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NEBRASKA TRAVEL GUIDE

Scotts Bluff National Monument, Nebraska Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska Toadstool Geological Park, Nebraska

Welcome to the bigroads.com travel guide to Nebraska! Hopefully this page and its information helps provide some inspiration and tips to help you plan your next trip to Nebraska.

Take note that I build and maintain this website as both a hobby and public service. I take joy in performing travel research and sharing my experiences and adventures. I do not make any profit from this website, and you will see no ads on it. Your constructive feedback about this site and its content is encouraged. Please email me if you have any suggestions or ideas for improvement.

Author/Contributor: Greg Parsons


OVERVIEW



Nebraska is unfairly labeled by many as a "drive-through state". Like all U.S. states, Nebraska actually has a lot to offer. Omaha and Lincoln are both fine cities, and each has enough attractions to keep you interested for at least a few days. Western Nebraska has most of the best scenery in the state, including some famous Oregon Trail sites. Some of the best bird-watching sites in the interior of the country are found in Nebraska too.

5-STAR ATTRACTIONS IN NEBRASKA



There are a surprising number of 5-star attractions in Nebraska. I believe each of these attractions should be on your Nebraska state bucket list since they are all noteworthy from a national perspective:

Western Nebraska
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Harrison - grass-covered plains of the Niobrara River valley; well-preserved fossils; short hikes
Carhenge, Alliance - replica of Stonehenge; constructed out of old cars painted gray; arguably the top roadside attractions in the state
Chimney Rock National Historic Site, West Bayard - famous Oregon Trail geologic formation
Courthouse & Jail Rocks, Bridgeport - Nebraska's "little Monument Valley" feature two impressive rock formations; famous Oregon Trail spot
Farmers Elevator, Chappell - features a giant painted flag that is 52ft tall by 100 feet wide
Fort Robinson State Park, Crawford - historic buildings; scenic views of bluffs and badlands; stagecoach and jeep tours; tons of hiking trails
Lake McConaughy ("Big Mac") - largest reservoir in Nebraska; great beaches and camping (including beach camping); excellent fishing
Museum of the Fur Trade, Chadron - museum that focuses on the historical fur trade industry
Panorama Point, Pine Bluffs - highpoint of Nebraska; there's a small monument to mark the spot
Old West Balloon Fest, Mitchell - annual hot air ballooning event held in August; 80+ balloons usually take the skies
Scotts Bluff National Monument, Gering - Oregon trail history, scenic views & impressive geology/rock formations
Toadstool Geological Park, Harrison - Badlands National Park-level eroded rock scenery, but free and without the crowds; good camping spot

Central Nebraska
Audubon Rowe Sanctuary, Gibbon - famous for its massive sandhill crane migration
Cowboy Trail - 195-mile rail trail; the most famous rail trail in the state
Fort Cody Trading Post, North Platte - famous gift shop that offers several photo-ops; a classic roadside attraction
Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center, North Platte - the world's largest railroad yard
Great Platte River Road Archway, Kearney - huge walkway over I-80 with a good history museum
Nebraska Star Party - annual star-gazing event held at the Merritt Reservoir's Snake Campground
Niobrara National Scenic River - one of the best rivers for canoeing in the U.S.
Platte River - famous for its 600,000+ sandhill crane migration (late February through early April)
Rowse's 1+1 Ranch, Burwell - awesome working ranch; horseback riding and overnight lodging; probably the best ranch vacation in the state
Smith Falls State Park, Valentine - Smith Falls is the tallest & best waterfall in Nebraska
World's Largest Overalls, Grand Island - roadside attraction of the world's largest overalls; a quick photo-op

Eastern Nebraska (including Lincoln and Omaha)
Arbor Day Farm / Tree Adventure, Nebraska City - hiking trails, interconnected treehouses to explore, interactive exhibits, and other family fun
Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, Omaha - beautiful pedestrian bridge that connects Nebraska with Iowa
Durham Museum, Omaha - part history museum, part railroad museum
First National's Spirit of Nebraska's Wilderness and Pioneer Courage Park, Omaha - impressive pioneer sculptures/statues
Go Ape Zipline & Adventure Park, Ashland - some of the best zip-lining in the state
Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Omaha - one of the top 5 zoos in the U.S.; more than 900 different species
Holy Family Shrine, Gretna - beautifully designed church in a peaceful setting
International Quilt Museum, Lincoln - if you like quilts, this is your place
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha - best art museum in Nebraska
Lauritzen Gardens, Omaha - excellent botanical gardens and arboretum
Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park & Wildlife Safari, Ashland - one of the best drive-thru zoos in the U.S.
Louisville State Recreation Area - Floating Playground, Louisville - kids love this floating obstacle course on the south bank of the Platte River
Memorial Stadium, University of Nebraska, Lincoln - home of the Cornhuskers college football team; this is a huge stadium (90,000 capacity)
Museum of American Speed, Lincoln - dozens of show, race, and production cars on display
Nebraska State Capitol, Lincoln - a "jaw-dropping" state capitol building
Old Market, Omaha - tourist center of Omaha
Omaha Children's Museum, Omaha - one of the best children's museums in the Midwest
Robber's Cave Tours, Lincoln - go underground in the city of Lincoln on guided tours
Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum, Ashland - extensive collection of military aircraft
Sunken Gardens, Lincoln - beautiful gardens; currently free!
TreeRush Adventures at Fontenelle Forest, Bellevue - fun high-ropes course / aerial adventure park
World's Largest Ball of Stamps, Omaha - one of Nebraska's best roadside attractions

Are you aware of any other 5-star attractions in Nebraska? If so, please email me at gparsons66@hotmail.com.

TOP 10 ATTRACTIONS IN NEBRASKA



Are you short on time or struggling to choose something to do or see in Nebraska? Here are my selections for the top 10 attractions or experiences in Nebraska, in no particular order:

Wander the badlands and geologic features of Toadstool Geologic Park in the northwestern corner of the state
Smile at the absurdity of Carhenge in Alliance
Spend a few days exploring the fine museums and other attractions of Omaha and Lincoln
Watch the famous sandhill crane migration on the Platte River (late February through early April)
Take a canoe trip down the Niobrara River
Visit the excellent Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, a top 5 zoo in the country
See two of the famous Oregon Trail sites at Chimney Rock National Historic Site and Scotts Bluff National Monument
Take a guided Jeep or stagecoach tour in Fort Robinston State Park
Cycle the Cowboy Trail, the state's most famous rail trail
See one of the best waterfalls in the Great Plains region at Smith Falls State Park

If I could pick only one place to visit in Nebraska, I would choose Omaha. There are many attractions in the city and you can also take day trips to nearby Lincoln as well (it is only a 1-hour drive between the two cities).

BEST TOWNS & CITIES TO VISIT IN NEBRASKA



While Nebraska has many fine small towns and a few cities, overall there just aren't many towns/cities that attract tourists. And so to me the only towns/cities in Nebraska that I think are particularly interesting to travelers are Lincoln and Omaha.

Please let me know if you think there are any small towns that are noteworthy in Nebraska. I just haven't found one myself yet. Maybe Grand Island and/or Valentine?

Click here if you'd like to see a complete list of towns and cities that I find interesting across the entire U.S.

WHAT IS NEBRASKA FAMOUS FOR?



Here are some things that Nebraska is famous or well known for:

college football
corn
farms / farmlands
Lewis & Clark history
Oregon Trail history
prairies
rivers & streams
sandhill cranes
zoos

Click here if you'd like to learn what other U.S. states are famous for.

NATIONAL PARKS IN NEBRASKA



While there are no official national parks in Nebraska, there are many other federally-managed parks and properties in the state, including:

National Monuments
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument - grass-covered plains of the Niobrara River valley; well-preserved fossils; short hikes
Scotts Bluff National Monument - Oregon trail history; impressive geology/rock formations and scenic views

National Forests
Nebraska National Forest
Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest

National Recreation Areas
Pine Ridge National Recreation Area

National Historical Parks / Other National Parks
Buffalo Gap National Grassland
California National Historic Trail
Homestead National Historical Park
Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
Missouri National Recreational River
Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
Niobrara National Scenic River
Oglala National Grassland
Oregon National Historic Trail
Pony Express National Historic Trail

For more information on Nebraska's national parks, visit the Nebraska page of the National Park Service. For an overview of all U.S. national parks, click here.

STATE PARKS IN NEBRASKA



The Nebraska state park system has more than 70 parks and other recreational areas. Many would agree that these represent Nebraska's finest state parks:

Flagship / Premier State Parks:
Chadron State Park - some of the best hiking and mountain biking in Nebraska; camping and cabin rentals
Fort Robinson State Park - surviving and reconstructed buildings from the Old West; excellent hiking, biking, and horseback riding trails; stagecoach rides, horse-drawn tours, and jeep tours; lodging and camping; scenic views; this is Nebraska's best state park
Indian Cave State Park - 22 miles of hiking and biking trails bordering the Missouri River; horseback riding; interesting geology; campground

Other Notable State Parks:
Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park
Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area
Niobrara State Park
Platte River State Park
Ponca State Park
Smith Falls State Park

My favorite state park in Nebraska is Fort Robinson State Park. It has a great mix of historical attractions and outdoor activities. There are more than 60 miles of hiking trails, 20 miles of mountain biking trails, and 20 miles of horseback riding trails.

To see my list of the top 100 state parks in the country, click here.

BEST WATERFALLS IN NEBRASKA



Nebraska only has a few natural waterfalls. The best waterfalls in Nebraska include:

Berry Falls - visible from the Niobrara National Scenic River
Fort Falls, Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge
Smith Falls, Smith Falls State Park
Snake River Falls
Stair Step Falls
Waterfall in Platte River State Park

The tallest and best waterfall in Nebraska is Smith Falls, located in Smith Falls State Park.

BEST SCENIC DRIVES IN NEBRASKA



This section coming soon!

BEST RAIL TRAILS IN NEBRASKA



There are only a few notable rail trails (or similar cycling paths) in Nebraska. They include:

Chief Standing Bear Trail
MoPac Trail East

For detailed information on all known rail trails in Nebraska, visit the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy website.

BEST AMUSEMENT PARKS / THEME PARKS IN NEBRASKA



Nebraska only has a few amusement parks, and none of them are particularly noteworthy on a national scale. The best amusement parks in Nebraska include:

Fun Plex, Omaha
Island Oasis Water Park, Grand Island
Pawnee Plunge Water Park, Columbus

BEST MUSEUMS IN NEBRASKA



Nebraska has a surprising number of excellent museums. The best museums in Nebraska include:

Western Nebraska
Legacy of the Plains Museum, Gering
Museum of the Fur Trade, Chadron

Central Nebraska
Classic Car Collection, Kearney
Great Platte River Road Archway Monument, Kearney
Hastings Museum of Natural and Cultural History, Hastings
Pioneer Village, Minden
Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, Grand Island

Eastern Nebraska (including Lincoln and Omaha)
Dunham Museum, Omaha
International Quilt Museum, Lincoln
Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha
Museum of American Speed, Lincoln
National Museum of Roller Skating, Lincoln
Omaha Children's Museum, Omaha
University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln

BEST DAY HIKES IN NEBRASKA



Nebraska isn't particularly well known for its hiking trails, but there are a few good ones. Here are some of the best day hikes in Nebraska:

Western Nebraska
Chadron State Park trails
Fort Robinson State Park trails (e.g. Turtle Rock, Lover's Leap, etc.)
Saddle Rock Trail, Scotts Bluff National Monument
Toadstool Geological Park Trail - 0.8 mile loop trail with Badlands National Park-like scenery; arguably the best hiking trail in the state

Central Nebraska
Smith Falls Trail, Smith Falls State Park, Valentine - short walk to Nebraska's best waterfall

Eastern Nebraska (including Lincoln and Omaha)
Indian Cave State Park trails

The highpoint of Nebraska is Panorama Point (5,429'). The highpoint is surrounded by private property, and the owners request that you drive all the way to the highpoint due to free-range buffalo. No hiking allowed!

To find more hikes in Nebraska or to learn more about the hikes I've listed above, I recommend purchasing hiking guidebooks on Amazon (or from your local retailer). Another option is using alltrails.com, but you have to be very careful when using that website as its information is often wrong or incomplete. Published hiking guidebooks will likely always be significantly better than the information you find online.

BEST BACKPACKING TRIPS IN NEBRASKA



Nebraska is fairly limited in its offering of backpacking opportunities. I am only currently aware of these backpacking trails/areas in Nebraska:

Indian Cave State Park - several Adirondack shelters available
Niobrara State Park
Pine Ridge Trail, Nebraska National Forest
Ponca State Park
Soldier Creek Wilderness

If you know of any other areas where you can backpack in Nebraska, please email me at gparsons66@hotmail.com.

CLASSIC OUTDOOR ADVENTURES IN NEBRASKA



Nebraska offers a solid amount of excellent outdoor adventures, including:

Air-boat tours on the Platte River (e.g. Bryson's Air-boat Tours)
Backpacking the Pine Ridge Trail in Nebraska National Forest
Canoeing/kayaking the Dismal River
Canoeing/kayaking the Niobrara River
Canoeing/kayaking the Platte River
Cycling the Chief Standing Bear Trail
Cycling the Cowboy Recreation & Nature Trail
Cycling the MoPac Trail East
Exploring Toadstool Geological Park
Horseback riding in one of Nebraska's state parks (e.g. Buffalo Bill, Chadron, Fort Robinson, Indian Cave, Niobrara, Platte River, Ponca, etc.)
Mountain biking Chadron State Park
Mountain biking Indian Cave State Park
Mountain biking Platte River State Park
Mountain biking Potter's Pasture
Skydiving in Crete (near Lincoln)
Tubing the Elkhorn River
Tubing the Niobrara River
Tubing the Platte River

NEBRASKA TRAVEL TIPS



For offbeat and unique Nebraska attractions, visit one or both of these amazing websites: Atlas Obscura and Roadside America

UNIQUE / SPECIALTY FOODS TO TRY IN NEBRASKA



Here are some unique / specialty foods to try while you are in Nebraska:

chili with cinnamon rolls
meat pies
pork tenderloin
reuben sandwich
runza sandwich / bierock
tin roof sundae

For a list of unique foods and mom-and-pop type eateries and restaurants in Nebraska (or any other U.S. state), visit the Roadfood.com website.
For a list of unique foods to try in each of the 50 U.S. states, click here.
For a list of the top-rated beers to try in Nebraska (or any other U.S. state), visit the Beer Advocate website.

OTHER KEY NEBRASKA INFORMATION



Capital = Lincoln
Major airports = Omaha
Largest cities = Omaha (501,469), Lincoln (297,622), Bellevue (66,984), Grand Island (54,053), Kearney (34,390)
Primary U.S. interstates = I-76, I-80
State highpoint = Panorama Point (5,429'); you can drive to it on dirt roads; hiking is prohibited by landowner (free-range bison)
Professional sports teams = none

Take note that in general this travel guide intentionally excluded restaurants, lodging/hotels, breweries, wineries/vineyards, and certain other types of attractions (like arcades, ax-throwing, bowling alleys, and escape rooms). These types of places tend to come and go, and keeping up with that would be too challenging. I encourage you to use Google Maps, Tripadvisor, Yelp, and other travel sites that have reader reviews to find the latest and greatest places that I haven't covered here.


Scotts Bluff National Monument, Nebraska
Scotts Bluff National Monument, Nebraska

Nebraska sign
Nebraska sign

Toadstool Geological Park, northwestern Nebraska
Toadstool Geological Park, northwestern Nebraska

Toadstool Geological Park, northwestern Nebraska
Toadstool Geological Park, northwestern Nebraska

Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska
Carhenge in Alliance, Nebraska

Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Nebraska
Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Nebraska

MORE U.S. STATE TRAVEL GUIDES



Did you enjoy this travel guide? If so, here are links to more U.S. state travel guides:

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