Sutherland State Recreation Area – Acres of Outdoor Activities

Sutherland, Nebraska.

We were on our way to Colorado and the Steiner family reunion, an event we look forward to each summer. Coincidentally, this route is well known to us as it covers the first day and a half of our annual trek south to Arizona. A long day’s drive to North Platte, then I-80 toward Colorado then New Mexico to Albuquerque. From there, it’s another seven hours to Buckeye. We seldom have had time to visit locations in Nebraska unless we are going to stop to visit our friends in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. Since the reunion was near Colorado Springs, we decided to explore some of the sights along I-80 in Nebraska. This post features the first of three stops between North Platte and Ogallala.

A short drive off I-80 at exit 158, south on Nebraska Highway 25 will bring you to the sign in the image above. The entrance to this camping area and boat launch is around the southwest side of the reservoir so it’s a longer drive than it would seem. We ended up driving there twice. We can save you the extra drive, though. There is no facility to purchase a pass to enter the reservoir area at the site. There was a sign at the entrance noting that driving in the park requires a day pass at a minimum and that the pass can be purchased at area concessions. We weren’t sure exactly what that meant as there sure didn’t look like there were any concessions here.

On the way to the reservoir, just off exit 158 and hidden around the corner on Haugland Hill Road is a Sinclair gas station. We drove back to the station where, sure enough, we could buy whatever kind of park passes we needed to enter the reservoir. The good news for us is that one day pass would get us into all three of the places we planned to visit that day. The 2019 rate for a non-Nebraska vehicle one-day pass is only $8 and they are good on the day of purchase until noon the next day. If you know you are going, you can order them online here.

As you may note from the sign, the reservoir is part of an electrical generating system. So many of our country’s hydro power systems provide a great side benefit to the residents of the area by providing large bodies of water for recreation. Today we would visit two hydro power reservoirs. The lake at Sutherland covers over 3,000 acres (1214 hectares) and encompasses 37 acres (15 hectares) of shore, campground, and even a swimming beach.

We arrived at the park around 9 AM and found the parking area all but empty, however the camping area that we could see through the trees had quite a few transient visitors, most still tucked away inside their tents, campers, and RVs. We parked near the boat launch ramp and I set up the drone for a quick look around. This day would be the first time I used the drone to capture some of the images for a Travel Tuesday post. The photo above brought me a view of the swimming beach. A family had ventured out, though it was obvious they weren’t dressed for a day at the beach. That early in the morning, it was still a bit cool for water sport.

Though we didn’t see any boats in our immediate area, the parking area contained a couple of vehicles with empty boat trailers indicating that boaters were out and about. From our vantage point, we could see a good portion of the reservoir but there are some areas of the lake that you can’t see from this vantage point, even with the drone fairly high. Apparently the fish were biting at the other end of the lake.

Not knowing the lay of the lake, we were to discover later that if you continue around the shore to the east side of the reservoir, there are other camping and boat ramp areas. All of the camping at this site is primitive with 50 pads and 35 additional sites without pads. Electricity is not available at any of the sites. In a way, that’s ironic considering the reason for the reservoir is to support electrical generation.

As I have often said, my idea of “roughing it” is that there is no refrigerator in the hotel room. However Lynn and I used to have a camper and Sutherland Reservoir is just the kind of out-of-the-way camping area we appreciated most. Though the lack of “modern” facilities is a bit of a hindrance, it is also one of the reasons that there are fewer visitors making it truly a “get away from it all” place to be.

The collection of photos in this post are a mixture of drone images and shots from my Nikon D500. Who knows, maybe sometime I’ll decide to branch into some video drone photography. With the camera in the drone supporting both almost simultaneously, it brings me new opportunities to explore another avenue of photography. As always, most browsers support clicking on an image to enlarge it for better viewing.

John Steiner

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