We Vacationed in Nebraska and Found More than Corn
When you think of special vacation destinations, Nebraska probably is not on your list. I admit that I don’t think of Nebraska as a traveler’s Mecca. Yet, our family planned a road trip to Western Nebraska during fall break and found that there is more to Nebraska than corn.
Why a Nebraska Vacation?
Our trip grew out of a family vacation this summer to the Black Hills of South Dakota. We hate to take the same route coming and going on a road trip, so I often map out different routes or options. I considered dropping down to Nebraska after leaving the Black Hills. I found a couple of National Monuments to visit. However, in the end, we chose to take a different return route.
My son was disappointed that we did not go to the state and began to ask that we plan a trip to Nebraska. I decided fall break would be a good time (as long as it didn’t snow), and began plans.
Our kids love the National Park Service and look forward to collecting Junior Ranger badges at each park location (to find out more about the Junior Ranger program, check out our post here). Western Nebraska offered two NPS sites (Agate Fossil Beds National Monument and Scotts Bluff National Monument) in addition to one National Historical Site that is not governed by NPS (Chimney Rock National Memorial). Our itinerary was set for a quick two-day journey to these three sites.
You need to understand that Western Nebraska is sparsely populated. Scotts Bluff is the largest town in the region. Much of the time, we were driving an roads where we saw no traffic.
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Our first stop was to Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. The site was the most remote of our stops. The NPS’s website notes that there are no gas stations for 30-50 miles and sporadic cell phone service. We passed three cars on the 30-mile journey on the road to the monument.
Mammal fossils from the Miocene Epoch (20 million years ago) were uncovered in the 1890s and Agate Fossil Beds became a hotbed of paleontologist activity. The area was a savanna-like grasslands complete with a watering hole. When the land dried up, the mammals died. leaving their remains. You can see the remains of animals that resemble our modern-day pigs, gazelles, camels, and rhinoceros.
The park also contains a ranch house and the James H. Cook collection gallery, which preserves the cultural history of the Lakota people. There are two walking trails that are easy to moderate. One trail has a walking path that is accessible for wheelchairs.
We enjoyed a nice picnic lunch at the park and walked some of both walking trails. The kids completed their Junior Ranger books and earned badges. We enjoyed the gallery and admired the Lakota artwork and learned about their history. While the park has a lot to offer in terms of leaning about the region and the Miocene fossils, there is little to do (besides the walking trails). We spent about two hours at the park, and the kids were ready to leave and go to our next destination.
Chimney Rock National Historic Site
Next up was a 90-minute drive to Chimney Rock, the iconic natural structure that was a landmark for more than 500,000 emigrants following the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Trail in the 1800s. Chimney Rock, though a national historic site, is maintained by the Nebraska Historical Society rather than the NPS.
The site has an interactive visitor’s center where our kids immersedthemselves in the history of the 1800s wagon trains. They were able to load a wagon with sugar, water, rice, coffee, and other commodities. They learned about the pioneers who journeyed to Chimney Rock and beyond.
Outside the visitor’s center is a photo station where you can take pictures of the 300-foot-tall rock formation that has been immortalized on the U.S. Mint’s State Quarter series. Access to the rock was disappointing. We were a distance from the rock and were unable to get the best pictures. I later read that there is a trail that allows closer access to the site that is a short drive from the visitor’s center.
While we learned about the Oregon Trail and the pioneers at the site, we would recommend that you find an off-road stop if you simply want pictures of Chimney Rock,
After this stop, we headed to our Hampton Inn Hotel in Scotts Bluff for an evening of swimming and rest.
Scotts Bluff National Monument
The next day, we got an early start at Scotts Bluff National Monument
The Bluffs were, after Chimney Rock, the second great landmark the wagon trains saw on their trek westward. More than 250,000 pioneers traveled through the pass on their way to Oregon. Today, the bluffs preserve the history of the pioneer and the Pony Express (which ran through the pass) as well as being a popular hiking spot. Scotts Bluff rises 800 feet over the North Platte River and the town of Scotts Bluff. The rock formations inspire photographers.
The staff at the visitor’s center was helpful and accommodating to the kids. We entered an auditorium where a Ranger told us the history of the Monument. He showed us the works of William Henry Jackson, a naturalist photographer and artist who was the first person to photograph Yellowstone. Outside the visitor’s center, you find a short trail with wagons and gorgeous views of Mitchell Pass.
You are able to drive up to the bluffs on a narrow, switchback road, which leads to some hiking trails and views of the North Platte River and surrounding countryside. From the top of the Bluffs, you can see Chimney Rock and some other rock formations that dot the Western Nebraska landscape.
The Monument is a must see for those interested in the western expansion of the United States or the outdoors person who loves hikes and mountain vista views. We spent about two hours at the site, but you could easily spend half a day exploring all of the monument.
Western Nebraska was a surprisingly enjoyable vacation spot. The kids enjoyed Agate Fossil Beds and I enjoyed Scotts Bluff National Monument for its stunning scenery. It is economical to visit the sites (Agate Fossil Beds is free, Chimney Rock is $3 for adults and free for children, Scotts Bluff is $5 for a non-commercial vehicle). Scotts Bluff has a number of hotels with very reasonable rates and a good number of restaurants and fast food options. We learned a great deal about the wagon trains and the Miocene era on the trip and enjoyed bonding as a family.
Have you visited Nebraska or these Monuments? What were your impressions or recommendations? Leave us a comment. We’d love to hear from you.
You Might Also Enjoy:
Our Trip to Amazing Colorful Rocks at Paint Mines Interpretive Park in Colorado.
Find out 4 Things You Can Do at Capulin Volcano National Monument.
Read about Three U.S. Forts that Tell the Story of Western Migration.
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29 thoughts on “We Vacationed in Nebraska and Found More than Corn”
Nebraska seems lovely!!!! And I would definitely visit the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument!!!
It was a great place to visit.
Who would have thought Nebraska would be cool!? We will be traveling all 50 states next year! We will have to check this out 🙂
So excited to follow your journey. The U.S. has so much to see.
I love the idea of Junior Ranger Badges! I hadn’t heard of that before. I’ve definitely never considered a vacation in Nebraska, but it’s a good reminder that everywhere in the world has it’s own hidden gems!
The kids love the Junior Ranger program. And we love finding those off-the-beaten path locations. There is so much beauty to be found everywhere around the globe.
This post was amazing! I have been to Nebraska before and it is definitely worth the visit! I’ve only been to Omaha but all of these places look like something I need to check out! Thank you for sharing.
Great post! Very well written. I didn’t know that there were fossil beds in Nebraska! Especially with rhino fossils! Fascinating.
Way to spread some love for Nebraska. I actually have nothing but fond memories of my visit there. We were heading west, moving from Ohio to Washington, and had to stop for car repair in Lincoln. Long story short, they did a fabulous job and saved the trip. From there, we drove the Platte Valley headed out. They are great people out there and it’s super cool that your kids are so into the Junior Ranger program that they wanted to return. Safe travels to you all.
I have to admit, I’ve been building a folder with all the places I want to visit during a mammoth USA tour but Nebraska hasn’t been on this list because I didn’t think there was much to it, having read through this post, I may have to put it on just for the Agate fossil park . Thanks for this post, without it Nebraska wouldn’t have even made it to the thought process let alone the list haha
I love going to places where you have no real idea or expectations and then it just totally surprises you.
Yes, those are the best times.
I have to admit, Nebraska isn’t the first state I think about when traveling through my own country. However, the U.S has so much beauty in its land that all of it would be great to explore. Definitely want to make it out there one day. Plus, by the look of your pictures it seems you got to enjoy the place without over crowding! Glad you and your family had a great time.
Thanks. There was no overcrowding! No traffic and no traffic jams.
The fossil park looks interesting! Nebraska is one of the handful of states neither of us has visited. Seems like a good road trip stop. Cool to think of the secluded empty roads too!
And I didn’t even know Nebraska was famous for corn, haha 😀 Looks adventurous! 🙂
Well, who would have thought that about Nebraska? Great insights, will bookmark for the future.
Nebraska isn’t somewhere I often think of visiting, but I also didn’t realize there were three national parks there. We did visit when I was a kid on a big family road trip, but the corn is the main thing to stick in my memory!
I know nothing about Nebraska or corn so this was an interesting read for me! The fossil park looks interesting as does the monument too. If I visit the US again, I’ll be sure to stop by here!
The midwestern states and west coast of the United States is next on my list to explore! There is such diversity across America is amazing what 10hours West offers in comparison to East of the Mississippi River!! Great post! Thank you for sharing what your kids liked on this experience! Cheers!
I love learning about new places and all I knew about Nebraska until now was its location on the map. Thanks for introducing a lesser-known destination. I’m already up for collecting some agate and checking out some cool fossils at Agate Fossils Bed National Monument!
I did not know about the Agate Fossil Beds, which seem very interesting to visit. I did not know that there used to be rhinos in the US. Will add it to my list when traveling the US!
I do not know why people rarely choose South Dakota as a travel destination. It’s wonderful and really peaceful there. Thanks for sharing your journey.
amazing! I’m looking to visit the national parks this summer. These photos are stunning, like going back in time.
i heard Nebraska but not about it corn industry. What a way to experience a place thru their livelihood and agri-tourism. I will love to learn all about those things.
It totally made my day to read this post! We are originally from Eastern Iowa, you guys should stop by there sometime, too. Look for the 7 German colonies called Amana (oktoberfest is awesome) when you can eat lots of traditional food and wine., the Dutch town of Kalona (where you can see tulip fields in the spring). And, you must go to the Mississippi River in Muscatine, Iowa and eat lunch at the old button factory (where they made buttons from fresh-water oysters). Happy travels, family!
How fun. We do need to get to Iowa some day.