On a hot summer’s day, there is no better place to be than poolside or at the beach beneath Nebraska skies. Here are six great options across the state, including everything from an aquatic center with all the amenities to a white sand beach with plenty of shoreline.

Chadron State Park

Ever been poolside with a great view? That’s what you can find at Chadron State Park, which is nestled among the picturesque buttes and canyons of the Pine Ridge. The park’s outdoor pool offers a view of classic Pine Ridge scenery, including pines and buttes. Bring a camera and capture images of yourself and your loved ones having fun in this beautiful location.

Chadron State Park’s pool also offers two diving boards and recently renovated bathhouses. “It’s a clean outdoor pool, not overcrowded, with a beautiful view,” said Park Superintendent Gregg Galbraith. “It all makes for a relaxing family getaway.”

Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area

Sink your toes into white sand beaches at Nebraska’s largest reservoir, Lake McConaughy. Located 8 miles northeast of Ogallala, this park is known for its water recreation and offers large, walk-in, designated swimming beaches near Martin Bay, Arthur Bay, Sandy Beach and Cedar View entrances. Smaller designated swimming beaches can be found at two of the park’s beach camping areas.

Park Superintendent Patrick Schnell said that the reservoir’s soft white sand beaches and typically warm waters are popular with visitors. “There’s almost an ocean-like feeling with the beach and big body of water,” he said. You may also spot wildlife such as deer, turkeys, coyotes, foxes and migratory birds.

Windmill State Recreation Area

Those seeking convenience and a well-maintained beach will want to check out Windmill State Recreation Area, 16 miles east of Kearney. The park sits along Interstate 80, making it easy to get to, with convenient parking for beachgoers. A designated swimming area is located on Lake #5, with a picnic table, two foot-washing platforms and a sand volleyball net.

“People can barbecue fairly close to the area and have dinner on the beach,” said Park Superintendent Grant Gartner.

Another plus: The water in the swimming area is shallow, and the sand below has a gradual, consistent slope, making it more kid friendly. “It’s a pretty nice little beach,” Gartner said.

Pawnee Lake State Recreation Area

If you’re in the Lincoln area, you can find good swimming opportunities close by. Located 20 minutes west of Lincoln, Pawnee State Recreation Area features two swimming beaches that are popular with visitors. “Camping is probably the number one draw here, but as far as day use, beaches are our number one amenity,” said Park Superintendent Jay Woltemath.

Designated swimming beaches can be found in areas 1 and 2, with plenty of shade available. Beachgoers may see wildlife such as geese, mallards, shorebirds and even bald eagles.

“You might actually see a bald eagle take a fish out of the lake, because we’ve got a couple of resident eagle pairs within 2 or 3 miles of the lake,” Woltemath said.

Eugene T. Mahoney State Park

Those looking for variety and excitement this summer will find plenty to explore at Eugene T. Mahoney State Park’s Family Aquatic Center. Take an exhilarating ride from three new water slides starting from a towering 45-foot structure – a new feature as of spring 2024.

Other fun features at Mahoney include a zero-depth entry wave pool and a water playground for kids. Swimmers can also relax on the sun deck, splash and dive in the pool, and enjoy a wading pool and concession area.

“The new slide tower offers stunning views of the Platte River, and the expanded deck area provides ample space for families to spread out and relax,” said Park Superintendent Michael Townsend. “Mahoney’s Aquatic Center is a must-visit on your summer vacation to-do list.”

Ponca State Park

Ponca State Park’s aquatic center is the perfect opportunity to cool down with family and friends. The facility features a heated zero-depth entry pool, 172-foot-long water slide, climbing wall, diving board, spray features, pool games such as basketball and volleyball, and a concession area.

“Ponca’s pool can accommodate all ages and activity levels,” said Park Superintendent Katie Leware. “Ponca is a great place to swim whether you’re a local or staying at the park.”

Lifeguards are on duty at the three pools mentioned above, but not at the recreation area designated swim beaches. To swim safely at these areas, wear a life jacket that fits, swim with a buddy and pay attention to your surroundings and those swimming with you.

Swimmers also should avoid alcohol, watch the weather, and know what to do in an emergency. The water may be murky, so stay alert to any waves, currents, drop-offs or underwater objects.

To buy a park permit or learn more about swimming opportunities at Nebraska’s state parks, visit OutdoorNebraska.gov.

Swim safely with these top tips

Nothing says beach swimming like hot weather, so as you head out to cool off this summer, keep these Nebraska Game and Parks swim safety reminders top of mind:

Never swim alone

Always swim with a buddy, no matter your age, and remember children near or in water should always be accompanied by an adult.

Pay attention

Avoid distractions and focus on those you are swimming with and the water; where possible, designate a water watcher. Drowning is a leading cause of death for children, according to the American Red Cross, and drownings can happen in seconds, as well as in shallow waters. Staying watchful — even of strong swimmers — is encouraged and the best way to respond quickly should an accident occur.

Wear a life jacket

Children especially should wear a U.S. Coast Guard-approved life jacket, while swimming or wading in water, including swim areas at Nebraska state parks. Floats such as pool noodles, rafts, donuts and kick boards are not intended to serve as life-saving devises; properly worn life jackets are.

In Nebraska, children under age 13 are required by law to wear a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device. People of any age using a stand-up paddleboard, using a personal watercraft, or being towed by a boat on skis, a tube, or other similar device also must wear a life jacket. Every vessel, except sailboards, must carry a flotation device for each person on board.

Make sure the life jacket fits

Check the jacket for both weight and size limits. Life jackets should be snug and should not pop up around the ears.

Watch for hazards

Lakes, rivers and streams often have murky water, potentially hiding underwater hazards such as logs, currents or changes in water depth. Be prepared for the unexpected, including waves and drop-offs.

Watch the weather

Storms can pop up quickly in Nebraska. Check the weather in advance and monitor it during the day, if necessary. Sudden changes in weather can lead to rocky water and potential lightning strikes, both of which put swimmers and boaters at risk.

Learn what to do in an emergency

Know the signs of downing. Consider getting water safety and CPR trained, and if an emergency occurs, remember to call 911 for help.

Avoid alcohol

Avoid drinking before or during swimming or boating as alcohol can impair judgment and coordination. Keep in mind, Boating Under the Influence is a criminal violation enforced actively in Nebraska.

Learn swimming basics

It’s never too late to learn foundational swimming skills. By learning how to float and other swimming basics, drownings can be reduced.

Find additional water safety resources at RedCross.org and JoshTheOtter.org.

Prizes awarded in second Nebraska Birding Bowl

Bird-watching enthusiasts and families enjoyed new adventures all throughout the month of May while competing in the second Nebraska Birding Bowl. And now, several will be enjoying prizes because of it.

Out of 260 participants, including 68 youth, the following names were drawn for prizes during this free, statewide birding competition:

  • David Peaslee (Competitive Birder, more than 150 species): $1,000
  • Catherine Brown (Competitive Birder, 100-150 species): $500
  • Skyler Pollock (Competitive Birder, 50-99 species): Field guides
  • Isabella Lombardo (Dabbling Birder): Vortex Diamondback binoculars
  • Erin Cooper (Backyard Birder): Bird feeding system
  • Stephanie Rogers (Fledging Flock): Youth birding kits
  • Chrissie Pitterson: Two-night state park cabin stay

Birders used eBird, a community science platform, to track observations while contributing data for bird conservation. By the end of the Birding Bowl, teams contributed more than 3,100 eBird checklists and observed more than 290 species.

Catherine Brown, whose name was drawn in the Competitive Birder category, said her best Birding Bowl day was the morning she found an unexpected bird at Towl Park in Omaha. With help from nearby birders, they determined it was a least bittern — a bird many other Birding Bowl participants also stopped by to enjoy during the challenge.

“It was just such a joy to share this experience with so many, and I am so grateful for those who helped with the ID,” Brown said.

Erin Cooper, who won in the Backyard Birder category, said she enjoyed watching the birds in her backyard and “[learning] about some new friends, in particular the warblers. They were new for us this year and were fun to watch,” she said. “It also encouraged us to use nature, in particular listening to the songbirds, as a way to relax and recharge after a stressful day at work or school.”

The Nebraska Birding Bowl is a joint project of the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, the Wild Bird Habitat Store and Audubon Great Plains.

The competition provided a chance for nature lovers to go outside and observe the birds that are all around them, said organizer Olivia DaRugna.

“We had birders enjoying beautiful birds all across the state in their own yards, at local parks, and during weekend excursions to state parks,” she said. “Congrats to the prize winners. We hope everyone enjoyed this birding opportunity and perhaps had the chance to observe a new bird.”

For more resources on birding in Nebraska throughout the year, visit Birdtrail.OutdoorNebraska.gov.

Four SRAs will allow fireworks on July 4

Guests at four state recreation areas will be allowed to touch off fireworks on the Fourth of July, according to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission. Those visitors should use caution when lighting fireworks.

The following SRAs, with designated lighting sites, will permit fireworks from 8 a.m. until midnight on July 4 only:

  • Branched Oak State Recreation Area (SRA) – Lieber’s Point
  • Pawnee SRA – Area 1 beach and the Area 4 Lakeview Campground
  • Wagon Train SRA – beach
  • Memphis SRA

Signs at recreation areas will point the way to designated fireworks sites and their boundaries will be clearly marked. Use of fireworks elsewhere in state areas or at other times is prohibited.

Only fireworks approved for sale in Nebraska by the state fire marshal are permitted, and visitors must pick up expended fireworks and deposit them in appropriate containers. Minor children must be supervised when discharging fireworks. Use, possession and the discharging of fireworks is at the sole risk of the users.

A park entry permit is required for all vehicles entering SRAs.