Two-Day Getaway Along the Niobrara River | Midwest Living

Two-Day Getaway Along the Niobrara River

One of the nation’s great canoe journeys passes through the rolling hills of Nebraska’s cowboy country near Valentine.
Niobrara River
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Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge
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Nebraska Star party at Merritt Reservoir. Photo courtesy of Nebraska Tourism
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Smith Falls State Park. Photo courtesy of Nebraska Tourism
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Day 1

Sign up for one- or two-day canoeing, kayaking or tubing trips at Graham Canoe Outfitters, or if you have your own gear, take advantage of their shuttle service.

Window-shopping visitors love the chaps, ropes, saddles and authentic tools of the cowboy trade at Young’s Western Wearhouse.

Plains Trading Company Booksellers sells books by Nebraskans and on topics such as Native American and Western history.

Burgers and shakes top the menu at Frosty Drive-In on Main Street.

At Bunkhouse Restaurant and Saloon, supper includes staples like roast beef and apple pie.

Lodging in this area is on the simple side, except at The Prairie Club, an upscale golf resort (from $195).

At the Heartland Elk Guest Ranch (from $125), the front porch fosters quiet under star-pricked skies.

Peace reigns in cabins facing the undulating Sandhills at Lord Ranch Resort; kitchenettes, private baths and grills provided (from $109).

Day 2

Hundreds of bird species, bison and elk converge in six major plant communities at Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge.

Drive the short auto tour (maps are available at the visitors center) and make time to explore the grasslands surrounding lakes at Valentine National Wildlife Refuge.

Head back to The Prairie Club for a specialty smoked pulled pork sandwich or wild mushroom grilled cheese sandwich.

An ancient volcanic eruption left a rich cache of fossils at Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park in Royal; inside the Hubbard Rhino Barn, visitors see what paleontologists are uncovering (including rhinos, five species of horses and three species of camels).

More information: (800) 658-4024;

Night out

Like at most lakes, fishing and water sports (plus white-sand beaches) dominate Merritt Reservoir. But each summer, the Nebraska Star Party (July 27–August 1, 2014) also brings astronomers of all skill levels to the reservoir’s Snake River Campground for lectures and stargazing at skies completely unpolluted by light. (402) 376-3320;


Smith Falls State Park The icy 63-foot shower of Smith Falls is the state’s tallest. Just 18 miles east of Valentine, it’s great for a cooldown after a summer hike on the park trails. A wooden footbridge provides access to parkland on both sides of the Niobrara River, where visitors can kick off their shoes to splash around. (402) 376-1306;

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