Top Things to Do in Nebraska's Panhandle
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Badlands, big skies and a surprising spread of pine forests draw visitors through the Sandhills to the Panhandle in northwestern Nebraska.
Turn north off Interstate-80 at Grand Island to begin what is an antidote to the interstate treadmill. Follow the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway for 272 miles past the grass-covered dunes rolling through central Nebraska. At the endpoint in Alliance, head north on the Gold Rush Byway toward Chadron (a college town of 5,800).
Near Chadron, the forests and buttes of the Pine Ridge region rise up from the Sandhills like an expatriate mountain scene that encompasses Chadron State Park and the Nebraska National Forest (yes, there is such a thing).
Thirty miles west of Chadron, Fort Robinson State Park pops up in history from Crazy Horse to World War II. Today's guests fill weekends with Jeep tours, horseback rides, Broadway-style shows and lodgings in old cavalry quarters.
The High Plains Homestead embraces the olden-days feel and enforces the pace of the Panhandle. Set in a re-created pioneer town 17 miles northwest of Crawford, Homestead lacks TVs, but the porch offers plenty of chances to watch mule deer and other wildlife cross the badlands. When former owner Mike Kesselring describes guests, he's talking about kids, but the effect is universal: "They don't know what to do for the first couple of hours. But by the time they leave, they want to have their birthday parties here."
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument Learn the history of the area's Native Americans and about past and present wildlife at the site 47 miles north of Scottsbluff. nps.gov/agfo
Carhenge A formation of gray metal—39 vintage automobiles mimicking the rocks of Stonehenge—rises from the Sandhills in Alliance, 54 miles northeast of Scottsbluff. carhenge.com
Chadron State Park Climb into the pine forests of northwest Nebraska on foot, horseback or mountain bike for sweeping views. The park's many amenities include tennis and sand volleyball courts, historical programs, a pool, 22 cabins, and a campground. outdoornebraska.gov
Chimney Rock The 325-foot spire, a navigation point for pioneers, pierces the sky near the North Platte River (24 miles southeast of Scottsbluff). The visitors center is expected to reopen in May after renovations. nps.gov
Fort Robinson State Park Pine-topped bluffs frame the site where the Indian Wars were fought, Crazy Horse died and soldiers trained for World War I. Explore the 22,000-acre park (3 miles west of Crawford) by Jeep, stagecoach ride or horseback; other activities include musicals, rodeos, kayak rides, swimming and steak cookouts. outdoornebraska.gov
Hudson-Meng Education and Research Center An interpretive trail encourages visitors to ponder what researchers are still trying to understand: Why did hundreds of bison die at this northwest Nebraska site about 10,000 years ago? fs.usda.gov
Legend Buttes Golf Course Play nine holes at the base of the bluffs west of Crawford. crawfordnebraska.net
Scotts Bluff National Monument A short hike up leads to 90-mile views; visitors can also drive to the top of the bluff, an important landmark along the Oregon Trail journey. nps.gov
Toadstool Geologic Park A mini version of South Dakota's Badlands lies near the Hudson-Meng Education and Research Center. The 1-mile loop makes the perfect morning hike. fs.usda.gov
Bean Broker Coffee House and Pub Grab a coffee or linger over cocktails and the daily special at a cozy space in an old Chadron bank. Bean Broker on Facebook
The Mixing Bowl The breakfast and lunch cafe in Gering serves up biscuits and gravy, burgers on homemade buns, and pastries. mixingbowlgering.com
The Tangled Tumbleweed Enjoy a tapas-style menu (baked Brie, avocado toast, prime rib skillet) along with craft beer, wine and pretzels in Scottsbluff. An outdoor patio encourages lingering. tangledtumbleweed.com
High Plains Homestead Along a gravel road, bunkhouse units provide a rugged escape for people who appreciate a starry sky, about 20 miles north of Fort Robinson State Park. Activities include hunting and mountain biking. highplainshomestead.com
Ponderosa Ranch This spread with cabins near Crawford caters to visitors who want to hunt wild turkeys and deer. Also, get great photos of trains in the forested bluffs. ponderosaranch.net
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