When you think of the Midwest and Nebraska in particular, hiking isn’t one of the first things that come to mind. There are no mountains, it’s mostly flat, and mostly corn and cows. Yes, for the most part that’s true, though some parts of Nebraska will leave you pleasantly surprised with its ruggedness and beauty. Even in the most non-mountainous parts of Nebraska, there is a certain kind of beauty that is unlike anything else in the world.
As a former Boy Scout, I have been backpacking in the Rocky Mountains several times, but not for several years. Since then, I have tried to continue to explore my love for hiking and have explored several trails in Nebraska. This article is the first of what I hope will be several describing trails in Nebraska that will entice the avid hiker, and are close enough to make for a cheap weekend trip.
The first of these is the Oak Creek Trail. This trail is one of the many rail-to-trail projects that have been undertaken in Nebraska, Kansas, and Iowa. These trails are created from former railroad lines, and as such are usually pretty flat, fairly straight, and fairly wide. They are usually covered in crushed limestone, but occasionally paved in places. For some of the longer trails, their main intended purpose is bicycling, but hiking, running, and cross-country skiing are also encouraged.
The Oak Creek Trail is one of the best examples of these. It runs from the town of Valparaiso northwest to the town of Brainard. Leaving Valpraiso, the trail crosses the creek after which it is named on a picturesque old railroad bridge. The trail winds through trees and over several bridges for the first few miles. The trail climbs slowly, almost unnoticeably, the entire way. As the trail rises and works its way away from the creek, it opens up to gently rolling hills. This is the most scenic section of the trail, after 3 or 4 miles, until you reach the town of Loma. The views as you look to both sides of the trail consist of a mix of grassy pasture, intermittent tree cover, and rolling cornfields.
The town of Loma is something unto itself. With a population of about 50, it didn’t even appear on some of the maps we used to plan the trip. One interesting fact about Loma is that it was the filming location of the movie To Wong Foo, Thanks For Everything, Julie Newman. Not that I’ve actually seen it. My experience of Loma, since I didn’t venture from the trail, was the modern restroom facility meant for trail users and a nice country church visible from the trail.
As you continue on the trail, it continues to rise and move further from the creek bed. After a while, the surrounding countryside flattens out and becomes what you would expect of a trail in Nebraska. Flat cornfield on each side and not much else to look at. The last half mile or so of the trail is redeemable as you approach the town of Brainard.
The total length of the trail one way is about 12.5 miles. There are both kilometer and mile markers along the entire length of the trail. Some of these are either missing or obscured by brush and vegetation, but the ones that are clearly visible appear to be accurate. The way we hiked it, we left a car at the trail parking lot in Brainard and were dropped off in Valparaiso. The trailhead is easy to find in both towns. Other ways you could hike it include a full 26 mile out and back or out to Loma and back for about 13 miles. It would also make for an enjoyable 26 mile bike ride, which I intend to do sometime in the future.No matter how you decide to experience the Oak Creek Trail, or any other Nebraska trail, leave your preconceptions and biases behind and enjoy the unique beauty of the Midwest landscape