We all have our favorite places in Nebraska, and if we’ve been going to those places for a long time we tend to expect that everyone in the state knows about them. But the truth is that Nebraska is BIG, and there are so many awesome things to see and do that a lot of us have never even heard of the best recreational, educational, and entertainment opportunities. You seasoned travelers may know most of these, but hopefully there are at least a few here that you haven’t yet discovered.
Edgerton Explorit Center, Aurora
Named for Harold "Doc" Edgerton, a renowned Nebraska inventor, the Explorit Center is all about hands-on scientific learning experiences. Exhibits for kids and adults encourage a love of scientific exploration and discovery. It's a lot like the children's museums located in Omaha and Lincoln, but with a firmer emphasis on science.
El Museo Latino, Omaha
The first Latino art and culture center in the midwest and one of only 11 in the entire country, El Museo Latino celebrates everything about the vibrant Latino community here in Nebraska and around the world. The museum features Latino art and history as well as offering educational programs in film, art, and dance along with workshops, demonstrations, slide presentations, and tours.
Grove Lake Wildlife Management Area, Near Royal
Grove Lake is one of those small, out-of-the-way campsites that are often overlooked, but it offers some amazing fishing opportunities. Largemouth bass, northern pike, and trout abound here. For those less interested in the catching of fish, Grove Lake Fish Hatchery is located nearby and welcomes visitors. Grove Lake WMA is only a few miles away from Ashfall, so if you're looking for a non-crowded camping spot on your next visit to the archaeological site, this is it.
Happy Jack Chalk Mine, Scotia
Beloved by those who are in the know, Happy Jack Chalk Mine is still completely unknown to a lot of Nebraskans. This is Nebraska's only underground attraction; it provides a chance to walk through prehistory and more recent history all at once. The "chalk" is actually layers of ancient algae-like creatures called diatoms. An Army explorer discovered the site - which is actually an ancient lake bed - and locals began mining the chalk for building material and other uses. The mine was abandoned for quite some time, but opened as a renovated, lighted attraction in 1997. Happy Jack is one of only two known underground diatomite mines in the U.S., and the only one open to visitors.
Although Brownville's population now hovers around 130, it was at one point the largest town in the Nebraska territory. Today the entire town thrives as one big tourist destination. With seven museums, a riverboat, several historic houses open for tours, lots of B & Bs, an annual town-wide flea market and plenty of other fun things to do, you'll easily fill an entire weekend - at least - enjoying Brownville.
Hollywood Candy/Fairmont Antiques and Mercantile, Omaha
Stepping into this place is like walking through a time warp. The candy store features walls and aisles packed full of candy, including a ton of varieties that you probably thought weren't made anymore. In the diner you can get an old-fashioned malt or other ice cream treat or a more substantial snack like a hot dog or sloppy joe. The antique mall features the wares of more than 25 antique dealers and the owner's own fantastic antique collection - there is something unique and surprising down every aisle!
Hot Shops Art Center, Omaha
A lot of people in Omaha don't even know this place exists, but it's well worth a visit. The art center is home to tons of working studios as well as several galleries. Hot Shops hosts events all year, but the semi-annual open house in May and December is probably the best time to see it all.
Hudson-Meng Bison Kill, Near Crawford
Though not as diverse in its fossils as the Ashfall Fossil Beds, Hudson-Meng is another significant and educational archaeological site that's definitely worth a look. In 1954, local ranchers discovered the site which contains the 10,000-year-old of as many as 600 bison. Excavations and research are still underway at the site, and some researchers have postulated that the bison died of natural causes, though most believe that the bones are from a massive Paleoamerican kill. It's located near Toadstool Geologic Park, and it's the perfect complement to your visit there.
Kregel Windmill Factory Museum, Nebraska City
A little piece of Nebraska's history is preserved in this former windmill factory. From 1879 to the 1940s, the Kregel factory built more than 2000 windmills which would later grace the farms and homes around NE City. All of the factory's equipment is still in place so you can see just how it looked when it was in operation.
Licorice International, Lincoln
If you just can't get enough licorice, this store in Lincoln will delight you to no end. Featuring millions (okay, that's probably an exaggeration) of kinds of licorice from 14 countries, the store in the historic Haymarket district will keep you busy for hours.
OPPD Arboretum, Omaha
This beautiful little nature area is located in the middle of Omaha (at the Blondo Street substation), though many Omahans have no idea it's there. The arboretum is an outdoor education facility meant to teach visitors about responsible landscaping and energy conservation. It also happens to be a great place to take a leisurely stroll among native Nebraskan trees and plants.
Panorama Point, Kimball County
Although most of Nebraska is nearly as flat as people say it is, Panorama Point peaks at 5,429 feet above sea level. It's a low, gentle rise in the far southwestern corner of the panhandle; once at the top you can sign the register and check out the small monument marker. There is an entrance fee because the site is located on the High Point Bison Ranch.
Petrified Wood Gallery, Ogallala
Beginning in the 1950s, the Kenfield brothers began collecting ancient woods, fossils, and Native American artifacts as well as cutting and polishing rocks. Much of their collection came from the Ogallala area. They crafted some truly breathtaking sculptures from petrified wood, often with a Native American or western theme. Today, the entire collection is available to view in the gallery free of charge to the public (though they do accept goodwill donations).
Robidoux Pass, Near Gering
Robidoux Pass is the name given to one of the two passes used by westward-bound migrants on their way through the Wildcat Hills. In the late 1840s, a French trader named Robidoux set up shop near the pass and sold goods and blacksmith services to travelers. Often outshone by the stunning rock formations nearby, Robidoux Pass is an important part of Nebraska history which has been reconstructed for the benefit of modern visitors.
Second Wind Ranch, Comstock
This property has gone through some tough times and changes of hands over the years, but it was once home to some of Nebraska's most anticipated live music festivals. A collection of restored vintage windmills stands on the ranch ranging from six to 20 feet in diameter. The ranch also housed a B & B at one point, but we haven't been able to find confirmation that it is still open. (Commenters, any input?)
Soldier Creek Wilderness Area, in the Pine Ridge Section of the Nebraska National Forest
This federally-designated Wilderness Area shares a border with the popular Fort Robinson State Park. From the 1870s through WWII, the land was used as a timber reserve and horse pasture by the U.S. Cavalry. After suffering a devastating fire in 1989, the area has rebounded beautifully and provides a place to view a multitude of wildlife including eagles, bobcats, coyotes, elk, deer, and more.
Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center, Denton
Often overshadowed by the Rowe Sanctuary, Spring Creek is an equally scenic and educational area. Tallgrass prairie land is home to a wide variety of wildlife including a diverse assortment of bird species.
Standing Bear Lake, Near Bennington
Standing Bear is sometimes passed over for the other awesome lakes in the Omaha area, but this large site has some unique features. Along with its fishing and boating, walking trails,and picnic areas, Standing Bear Lake also features a flying field for remote control airplanes. In the winter, the lake is opened up for ice skating. One of the coolest things about this place is the wind organ sculpture: it's made of a number of pipes sticking out of the ground, each with a hole for filtering the wind. Each pipe makes a different tone, so every time the wind blows the park plays its own music.
The Most Unlikely Place, Lewellen
Next time you take a trip to Lake McConaughy or Ash Hollow, stop by the village of Lewellen for a truly unique experience at The Most Unlikely Place. This magical little place is a cafe, art gallery, musical performance space, and all-purpose gathering spot where you'll always be treated like a friend.
Willow Creek State Recreation Area, Near Pierce
This 1600-acre recreation area was built and is maintained by the Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District. It contains a large reservoir which is perfect for boating, fishing, and swimming. In the winter, the roads and lake surface (if the ice is thick enough) are opened up to snowmobilers.
What do you think, Nebraska? What are some of your favorite places that people from outside of the state or a different region of Nebraska may not know about?