A state that is mostly known for its stark endless fields that have a surreal beauty of its own, the Cornhusker State (as it’s sometimes known) also has a strong connection to the past – from dinosaur remains to leftover clues from early settlers. It also has some truly gorgeous spots if you know where to find them. Alongside the endless plains and sprinkling of quaint little towns, here are the best and most beautiful places to visit in Nebraska…
1. Chimney Rock National Historic Site – one of the most famous and recognizable attractions in Nebraska
Chimney Rock is a massive geological rock that looms around 400 ft. above the North Platte River Valley, located in western Nebraska. This rock formation dates back from millions of years and has served as a natural landmark for many migrants across the Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Trail in the mid-19th-century. This exquisite structure of adventure and history is located in the natural park that is home to the endangered whooping crane, peregrine falcon, black-footed ferret, and the threatened northern bald eagle.
The park contains a plethora of wildlife including the black-tailed prairie dog, burrowing owl, swift fox, spiny softshell turtle, and rattlesnakes. It is no surprise that this exceptional park is known for wildlife spotting, viewing the remarkable rock, and appreciating its rich history. The site’s museum and visitor center exhibit several materials about the importance of the rock as a guide to countless pioneers that passed through the west.
2. Lake McConaughy – Nebraska’s largest reservoir and a popular outdoor recreation area
Lake McConaughy is Nebraska’s largest reservoir. Its dam is one of the largest of its type in the world and its fish grow to gigantic proportions. Often nominated in the biggest category, this 30,000-acre lake is rightly nicknamed, “Big Mac”,
Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area is a popular place for outdoor activities and recreation. The region’s soft, white, sandy beaches and pristine clear waters attract hundreds of locals and tourists, alike. Camping, boating, swimming, water-skiing, snorkeling, scuba diving, windsurfing, camping, and picnics – are just a few of the activities here!
Fuel and boat rental are available from vendors around the lake. Lake McConaughy has 5 campgrounds with 349 total sites and a variety of amenity options. The area also has several tracks for quiet treks and eagle viewing.
3. Platte River – one of the most beautiful places to visit in Nebraska
The Platte River is a 310 mile long prominent river of Nebraska as it combines with its tributaries the North Platte and South Platte rivers. This river derives its name from French “plat” (flat) from its shallow waters that preclude navigation. The river’s wide and flat valley was the main travel path for westward journeys in the mid-19th century. Numerous famous trails like the Oregon and Mormon trails passed through this valley. Platte River offers habitat to millions of migrating birds like the sandhill and whooping cranes and plays an important role in bird migration route.
The Platte drains an approximate area of 90,000 square miles and provides huge amounts of water for irrigation, agriculture, and other municipal use. This iconic river and its valley are not only extremely significant but also very scenic. Throughout the stretch of the Platte River, you can find several different activities.
4. Glacial Till Vineyard and Winery – a gorgeous attraction to explore in Nebraska
Located in the heritage town of Palmyra, Glacial Till Vineyard and Winery is a spectacular sight to see. This beautiful winery produces unique and top-quality wine using six grape varieties. Take a scenic stroll through the vineyard, visit the winery, and enjoy the wine produced in a tasting.
Glacial Till Vineyards Cider House & Tasting Room was one of the first off-site tasting rooms in the state of Nebraska. The beautiful tasting room effortlessly combines a vintage, rustic feel with a new, modern style. Original brick-exposed walls and wood floors offer an old-world charm. The interiors are decorated with sleek black furniture, state-of-the-art technology, and a chic custom bar made out of winery scraps. In this room, you can taste the most extraordinary wines that are produced at the winery. The new Glacial Till Event Facility offers the perfect venue to host special occasions.
5. Scotts Bluff National Monument – a major and important landmark to visit in Nebraska
Located in western Nebraska, Scotts Bluff National Monument preserves over 3000-acres of mixed-grass prairie, towering rocks, rugged badlands, and remains of historic trails along the North Platte River. The massive bluff and major attraction served as a natural guiding landmark to many migrating pioneers along the Oregon, California, Mormon Pioneer, and Pony Express Trails. While visiting Scotts Bluff National Monument, follow in the footsteps of these pioneers on the remains of the Oregon Trail.
Besides trailblazers traveling through the area, the park has served various Native American tribes and impacted the history and diverse culture of America, today. Because of its significance, this historically outstanding bluff was named a national monument.
6. Nebraska National Forest – North America’s largest man-made forest
The only “Hand-Planted” forest in the world, Nebraska National Forest is made up of over 90,000 acres, with approximately 20,000 acres covered in hand-planted trees on the scenic Sandhills. The forest has two areas that offer unique activities and outdoor opportunities.
Activities include relaxing, sightseeing, photography, bird and wildlife watching, cycling, hiking, and biking. There is a famous 11-mile Dismal River ATV/hiking trail. Located nearby, the Scott Tower is the only active fire tower in Nebraska and is open for tours upon request. The region consists of 37 campsites with volleyball areas, horseshoe pits, and a field. Some secluded sites do not have electricity for an authentic primitive camping experience.
Also located here is the Bessey Nursery, the oldest federal tree nursery, that focuses on the conservation of tree seedlings. These seedlings are often used as windbreaks and for wildlife planting as well as a source to re-forest national forests in the Rocky Mountain Region. This distinct area is enveloped by the Nebraska Sandhills and is home to a diverse species of birds, bugs, reptiles, and mammals. This marvelous region is one of the largest regions of undisturbed prairies in the country.
7. South Overlook – a unique overlook that lets you see three states at once
Situated on Lake Red Rock, South Overlook is Iowa’s largest lake. This beautiful destination offers recreational activities like boating, hiking, biking, and viewing wildlife.
Families and campers frequent this region. South Overlook offers two reservable picnic shelters with 20 amp electrical outlets and nearby flush toilets nearby. The short South Overlook Trail is a good track for quiet treks, dog-walking, and witnessing beautiful blooming wildflowers, from March until October.
8. North Overlook – a short and sweet hike with incredible views
North Overlook is America’s largest man-made forest that was planted. Also located on Lake Red Rock, on Des Moines River, North Overlook is a hardwood forest region that fills the lakeshore. The rich forest offers stunning views and is home to plenty of wildlife such as the white-tailed deer, turkeys, and other small animals. A vast variety of waterfowl like the American White Pelican, migrate through the area in spring and fall while the Bald Eagle can be spotted from November through March.
The nearby Lake Red Rock offers boating, water skiing, swimming, kayaking, and canoeing activities. Several miles of trails for hiking and biking can be found in this scenic area.
9. Sandhills Preserve – one of the most stunning places to explore in Nebraska
Aripeka Sandhills Preserve is an isolated 200 acres region in the larger Weeki Wachee Preserve. This uncommercialized park contains mainly dirt road trails and consists of areas of hardwood swamps and pine sandhills.
Though Sandhills Preserve has limited facilities it is great for cycling, bird watching, hiking, and spotting wildflowers.
10. Toadstool Geologic Park – other-worldly rock formations and ancient fossils in these Nebraska badlands
Toadstool Geologic Park is often called “Badlands of Nebraska” and is recognized for its unusual geological formations, in the shape of toadstools as well as its scientifically and historically significant fossil deposits. The “Desert of the Pine Ridge”, this region, north of Crawford, is known to house numerous fossils. The park contains a 1-mile loop trail with many fossils along the trail. Fossil deposits include those of prehistoric animals such as entelodonts and hyaenodons. Camping is also popular in the park.
The trailhead at the campground provides access to 3 hiking trails of varying difficulty levels. A one-mile loop highlights many examples of eroded clay/sandstone formations. Other trails include the Bison Trail that is a 3-km hike up the canyon to Hudson-Meng Bison Kill and the Great Plains Trail, which is a cross-country network of public trails, starting from Guadalupe National Park and finishing at the Canadian Border.
11. Sunken Gardens – a popular attraction and beauty spot in Nebraska
Sunken Gardens is an idyllic botanical garden that was built in 1930 as a Depression-era project on a previously abandoned neighborhood dumpsite. The project was developed as an opportunity for unemployed men to earn money to support their families through difficult economic circumstances.
Formerly called Lincoln’s ‘Rock Garden’, the original design was based, as the name suggests, on English mountain scenery, with rocks on the terraced walls around the garden. Over the years, the city’s horticultural department initiated planting to create a beautiful floral and has moved the focus from the Rocky Mountain, Alpine or Himalayan plants. The center consists of a waterfall around a statue of a woman holding a water jug, called “Rebecca at the Well”.
The beautiful garden houses 2 reflecting pools, one with a geyser fountain that creates a thin sheet that could be used as a projection screen for movies or images at night. The garden has now been renovated, retaining some original design elements while adding ponds, trees, walkways, and visitor convenience features. This gorgeous garden is the only garden in Nebraska that is listed in 300 Best Gardens to Visit in the United States and Canada by National Geographic.
12. Smith Falls State Park – a pretty place which is home to Nebraska’s highest waterfall
Nebraska’s newest state park, Smith Falls State Park preserves the natural beauty and historic importance of the region while welcoming visitors to view the state’s highest waterfall. Located on the Niobrara National Scenic River, the park is popular amongst tourists, canoers, campers, and hikers. Hiking is possible on the designated trails, to protect the rare plants of the region.
A footbridge across the Niobrara River links the falls to the north side of the park. Picnic sites, camping tents and other facilities are available on the north side of the river. The falls are located on the undisturbed, natural south side of the river. This park is truly beautiful because of its preserved natural habitat and the falls that offer breathtaking natural views
13. Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge – a scenic 77,000-acre prairie with marshes and wildlife
Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge is an incredible place that aims to preserve and improve the natural biodiversity of the native flora and fauna. The Refuge protects historic resources of Niobrara River Valley and Nebraska Sandhills, such as rare fossils of ancient animals like the mastodon and giant bison found.
The refuge is home to wildlife such as the badger, bobcat, coyote, geese, dove, duck, fox, furbearer, greater prairie chicken, hare, long-tailed weasel, mink, partridge, pronghorn antelope, quail, raccoon, skunk, snipe, squirrel, teal, turkey, white-tailed deer, and the woodchuck.
Fort Niobrara is a National Wildlife Refuge for mainly for bison, elk, and prairie dogs though. Besides a national wildlife reserve, it also stores a rich cultural history. Fort Niobrara was originally used by local settlers in Nebraska to safeguard themselves against an attack by the Lakota Indians. The Refuge displays this historic heritage through numerous exhibits. A visit to Fort Niobrara park to explore its history and admire its beauty will not disappoint. You may even consider driving on a scenic route through the park to enjoy its magnificence.
14. Zorinsky Lake – a lovely tranquil place to visit in Nebraska
Zorinsky Lake is a lovely lake located in the Zorinsky Lake Park, in Omaha. The 255-acre lake offers boating and also expect to find a diverse variety of fish such as the walleye, striped bass, channel catfish, and bluegill. The park contains one of the very few native tallgrass prairies remaining in eastern Nebraska.
Within the park, are 2 grounds, baseball, soccer, and football grounds, hiking tracks, and cycling rails. There is also a loop trail with varying difficulty levels. Zorinsky Lake, with its numerous activities and amenities and stunning views, is truly an amazing outdoor area in Omaha.
15. Niobrara River – a gorgeous oasis for paddlers and wildlife
Niobrara National Scenic River is a 76-mile river that flows through unique geological formations and terrains, creates mesmerizing waterfalls, sustains vast wildlife diversity, and contains world-class fossil resources. This impressive river is categorized under the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System that contains less than 0.25% of US rivers. The river runs down a steep valley offering exclusive views of pine woodlands, forests, prairies, and marshes.
The steep valley and plunging waterfalls add to the river’s rapid stream and create a great location for canoeing, tubing, and other floating fun for families. The stretch through the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge provides a quieter float. The refuge also offers hiking options into a federal wilderness.
The Niobrara River Valley is labeled the “Biological Crossroads of the Great Plains” with 6 distinct ecological habitat communities. In the valley, ice-age relics of paper birch and hybrid aspens have been excavated and dozens of fossil quarries found. Fossils include those of early camels, mastodon and mammoth, petrified wood, and other plant and mammal species. This extraordinary region is absolutely unrivaled in its natural beauty and significance.
16. Holy Family Shrine – a serene and peaceful place to visit in Nebraska
Holy Family Shrine is one of the best places to explore if visitors are looking for meditation and prayer. There is a blend of unusual beauty, a tranquil atmosphere and a spiritual aura. This place attracts an audience who is also looking for a transformation in their spirituality.
Furthermore, this one-of-a-kind sanctuary offers majestic views and picturesque surroundings which will definitely make you closer to nature and your faith. Guests will have the benefit of having a small gift shop where they can purchase unique souvenirs.
Please note that under no circumstances weddings are allowed to take place.