Great Platte River Road Archway Monument, Kearney, Nebraska. Image credit EWY Media via Shutterstock

9 Coolest Small Towns in Nebraska for a Summer Vacation

Not the typical summer vacation destination, Nebraska is wildly underrated for its allure when picking your spot to enjoy the summer months. This is a very good thing for families and travelers who want to spend these warmer times without suffering through the crowds at major locals such as the coastal beaches, amusement parks, and other typical tourist points. Nebraska has lots to offer, including terrific summer weather, tons of attractions, and a slower feel from the more heavily traveled vacation spots. Lake McConaughy is a premier location for water sports, the zoo in Omaha is incredible, and towns such as North Platte and Grande Island have plenty for the whole family to enjoy. Summer bliss lives in Nebraska.

Grand Island

Aerial View of the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island, Nebraska
Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island, Nebraska.

The Comic Book world has been taken by storm in the wake of so many comic-related movies and shows. Grand Island saw the trend and hosts Nebraska’s very own Comic Con. To cool down, head to a splash pad within one of the many local parks, take a dunk in Platte River, or hit Island Oasis, a 6-acre water attraction with a lazy river, wave pool, speed slides, and more.

If traveling without your comic-loving ilk and getting wet is not your idea of fun, how about taking a stroll down the Merchandise Mile district to enjoy a bit of shopping before popping into Stuhr Museum, a 200-acre living history and architecture exhibition? Then finish out the evening at one of the unique dining options or plan a romantic sunset picnic.


Outlet from the Kingsley Hydro Plant power generation facility at Kingsley dam, lake McConaughy on the north Platte river near Ogallala, Nebraska
North Platte River near Ogallala, Nebraska. Image credit Bob Pool via Shutterstock

Pack a swimsuit, your fishing gear, some suntan lotion, and a sense of adventure, because Ogallala is home to the biggest body of water in all of Nebraska. Your summer spent experiencing Lake McConaughy is one that you will never forget but will likely repeat. However, if Lake McConaughy is too busy, a stone's throw away is Lake Ogallala State Park, prime for fishing, swimming, and even windsurfing.

Ogallala’s biggest attraction is the pair of lakes, but that is not all it has for the traveler during the summer. Historic Haythorn Ranch is a 7,200-acre facility with wagon rides, chuck wagon dinners, and is the largest Quarter Horse breeding facility in the US. Clear Creek Waterfowl area attracts a huge number of Canadian geese which you can hunt, and the Eagle Viewing facility is a wonderful spot to view the majestic bald eagle.

North Platte

Buffalo Bill Ranch, North Platte Nebraska
Buffalo Bill Ranch.

In the center of the state on Interstate-80, North Platte is famous for such historic characters as Buffalo Bill Cody and, to this day, the Buffalo Bill Ranch is the pride of the town, as well as a registered state historical park. Learn about the colorful past of this famed buffalo hunter, Pony Express rider, and scout, and after, have a picnic on the grounds or take a hike and tour the scenic property.

Climbing the Golden Spike Tower will give you a bird’s eye view of the town, and inform visitors of its special significance as an overlook of the world’s largest rail yard. North Platte commemorates heroes of 20th-century wars at the hallowed 20th Century Veterans’ Memorial. Perhaps if you time your visit right, you can even be in the right spot to enjoy NEBRASKAland days in June, a huge regional rodeo event.


The Great Platte River Road Archway in Kearney, Nebraska.
The Great Platte River Road Archway and Museum in Kearney. Image credit Jason Patrick Ross via Shutterstock

While Kearney is the Sandhill Crane Capital of the World, viewing the majestic and beautiful birds is a small part of what makes the town truly special. For the children, the Kearney Area Childrens Museum is a fun and interactive place your kids can play and learn about how things work and the importance of connections, in the world, and with their families.

For the family, Fort Kearney State Park will give your children plenty of space to run and play while you take in the lovely scenery and tour all the interesting buildings kept in the best possible shape to keep with the architectural standards of the times in which they were built. Then, check out the Great Platte River Road Archway Museum and learn how the Platte River Valley factored into the development of America.


Niobrara River with near Valentine in Nebraska Sandhills
Niobrara River with near Valentine in Nebraska Sandhills.

Right at the tippy top of Nebraska at the South Dakota border, Valentine is an outdoor wonderland. Fish, swim, or canoe in the nationally acclaimed Niobrara River. Hunting, hiking, and horseback riding are very popular. A summer camping trip to round out your nature experience would make your family adventure just about perfect. Have you ever seen a bison up close? If not, then it's time to take the Golden Prairie Bison Tours. Enjoy a few swings at the Frederick Peak Golf Club. Maybe try the fine local small-batch vinegar and pick one as a useful souvenir. Finally, without all those city lights, end your day stargazing.


Town of Scottsbluff and North Platte RIver in Nebraska, aerial view from a summit of Scotts Bluff National Monument
View of Scottsbluff from a summit of Scotts Bluff National Monument.

Summer trips don’t have to be about filling the days with wet and wild fun. It can also be about experiencing the world with your own eyes and not just the pictures in books written by true adventuring pioneers. Scottsbluff is known as Landmark Country, due to the incredible landmarks that have remained staples of the landscape for generations. Each is worthy of your respectful attention. If you found your way to this lovely town, you are going to enjoy all the outdoor activities planned throughout the summer, such as hot air balloon events, camping under the stars, roasting marshmallows over a roaring campfire, fishing, hiking, and tons of other events and activities. 


Sidney Carnegie Library building in Sidney, Nebraska
Sidney Carnegie Library, Sidney, Nebraska.

Anyone who has the outdoor spirit will see a distinctive green water tower as they cross the hill before dropping into Sidney and know right away what it symbolizes. It's Cabela’s green and the beacon to let travelers know a Cabela’s store is near. This is the first Cabela’s location, and within, there are numerous mounted animals in various poses and a tank full of regional fish.

If the first Cabela’s doesn’t interest you, perhaps a trip to the Deer Run Park Disc Golf Course or Duckpin Bowling Alley is more to your liking. Pick your own organic fruit at Fanny’s Fruit Farm, catch a film at the Fox Theater, or take the younger kids to Legion Park. From strolling down historic downtown Sidney to a visit to Sidney’s very own Boot Hill cemetery, you will never run out of things to do in this quaint little town.


Carhenge, a modern replica of Stonehenge
Carhenge, Alliance, Nebraska. Image credit via

Most have heard of Stone Henge, but what about Carhenge? Carhenge, crafted out of old cars, is a replica of the famous monument. There are plenty of other sculptures on the site, as well as walking paths, a visitor center, and a gift shop. It is all free to view and enjoy, and the story of why it was built is quite moving. Check out the Knight Museum and gaze at the beautifully crafted Native American artifacts. Catch the nearby Box Butte County Fair and witness a demolition derby with your own eyes and ears. Take in the cinema at Geju Alliance Theater. Pop into one of the many museums. Then finish up the day with a craft brew at Brewery 719.


Empty main street of Shubert, Nebraska
Main Street, Shubert, Nebraska. Image credit Jared Winkler via Wikimedia Commons

The best time of year to visit Shubert is during the changing of the leaves in fall, but that doesn’t mean summertime is not without its distinctive charms. The biggest draw to the town is Indian Caves State Park. Explore the park with your family, named for a large sandstone cave within the 3,000+ acres of the property. The park borders the Missouri River and is best known for camping, picnics, and long bike trails.

Within the park, there is an archery range, playground, and fish. Do some boating, take a horseback ride, and you can even hunt, although only with the right permit for the game that is in season. All in all, a beautiful outdoor spot worth visiting. With around 250 inhabitants, this village is by far the smallest on the list but will leave a lasting impression.

Nebraska is too big, too wild, and has too much rich history to overlook when choosing your vacation spot for summertime. It is excellent for outdoor enthusiasts, history lovers, anyone who appreciates nature, and frontier fans. When selecting your next summer trip, don’t forget to add Nebraska to the possible choices.

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