Outlaw Trail Scenic Byway
About This Trip
Once upon a time, outlaws, thieves, lynch mobs, and lawmen roamed this northern stretch of Nebraska. Today, the people you’ll encounter along this 231-mile jaunt on Nebraska Highway 12 from near South Sioux City to Valentine are much friendlier than the colorful characters of the past.
Forested bluffs, winding rivers, sandhills, grasslands, wetlands, high prairies, lakes, waterfalls, and a national wildlife refuge.
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.
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. 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 from the cliff top to empty into the Niobrara National Scenic River.
Try your hand at canoeing, tubing, or kayaking down the Niobrara National Scenic River with Dryland Aquatics near Sparks. Impressive waterfalls and springs cascade down steep canyon walls, making a camera definitely worth bringing. Enjoy a refreshing break in Springview at the Turtle Butte Lodge and Café, where a variety of dishes are prepared using local ingredients, including buffalo and beef.
Check out native Nebraska bison as you ride in a covered wagon at the Kreycik Riverview Elk Ranch near Niobrara. Afterwards, experience the rich history and culture of the Ponca Tribe at the Ponca Earthlodge and Ponca Tribal Museum. See if Lady Luck is smiling on you at the Ohiya Casino on the Santee Reservation. The 12,000-square-foot casino—operated by the Santee Tribe—also offers authentic American Indian jewelry, blankets, and other crafts.
The spacious front porch and downstairs speakeasy tavern in the Historic Argo Hotel in Crofton are ideal relaxing places. The hotel is said to be haunted—an added benefit. Two miles east of Wynot, St. James Marketplace is home to a wonderful farmers’ market, craft fair, and tearoom. While away the afternoon near Ponca exploring Ponca State Park’s many miles of recreational trails, wildlife watching opportunities, scenic tri-state Missouri River overlook, and Missouri National Recreational River Resource and Education Center.
Start in Valentine
18 miles east on NE-12 to Sparks
30 miles east on NE-12 to Springview
103 miles east on NE-12 to Niobrara
28 miles east on NE-12 to Crofton
17 miles east on NE-12 to Wynot
29 miles east on NE-12 to Ponca