It’s easy to be a nature lover here in Nebraska. Our state boasts a huge range of landscapes, from dramatic valleys in the east to mesmerizing Sandhills in the middle to impressive rock formations in the west. Magnificent wildlife abounds throughout, and unexpected ecosystems can be found in the most surprising places. If you happen to be a nature lover, be sure to visit these destinations that show off some of Nebraska’s greatest offerings.
1. Lincoln Saline Wetland Nature Center (and the saline wetlands), Lincoln
It's amazing just how many people don't know about Nebraska's saline wetlands. This unique area is home to a diverse collection of plants and animals, and there are 14 different saline wetland areas to explore. Visit the nature center at the east end of Capitol Beach Lake for more information on the area. A wood chip trail at the center lets you walk around and explore on your own.
2. Valentine and Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuges, near Valentine
These two huge wildlife refuges are full of incredible views, including wildlife like bison and dozens of bird species. Take your time and drive slowly through each, or get out in designated areas for hiking and other outdoor recreation.
3. Nebraska National Forest
The nation's largest hand-planted forest, the Nebraska National Forest, provides endless opportunities for exploration and recreation. It's divided into three districts, located in Chadron, Halsey, and Valentine - and they're all worth a visit.
4. Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, near Harrison
This former ranch is now the home of a fascinating historical site featuring Native American artifacts, ancient mammal fossils, and the awesomely bizarre daemonelix fossils.
5. Courthouse, Jail, and Chimney Rocks, near Bayard
These large rock formations were the first major post-prairie geologic landmarks seen by settlers headed west on the Oregon Trail. They feature prominently in settlers' diaries as beacons of hope for the journey ahead. They're still just as awe-inspiring to visit today.
6. Fontenelle Forest, Bellevue
This 1,400-acre forest in eastern Nebraska is a wonderful place to get out and experience nature. Choose from an easy boardwalk hike or a more challenging overland hike; either way, the views, the wildlife, and the plants are endlessly impressive.
7. Pine Ridge, northwestern Nebraska
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.
8. Indian Cave State Park and the Missouri Valley, Shubert
One of the most spectacular sights in eastern Nebraska is the Missouri Valley all decked out in its fall colors - but it's gorgeous in any season. There is no better vantage point than at the lookout at Indian Cave State Park. The cave with prehistoric petroglyphs and some fantastic hiking trails are other great reasons to add this spot to your list.
9. Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway
Highway 2 is known as the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway, and it's a part of Nebraska that many tourists never see since it is a fair distance from the interstate. This route was rated as one of the top 10 scenic routes in the United States. Besides the gorgeous scenery, there are plenty of sweet little towns along the way - make time to stop off in one or two of them on your way.
10. Scotts Bluff National Monument, Gering
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.
11. Toadstool Geologic Park, near Harrison
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.
12. Smith Falls State Park, Valentine
The tallest waterfall in the state is found at the end of a short, scenic hike through a field and across a boardwalk. For those who thought Nebraska didn't have any waterfalls, it's a beautiful surprise. And for those of us who did know about it, it's always impressive no matter how many times we visit!
These natural wonders are in no particular order and don’t represent all of the amazing natural attractions in our state. How many have you visited? Tell us about your favorite in the comments!
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Lincoln Saline Wetlands Nature Center, 570-598 W Industrial Lake Dr, Lincoln, NE 68528, USA
Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, Pony Lake Road, Valentine, NE, USA
Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, 39983 Refuge Rd, Valentine, NE 69201, USA
Nebraska National Forest, 125 N Main St, Chadron, NE 69337, USA
Nebraska National Forest, Bessey Ranger District, River Loop, Halsey, NE, USA
Nebraska National Forest, Natick, NE 69166, USA
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, 301 River Rd, Harrison, NE 69346, USA
Bridgeport, NE 69336, USA
Chimney Rock, West Bayard, NE 69334, USA
Fontenelle Forest, 1111 Bellevue Blvd N, Bellevue, NE 68005, USA
Indian Cave State Park, 720 Road, Shubert, NE, USA
Sandhills Scenic Byway, 2424 S Locust St, Grand Island, NE 68801, USA
Scotts Bluff National Monument, Old Oregon Trail, Gering, NE, USA
Toadstool Geological Park and Campground, Harrison, NE 69346, USA
Smith Falls State Park, 90159 Smith Falls Rd, Valentine, NE 69201, USA