Nebraska is a microcosm of North American climates. Rolling hills in the East, Golden Prairies in the West, and warming winds in the Southern panhandle all contribute to unique landscapes with enormous skies. The films of Alexander Payne may focus on the nitty gritty of human relationships, but the camera cannot help but stray to the endless horizon outside. Knowing you are on your way to an exciting destination makes the view even better. Here 14 carefully winnowed selections to add to your travel checklist.
Kimball is 33 miles from Panorama Point, Nebraska's highest elevation. It is the place to stay if the sprawling tri-state view from 5,424 feet is on your checklist. The town is sandwiched between the Oliver State Recreation Area and the Four Winds Golf Course. Travellers tired of hotel walls will find campsites in the Oliver Reservoir with full amenities. The weather in Kimball is a dance of northern air and warm chinook winds. The result is outdoor beauty. Each season gets a chance to play in Kimball. A cancelled outdoor plan can be replaced with a trip to Plains Historical Museum.
Nebraska City is a time capsule chronicling the formation of the United States. It is the oldest incorporated city in Nebraska. The 7,200 residents maintain it with creative resourcing and dedicated work. The Missouri River Basin Lewis & Clark Center is a haven of natural history situated on 79 acres of wooded dreamscape. The Catron Retreat Center and Steinhart Aquatic Center will keep kids happy. Wine lovers have more than vineyard to choose from for a getaway. Not all of Nebraska City's treasures are available, however. The Mayhew Cabin is Nebraska's only National Park Service recognized Underground Railroad site. It is currently closed for repairs.
Nebraska is an outdoor treasure. It is no surprise that as the seasons change, artists and curators of the 2,500 population town of Ashland host a quarterly art walk. Mahoney State Park offers more than one way to experience the very landscapes that inspire the artists. One can find both solitude and organized fun all year around. Space and Aviation enthusiasts will be awed by the Strategic Air Command and Aerospace Museum. Aircraft and Spacecraft of varying generations are on display in permanent and temporary exhibits, depending on what they are restoring and what their curators have managed to get their hands on.
The name "Nebraska" flowed into English from the Otoe and Omaha languages' word for "flat water." Minden's Rowe Sanctuary demonstrates the power of the Platte River to leave an impression. Thousands of sand hill cranes and other migratory birds visit The National Audubon Society spot every year. Minden is also quite a sight in the winter. It calls itself the Christmas City, with light displays that rival the Eiffel Tower. The "Light of the World Pageant" brings the sparking of over 12,000 light bulbs strewn about the courthouse square. The historic 1891 Opera House was fully restored in 2000 and features year-around programming.
The town of McCook is a gem of southern Nebraska hills. Its culture is kept alive by a population of 7,400 who love the land. McCook welcomes the exciting chaos of the live event. The Buffalo Commons Storytelling and Music Festival is a rare treat. Over 30,000 people flock to the Kiplinger Arena every year to bask in the kinetic air of rodeo. When riding and roping aren't an option, the Kiplinger hosts auctions in the original style that makes up for every bit of lost energy. Architecture buffs routinely awaken their souls with a glimpse of the Frank Lloyd Wright designed Harvey P. Sutton house.
Named after a Métis trapper, Chadron is surround by golden prairie grassland except to the South, where it serves as the doorstep to the Nebraska National Forest. Arrive in July to get lost in the timeless Fur Trade Days festival, the largest of its kind in the region. Chadron has existed as a community for thousands of years. The Oglala Lakota and the Cheyenne have called it home. The town today is held together by just over 5,200 people. The Chadron Commercial Historic District allows one to shop for 2020's products in an 1880's setting.
Sewardians must contend with their town being confused with another in Alaska. The town distinguishes itself with its outstanding Independence Day celebrations, calling itself "4th of July City." The moniker was upheld in a proclamation signed by Nebraska's governor in 1973. A few years later, Senator Edward Zorinsky declared it the 4th of July City for the entire country. Even the population number of just over 76,000 echoes the year of the nation's founding. The historic Seward Country Courthouse is an inspiring backdrop to colorful fireworks, raucous music, and personal connection.
Until 1967, the Central and Mountain time zones met on Main Street Valentine. The town's 2,500 residents have been grateful to be free of the confusion but would nonetheless be happy no matter what the clock says. The Niobrara River is an uncommonly picturesque setting for a kayak adventure. For adrenaline boating, the Merritt Reservoir and Cottonwood Lake offers jet skiing and tubing. Valentine's Snake River Falls has the highest waterfall in Nebraska. The Lakota word for the region translates as "Waterfall City." The grapes of Niobrara Valley Vineyards showcase the unique terroir of the Nebraska-South Dakota border.
Stanton's Maskenthine Lake is peaceful. Boating speeds are restricted to keep it so. The area is a haven to migrating birds and native wildlife alike. There is one tourist stop in Stanton unlike any other: The Red Road Herbs Retreat and Learning Center. Red Road Herbs is where Nebraska's collected genius of plant cultivation becomes accessible to lay person. In addition to selling fresh and dried herbs, Red Road provides classes on herb cultivation, extraction, healing, and more. The company's salves and other herb extract products can be found throughout the state.
Papillion is one of many spots settled by the French in the 18th Century. The settlers brought Paris-inspired architectural ideas with them. The moniker is meant to evoke the site of the city's creek, which resembles the wings of a butterfly with its circuitous route. Papillion has leaned into their name by building a network of "butterfly benches." The displays feature artworks and facts about the city. They make lovely urban stops for any planned trek. Papillion does not lack for hiking and cycling trails. Amateur astronomers will know how to make the most of the starry Cherry County nights.
Gretna was settled largely by the Scottish, hence the Gaelic name. A mere 25 minutes outside of Omaha, Gretna makes a fantastic day trip in a pinch. The town’s parks department has one of six shelters located in a choice of four parks that can be reserved ahead of time. The Schramm Education Center is a hands-on learning experience that immerses one in the myriad aquatic wildlife that calls the area home. Prepare your eyes for the architectural marvel that is the Holy Family Shrine: winding outdoor beams taunt the Nebraska elements, barely hiding windows that reflect the reddest sunsets.
Several Nebraska small towns earned their spot on the map with the arrival of rail. Blair is no exception. The town named itself in honor of John Insley Blair, the magnate credited with bringing the rail station in the 1860’s. Today the city of nearly 8,000 is the perfect place to get lost in. The Black Elk-Neihardt Park Trails begin conveniently on a college campus and end in the park of the same name. Families can get competitive in the park with the nine-hole disc golf course. Be sure to make overnight plans so as to not miss sunset over Missouri River.
Aurora, Nebraska can be forgiven for being confused with Aurora, Illinois. The population of 4,600 paradise was named after the Illinois hometown of David Stone, who laid out the area in 1871. Aurora more than lives up to its town motto: “Where the possibilities are endless.” The Aurora Aquatic Facility boasts two waterslides: a speed slide and an impressively tall corkscrew style slide. Moviegoers with fall in love with the 12th Street Cinema. Relive the small town theatre experience that has disappeared across America; a large-bulb light up sign and a street-length awning to protect you from the spirited Nebraska weather.
The city of Beatrice will be familiar to true crime fans as it was featured in the HBO series “Mind Over Murder.” The 45-minute drive from Lincoln to Beatrice is more than a cute spot with some recent cultural relevance. The Big Blue Water Park is waiting for you on that hot, dry day when you need to escape the crowds. The population 12,200 city has two campgrounds to choose from for an outdoor, overnight stay. The quality of the Beatrice outdoors is unmatched. It has been a Tree City USA town for nearly as long as the distinction has existed.
To embark on a road trip in Nebraska means swimming in the very blue and gold that emblazon the state flag; watching the blue forever skies give way to stars; the breeze catching in the fields that feed America. Nebraskan views contend with the best in the world, but the people are what make the road trip special. Each stop for gas in Nebraska can bring a smile to your face. What one finds on a shelf in a Nebraskan store might not be found anywhere else. The state is like a dream. Remember to take a lot of pictures so that your friends believe your stories.