The Nebraska National Forest, located one mile west of Halsey and twenty minutes from Thedford along Highway 2 offers some of the most fabulous scenery in the state. It's been called a forest planted in the desert -- a ponderosa pine wilderness in the middle of the sandhills.
It's the only national forest in Nebraska - It is the largest man-made forest in the United States. It is an unexpectedly lush green island in the middle of the sandhills of central Nebraska. 90,000 acres of land make up this region of the Nebraska National Forest. In seeming defiance of the muted tones of central Nebraska's Sandhills, rises 20,000 acres of green Ponderosa pine forest. And while its presence in this arid landscape is unexpected, it is the forest's century-old roots that make it truly unique.
In 1902, University of Nebraska botanist Charles Bessey, believing the Native American legend that the Sandhills were once covered in trees, convinced President Theodore Roosevelt to set aside two treeless tracts of land as forest reserves, and then set about the laborious task of planting pine seedlings.
The pines thrived in the dry, sandy environment, eventually encompassing more than 20,000 acres in the largest man-made forest in the world. Today the forest is part of 90,444-acre Bessey Division of the Nebraska National Forest, consists of prairie grassland and gently rolling hills. Nearby, the 115,000-acre Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest is home to hand-planted Ponderosa pine, Eastern red cedar, jack pine and Scotch pine in living legacy to Charles Bessey.
Recreation and Camping - The main campground areas at the Bessey Recreational Complex feature 38 campsite units with picnic tables, water, nearby toilets, trash pickup, firegates, firewood, and handicap sites year round. Of these, 20 campsites have electricity. Other services include showers, a shelter house, tennis courts, a softball field and a trailer dump station. A Campground Host is usually on hand during the summer months to assist forest visitors.
Group Campsites - An organization campground is available with toilets, separate shelter house, three fire grates and a fire ring and may be reserved by calling the Ranger District Office at (308) 553-2257. In addition to a $5.00 reservation fee, there is an additional fee, depending upon group size, for each nights camping. For daytime use there is o charge except for the $5.00 reservation fee. The Organization Campground can accommodate up to 300 persons.
Equestrian Campsites - The Whitetail Campground on the south end of the forest near the Dismal River, and the Natick Campground west of the 4-H Camp are available on a first-come, first-served basis. In addition to corrals for horses, both of these campgrounds have hand-pump water wells, fire rings, picnic tables, and modern pit-type toilets. Firewood is not provided.
Swimming - The Bessey Recreation Complex also features a swimming pool which is open every day but Wednesday from early June through mid-August.
Lookout - You can see the trees and beautiful sand hills countryside for miles when you climb to the top of the Scott Lookout Tower. The tower is open Friday through Tuesday afternoons and holiday afternoons from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Hiking - There are a number of hiking trails throughout the park. Fishing, canoeing, and inner tubing are some of the other activities enjoyed at the forest as it is bordered by the Dismal River on the south and the Middle Loup River on the north. A six-acre pond at the park's entrance features bass, catfish, and perch. The Dismal Trail from just south of the Bessey complex to the Whitetail Campground is a nine-mile adventure that can be used for ATVs, hiking, or horseback riding.
Hunting - Hunting is allowed and subject to all Nebraska Game and Parks Commission rules and regulations. Sharp-tail grouse, prairie chicken, wild turkey, antelope, white-tailed deer and mule deer are present.
Bird Watching - An exceptional variety of songbirds can be observed from viewing blinds available from Arpil 1 to April 30 to allow close-up viewing of the prairie grouse courtship rituals.
Admission: An annual pass is $15, with each additional vehicle $7.50. A daily pass is $3.
Address: One mile west of Halsey and twenty minutes from Thedford along Highway 2
A vehicle pass is required for Bessey Recreation Complex, Whitetail Campground, Natick Campground, and the Bessey and Whitetail trailheads for the Dismal River Multiple use Trail, and the Bessey and Tower trailheads for the Scott Lookout Tower Trail.
Come visit us in Thedford, Nebraska