Beyond Fontenelle Forest and DeSoto Bend National Wildlife Refuge, most of the significant day hikes in Eastern Nebraska or Western Iowa take you up and down the steep bluff lines of the region’s major rivers. Basically, in our landscape, if you don’t want to hike cornfields, you have to get back to the rivers.
Those bluffs in places such as Mahoney, Platte River and Indian Cave State Parks often offer the closest thing to a wilderness experience in the area, but they also present the closest thing to a real hazard. Typically, you’re walking on loose dirt, wood chips, rock aggregates, or compacted clays. The footing can be tricky when dry, downright unnerving when moist.
Not trying to alarm, here. Just be mindful when you hit the trails, especially with older parents or young children.
A few tips for a safe and enjoyable hike:
The right shoes
You don’t need $500 mountaineering boots. You just need good traction, something that protects your ankles from twists, something that limits the bend in your foot, and, depending on the forecast, something that either breathes air or repels water. Gore-Tex optional. Any light hiker will usually do. Kids will probably lobby to wear their athletic shoes. This isn’t the Front Range. Unless it’s muddy, the Nikes are usually okay.
A walking stick
This may feel like you’re overdoing it, but, again, those slopes can be trickier than you realize. Walking sticks are cheap (even sometimes free on the forest floor) and they can be the difference between a close call and a fall.
Water, water, water
In our area, hikers very often ignore the hydration issue. Sure, you’ll survive on these relatively short trails. But you may be awfully thirsty, especially if you make a few wrong turns.
What the region lacks in 14,000-foot peaks, it makes up for in mosquitos and ticks.
You may be out longer than you planned and you’ll still get plenty of sun in the woods.
Again, this may not be a life or death issue, but, especially
with kids, you’ll be a hero when you pull out treats at the halfway point.