Western Nebraska, bordering Colorado, Wyoming and South Dakota, may have you reaching for your map. But far from being flat farm land in the middle of nowhere, this little-explored part of the country offers diverse landscapes, adventure and family fun. Whether you're passing through on your way to Mt. Rushmore or making the Cornhusker state your destination, here are ten attractions worth the stop.
Tanking on the Middle Loup River — Photo courtesy of stevelarese.com
Usually, you put water in
stock tanks. But in the town of Mullen in Hooker County, people
are put in the tanks, then put on the water. Mitch Glidden of Glidden Canoe Rentals
got the idea to use 10-foot diameter livestock tanks to float groups of up to eight people per tank on the Middle Loup River. It sounds like a novelty, but the 10-foot diameter stock tanks are stable, can't tip over, hold more people than canoes, are able to float in shallow water, and roll off of obstacles such as logs. Another advantage is that you and your party are arranged in a circle (video)
, so no one has to stare at the back of someone's head for 2 hours as you would in a canoe. Also, the cooler fits nicely in the center for quick access to snacks and libations. Cost is $20 per person for either the 2 hour or 5 hour float trip, transportation included.
Carhenge art park near Alliance — Photo courtesy of stevelarese.comThis roadside attraction along Highway 87 2.5 miles north of Alliance is an exact replica of England's Stonehenge. Except for the fact that creator Jim Reinders used vintage American cars instead of stone. Built in 1987 as a monument to Reinders' father, Carhenge uses 38 automobiles positioned the same as the stones used in its neolithic counterpart, in a circle 98-feet across.
Fort Robinson State Park
Fort Robinson State Park — Photo courtesy of Steve LareseSoldier Creek Wilderness at Fort Robinson State Park — Photo courtesy of stevelarese.com
This storied U.S. Cavalry fort was built in the 1870s to oversee the internment of the Lakota Sioux tribe and others during the Indian Wars. It's probably best known as the place where Chief Crazy Horse was killed in 1879 resisting imprisonment. Later, Fort Robinson based the famed 9th Cavalry – the Buffalo Soldiers – and was used during World War II for training and as a German POW camp before being decommissioned. Today, its 22,000 acres are a state park, where you can can camp, stay in the old cavalry barracks, horseback ride, hike, kayak and explore the area's fascinating history.
North Platte Canteen and Lincoln County Museum
North Platte Canteen in North Platte — Photo courtesy of Courtesy Lincoln County MuseumDuring World War II, the North Platte Canteen in North Platte served meals to more than 6 million service men who stopped here via train crisscrossing the nation coast to coast. Servicemen had a 10 minute break to leave the train for homemade sandwiches, cake and coffee before continuing on to their destination. This grassroots, all-volunteer effort was the largest of its type in the country, and was fondly remembered as a touch of home for young men far from home. Today the North Platte Canteen and Lincoln County Museum recalls the war years, as well as the area's history, including fossils and Native American exhibits.
Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park
Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park near North Platte — Photo courtesy of stevelarese.comBuffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park near North Platte — Photo courtesy of stevelarese.com
The once-home of William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody–famed Pony Express rider, Army scout, buffalo hunter and Wild West Show promoter – is open to the public and contains exhibits and many of his personal items. The house and ranch near North Platte along the Lincoln Highway Scenic and Historic Byway became a 25-acre state historical park in 1965, and was restored and filled with memorabilia from his and his family's life.
Golden Spike Tower
Golden Spike Museum in North Platte — Photo courtesy of stevelarese.com
Train buffs will love watching the workings of Union Pacific's Baily Yard, the world's largest train yard. From this 8-story-tall tower
that opened in 2008 in North Platte, observers have a panoramic view of the 10,000 rail cars that are processed and attached to engines that haul freight, coal and other good across the nation each day on this 2,850-acre lot. The tower, build to resemble a railroad spike, is open until 7 p.m. May 1 through Sept. 30 and until 5 p.m. Oct. 1 through April 30. $7 adults; $6 seniors 55 and older, 5 and under free.
Scott's Bluff National Monument
Scott's Bluff National Monument near Gering — Photo courtesy of stevelarese.comScott’s Bluff National Monument
near Gering encompasses a plateau that rises 800 feet above the North Platte River Valley, and marked the completion of one-third of the Oregon Trail. From 1841 until the railroad came in 1869, some 350,000 pioneers walked the 2,000 mile journey from Kansas City to Portland, Oregon along the Oregon Trail. Pioneers hoped for success in the West, which was now connected to the East by the Louisiana Purchase. Wagon trains headed northwest from Kansas City and traversed the length of Nebraska, which could seem like an endless sea of grass day after day. Rock formations broke up the landscape and gave pioneers encouragement that they were making progress, and also gave their minds something to consider during the often monotonous days, which averaged an 8-mile gain. Scott’s Bluff National Monument explores this chapter of American History with a museum, exhibits and miles of hiking trails that give just a taste of what pioneers experienced for months on end. Like Scott’s Bluff, Chimney Rock National Historic Site and Visitor Center near Bayard is an unusual rock formation that inspired pioneers traveling the 2,000-mile Oregon Trail. This iconic formation is a must stop for photos, and a short hike leads to its base.
Toadstool State Park and Hudson-Meng Education & Research Center
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Agate Fossile Beds National Monument — Photo courtesy of stevelarese.com
Another stop on Nebraska's Fossil Freeway, Agate Fossil Beds
is 50-miles southeast of Scott's Bluff and contains some of the best examples of Miocene-era fossils dating to 20 million years ago. The Oglala Lakota Sioux were aware of this unique area, and shared their knowledge with homesteader James H. Cook. His collection of Sioux clothing and items on display that were gifted to him makes this a worthwhile stop on its own. The Barn Anew B&B
near Scott's Bluff is a great place to stay after a day of hiking.The Barn Anew B&B — Photo courtesy of stevelarese.com
The Knight Museum and Sandhills Center
Knight Museum in Alliance — Photo courtesy of stevelarese.com
in Alliance displays artifacts from the history of Western Nebraska and tells the life stories of many of its notable Native Americans and pioneers. The genealogy center is of interest to any one tracing their roots in this area. Admission is free.
Nebraska has a lot of fun things to do and beautiful sights. The scenery alone is worth a visit. Chimney Rock National Historic Site and Visitor Center — Photo courtesy of stevelarese.com