Nebraska’s Varied Landscapes
The 77,000 square miles that make up Nebraska are home to a diverse range of terrain. Unique trails and scenic byways are laced throughout the state. Through the rolling Sandhills, prairies, forests and bluffs the sights and views are spectacular. Our state is also home to many national monuments and a number of historic parks. It’s pretty safe to say, Nebraska is a one-of-a-kind wonder.
Omaha and Lincoln , Nebraska’s two largest cities, are located in the southeastern corner of the state. While Omaha sits on the bank of the great Missouri River, Lincoln, the Capital city, is surrounded by a sea of rolling prairie. Museums, sporting events, parks and more, keep both Lincoln and Omaha bustling with daytime attractions. Mix that with a nightlife overflowing with concerts, performing arts, and comedy clubs, you’re sure to have a great time in either of these two cities.
Wide-open spaces and dramatic, panoramic views accurately define the seemingly untouched beauty of Nebraska’s Sandhills. CBS commentator Charles Kuralt called Nebraska’s Highway 2, now designated a national scenic byway, one of “America’s 10 most beautiful highways”. Simply traverse west on any one of the northwestern byways, and it won’t be long before you find yourself surrounded by the rolling sea of The Sandhills.
This northwestern region of the state is often defined by its ever-present, natural beauty—a picturesque landscape composed of breathtaking buttes, sweeping plateaus and vast wheat fields. The Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area features winding trails and expansive views. If you’re looking for extraordinary sights and unique hiking trails, Toadstool Geologic Park is your ticket to tranquility—it’s like walking on the moon.
Lakes & Rivers
Nebraska has more waterway mileage than any other state in the United States. Whether it’s fishing, boating, or floating, Nebraska’s rivers and lakes offer plenty of recreational options. Lake action can be found at Branched Oak in the east, to Lake McConaughy in the southwest, while nature lovers may want to flock to the Platte River in the spring for the annual Migration of the Sandhill Cranes.
As far as the eye can see, the imagination can follow. That’s our philosophy, and out here it proves to be true. Prairie fields originally made up almost all of Nebraska’s territory. There’s a reason it was once referred to as The Great American Desert—though the soil itself is far from arid. Its rich, flat farmland is the reason homesteaders settled here in the first place. Thanks to them and the gift of the land itself, our state has grown to be one of the largest agricultural contributors in our entire nation.
A true Nebraska vacation isn’t defined by any single destination. It’s more about the journey—the culmination of sights and sounds you encounter as you make your way through the state. These scenic stretches of two-lane high way will introduce you to diverse terrain, rich history, unusual sites, attractions and warm faces of hospitality that are often just around the bend.
National Monuments & Historic Sites
While traveling Nebraska, our national monuments and historic sites are certainly not to be overlooked. Each one proudly stands as a physical reminder of some of our state’s most significant, historical events. One of the most recorded landmarks of the great western migration, Chimney Rock National Historic Site, served as a beacon for travelers along the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails. See a representation of the act that paved the way for settlers at Homestead National Monument. Bear witness to one of our state’s most significant, archeological discoveries by visiting the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. Or visit the Scotts Bluff National Monument, the very landmark that provided awe and inspiration for peoples from Native Americans to emigrants on the western trails. See life through their eyes by visiting any of Nebraska’s historic sites in person.
Nebraska is home to eight state parks, two national forests, one national recreation area and six national wildlife refuges. Every one of these parks has something unique to offer. Indian Cave State Park features a cavernous, camping experience unlike any other. The park also includes 22 miles of hiking trails that are all sure to excite any modern explorer. If you’re looking for a more traditional campground, Long Pine State Recreational Area offers a number of forest-enclosed campsites just a few feet away from a crisp, clear river. Find your favorite in any corner of the state.
The Story of Nebraska
Nebraska’s history spans back 12-20 million years. Visitors can immerse themselves in our prehistoric past at archeological sites like Ashfall and Agate Fossil Beds Nebraska’s Native American history can be traced through such tribes as the Sioux, Pawnee, Omaha, Otoe, Kansa, Cheyenne and Arapahoe. Nebraska was part of the path to the west for most pioneers. The passing of the Homestead Act enticed many to become the early settlers of the state. It was during that transition that spawned the reputation of the Wild West. With cowboys, cattle drives, railroads and rustlers capturing the imagination who dreamt about a more rugged and daring life. For a deeper dive into our storied past, the Nebraska History Museum is a great place to start.
Before the settlers and the one-street towns, before Nebraska was even Nebraska, it was home to many great people. Some 10,000 Native Americans were estimated to have lived in the Great Plains territory—many based along the life-sustaining banks of the Missouri and Platte Rivers. Tribal traditions are still practiced today by these original Nebraska natives. Visitors can find history-rich tribal museums, purchase original native crafts, and even participate in one of several, annual powwows.
Today, the Rock Creek Station State Historic Park provides its visitors with information on the Oregon, California, Lewis and Clark, Pony Express and Mormon pioneer trails. Additionally, from east-to-west is a collection of museums and monuments where you can discover what life was like for the first homesteaders, and bear witness to the eventual transformation from dirt dugouts and sod homes to prospering townships and communities.
The Wild West
The Sandhills in Western and Central Nebraska make the perfect home for quality cattle ranching. And as we all know, with ranching and cattle comes horses and cowboys. Since the 1850’s, cowboys have been a significant part of Nebraska’s western culture. Historic outings such as Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show provided visitors with quality entertainment. In 1921, the first, annual Burwell Rodeo created an entirely new attraction that simultaneously paid tribute to Nebraska’s western heritage. Today, it is still one of the most popular rodeos in the nation.
With 93% of Nebraska dedicated to farmland, our state truly helps feed the world. Agri-eco tourism has recently become very popular. Hands-on experiences can be found at several working farms and ranches open to tourists. Vineyards abound with opportunities to sample local wines on the grounds those very grapes are grown. And in the summer be on the lookout for the many pop-up food stands and farmers markets throughout the state.
In Nebraska, history is highly valued. A look inside Nebraska’s State Capitol building is filled with fascinating facts and artwork. Arbor Lodge stands as a reminder of an important national holiday. A stroll through Kearney’s Archway will provide you with a summarized tour of our state’s past and a few other nifty tidbits. Visit these and others to learn about Nebraska’s rich history.