and drinkable water. Hiking, horseback riding and mountain biking are allowed. The recreation area and trailhead are connected by the scenic 3 Mile Loop.
The best entry point to the Pine Ridge National Recreation Area is from the Roberts trailhead, eight miles west of Chadron on Highway 20 to Eleson Road, then seven miles south to Bethel Road and then 1 1/2 miles east.
The world-class Museum of the Fur Trade is located at the site of a trading post operated by the American Fur Co. from 1837 to 1876. The building has been reconstructed on the original foundation. The museum’s three galleries interpret the fur trade from the Arctic to the American Southwest, from early colonial days to the 20th century.
Exhibits trace the everyday lives of British, French and Spanish traders, mountain men, buffalo hunters, and plains and woodland Indians. Among the museum’s artifacts are trade goods from the 18th and 19th centuries – such as “Northwest” muskets made for Native Americans (including one that belonged to the famous Shawnee chief, Tecumseh), trade silver, textiles, beads and paints. The museum is three miles east of Chadron on Highway 20. Open May 1-Oct. 31 or by appointment. (308) 432-3843.
In 1890, after the Wounded Knee Massacre in South Dakota, Gen. Nelson Miles commandeered a local hotel, the Chadron House, while investigating the incident. The luxury hotel was the town’s showplace. Today, it is restored to its former glory and operating as the Olde Main Street Inn. The inn offers lodging, dining and includes the 77 Longbranch Saloon. 115 Main St. (308) 432-3380.
When the Chadron-to-Chicago Horse Race kicked off in 1893, it did so with a shot fired by Chadron’s fire chief using a Colt revolver from the veranda of the Blaine Hotel.
The event began as a joke but then came to fruition, garnering attention from around the world and putting Chadron on the map. Characters like horse thief Doc Middleton, a race favorite among Chadron residents, and William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody were involved. Dishonesty and cheating were exposed before the winner crossed the finish line 13 days later at the World’s Fair. Today’s Cowboy Trail covers part of the thousand-mile race route. The building is an apartment complex today. Pose for a selfie in front of the building at 159 Bordeaux St.
The Dawes County Historical Museum – five miles south of Chadron on Highway 385 – has an original log house and barn, a schoolhouse, railroad caboose and pioneer artifacts. The innovative farming inventions and futuristic gadgets of local farmer and mechanical genius Marcus Cain are housed in a brand new building here. Open Memorial Day-Sept. 30. (308) 432-4999.
The Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center is dedicated to the study of Nebraska and High Plains culture, literature and history. Located at Chadron State College, the center is named after Mari Sandoz (1896-1966), who is among Nebraska’s best-known authors. A High Plains native, Sandoz gained national prominence with her 1935 biography of her father, Old Jules. Sandoz wrote powerfully of Plains subjects such as Crazy Horse, the Cheyenne Outbreak, buffalo hunters and beaver trappers. (308) 432-6401.
For more information about Chadron and Northwest Nebraska, contact the Chadron Chamber and Visitors Center at (800) 603-2937. or visit www.chadron.com.