Niobrara River near Valentine in the Nebraska Sandhills, aerial perspective.

14 Best Small Towns To Visit In Nebraska

Nebraska, the 16th-largest and the 12th least populous Midwestern US State is the country’s only triply landlocked state that boasts gently rolling hills, expansive grasslands, vibrant cultures, and magnificent attractions. Inhabited by indigenous peoples for thousands of years before the advent of the Europeans, present-day Nebraska is an amazing place to learn more about the rich history of the Old West besides exploring the scenic outdoors. Beyond its major urban centers like the state capital Lincoln and the largest city Omaha, the Cornhusker State has some charming small towns that serve as welcoming destinations for several culture geeks, merrymakers, and history aficionados, or someone looking to spend relaxing time in nature.


Ogallala, Nebraska, October 2010, View of Front street
Ogallala, Nebraska; View of Front Street. Image credit YULIYAPHOTO via Shutterstock.

Initially a stop on the Pony Express during the days of the Nebraska Territory, Ogallala is currently a peaceful grassland community located along the banks of the South Platte River in the state’s southwestern portion. The county seat of Keith County, Ogallala, has been named after the indigenous Oglala Sioux tribe. Visitors to Ogallala can step back into the days of the Wild West, with the Front Street being lined with numerous 19th-century style historic structures, the Crystal Palace Revue, a free western museum, a restaurant serving steaks and real buffalo burgers, gift shops, and the Kenfield Brothers Petrified Wood Gallery. However, the biggest attraction that draws lots of tourists to Ogallala is the Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area which offers many recreational activities like boating, fishing, scuba diving, picnicking, wildlife viewing, and camping.


Downtown Ashland, Nebraska: Silver Street, looking east.
Downtown Ashland, Nebraska: Silver Street, looking east.

Named after the estate of the noted Kentucky statesman Henry Clay Sr., Ashland is placed along the Salt Creek River, a tributary of the Platte River in Nebraska’s Saunders County. Ashland significantly benefits due to its closeness to the Interstate 80 freeway and to the urban metropolises of Omaha and Lincoln. From its initial beginning as a railroad town to its current status as a popular outdoor recreation, Ashland charms tourists with its unique amalgamation of history, culture, and outdoor activities. Ashland’s most noteworthy attractions include the Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum, Eugene T. Mahoney State Park, Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari, Go Ape Zipline & Adventure Park, Quarry Oaks Golf Club, and the Kountze Memorial Theatre. Moreover, Ashland hosts several annual events like the Stir-Up Days, Classic Car Show, Fourth of July fireworks, Memorial Day Parade, Silver Street Flea Market, and a Hometown Christmas event.


Sunrise clouds over Wetlands at Valentine National Wildlife Refuge in cherry County, Nebraska, USA
Sunrise clouds over Wetlands at Valentine National Wildlife Refuge in cherry County, Nebraska, USA.

The administrative center of Cherry County, Valentine, is placed on the Sandhills physiographic region’s northern edge, just north of the Niobrara River. Nicknamed “America’s Heart City,” Valentine is a small town of only 2,737 inhabitants with a big reputation for outdoor recreational activities. With miles of hiking trails, a national wild and scenic river, fishing, and hunting opportunities, two national wildlife refuges, and championship golf courses, Valentine has something for everyone. History buffs must visit the adjacent Arthur Bowring Ranch State Historical Park, Centennial Hall, and Cherry County Historical Society Museum. Outdoor lovers must head straight to the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, Valentine National Wildlife Refuge, kayak down the beautiful Niobrara National Scenic River, Smith Falls State Park to witness the state’s tallest waterfall, and the hiking/biking Cowboy Trail which covers about 200 miles of a railroad line that was initially used by the Chicago and North Western railroad. After a hectic day, the tourists can dine at the famed Peppermill and Valentine Lounge, Bunkhouse Restaurant and Saloon, and the Neon Bar & Grill.


Street view of Minden, Nebraska.
Street view of Minden, Nebraska. 

Named after the mid-sized German town Minden, this small town, home to just 2,923 inhabitants, is situated in the state’s south-central portion about 15 miles southeast of Kearney. A part of the Kearney Micropolitan Statistical Area, Minden is best known for being home to Harold Warp’s Pioneer Village. Spread over an area of 20 acres, the museum comprises a complex of 28 buildings having a total collection of more than 50,000 items. The town has also developed an active entertainment program in its renovated state-of-the-art Opera House. Minden often promotes itself as “Nebraska’s Christmas City” by illuminating the courthouse square with over 12,000 bulbs and presenting the annual Christmas extravaganza titled “The Light Of The World.” Nature lovers can head out to the nearby 2,800-acre Rowe Sanctuary along the central Platte River, which is managed by the National Audubon Society. During spring, tourists can witness more than a million Sandhill Cranes that pass through the area on their northward migration.  


Main street in Chadron, NE.
Main street in Chadron, NE.

Named after Louis B. Chartran, the manager of a fur trading post, Chadron, the county seat of Dawes County, is situated close to the White River, a few miles south of the South Dakota state boundary in Nebraska’s northwestern portion. A few open spaces like the Chadron State Park and the Pine Ridge National Recreation Area are located close to this small city, which offers various outdoor recreational opportunities. Placed only three miles east of Chadron is the Museum of the Fur Trade at the site of the American Fur Company’s former Bordeaux Trading Post. With over 6000 authentic artifacts on display, the Museum of Fur Trade is the largest of its kind in the entire country and attracts numerous visitors every year. Chadron also hosts the annual “Fur Trade Days” every July in honor of its beginning as a fur trading post for French and other settlers in the Great Plains during the 19th century.


Early morning on a dirt road, with hills and cornfields, near Seward, Nebraska.
Early morning on a dirt road, with hills and cornfields, near Seward, Nebraska.

The administrative center of Nebraska’s Seward County, this small city home to only 6,964 inhabitants, is part of the Lincoln Metropolitan Statistical Area. Renowned for its natural beauty, visitors to Seward must explore the nearby Plum Creek Park, which provides a green backdrop to various sporting facilities like baseball courts, tennis courts, etc. Tourists must visit the Seward County Museum, Nebraska National Guard Museum, Bartels Museum & Marxhausen Gallery of Art, and the century-old Rivoli Theater to learn more about the town's eventful past and cultural legacy. Seward has been designated “America’s Official Fourth of July City – Small Town USA” by the US Congress for its continuous US Independence Day celebrations every year on July 4 since 1868.


Exterior of Nebraska Prairie Museum.
Exterior of Nebraska Prairie Museum.

Home to just 5,495 inhabitants, Holdrege, the county seat of Phelps County, perfectly combines modern living with a small-town lifestyle. Settled in the 1880s mainly by immigrants from Sweden and named after the railroad official George W. Holdrege, this tranquil community features broad, tree-lined streets and spacious houses with welcoming front porches and well-kept lawns. However, Holdrege’s principal attraction is the Nebraska Prairie Museum, which is managed by the Phelps County Historical Society. The museum contains a collection of exhibits such as Native American artifacts, features on POW camps from WWII, antique toys, cars, tools, household items, and much more.


Holy Family Shrine in Gretna, Nebraska.
Holy Family Shrine in Gretna, Nebraska.

Named after the Scottish parish “Gretna Green,” the ancestral county of some early settlers, this tranquil town home to only 5,083 inhabitants is located in Nebraska’s Sarpy County. Visitors must take a short walk through Gretna’s downtown and check out the various local stores and eateries that line the streets. Nature lovers must head out to the Schramm Park State Recreation Area to enjoy a hike along the Platte River. Placed within this picturesque recreation area is the Schramm Education Center, which showcases the natural habitats of the state’s native aquatic species. Tourists and residents alike are drawn to the Nebraska Crossing Outlet, the state’s only outlet mall that combines top-notch retailers with locally-owned restaurants offering a well-rounded shopping experience.

North Platte

Chimney Rock in the North Platte River Valley Nebraska
Chimney Rock in the North Platte River Valley, Nebraska.

The administrative center of Lincoln County and the chief city of the North Platte Micropolitan Statistical Area, North Platte, is located at the state’s west-central portion along Interstate 80 highway, where the North and South Platte Rivers join to form the Platte River. Initially platted as a railroad town, North Platte is currently home to the Union Pacific Railroad’s Bailey Yard, considered the world’s biggest railroad classification yard. Nevertheless, whether you are a fan of railways or not, you must view the Bailey Yard from the top of the eight-story Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center that overlooks this expansive classification yard. Some other notable attractions in North Platte include the Lincoln County Historical Museum, Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park, Cody Park, Prairie Arts Center, North Platte Area Children’s Museum, and the nearby Lake Maloney State Recreation Area. North Platte also serves as a venue for special annual events such as the Miss Nebraska pageant and “Nebraskaland Days,” which include parades, rodeos, food events, concerts, and art shows.


Rain veil near McCook, Nebraska on 15 May 2019.Rain veil near McCook, Nebraska on 15 May 2019.
Rain veil near McCook, Nebraska.

Placed at the intersection of Highway 83 and Highways 6 and 34, McCook is a small city home to only 7,446 residents in Nebraska’s Red Willow County. Named in honor of the Union Army Brigadier General Alexander McDowell McCook, the capital of the “Buffalo Commons” is filled with interesting attractions such as the Museum of the High Plains and Carnegie Library, Heritage Square, Senator George Norris State Historic Site, Heritage Hills Golf Course, and McCook Art Guild. Nature lovers must visit the nearby Red Willow State Recreation Area to enjoy various outdoor recreational activities like fishing, swimming, kayaking, wildlife-watching, hiking, and camping. McCook also hosts several annual celebrations like Heritage Days, Red Willow County Fair, Crazy Days, and the Buffalo Commons Storytelling Festival. 


Downtown Aurora, Nebraska: north side of M Street. Camera is facing roughly northwest from 13th Street.
Downtown Aurora, Nebraska: north side of M Street. Camera is facing roughly northwest from 13th Street.

Named by David Stone after his former hometown of Aurora, Illinois, Aurora, the county seat of Nebraska’s Hamilton County is situated approximately 75 miles away from the state capital Lincoln. This charming hamlet is known for its attractive scenery and friendly atmosphere. Some of Aurora’s most popular attractions include the Central Park Square, Edgerton Explorit Center, Plainsman Museum, Cole Park, and Gjerloff Prairie & Sherman Ranch. After a fun-filled day, the tourists can grab a bite at one of Aurora’s many locally-owned eateries, including the Leadership Center at Espressions, JoJo’s Gelato & Grill, and Rath’s Cafe. During summer, visitors can enjoy the farmers’ market, which serves fresh organic vegetables, pastries, and home-canned goods.

Nebraska City

View of Missouri River at Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Center
View of Missouri River at Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Center.

The administrative center of Otoe County, Nebraska City, is placed along the western shores of the Missouri River in the southeastern portion of the state, about 40 miles south of Omaha. Established in 1855 by a special act of the Nebraska Territorial Legislature, Nebraska City is considered to be the state’s oldest incorporated city by the Nebraska State Legislature. The well-preserved historic structures that adorn the town’s stunning downtown area offer tourists a glimpse of Nebraska City’s glorious past. Some of the town’s notable sites include the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park & Mansion, Arbor Day Farm, Missouri River Basin Lewis & Clark Center, and Mayhew Cabin. Thousands of visitors are drawn to Nebraska City every September for the annual AppleJack Festival, which includes several events like a parade, carnival rides, a quilt show, a classic car show, and the AppleJack Fun Run/Walk.


Aerial view of the Missouri River downstream of Brownville, Nebraska
Aerial view of the Missouri River downstream of Brownville, Nebraska.

Located in the Loess Hills above the Missouri River Valley, Brownville is a charming hamlet in southeastern Nebraska’s Nemaha County. Designated a National Register Historic District, Brownville primarily serves as a tourist destination, with its numerous well-preserved old houses that have been converted into museums and opened for tours. The five noteworthy museums in Brownville include the Governor Furnas House, Carson House, Captain Bailey House, Wheel Museum, and the Meriwether Lewis Museum of Missouri River History. The many art galleries and wineries have helped to transform the town into an attractive getaway, especially for the residents who live in the region’s bigger metropolises. In addition, the visitors can visit other popular attractions such as the Brownville Concert Series, Brownville Flea Market, Brownville Fine Art Show, and the adjacent Indian Cave State Park. After an eventful day, the tourists can relax at the River Inn Resort – an iconic floating boutique bed & breakfast.

Red Cloud

Dr. Gilbert McKeeby House, located at southwest corner of Cherry Street and 7th Avenue in Red Cloud, Nebraska; seen from the east. The Greek Revival house is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Dr. Gilbert McKeeby House, located at southwest corner of Cherry Street and 7th Avenue in Red Cloud, Nebraska.

The county seat of Webster County, Red Cloud, is situated close to the Republican River, about 35 miles south of Hastings. Named after the famous Oglala Lakota chief Red Cloud, this small town is best known as the childhood home of the acclaimed American author Willa Sibert Cather, who resided here for many years with her family. Numerous 19th-century buildings described by Willa Cather in her novels form a part of the Willa Cather Historic District, the country’s most extensive collection of nationally-designated historic sites dedicated to an author. Established in 1955, the Willa Cather Foundation manages the Willa Cather Historic District and the National Willa Cather Center, which houses the Red Cloud Opera House, an art gallery, a bookstore, a permanent exhibit on the life & works of the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, and a massive climate-controlled Special Collections & Archives named “American Bittersweet.” In addition, tourists can explore the hiking trails of the 612-acre Willa Cather Memorial Prairie, which offer scenic views of the adjoining landscape.


The numerous adorable small towns dotting the Cornhusker State are often overshadowed by the bustling urban metropolises of Lincoln and Omaha or the vast prairies of the Great Plains. However, each of the small towns comprising scenic surroundings, historical sites, entertainment spaces, and a multitude of recreational options, attract tourists of all ages to spend some memorable time in these hidden gems. So, whether it is a day trip, a weekend getaway, or a longer vacation, a visit to the small towns of Nebraska will surely be a fulfilling experience.  

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