In the Sand Hills of Nebraska, near the South Dakota border, lies a treasure waiting to be discovered by RV camping fans. The Niobrara National Scenic River winds its way almost five hundred miles across Northern Nebraska, with seventy-six miles set aside by the National Park Service as a “Wild and Scenic River.” Not only can you expect unforgettable scenery and outstanding outdoor recreation opportunities there, you’ll also find the surrounding area filled with Great Plains charm.
To reach the National Scenic River section of the Niobrara, head for Valentine, Nebraska, a cheerful place filled with Old West panache. Coming from I90, you’ll exit at Hwy 83 and travel about seventy miles south to Valentine. If you’re traveling I80, you’ll head north on Hwy 83 at the North Platte exit and drive one hundred thirty miles to reach Valentine.
Let’s back up a moment, though, and answer the question, “What, exactly, would make me want to drive to Nebraska to see this river?” The best answer is, “The chance to experience the historic attractions, scenic beauty and small-town hospitality of the Great Plains.” And that doesn’t even take into account the first-rate, riverside RV camping.
Speaking of outdoor attractions that draw RV travelers to the region, here’s a list of the top five reasons you’ll return for another look:
- The Bridges of the Niobrara (PDF) attract history lovers and photographers in every season. Of the fifteen bridges within the National Scenic River area, five are listed on the National Register of Historic Structures. Take time to enjoy such architectural wonders as Allen Bridge, built in 1903, award-winning Bryan Bridge built in 1932 and the Verdigre Bridge at Smith Falls State Park.
- Cowboy Trail will soon be known as the longest Rails-to-Trails conversion (three hundred twenty miles) in the United States. Still under construction in some areas, this crushed limestone path leads bikers, hikers and horseback riders through remote prairie corridors home to bald eagles, turkey vultures and a whole host of prairie mammals. Be sure to check the official website for information on trail closures as you plan your RV trip.
- Niobrara River boating brings many kayaking, canoeing and tubing enthusiasts during summer months. A number of Niobrara National Scenic River outfitters are listed on the NPS site to help you plan your float trip, or you can bring your own vessels and test your skills on Class II rapids.
- Waterfalls rushing down rugged rock faces to the river’s edge are a special treat for paddlers. Springs and waterfalls dot the riverbank and provide another layer of beauty to the hardwood forests, high bluffs and rocky shores that border the Niobrara.
- Wildlife Viewing opportunities are abundant both along the river corridor and at nearby Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, where bison, elk, deer and prairie dogs are among the species you’ll see on the Wildlife Drive.
Now that you’re persuaded that a trip to the Niobrara National Scenic River is in order, you’ll need to know where to find the best RV camping. Here are a few suggestions for comfortable camping near or on the river:
- Dryland Aquatics is a popular area float trip outfitter offering electric RV hookups for their customers in Sparks, NE (population 5!)
- Fritz’s Island Campground on the north side of the river, near Sparks, NE offers up-to-date amenities
- Riverside RV Park & Campground near Valentine is famous for its friendly staff
The Niobrara Valley in Northern Nebraska holds mysteries that can only be unlocked when you get out onto its rivers and trails. Create your own Niobrara vacation memories with an RV trip to explore this Wild and Scenic River.