Top Things to Do in Nebraska's Panhandle
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 the college town of Chadron.
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 entertains and educagtes with Jeep tours, horseback rides, Broadway-style shows and lodgings in old cavalry quarters.
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Learn the history of the area's Native Americans and about past and present wildlife at the Agate Fossil Beds 47 miles north of Scottsbluff.
A formation of gray metal—39 vintage automobiles mimicking the rocks of Stonehenge—rises from the Sandhills in Alliance, 54 miles northeast of Scottsbluff.
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.
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.
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? Outdoor areas are open; check website for updates on education center and indoor exhibits.
Legend Buttes Golf Course
Play a scenic nine holes at the base of the bluffs west of Crawford.
Scotts Bluff National Monument
A short hike up leads to 90-mile views from the bluff 800 feet above the North Platte River; visitors can also drive to the top of Scotts Bluff, an important landmark along the Oregon Trail journey.
Toadstool Geologic Park
A mini version of South Dakota's Badlands holds unusual geologic formations, some shaped like toadstools. Interpretive trails give insight into the area.
Eat and Drink
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.
The Mixing Bowl
The breakfast and lunch cafe in Gering serves up biscuits and gravy, burgers on homemade buns, and pastries.
The Tangled Tumbleweed
Enjoy a tapas-style menu (baked Brie, avocado toast, prime rib skillet) along with craft beer, wine and pretzels at this destination dining spot in Scottsbluff. An outdoor patio encourages lingering.
High Plains Homestead
The glampground and RV park 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.
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.