Essential Nebraska RV Blog:
Our Favorite Rambles
in the Cornhusker State
by Suzanne Wright
Some folks might think Nebraska is a flyover state, but we beg to differ. Out on the open road, this Great Plains state reveals itself in a wealth of quiet ways. You know about the cows, corn, and baseball’s College World Series. But closer exploration reveals other only-in-Nebraska attractions like Carhenge, the annual sandhill migration, Toadstool Geologic Park, and “funeral pie.” If you’re traversing the state in spring, wildflowers fill fields, festoon riverbanks, and line highways. If you’re passing through in winter, there’s a reward to snow-crisp nights in wide open spaces: outstanding star gazing. No matter where you journey, there’s a reassuring comfort and familiarity in Nebraska that we chalk up to that signature Midwestern charm.
The dunes of the high plains panhandle in north central Nebraska cover just over a quarter of the state. The appeal of the nationally-designated Niobrara Scenic River is undeniable; we could cloud watch here all day. In Valentine, let an outfitter hook you up with a relaxing day of tubing. Feeling more adventurous? Sign up for overnight kayaking. The tallest waterfall in the state can be admired in Smith Falls State Park. The 71,516-acre Valentine National Wildlife Refuge preserves prairie uplands and wetlands as a waterfowl and wildlife habitat. One of the longest rails-to-trails projects in the U.S., the Cowboy Trail spans a chunk of outback. It’s a great place to day hike or horseback ride. In the latter part of March, you might be fortunate to witness the elaborate and entertaining mating rituals of prairie chickens.
Where to Stay:
The Fishberry Campground& RV Park in Valentine takes top marks from many RVers for its low-key vibe and convenient I-83 location. There are 22 pull-through sites with full hookups and picnic tables; leashed pets are welcome. Tranquil Niobrara State Park, situated at the scenic confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers, offers 76 electric sites. It affords guests wildlife watching, horseback riding, biking, and in summer, buffalo cookouts.
If you aced high school geography, you already know that it’s Lincoln, not Omaha, that’s the state capitol. When filled to capacity—nearly 90,000 fans—The University of Nebraska Stadium is the third most populated place in the state. Even if you can’t score a ticket, you can tour Memorial Stadium without all the commotion. Many travelers say the Nebraska State Capitol is one of the nation’s most impressive. It rises 14 stories and is distinguished with majestic murals and mosaics. Whet your architectural appetite with a virtual tour. Nebraska is a rich burial ground for fossils, with mammoth bones found in all 93 counties. On display at The University of Nebraska State Museum is the world’s largest mammoth skeleton. A relaxing day can be spent motoring the Barn Quilts of Dawson County Trail, located off I-80 and Highway 30. More than 100 brightly painted “quilts” are painted and hung on barns along the route, paying homage to local agricultural and quilting heritage.
Where to Stay:
An hour east out of Lincoln, the award-winning Victorian Acres RV Park boasts WiFi, a bath house, laundry room, and a walking path in charming Nebraska City. There are more than 90 large, pull-through sites with full hookups sites scattered over 27 rolling acres. About 45 minutes west of Lincoln, the family-friendly Double Nickel Campground & Resort with easy access off I-80 offers a playground, mini golf, volleyball, and two dog parks. Full hookup sites feature porch swings, fire pits, and picnic tables with room for RVs up to 100 feet long. It’s open seasonally from April through October.
Grand Island & Red Cloud
In south central Nebraska, Grand Island is a bucket list destination for birders and photographers. Every spring, the annual sandhill crane migration fills the sky with the truly spectacular sight of a million birds converging on the Platte River. The Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center offers guided viewing blind tours for a closer look. For a dynamic living history experience, the 208-acre Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer immerses you in 1890s life. Families flock to Island Oasis Water Park for wet and wild summer season fun. Red Cloud’s most famous daughter is author Willa Cather. The National Willa Cather Center introduces you to her childhood home and other notable historic landmarks. We especially love the stillness of Willa Cather Memorial Prairie’s walking and hiking trails on Highway 281 near the Kansas border, especially evocative during rosy-streaked sunsets.
Where to Stay:
Half of the 71 (53 with electric hookups) sites at Mormon Island State Recreation Area are by reservation. Handicap-accessible fishing piers, swim beaches, and picnicking are highlights here.
You guessed it: Carhenge, in Alliance, is named after England’s Stonehenge. The site, which has 39 cars arranged to mimic the original, is one of those quirky roadside spectacles of American ingenuity. Covering more than 141,000 acres, The National Forest, in Chadron, is America’s biggest hand-planted forest. There are 17 miles of well-maintained trails, and first come, first-served developed overnight and backcountry camping. The mixed-grass prairie of Oglala National Grassland near Crawford, is the best place to view the amusing antics of prairie dogs and elegant pronghorns. Wind and water erosion on layers of siltstone and clay are responsible for the distinctive geologic formations at Toadstool Geologic Park.
Where to Stay:
Chadron State Park, founded in 1921, is praised by many as the state’s premier camping experience. It’s nestled among the famous buttes and canyons of Pine Ridge, and has more than 100 miles of bike/hike trails lacing the park and adjacent forest. There’s also archery, disc golf, paddle boats, swimming, tennis, and a trading post with hatchet throwing. Reservations for half the full hookup sites are accepted up to a year in advance.
When traveling on the lesser-trafficked “blue highways” (the nearest is Nebraska 83) through southwest Nebraska, we recommend Red Willow Reservoir State Recreation Area. Hugh Butler Lake is flush with fish, including channel catfish, crappie, and walleye, along with mule and white tail deer. Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park and State Recreation Area is another outstanding outdoor destination for fishing, hunting, and wildlife viewing. If you’re a railroad junkie, don’t miss the bird’s-eye view from the Golden Spike Tower and Visitor Center. From two open-air observation decks, you can watch as Union Pacific crews sort and connect more than 10,000 rail cars a day on 400 miles of tracks. Both attractions are in North Platte. Though it’s landlocked, Nebraska boasts to having more miles of river than any other state. Don’t miss a unique tanking float outing. Lake McConaughy is one of the best places to put in.
Where to Stay:
In addition to the state parks, the Country View Campground offers a pastoral setting with 52 full hookup sites and newly renovated shower facilities. RV supplies and an antique store are on the property.
Nebraska's largest city offers urban amenities galore. Start your exploration with a history lesson at the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail Headquarters and Visitor Center. From there, access the 3,000-foot-long Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge that connects Nebraska with Iowa; the views of the Omaha skyline and Missouri River are equally awesome day and night. We appreciate the diversity spotlighted at the Joslyn Art Museum and the Great Plains Black History Museum. Kids will love the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium and Omaha Children's Museum. Come evening, head to the cobblestone streets of Old Market, the city’s art and entertainment district, for gallery-hopping and dining.
Where to Stay:
Located right on the Elkhorn River on Omaha’s west side, Riverwest Park is a lively option geared toward adults, with tubing, tanking, a sandy beach, outdoor movies, and in autumn, a haunted forest. There are just 20 RV sites, so reserve in advance.
Three Culinary Specialties Worth Seeking Out
One of the great joys of traveling is eating. Of course if you’re a beef lover, you’ve already enjoyed a world-famous Omaha steak. Nebraska, the birthplace of the Rueben sandwich and Kool-Aid, is also home to some unusual regional fare you aren’t likely to see elsewhere. A Nebraska-style pork tenderloin sandwich is a plain bun stuffed with a fried pork cutlet, and topped with lettuce, mayo, mustard, onions, and pickles. Rocky Mountain oysters. Prairie oysters. Cowboy caviar. Cattle fries. Whatever you call them, these delicacies are the, ahem, “oysters” of all those bulls free-ranging throughout the state. A long-standing restaurant tradition, when tenderized and fried, they’re pretty tasty. Raisin pie has an interesting backstory. The sweet treat is also known as “funeral pie” because it doesn’t need refrigeration. A favorite of Mennonites and the Amish, look for it in older, established restaurants in rural communities.