Western Nebraska has a lot to offer when it comes to beautiful places and outdoor activities.
First of all, who knew that the western side of the state wasn’t flat??!!
Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the fresh air, rugged terrain, natural wonders, and scenic drives for their next road trip throughout the state.
I’m sharing more about the great outdoor adventures to experience in Western Nebraska.
1. Admire Views of Chimney Rock National Historic Site
9822 County Rd 75, Bayard, NE
Chimney Rock was one of the most well-known landmarks for pioneers heading west on the Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, and California Trail.
In 1956, Chimney Rock was designated a National Historic Site by the federal government.
How Tall is Chimney Rock?
Chimney Rock measures 325 feet tip to base and its summit rises 470 feet above the North Platte River.
The spire on Chimney Rock measures 120 feet and over the past 150 years the spire has lost about 30 feet due to erosion and lightning strikes.
In 1895 the United States Geological Survey calculated the Chimney Rock elevation as 4225 feet above sea level.
What is Chimney Rock Made Of?
The formation of Chimney Rock is made primarily of Brule clay interlayered with volcanic ash and Arikaree sandstone which is susceptible to erosion.
Climbing isn’t allowed on or near the formation to help preserve its natural beauty. You wouldn’t want to get too close to Chimney Rock anyway because there are lots of rattlesnake dens on the rock.
Enjoy the Trails Near Chimney Rock
You can admire Chimney Rock from the broad path on the designated trail which also makes it easy to keep a lookout for snakes nearby.
Chimney Rock is now maintained and operated by the Nebraska State Historical Society and the walking trails are free to use.
The Chimney Rock Visitor Center contains a museum that will share more about the historic site and the geology of the formation.
You’ll also learn more about the pioneers who past the historic site while journing out west, and the Native Americans who lived in the area during that time.
The Chimney Rock Museum has several hands-on exhibits including one for kids where they can load up a wagon to help picture what life was like for the pioneers.
Make sure that you check out the gift shop with quirky t-shirts and unique restrooms inside the Chimney Rock Visitor Center with fun facts and photo ops.
2. Visit Scotts Bluff National Monument
190276 Old Oregon Trail, Gering, NE
Scotts Bluff was an important landmark for both Native Americans and emigrants on the Mormon Trail, California Trail, and Oregon Trail.
Summer is the most popular time of year for out-of-state visitors to visit Scotts Bluff National Monument which encompasses over 3,000 acres.
Learn About Life on the Trail
During our visit, there were historical pioneer actors demonstrating some of the items that would have been used when immigrants were heading west by wagon.
They did a great job of helping us understand the inconveniences and hardships they would have endured in hopes of the promises of a better life.
We learned that the explorers and emigrant families would travel through the area single file through the Badlands for the Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, and California Trail, and it was also used for the Pony Express.
The majority of the Oregon trail follows the rivers along the way.
Families would typically travel around 15 miles a day via walking. We learned that on most of the trail, kids would walk barefoot to make their shoes last longer and would only wear shoes while traversing the mountains.
There would be around 20 wagons in their group at a time and only 6 out of 8 wagons were pulled by oxen.
Unlike what you may have seen in the movies, the Conestoga wagon was primarily used by the military because it was more expensive and required 6-8 oxen to pull it.
Inside the Scotts Bluff National Monument Visitor Center, you can learn more about the history of Native Americans and emigrants who traveled through the area.
Scenic views from the top are a short drive from the visitor center
Hiking Trails at Scotts Bluff National Monument
There are almost 4 miles of hiking trails for visitors to enjoy.
Each trail provides you with different vantage points of the area.
- North Overlook Trail -.5 mile moderate trail with a view of the North Platte River Valley, the badlands, and the cities of Scottsbluff and Gering.
- South Overlook Trail – .8 mile easy trail with a view of Mitchell Pass, remnants of the Oregon Trail, and the Scotts Bluff National Monument Visitor Center.
- Saddle Rock Trail – 1.6-mile strenuous one-way trail with an elevation change of 435 feet
- Oregon Trail Pathway -.5 mile trail with an elevation change of 85 feet.
Don’t Miss This Hiking Trail!
If you’re short on time, I would HIGHLY recommend taking the North Overlook Trail. The views from this trail are hard to beat!
The bench located near the end of the trail is one of the best places to see the North Platte River Valley and the Badlands.
This is a spectacular spot to admire the natural beauty in the surrounding area.
Tanking is one of the most popular recreational activities during the summer months.
What is Tanking?
Tanking is where you float, inside a cattle tank, down the river with a group of friends. Life jackets are provided along with a few oars to paddle. Each tank typically holds 4-6 people.
Inside the tank, there is a bench to sit on and plenty of room for a cooler.
Our tanking adventure was with the outfitter, Dusty Trails on the North Platte River located at 2617 N Buffalo Bill Ave, North Platte, NE. (Nebraska Game & Parks Buffalo Bill’s Scouts Rest Ranch)
Dusty Trails also offers horseback riding and spring birding trips to see the sandhill cranes.
Tanking was one of my favorite outdoor experiences during my visit because it was so unique.
One of the best things about tanking is that’s a great way to spend time on the water and have a good time with friends or family.
Tanking is also available with outfitters on the Niobrara River, Cedar River, Calamus River, Middle Loup River, and Elkhorn River.
4. Wander Around Toadstool Geological Park and Campground
Toadstool Geological Park is a unique place that looks like it’s out of a sci-fi movie or reminiscent of formations I’ve visited in New Mexico.
The park was named for the rock formations that look like… you guessed it…toadstools.
The collection of badlands formations at Toadstool Geological Park is found in the Oglala National Grassland of Nebraska.
These types of rocks are similar to the ones found in the Badlands of South Dakota.
Hiking at Toadstool Geological Park
There are two main hiking trails that vary in difficulty level.
There is a 3-mile trail to Hudson-Meng Education & Research Center and a 1-mile interpretive loop trail.
Camping at Toadstool Geological Park
The campground consists of six camping sites with a picnic table, a fire ring, a grill, and access to two vault toilets.
Reservations for the campground are first come, first serve.
The most important thing to note is that there isn’t any access to water so you’ll want to prepare ahead of time if you are camping or hiking for the day.
Toadstool Geological Park is pet-friendly and open year-round.
5. Admire the Views at Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area
210615 NE-71, Gering, NE
Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area consists of close to 1100 acres with more than 3 miles of trails through the pine forest.
The Nature Center is located on top of a bluff and the observation decks are a great place to admire scenic views of the North Platte River Valley.
The Nature Center offers a lot of educational programs and interactive exhibits for families of all ages.
Hiking Trails at Wildcat Hills Recreation Area
The recreation area is open year-round for visitors and has several hiking trails for guests to choose from.
- Turkey Run Trail – 1.8 mile moderate trail
- Northlook Nature Trail – .7 mile easy trail
- Cedar Ridge Trail – 1-mile moderate trail
- Monument View Trail – .9 mile easy trail
- Bobcat Trail – .5 mile easy trail
Types of Animals at Wildcat Hills Recreation Area
Wildcat Hills is home to a variety of animals including mountain lions, owls, bighorn sheep, elk, wild turkey, and moose.
Additional Activities at Wildcat Hills Recreation Area
There is also a family-friendly Shooting Sports Complex onsite that focuses on education, safety, and fun with archery, small bore, pellet, shotgun, and rifle ranges. Equipment rental is available for an additional fee.
6. Stop for a Unique Roadside Attraction at Carhenge
2151 Co Rd 59, Alliance, NE
If you love quirky, you definitely need to make a stop for “Carhenge” in the small town of Alliance, Nebraska.
I’ve previously visited “Bamahenge” in Alabama and this roadside attraction was even more unique!
The Nebraska twist on Stonehenge consists of 39 automobiles and uses the same proportions of Stonehenge with a 96-foot diameter circle.
Carhenge was the vision of Jim Reinders and was built in 1987 with the help of around 35 family members.
Jim’s desire to create a replica of the iconic structure was influenced by his time living abroad.
Jim had previously lived in England and while he was there he studied more about the design and purpose of Stonehedge.
The location was a former farm where Reinder’s father previously lived and Carhenge was built as a memorial in his honor.
Keep your spray paint at home because no graffiti is allowed on the vehicles.
The one exception is the “Auto-graph car,” a white car on the left side of the hill.
There is an assortment of car art sculptures to view within a short walking distance of Carhenge.
You’ll definitely want to get a closer look at the detail and creative repurposing.
“Spawning Salmon” was created by 29-year-old Geoff Sandhurst from Canada.
Dino the dinosaur, which was constructed by Merle Stone.
The gift shop at Carhenge is open seasonally and you can see where visitors have stopped from all over the world.
Carhenge is open from dusk to dawn for visitors year-round.
7. Take a Scenic Jeep Tour at Fort Robinson State Park
Soldier Creek Rd & US Hwy 20, Crawford, NE
A Jeep tour is a MUST if you’re visiting Fort Robinson State Park in Crawford, Nebraska.
It’s the best way to see incredible views of the surrounding area.
During the tour, your Jeep Driver will point out wildlife and local ecology.
You can see bison and antelope from a safe distance along with incredible views of the surrounding buttes and the Nebraska panhandle skyline.
There are two different bison herds within the park.
There are 11 Jeep rides a day and the tour lasts 55 minutes.
Jeep tours are booked the day of your tour, Memorial Day through Labor Day.
You also get to stop for a photo op on top of the buttes to enjoy the views during your tour.
From the top of the butte, you can almost see as far as the border of South Dakota.
You can reserve a Jeep tour on the day of your visit. I would recommend going to the booth first thing in the morning.
8. Explore Potter’s Pasture Mountain Bike Trail
27747-30499 S Jeffrey Rd, Brady, NE
Potter’s Pasture is a popular place for mountain biking with close to 100 miles of scenic trails on 1200 acres.
The bike trails appeal to all ages and skill levels from easy to advanced. There are even trails that are suitable for kids.
The land at Potter’s Pasture is privately owned but it’s open to the public.
The bike trails are free to use thanks to the legacy of Steve Potter, who passed away in 2019, and the passionate volunteers who continue to help maintain the trails.
Steve enjoyed riding trails with friends and wanted to have land where they could ride freely.
Potter’s Pasture is also a site for bike races and special events throughout the year.
The site is dog-friendly and there is a campground on site.
You can learn more about the trails and upcoming events on the Whitetail Cycle Sport website.
Bike helmets are mandatory for riders and there are water stations throughout the trails.
One word of caution, check the weather and road conditions before you go.
On our way to Potter’s Pasture, we learned that weather conditions can impact the gravel road.
When the gravel roads are wet it creates a “gumbo” that’s slippery like ice and dries heavy like concrete. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced on a road before.
Looking for More Outdoor Recreation in Nebraska?
- TreeRush Adventures at Fontenelle Forest – 1111 Bellevue Blvd N Ste A., Bellevue, NE ( Zip lines)
- Eugene T. Mahoney State Park – 28500 W Park Hwy, Ashland, NE
- Yanney Heritage Park – 2020 W 11th St, Kearney, NE
- Go Ape Zipline and Adventure Park – 28500 W Park Hwy, Ashland, NE
- Platte River State Park – 14421 346th St, Louisville, NE