Nebraska has such an unearned bad reputation as a boring place with no natural beauty. Our state is full of amazing sights! These eight natural attractions are some of the most beautiful, unforgettable parts of Nebraska – in alphabetical, not ranked, order.
1. Ashfall Fossil Beds
Ashfall, in Antelope County, is a rare and stunning fossil site that captures a moment in history.
Some 10 to 12 million years ago, a volcanic eruption brought a thick blanket of ash down over what is now Nebraska. The initial fall didn't kill all of the animals in the area, however - that happened over time as the animals breathed in the ash until it caused their lungs to fail.
This particular site was once a watering hole, and the animals that had gathered around to find fresh water fell where they stood, their skeletons perfectly preserved. Some even had their last meals in their stomachs. The fossils include those of rhinos, horses, camels, birds, dogs, and even a species of saber-toothed deer.
2. Chimney Rock
This impressive natural rock formation near Bayard was the single most documented natural feature mentioned in the journals of travelers on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails. In 1956 it was designated a National Historic Site and is now maintained by the NE State Historical Society. A visitor's center on the site provides plenty of information about the formation's history.
3. The Niobrara RIver
There are certainly other rivers of note in Nebraska, but the Niobrara is exceptionally diverse and picturesque. A wide variety of wildlife thrive on its banks and in its waters, while the river provides unparalleled recreation opportunities for human visitors. There are also some big waterfalls and a couple hundred small waterfalls that make the Niobrara especially scenic.
4. Pine Ridge
This rocky region in western Nebraska is forested, providing habitats for many plant and animal species. This is where you can find the state's largest herd of bighorn sheep as well as the turkey, mule deer, and elk that are present in much of the rest of the state.
5. The Sandhills
It would be hard to overstate the simple beauty of the Sandhills region which covers more than 25 percent of the state. The plant-anchored sand dunes (the largest in the Western hemisphere, by the way) were thought by early settlers to be utterly useless; thus the area was dubbed "The Great American Desert."
Thankfully, the region was finally recognized as the spectacular ecologically-unique, biologically-diverse land that it is. Several species of plants and birds are found here that can't be found anywhere else. And thankfully for smart settlers who stuck out the hard times here to figure out how to use the land, the region also happens to make superb ranching land.
6. The Sandhill Crane Migration
While the annual sandhill crane migration is a fleeting experience, it is absolutely worth a trip to the Platte River to see it. Eighty percent of all the sandhill cranes in the world pass through here each spring on their way north. On their stopover, they pick clean the nearby fields to leave them ready for re-planting. It's impossible to describe the sound experience that comes from the wings and voices of hundreds of thousands of large birds, but the sound and the sight are something you won't soon forget.
7. Scotts Bluff National Monument
Like Chimney Rock, the formations at Scotts Bluff were often noted in migrants' journals as they crossed the state. These impressive rock outcroppings marked the near-end of the plains and told settlers they were closer than ever to their new homes. Today, it's a remarkable pleasure to take a trip to the top of the bluffs and look out on beautiful western Nebraska.
8. Toadstool Geologic Park
This otherworldly region has been called the badlands of Nebraska, and it's not hard to see why. The incredible rock formations look like the landscape you'd find on alien planets, and the region is rich with ancient fossils. You might just spot a few as you walk through the park.
Seriously, Nebraska is full of amazing things if you’re willing to look. Which of these natural wonders have you visited? Are there any others that you think deserve attention? Tell us about your favorites in the comments.