Are you itching to do a little exploring? You don’t have to travel all the way to some exotic location to marvel at the beautiful waterfalls, or go hiking through some of the most amazing scenery Mother Nature has to offer. All you need to do is look around you – Nebraska is filled will plenty of new and exciting places to explore, and these 12 spots are a great place to start your adventure:
During these uncertain times, please keep safety in mind and consider adding destinations to your bucket list to visit at a later date.
1. Chadron State Park
Located just nine miles south of the town of Chadron, this state park is actually within the borders of the stunning Nebraska National Forest. It was Nebraska's very first national park and has space and facilities for camping, fishing, horseback riding, hiking, and tons of other activities.
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, and while you can't climb to the summit, it's still a great place to explore.
3. Halsey National Forest
This pine forest in the middle of the Sandhills is such a unique place to spend a day (or more) exploring on foot or on ATVs.
4. Indian Cave State Park
Indian Cave State Park's mission revolves around preservation. The prehistoric cave referenced in the park's name contains petroglyphs believed to be thousands of years old. Also within the park's boundaries is the "ghost town" of St. Deroin. You'll find excellent hiking here as well as camping, fishing, and horseback riding.
5. 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.
6. Pine Ridge Region
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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Smith Falls State Park
Smith Falls State Park is obviously well known for the gorgeous waterfall that is a main attraction of the area, but there are also some beautiful wooded trails all around the park where you can enjoy some of Nebraska's finest scenery.
10. Soldier Creek Wilderness
Soldier Creek Wilderness, near Chadron, is a 7,794 acre region that provides habitat for elk, white-tailed deer, mule deer, turkeys, coyotes, bobcats, eagles, hawks, and the threatened Bald eagle, making it a great place to get out and enjoy the wildlife. Here, the ponderosa pine-covered ridges of northwest Nebraska give way to grassy upland parks, making it a beautiful area to explore.
11. 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.
12. Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area
Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area, near Gering, offers 1,094 acres of rugged rock buttes and pine-clad canyons just waiting to be explored. The recreation area overlooks the North Platte River Valley, and historic Scotts Bluff National Monument looms to the northwest. The park features over four miles of hiking/biking trails, stone-covered picnic shelters, and a secluded campground from which to enjoy nocturnal nature and a quiet campsite.
There are so many more amazing places to explore in Nebraska. What are some of your suggestions?