Nebraska is a state full of exceptional beauty, from the cities in the east to the expansive, largely untouched nature in the west. If you don’t venture outside of your home region very often, it’s time to get out and explore. Confused about where to start? These 17 places are the absolute essentials that you just have to see in your lifetime – in no particular order, because who could really rank the best places in Nebraska?
1. Toadstool Geologic Park, near Crawford
This total gem of a natural attraction features rock formations that look like they belong on another planet.
2. Indian Cave State Park, Shubert
The name can be misleading, since the cave is far from the only thing to see here. The park's wild woods are exceptional for hiking or horseback riding, but what you'll always remember is the breathtaking view.
3. Niobrara National Scenic River, north-central Nebraska
Everyone knows that the Niobrara is the place to be for tubing, tanking, and other river fun, but it also happens to be exceptionally beautiful. How can you not be impressed by that view?!
4. Smith Falls State Park, near Valentine
While you're enjoying the Niobrara, stop by this pristine park to view Nebraska's tallest waterfall. It's a hike in/hike out or boat in/boat out park with some of the best hiking in the state.
5. Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, near Harrison
This monument is known as the site of some pretty major fossil finds. Today, there are displays of fossils as well as Native American artifacts. But even if you aren't interested in history, the landscape is simply lovely.
6. Ashfall Fossil Beds, near Royal
Some 12 million years ago, a volcano erupted in Idaho - an event that dumped one to two feet of ash in Nebraska. Animals here breathed in the harmful ash and died off. Today, UNL keeps Ashfall open to the public for education and entertainment. Lucky us!
7. Downtown Omaha's Skyline
Nebraska's largest city also happens to be quite picturesque, particularly at night. If you're lucky enough to fly into Eppley after dark, the city looks positively magical from above, all lit up.
8. Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Omaha
Omaha's zoo was voted the best in the world, and after you've spent a day there it's easy to see why. It's definitely worth the trip from anywhere in the state!
9. Scotts Bluff National Monument, Gering
These tall rock formations were a welcome sight to travelers on the Oregon, Mormon, and California trails. Today, they remain an impressive sight either from a distance or from the top of the bluffs themselves.
10. Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Morrill County
This is one of Nebraska's most recognizable landmarks; it's even on the state quarter!
11. The Nebraska State Capitol Building, Lincoln
This marvelous building is impressive on the outside but incredible on the inside. The interior is so opulently appointed that it's almost impossible to walk out unimpressed.
12. Sunken Gardens, Lincoln
Does a park in the middle of the city really deserve a spot on your bucket list? This one does. It's hard to explain the feeling of serenity you feel while walking through the gardens, but maybe it has something to do with this being a decades-old community-supported project that so many people have poured their love into.
13. Chadron State Park, Chadron
This state park is beyond impressive - it is truly the perfect place to go to get away from your everyday life.
14. Pine Ridge, Northwestern Nebraska
Part of Pine Ridge can be found in Chadron State Park. It also stretches through several other parks, wildlife management areas, and the Oglala National Grassland. The ecologically unusual area is home to Nebraska's largest herd of bighorn sheep.
15. Lake McConaughy, near Ogallala
Nebraska's largest lake features more than 100 miles of sandy shoreline. The man-made lake is surrounded by some serious natural beauty, and there's nothing quite like a sunset over this water.
16. The Nebraska Sandhills
This ecologically unique area is unlike any other place in Nebraska. Take the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway (Hwy 2) for a truly beautiful ride through the area.
17. Ponca State Park, Ponca
Located right on the Missouri River, Ponca has been named repeatedly as one of Nebraska's most beautiful parks and recognized as one of the country's best camping locations. Ponca is a splendidly scenic area of Northeastern Nebraska.
There are lots of other places in Nebraska that everyone should see, of course, but these are a great starting point. What other places do you think are absolute must-sees? Let us know in the comments.