Category: Beautiful drives in Nebraska

The Nebraska National Forest is a United States National Forest located in the U.S. state of Nebraska. The total area of the national forest is 141,864 acres (574 km2).

The national forest comprises two ranger districts. The 90,000-acre (364 km2) Bessey Ranger District is located in the Sandhills of central Nebraska. Encompassing about 63.9% of the forest’s total area, it lies in parts of Thomas and Blaine counties. It was established in 1902 by Charles E. Bessey because he believed forests could be recreated in treeless areas of the Great Plains for use as a national timber reserve. This resulted in a 20,000-acre forest, the largest human-planted forest in the United States. The Bessey Nursery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and the nursery supplies upto 3 million seedlings per year.

Great camping, atv, horseback riding, hiking and biking. This park offers a variety of activities for young and old. A climb up the firetower offers a spectacular view of the surrounding area.

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Hate to say it but . . . Fall is officially here. That crisp chill in the evening air, harvest in full swing, and the Huskers have now played four games. These are all seasonal signs in Nebraska. The leaves on the trees are starting to change color. Now is a great time to get out and take a Sunday cruise in your car or on your motorcycle. There are some great destinations to see these beautiful changes.

Here are a few from East . . .

  • Indian Cave State Park – near Brownsville
  • Along the Missouri River – fromm Omaha to Fort Calhoun
  • Ponca State Park – near Ponca
  • Platte River State Park – near Louisville
  • The Elkhorn River – from Omaha to Norfolk
  • Wagontrain and Stagecoach Lakes – near Lincoln
  • Anywhere along the Platte River

To West . . .

  • Lewis and Clark Lake, Missouri River – near Crofton
  • Calamus Reservoir and the Burwell Area
  • Niobrara National Scenic River – near Valentine
  • Nebraska National Forest – near Halsey
  • Johnson Lake – near Lexington
  • Wildcat Hills – near Scottsbluff
  • Chadron State Park – near Chadron

We’ve named just a few here that are more popular and also locations that I have travelled to during the fall. There are many more scenic routes or areas for this time of year, but too numerous to put here.

If you have a favorite not mentioned here, leave a reply. I’d be happy to add it to the list.

Nebraska’s Nine Scenic Byways and Highways

 

Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway. One of the 10 most scenic routes in the country, Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway offers a rugged, visual beauty that is captivating and soulful as the dramatic Sandhills give way to winding rivers and forest. From Grand Island to Alliance, Highway 2 winds through beautiful countryside, tiny villages and hamlets, and the Nebraska National Forest’s 20,000 acres of hand-planted ponderosa pines, eastern red cedars, and jack pines, the largest hand-planted forest in the country. From fields of corn and the rolling hills of cattle country to sandhills splendor and plentiful marshes and wetlands, the diverse topography is enchanting. On the byway’s eastern end, you experience the annual migration of 500,000 sandhill cranes that descended upon the Platte River Valley. Overlooks of the Dismal River will take your breath away. Beyond the scenery, Sandhills Journey offers Western history beautifully displayed in museums, such as the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer and the Custer County Museum. Experience sprawling ranches, endless sky, miles of rolling grass dunes, windmills and the most unspoiled landscapes in America!

 

Loup Rivers Scenic Byway. Named for the gently flowing North, Middle, and South Loup Rivers that cut through the breathtaking sandhills under brilliant skies, Loup Rivers Scenic Byway rambles through the heart of Nebraska. From the pristine, rolling farmland and hills to the immense and awe-inspiring sandhills, Loup Rivers Scenic Byway is a delight for the eyes, mind and soul. Small towns, scenic beauty, and local history await you as you travel through one of the most beautiful landscapes in America. Discover rolling farmland, a luxurious lake, windmills, the nation’s first rodeo event and countless wildlife, including rare and endangered species. At the southern end of the byway along the Platte River, you can see a half-million sandhill cranes and rare whooping cranes that migrate here. Each spring, bird enthusiasts stop at Crane Meadows Nature Center to view this spectacle. The Loup Rivers Scenic Byway is alive with events and attractions celebrating the area’s history and natural resources, including Comstock’s Second Wind Ranch, home to one of the largest collections of windmills in the world, Nebraska’s Big Rodeo, and the Nebraska National Forest. Discover excellent boating, fishing, canoeing, and swimming.

 

Heritage Highway. Wind your way along the lush tree-lined Missouri River and into the tall grass prairies and fertile farmland of America’s heartland. Enjoy small town charm highlighted by beautiful views and rich frontier history. Make your way along Heritage Highway and watch as riverbanks and rolling hills give way to miles of gently waving grass and fertile prairies–the landscape immortalized by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Willa Cather, who wrote about the plight of the American pioneer. Discover the effects of the early migration of settlers who journeyed westward, including the growth of agriculture and the scattering of the American Indian, by viewing renowned museums such as Homestead National Monument of America. Explore the earliest Nebraska settlements, where century-old buildings and historic downtowns are reminders of days gone by. Experience a variety of events, attractions and summertime festivals, or discover unique pottery, antiques, theatre and dining. Heritage Highway provides access to outdoor adventures found at Indian Cave State Park and the area’s rivers, lakes, and water parks.

 

Lewis & Clark Scenic Byway. In 1804, Lewis and Clark embarked on a journey that became America’s most fabled expedition. That adventure took them up the Missouri River and along the eastern and northern border of Nebraska. Retrace their footsteps via the Lewis & Clark Scenic Byway – a pathway on which history and beauty deliver an inspiring journey. Discover historic waterways intermingled with open bottomland, bountiful cropland, and wooded bluffs. Share the path where trappers, American Indians, and explorers once traveled. Witness the white clouds of snow geese as they make their graceful descent onto the oxbow lakes of DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge. Discover a large bison herd roaming the grassy plains of the Winnebago Reservation. View historic sites, such as Fort Atkinson or take part in one of the colorful powwows featuring tribal dances. All this plus boating, fishing, and hiking make the Lewis & Clark Scenic Byway a place of beauty, wonder and fun.

 

Outlaw Trail Scenic Byway. With a rich Old West history, the legendary Outlaw Trail was once a regular path for Jesse James and his gang. Follow the famous 200-year old footsteps of American Indian tribes and Lewis and Clark on a scenic journey through diverse landscape – forested bluffs, grasslands, wetlands, croplands, prairies and a national wildlife refuge. Wildflowers are abundant and animal life can be seen at Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and the Missouri River. Follow the byway to the 70-foot-high Smith Falls, Nebraska’s tallest waterfall and put a canoe into the Niobrara River for a breathtaking paddling adventure through deep, forested gorges. Explore unique museums, military forts, refurbished buildings, and sites reminiscent of exciting times. Hike and bike the trails at Ponca State Park and discover boating, fishing, and swimming at Lewis & Clark Lake. From heartwarming moments laced with scenery and history to heart-pounding adventures, you’ll find them on the beautiful Outlaw Trail.

 

Bridges to Buttes Byway. From the high bridges of Valentine to the Wyoming border, Bridges to Buttes Byway travels through Nebraska’s most diverse and distinctive landscapes. Relive the solitude and freedom felt by pioneers 200 years ago. This byway escorts you through rolling sandhills, open prairie land, and pine-studded bluffs and buttes. Experience the vast beauty of the sandhills, the Western Hemisphere’s largest grass-covered sand dune formation, as they rise and fall like silent waves in a green ocean of grass. To the west, high-plains give way to open valleys and steep, pine-studded bluffs and buttes in the Nebraska National Forest, where hikers and mountain bikers discover endless outdoor adventure. From American Indian artifacts to early frontier ranching to trapping and fur trading, Nebraska’s Panhandle is alive with exciting history. From the past to the present, the Bridges to Buttes Byway features a variety of attractions, including sections of the Cowboy Trail–one of the longest hiking/biking trails in the United States – and Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. Cool off, grab a paddle and head to one of the byway’s scenic waterways, including the Niobrara River, one of the top 10 canoeing rivers in the nation.

 

385 – Gold Rush Byway. For an amazing adventure, discover the sparkling beauty and rich history of the Gold Rush Byway. In the late 1800s, gold traveled along this route from the mining town of Deadwood, SD, to the railroad at Sidney, NE. Today, the Gold Rush Byway is part of one of the most scenic and historic pathways in the nation–the CANAM Highway, spanning from Mexico to Canada. On this byway, expansive wheat fields, river valleys, open plateaus, and sandhills complement boundless skies featuring golden sunsets. The natural rugged beauty is highlighted by historic land formations. Wind through the Nebraska Panhandle into the most storied history of the plains. From military forts and the High Plains Indian wars to Oregon Trail icons, this byway delivers frontier history against a stunning backdrop of natural beauty. Spy rugged river valleys, rolling hills, open plateaus, pine-covered buttes, and expansive wheat fields. Follow the path to museums with native art and artifacts, such as the Museum of the Fur Trade and Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center. Venture to Chadron State Park and the Nebraska National Forest for the state’s best hiking and mountain biking.

 

Lincoln Highway Scenic Byway. Historic trails and pathways converge amid vibrant scenery along Lincoln Highway Scenic Byway. Winds through a patchwork of incredible color as endless fields grow along the Platte River Valley. Discover a rolling landscape along the Platte River, 200-year-old wagon ruts, the first transcontinental railroad, and the Lincoln Highway encompassed in a colorful and brilliant display of nature. See reminders of famous trails and visit way stations of the Pony Express and Bailey Railroad Yard–the largest reclassification yard in the world. With the invention of the automobile, this pathway became the country’s first transcontinental auto route–Lincoln Highway. In addition to trails, rails, and roadways, this byway follows the path of colorful characters including Buffalo Bill Cody, who built his Scout’s Rest Ranch near North Platte. Tour his elaborate Victorian home and the big red barn filled with memorabilia at the Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park and Recreation Area. Beautiful parks, lakes, and golf courses dot the landscape and deliver an array of outdoor fun.

 

Western Trails Historic & Scenic Byway. Western Trails Historic & Scenic Byway traces the fabled stretch of the Oregon and Mormon Trails. Throughout your journey, gently rolling hills, acres of farmland, and grass-covered sand dunes inspire a deep connection with serenity, beauty and history. Towering geological formations and the state’s largest lake mark the route. Never straying from the North Platte River and tall groves of cottonwoods lining its banks, the byway takes you past famous landmarks, such as Courthouse and Jail Rocks and Chimney Rock, which rises like a needle above the plains. Some 20 miles north near Nebraska’s western edge looms Scotts Bluff, another popular landmark along the Oregon Trail. For frontier history, stroll through Ogallala’s Old West shops on Front Street, view historic gravesites at Boot Hill or take a covered wagon trip in the shadow of Chimney Rock. Wildlife, including bald eagles and bison, abounds at prairie preserves, state parks, and wildlife centers. On the eastern end, the massive Lake McConaughy, Nebraska’s largest reservoir, is a perfect spot for water sports, camping, boating, and fishing. Along the Western Trails Historic & Scenic Byway, superb scenery, quaint towns, and celebrated history unfold along every mile!

FortCalhounLocated eight miles north of Omaha on Highway 75, Fort Calhoun is situated in Washington County, with a population of 908. It overlooks the Missouri River in eastern Nebraska.

Fort Calhoun is rich in history. In and around town you will find the Lewis and Clark Council Bluff ¹, the historic Frahm House and the Washington County Museum. Also in close proximity to Fort Calhoun are Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge, Fort Atkinson State Historical Park, the first fort built west of the Missouri River. Across the river in Iowa you find DeSoto National Wildlife refuge and Wilson Island State Park.

In addition, city parks, trails and views of the Missouri River Valley are abundant. The Fort Calhoun Trail (paved) runs through town. The Missouri River Trail (limestone & paved) starts near the entrance of Boyer Chute and runs all the way to NP Dodge Park in North Omaha.

Places to visit:
The Frahm House
Washington County Museum
Fort Atkinson State Park
Boyer Chute National Wildlife Refuge

Places to Stop or Eat:
Longhorn Bar – great broasted chicken
To Far North – fantastic selection of Nebraska wines & beers
Rustic Inn – breakfast specials

Be sure to visit Fort Calhoun’s official website
http://www.fortcalhoun.org/

footnotes: 1. This is home to the real site near Fort Calhoun and Fort Atkinson where Lewis and Clark held council with American Indians for the first time. Many people mistakenly believe it to be the city of Council Bluffs, IA.

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neb markersNebraska has a rich history from the early pioneer days, times of the settlers and early travel across our state. Many of our forgotten town sites, locales, people, points of interest and sites of historical value are marked by the Nebraska State Historical Society. Visit the official Nebraska State Historical Website for updated markers and their locations. Better yet . . . print off the list and see how many you have visited or will visit. If you enjoy traveling, make a game of it. Send us a comment about your favorite marker and why.

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From Norfolk head north on Highway 81, turn left on Highway 13 to Hadar continuing on 13 through Pierce until you arrive in Plainview. From here Head west on Highway 20 to Royal. Once you arrive in Royal you can head several directions to do things from here. These Include Grove Lake, Grove Lake Trout Rearing Station and the Ashfall Fossil Beds.

Royal

Wiki on Royal

Royal is a small town with a population of 63. Small in size, but large as a gateway to many things to do in this north central community and beautiful area of Nebraska. Several businesses dot the town, including a Tavern and Convenience Store. Visit Royal at their website.

Grove Lake

Grove Lake, named in memory of Philo Ulysses and Bertha Ellen Grove, was completed in 1954. The Lake, located two miles north of Royal, offers many recreational uses including camping and fishing. Grove Lake is on the only cold water trout stream in Nebraska, the Verdigre Creek. Wildlife abounds in the area and resident creatures are often seen from the many hiking trails. Local fishing information and supplies are available at the Grove Lake Bait Shop, (402) 893-2694.

Grove Lake Trout Rearing Station

The Grove Trout Rearing Station is located 1 mile north and 1.5 miles east of Royal. It is a 41-acre facility situated within the boundaries of the 1,500+ acres of the Grove Lake Wildlife Management Area. Today nearly 200,000 fish are reared at the facility on an annual basis. The grove facility is manned 24-hours a day and is open to the public year-round. Visiting hours are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Visitors will find an information center complete with dispensers for feeding the trout. For further information, please contact (402) 893-5468.

Ashfall Fossil Beds

Located just 6 miles north of US Hwy. 20 between Royal and Orchard, Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park is a joint project of the Nebraska Game & Parks Commission and the University of Nebraska State Museum. The park offers a fascinating and educational experience for the entire family to see amazingly well preserved skeletons of prehistoric animals. It is a chance to step back in time and see what Nebraska wildlife was like long before modern man ventured onto the Great Plains. Visitors are invited to watch the on-going excavation of this unique “time quotes.”

Operating Schedule:

  • Memorial weekend through Labor Day, 9-5 Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.
  • During the month of May (prior to Memorial Day weekend) opened 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
  • Labor Day through the 2nd weekend in October opened 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 1-4 p.m. on Sundays.
  • School and tour groups may make special arrangements to visit Ashfall between April 1 and October 20 with advanced reservations.

Websites to visit

Ashfall Fossil Bed Web Site

Grove Lake Bait Shop Facebook page

 

Take Highway 61 north out of  Ogallala. Here you have two options, take a left or west to Highway 26 and drive around the south side of Lake McConaughy and continue to Ash Hollow, or go right and continue on Highway 61 across the dam until you meet Highway 92. Take a left or west on 92 and continue along the north side (and beautiful drive) of the Lake. You are now on the Western Trails Scenic and Historic Byway. At the end of the Lake you meet up with Highway 26 again. You can turn left or south on 26 and backtrack to Ash Hollow. Here you’ll see where wagon trains left there mark and other Pioneer history.

Head back north on Highway 26 to Lewellen, where you will continue on Highways 26 & 92 into Bridgeport. Here, if you’re adventurous, travel the few mile south of Bridgeport and climb up to Jailhouse & Courthouse Rock. Back to Bridgeport you an continue west on Highway 92 (26 splits off to the north side of the river) all the way to Scottsbluff. Be sure to visit Chimney Rock our most famous landmark before you get to Gering – Scottsbluff. Be sure to get there before 5:00pm. the visitor centor closes then. From there a straight shot on Highway 92 into Gering.

Places to stop:

Lewellen: The Most Unlikely Place – Great food and atmosphere.
Oshkosh : Mark Ferrari Specialty Coffee – Hawaiian Coffee roasted in Nebraska. Very Good.

Someone asked the other day “Have you ever taken a road trip across Nebraska?”.  My answer was “Which one?”. When growing up as a kid, my parents would load all of us into a car hooked onto the camper and head to some destination in Nebraska for the weekend or summer vacation trip. We still say they did it to spare the neighbors on the weekends from nine kids running rampant through their yards, gardens, houses . . . you get the idea.

My family truly knows it was the sheer enjoyment our parents got from being out in the wide open spaces, fishing in a boat or from the bank, the smell of toast and bacon in the morning on the coleman stove, or an occasional beer under the stars after a long day out in the sunshine. Enough on that. There are many great road trips we’ve discovered over the years. I’ll list just a few favorites , and then more in articles to come.

  1. Drive west from Norfolk along the Elkhorn River up to Valentine, where the Niobrara River offers Smith Falls, gorgeous scenery and a lot of activity, then continue on to Chadron, home of Chadron State Park and the Museum of the Fur Trade. Just to the west is Fort Robinson, an old Cavalry outpost not to be missed and Toadstool Geologic Park, a surreal landscape. From there north to the Blackhills.
  2. Drive west from Kearney on I-80 to Ogallala, seeing the Platte River to your side, which during early spring you will see thousands of Sandhills Cranes. There are many viewing sites along the river. Johnson Lake south of Lexington offers many fishing and swimming stories as kid. Once on the interstate again you have to stop in Paxton at Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse, serving great food for more than 6 decades. North Platte offers the Scout’s Rest Ranch home of Buffalo Bill Cody and once in Ogallala, go to Front Street, an Old West Town. Lake McConaughy, the state’s largest lake is just to the north of town.
  3. Drive north and west from Grand Island to Alliance on Highway 2. Once you are past Broken Bow this highway leads you into the scenic Sandhills of Nebraska. View the beauty of the Dismal and North Loup Rivers near Dunning and take in the breathtaking view from the tower at Halsey National Forest. A fully man made forest. From Whitman to Alliance, notice the spring fed lakes supplied by the Ogallala Aquifer, and once in Alliance head north to Carhenge.

These are three brief overviews of great Nebraska road trips worth the effort. Bear in mind everything to see or do could not be included. With that said here are a couple important reminders about drives through Nebraska.

  • There are so many small towns full of history, great historical places, and things to do along these routes. Many of these small towns have beautiful architecture in their downtowns, churches and homes. Most towns with a county courthouse have many large, beautiful homes you just don’t see anymore. Drive around the downtown areas, look and imagine what it was like 100 years ago. Nebraska City is one worth mention for both.
  • Sometimes just a little ways off the beaten path offers State Historical Sites, State Parks, Recreation areas, Archeological Sites and just wonderful places to see. Ask a local, they know where places to see, do, eat and stay are. Most of the time, locals are very friendly and will talk your ear off! See ya down the road.