According to National Geographic, there are 10 state panhandles in the U.S., and
Nebraska’s ranks at number 3. That’s not bad, considering that most people who travel through the panhandle do so at 75 miles an hour on I-80 on their way to somewhere else. If you slow down and take a little time, you’ll see that the Panhandle actually has quite a lot to offer, whether you live here or you’re just visiting.
1. This scenery is unlike anything you've ever seen in Nebraska.
Honestly, who would expect this kind of majesty in a state that most people dismiss as flat?
2. Nature out here is untamed, vast, and breathtaking.
First up on your Panhandle must-visit list should be the Oglala National Grassland, Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area (named by
as the most underrated spot in the state), Nebraska National Forest, and Crescent Lake National Wildlife Refuge. And don't worry - after you've visited all of those, there are still plenty more amazing natural sights to see.
3. Sometimes it feels like you've left the planet...or at least Nebraska.
This place is for real, and it's right here in Nebraska. Toadstool Geologic Park is one of Nebraska's true
4. Pre-history sits just under the surface here.
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Hudson-Meng Bison Kill
are both paradise for lovers of paleontology and archaeology. These sites have both yielded some amazing treasures and put Nebraska on the map as a place of high interest to fossil studiers. Visit these sites to learn about Nebraska from a whole new angle.
5. More recent history is alive and well in the Panhandle, too.
Fort Robinson (pictured) is just one of the incredible historic sites in the Panhandle. You can spend all day poking around here and learn about the fort's role in military history. Another excellent Panhandle historic site is the Bowring Ranch State Historical Park near Merriman; this working ranch is always interesting and always entertaining.
6. Are you ready for ALL of these museums?
Nebraska is known for having some amazing museums, but those in the Panhandle are not to be missed. Head out to the western end of the state to explore the Museum of the Fur Trader (pictured), Legacy of the Plains Museum, Trailside Museum of Natural History, Bayard Depot Museum, Banner County Museum, Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center...and more. So many more.
7. Maybe looking at historical objects isn't enough. Maybe you want to actually live in the past.
8. Not everyone likes it, but Carhenge is a Panhandle icon.
Some people still think it's goofy even after all this time and despite all the visitors it draws in. Like it or not, Carhenge (near Alliance) will always and forever be a part of the Panhandle.
9. Oh, did we forget to mention the awesome rock formations?
And by "awesome," we mean in the real sense of the word: they provoke a profound sense of awe. Early settlers passing through Nebraska would leave the trail and walk up to five miles just to get a closer look at formations like Chimney Rock, Courthouse and Jail Rocks, and the big bluffs at Scotts Bluff. There are even more buttes and bluffs out here than most people know about.
10. You can visit the original Cabela's.
For outdoor sport lovers, Cabela's is a familiar and beloved name. See where it all got its start in Sidney, where the company was founded.
11. Lake McConaughy is one of Nebraska's top attractions and its largest lake.
Lake Mac is kind of a big deal - and there's something here for absolutely everyone to enjoy. (It's situated just outside of the Panhandle, but we'll let that slide - it's a must-visit!)
12. You can see a lighthouse...in Nebraska?
The lighthouse at Lake Minatare is one of only seven inland lighthouses in the entire U.S. It also happens to be within the borders of the North Platte National Wildlife Refuge.
13. Scenic byways will take you places you never knew existed in the Cornhusker State.
Follow the 385 Gold Rush Scenic Byway, Bridges to Buttes Scenic Byway, Lincoln Highway Scenic Byway, Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway, or Western Trails Scenic Byway to see the best that the panhandle has to offer. Find out more about these unique car routes
14. There's some darn good food out this way.
You won't find any Zagat-rated restaurants out here. But in every town and even at some of the attractions (like the Drifter Cookshack found at the High Plains Homestead, pictured), you'll find the kind of hearty, filling meal that Nebraskans know and love so well.
15. Finally, the Panhandle holds the types of little communities that make Nebraska so special.
The towns, cities, and rural ranching communities in the Panhandle are full of tough, hardworking, big-hearted Nebraskans.
It’s easy to see how Nebraska’s panhandle gets overlooked, but now that you know what treasures abound there, we bet you’ll start planning your summer trip soon. There are far too many great things about this unique part of Nebraska to stuff into one article, but we promise – we didn’t forget about any of them! Let us know in the comments what your favorite things are about the Panhandle.