Niobrara National Scenic River
The Niobrara National Scenic River and surrounding area offers a wealth of recreation and vacation opportunities. Besides floating the beautiful scenic river by canoe, kayak or tube, there are plenty of area activities and quaint communities to explore. The 76-mile reach of the Niobrara River in northcentral Nebraska was added to the nation's Wild and Scenic River System in 1991. The river is swift and shallow over much of its length, cutting through bedrock forming riffles, rapids and waterfalls. The Scenic River preserves a superb example of a Great Plains river and protects a unique ecological crossroads where six distinct ecosystems and their associated flora and fauna mix, some at or beyond their normal geographic limit. The western third of the Scenic River is home to over ninety waterfalls -- highest is Smith Falls that cascades seventy feet from a Sand Hills cliff. Many locally-owned ranches are found along the river retaining the valley's rural flavor, yet much of its wild character is preserved. Wildlife abounds: animals such as white-tailed deer, coyote, beaver, mink, bull snakes, soft-shelled turtles, turkeys, herons, and sandpipers are commonly sighted. Enjoyed by tens of thousands of canoeists yearly, the upper reach of the Niobrara is noted as one of the country's outstanding canoeing rivers. A portion flows through a federally designated wilderness.
The western reach of the Scenic River has public access points at the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, Smith Falls State Park, and the Middle Niobrara Natural Resource District's Brewer Bridge landing. Nature trails are found at the refuge and state park. The Fort Niobrara Refuge also features a driving tour through elk and bison pastures as well as a prairie dog colony. The hike to Fort Falls is fairly short and provides a spectacular view.
Seasonality / Weather
Open year-round. Visitors can float the river by tube, canoe, kayak or raft from mid-April to mid-October. Most floaters come on weekends in June, July and August, when summer temperatures can soar from the 90s to low 100s.
During spring floating conditions, be prepared for variable or unsettled weather and higher water levels. Many migratory birds pass through the valley and nesting Canada geese are often encountered. Fall brings cooler temperatures, brilliant leaf colors and clearer water. Winter floats are possible (using private equipment) if the river has not iced over. The Cornell Bridge to Smith Falls stretch is normally ice free for most of the winter.
Most visitors travel to Valentine, Nebraska to start their float trip or to tour the river valley. The Niobrara National Scenic River Headquarters office is located in Valentine at 214 W. Highway 20. If the office is closed, please visit the Chamber of Commerce on Main Street to obtain park information. Other nearby communities have information about this scenic river as well.
Valentine is 76 miles south of I-90 on Hwy 83; or 130 miles north of I-80 on Hwy 83.