Exploring Nebraska: Road Trips through the Cornhusker State
By Kimberly Graf. Published on February 10, 2022
Nebraska is one of the most underappreciated states in the United States. It's full of beautiful countryside and wide open spaces. It's the home of Kool-Aid, gets a lot of snow in the wintertime, and has great roads for viewing fall foliage. If you're ever in the area, you won't be disappointed by a stop off in Nebraska, even if it's just over the border. But bring your jacket! The very name is enough to make you feel chilly.
Nebraska has a lot of natural formations that are worth a visit if you're going to spend any time in the state at all. This trip is just over four hours long and tours some of Nebraska's most wonderful natural sites.
We'll start just outside of Bridgeport, at the Courthouse and Jail Rock. These two rocks resemble just what they say they do: a courthouse, which is a large conical rock, and the large 'jail' compound right next to it. The way that these rocks look has made them famous, and we can't help but love that they've been called what they have.
It's 28 minutes to Chimney Rock National Historic Site. This giant, pointed rock formation in the middle of the flats of Nebraska was one of the most well-known and best-recognized landmarks for the pioneer travelers and traders, making it a historic site for posterity today. Take a few pictures of this beautiful, strange rock formation and then head to Scotts Bluff National Monument.
35 minutes away is the National Monument of Scotts Bluff. There are actually several bluffs, the tallest of which is 800 feet above the North Platte River in the area. These were important landmarks on the Oregon Trail, and today you can see all of the pioneer history at the welcome center.
It's almost two hours to Toadstool Geological Park, so strap in and get something to drink for the road. As you could probably tell from the name, this park contains a lot of rock formations that happen to look like toadstools. It's pretty cool. These rocks are surrounded by a badlands landscape that is picturesque in its barrenness, as a reconstructed sod house that you can go and visit.
When you're done marveling there, our last stop is the Pine Ridge National Recreation Area, about an hour and 15 minutes away. This area does not have huge visitor's centers or even running water for the most part – but it's perfect for backcountry hiking, picture-taking opportunities, and primitive camping in the rugged wilderness. Take some time to appreciate the landscape here – we've included it last because you might just want to stay longer!
This trip totals about four hours without stops, so you might want to plan to be out one night if you decide to take it!
There are some gorgeous, scenic lakes in this part of the country. Crystal water reflecting pure blue sky – it doesn't get much better than this. We're starting this nearly 10 hour extended road trip on the shores of Lake McConaughy.
This is the largest reservoir in the state. There are white sand beaches here and plenty of boating, fishing, swimming, and even camping. It's the perfect way to get an ocean feel in the middle of Nebraska, of all places! There are also plenty of interactive activities at the Water Interpretive Center for children at the visitor's center here. Spend some time relaxing on the beach before taking the three hour drive to the next lake on our list.
Harlan County Reservoir is right on the border with Kansas. It's a huge lake with a dam that you can explore, as well as plenty of rare bird watching opportunities. The best of these are the golden eagles and bald eagles that roost in the area. It's priceless to get to see these majestic birds! There are also plenty of pelicans in the area that migrate from March to the middle of April.
It's another 3 hour drive to Lake Wanahoo, which is a nearly 650-acre recreation establishment that you're going to love to visit. It's in the Sand Creek Watershed, so all the wildlife there is protected. You can do a fair bit of fishing from both the shore and your boat there. There are plenty of hiking trails, a playground, and even canoeing opportunities! You may want to camp here for the night if you're worn out. There's one more lake to visit on our tour.
The Lewis and Clark Lake is on the other side of the state from our starting point, making this a full tour of all the landscape that Nebraska has to offer. It's three hours here, of course, but the beautiful drive is worth it. Unlike at the other lakes, there are cabins here, hunting opportunities, and even horse trails if you feel like grabbing your equine companion sometime. It's a gorgeous bright blue lake and the second largest reservoir in the state.
Nebraska is a natural state full of wonderful formations, nature at its finest if you take the time to look for it. And you definitely should! Even at a glance it's more than worth the beauty to be found here.