Bridges to Buttes Byway
About This Trip
From the high bridges of Valentine to the high plains near the Wyoming border, this 197-mile byway along U.S. Highway 20 reveals the rich diversity of Nebraska’s scenic landscapes.
Rolling sandhills in the east, wild prairies in the northern Panhandle, and pine-studded buttes on the western edge.
Grab a quick snack while in Harrison, also known as “Nebraska’s Top Town.” At 4,878 feet above sea level, the town enjoys the highest elevation of any Nebraska community and is surrounded by some of the most scenic countryside in the state. Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, 24 miles south of Harrison on NE-29, is a fossil lover’s dream come true. This 3,000-square-foot national monument houses fossilized mammals from 19 million years ago.
At Toadstool Geologic Park north of Crawford, you’ll see some of the most dramatic rock formations on the planet. Within the wind- and rain-eroded clay lie many fossilized mammals. Also north of Crawford is Hudson-Meng Research and Education Center, where you’ll find the bones of more than 600 primitive bison killed more than 10,000 years ago.
Chadron State Park south of Chadron is Nebraska’s first state park and an outdoor recreation lover’s paradise. Nestled among towering pine trees and rugged buttes, the park is packed with fun-filled activities such as paddleboating, black powder demonstrations, hiking, biking, and sightseeing. Located near Chadron, the Museum of the Fur Trade displays artifacts from the lucrative fur-trading industry that was a thriving business in northwest Nebraska in the early 1800s.
Explore hiking and biking trails, historical tours, hunting, and wildlife viewing while surrounded by the scenic beauty of the Pine Ridge region at Flying Heart Ranch near Hay Springs. The complete story of Camp Sheridan and the Spotted Tail Agency as well as exhibits highlighting life on the rugged frontier can be found in Rushville at the Sheridan County Historical Museum.
Historical author Mari Sandoz wrote about her life in Nebraska’s impressive Sandhills region. Stop by the Mari Sandoz Room in Gordon to learn about this fascinating woman and her impact on Nebraska’s literary scene. Leisurely browse through the Sheridan Gallery, enjoying local works of art that portray the Nebraska Sandhills and surrounding area, American Indian art, prints, antiques, and other gift items. Nebraska’s cowboy way of life is alive and well at the Tri-State Old Time Cowboys Memorial Museum.
Enjoy the scenic beauty of the northern Sandhills as you make your way to the Arthur Bowring Sandhills Ranch State Historical Park near Merriman. The visitor center, outbuildings, and ranch house document the history of ranching in the Sandhills and chronicle the lives of Eve Bowring (the first Nebraska woman to serve in the U.S. Senate) and her husband Arthur.
Welcome to cowboy country! Enjoy life on the range at the Sandhills Spirit of the West near Nenzel west of Valentine. Embark on a rustic wagon ride and learn about the area’s history, settlement, and ranching lifestyle from true cowboys and ranchers.
This path cuts through north-central Nebraska from Valentine, giving you the perfect view of the subtle beauty of the Sandhills. Within this unique ecosystem, experience charming towns and natural wonders, including waterfalls along the Niobrara National Scenic River, the world’s largest hand-planted forest, dramatic sandhills, winding rivers, and the serene beauty of Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area southwest of Valentine.
Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge near Valentine offers canoeing and tubing opportunities, as well as a chance to view bison, deer, elk, and prairie dogs. At the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge south of Valentine, discover more than 240 species of birds. Another great stop is Smith Falls State Park, where glistening water cascades 70 feet into the river below.
Start in Harrison
30 miles east on US-20 to Crawford
24 miles east on US-20 to Chadron
20 miles east on US-20 to Hay Springs
12 miles east on US-20 to Rushville
15 miles east on US-20 to Gordon
30 miles east on US-20 to Merriman
31 miles east on US-20 to Nenzel
30 miles east on US-20 to Valentine