Marvelous Midwest: Best Places to Visit in Nebraska

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Group of adults posing by the Scotts Bluff National Monument, one of many places to visit in Nebraska.

Welcome to Nebraska, the 16th largest state in the U.S., with a tagline of “Honestly. It’s not for Everyone.” But honestly, this Midwestern state offers something for everyone.

Raised in Iowa near the Nebraska border, I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the state. My dad was a fan of any-team-but-the-Cornhuskers college football, and if anyone knows football rivalry, well, you know where I’m coming from, right?

Yet since we lived on the Nebraska border in small-town Iowa, it was our almost weekly road trip for groceries and to visit our Nebraskan relatives. Mix in all the fun things to do in Omaha and all along the Interstate 80 corridor, thus my dilemma.

Now as an adult transplanted into Colorado, I’ve experienced all the crazy, fun, wildly different, and amazing things to do, from a University of Nebraska football game to tubing on Lake McConaughey (and many things in between), so I’m secretly in love with Nebraska — but don’t tell my dad!

Where in the World is Nebraska?

Nebraska is bordered by South Dakota in the north; Iowa and Missouri in the east; Kansas in the south; Colorado in the south and west, and Wyoming in the west. This prime location in the heart of the Midwest creates the perfect road trip destination!

Nebraska is a land of rolling hills, prairies, and forests. With more miles of rivers than any other state, it is also home to many lakes and rivers, including the Platte River, the Missouri River, and the Niobrara River. The state is a popular destination for outdoor recreation, including hiking, camping, fishing, and boating at Nebraska’s beautiful state parks.

Vast open prairies of the Great Plains, tumbling rivers, country roads worthy of road trips, towering dunes, staggering rock formations, cultural sites, small towns, farmlands, vibrant university towns, thriving music scenes, and unique tourist attractions. And rivers flow through this state, in fact, more miles of rivers than in any other state.

That’s not even to mention its impressive pioneer history including museums, memorials, Native American sites, and historic trails. To name a few: The Pony Express, The Oregon Trail, and the Lincoln Highway, the transcontinental U.S. Route 30.

Get ready, my friends, for an adventure like no other exploring all the places to visit in Nebraska.

Read More: 17 Fun Things To Do in Nebraska

Places to Visit in Nebraska

I grew up in western Iowa, near the Missouri River, and just across the “border” from Omaha, Nebraska.

Our weekly shopping trip was to Council Bluffs and over the bridge to Omaha, and often included a stop at our cousins or our paternal grandparents’ homes. And we loved crossing the mighty-to-us Missouri River, bordering the eastern edge between Iowa and Nebraska, into North Omaha — and to me as just a young thing, it was daunting.

While not technically a local, I did visit often and as an adult lived in Omaha for nearly three years. I also explored other areas of Nebraska as a resident and returned often to visit friends and family.

You might say, The Cornhusker State has a gravitational pull to this now-Colorado resident.

Gorilla at Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha Nebraska
The gorilla exhibit at the Henry Doorly Zoo is one of its most popular attractions. Photo credit: Cathy Bennett Kopf

Things to Do in Omaha

A lot has changed since I lived here, but Omaha still remains the largest city in Nebraska, filled with things to do ranging from art galleries to museums, zoos to outdoor activities, and, yes, nightlife and great food too!

Family Fun in Omaha

  • You’ll need an entire day (and comfortable shoes!) to visit the 160-acre Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, one of the top zoos in the U.S. and home to more than 17,000 animals from 962 species. With its long history, established in 1894, you’ll run out of time before you’ve seen all it offers including the largest cat complex in North America, largest indoor swamp and nocturnal exhibit, world’s largest indoor rainforest; and world’s largest indoor desert.

SheBuysTravel Tip: Purchase tickets in advance to avoid wait times at the gate.

  • Located in downtown, Omaha’s Children’s Museum celebrates “science is magic,” featuring daily science, technology, engineering, art, and math experiences.
  • Train fans will want to visit The Durham Museum in Union Station with its walk-through trains and model train display.
  • Take a short 30-minute drive for an outdoor adventure in Ashland at the Wildlife Safari Park, a four-mile wildlife drive-through experience. Stop first at the visitors center to see just how much there is to do. Take the hiking trail to an overlook to North American wildlife in their habitat: bears, wolves, elk, bison, and waterfowl. Inside the Eagle Aviary see for yourself, the bald Eagle, America’s national bird.
  • Also in Ashland, between Omaha and Lincoln, head on over to the more than 300,000 square foot Strategic Air Command & Aerospace Museum. Well known for its impressive array of aircraft. – See a variety of permanent and featured exhibits and special events throughout the year
  • Walk across Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, a 3,000 footbridge across the Missouri River, and stand in two states (Nebraska and Iowa) at one time. Kids will also enjoy the view of the river and the Omaha skyline.
  • Family-friendly Omaha events include the College World Series, Summer Art Festival, Omaha’s River City Rodeo, Outdoor Movies, Parades, and more.
Downtown Omaha, one of many places to visit in Nebraska.
Downtown Omaha. Photo credit: VisitNebraska.org

Omaha’s History, Art, Culture & Cuisine

Creative describes this Midwestern city best, and you’ll see why with its public art displays and art galleries. Culture and history are celebrated in its theatre, museums, and cuisine.

  • Public art is a big deal in Omaha. Take a stroll, nearly everywhere, and you’ll see. Over 100 bronze pieces are spread out over six city blocks at the Spirit of Nebraska’s Wilderness and Pioneer Courage Parks. Downtown Omaha also features a variety of art.
  • Statues are scattered across the grounds of CHI Health Center, where you can also take in a concert.
  • Another big deal, at 32,500 square feet is Fertile Ground, one of the largest public murals in the U.S.
  • Glimpse its pioneer spirit by visiting its many historic museums including the Joslyn Art Museum, Great Plains Black History Museum, and the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail, to name a few.
  • Looking for nightlife? Head to the cobblestone streets of the Old Market, and take your pick from shops, galleries, breweries, and restaurants!

More Coming to Omaha in 2023!

Opening in 2023, visitors will want to add Omaha’s Riverfront Project, a revitalization and sustainability project embracing the Missouri River and its activities: hiking, biking, boating, and more. It will also include three riverfront parks for locals and visitors. This urban space will also offer gardens, event plazas, a promenade, sports courts, playgrounds, an urban beach, water features, dog parks, and event spaces.

Couple posing in front of full Memorial Stadium at the University of Nebraska, one of many places to visit in Nebraska.
Attending a University of Nebraska football game at Memorial Stadium is a football fan’s sports bucket list. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Things to Do in Lincoln, Nebraska’s University Town

Lincoln, Nebraska is a vibrant city with a rich history and culture. There are many things to see and do in Lincoln, whether you’re interested in history, art, nature, or sports.

Here are a few ideas for things to do in Lincoln:

  • The Nebraska State Capitol is a beautiful building that is open to the public for tours. The building features a domed tower with observation decks that offer stunning views of the city.
  • Explore the Sunken Gardens, a beautiful park with themed gardens, sculptures, and lily ponds. The Sunken Gardens is a great place to relax and enjoy the outdoors.
  • The Lincoln Children’s Zoo is a great place to see more than 400 animals from all over the world, featuring many hands-on experiences. The zoo also has a train ride, a carousel, and a playground.
  • Take a walk through the Haymarket District, a historic area that is now home to many shops, restaurants, and bars. The Haymarket District is a great place to wander around and soak up the atmosphere. This is one of those crazy fun, put-your-big-girl-party-panties-on kind of adventure.
  • My husband and I attended a University of Nebraska Cornhuskers football game with friends — and I can tell you it was an amazing experience. The University of Nebraska Cornhuskers is one of the most popular college football teams in the country. If you’re a fan of college football, attending a Cornhuskers game is a must-do. Fans usually arrive early and start at the historic Haymarket District, within walking distance of The Memorial Stadium.
  • Visit the Sheldon Museum of Art, a museum that houses a collection of American art and also features a sculpture garden.
  • Go for a hike at Pioneers Park Nature Center, a nature center offering hiking trails, a lake, and a variety of animals. Pioneers Park Nature Center is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life.
  • Road trip? Halfway between Lincoln and Omaha discover Platte River State Park. Highlights of the fun things to do here include a waterfall trail (easy and fun for kids!), pool, hiking trails, two observation towers, paddle boats, and overnight accommodations.

These are just a few of the many things to do in Lincoln, Nebraska. If you’re looking for a city with a lot to offer, Lincoln is a great place to visit.

Read More: Fun (and FREE!) Things to do in Lincoln

Grand Island

Grand Island, Nebraska is a city with a rich history and culture and fun things to do for all ages. This was one of my family’s stops when road-tripping across Interstate 80.

  • Visit the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. This museum tells the story of the history of the Grand Island area through exhibits, live demonstrations, and special events.
  • Take a walk or bike ride on the Platte River Trail which runs along the Platte River and offers beautiful views of the river and the surrounding countryside.
  • Visit the Crane Trust Nature & Visitor Center and learn about the sandhill cranes that migrate to the Platte River every year.
  • Enjoy a concert or show at the Heartland Events Center: This center hosts a variety of events, including concerts, shows, and sporting events.
  • Take a ride on the Stolley Park Railroad, offering rides on a historic train through Stolley Park.
  • Visit the Grand Island Little Theatre featuring a variety of live performances, including plays, musicals, and concerts.

These are just a few of the many things to do in Grand Island, Nebraska. No matter what your interests are, you are sure to find something to enjoy in this city.

The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument in Kearney, one of many places to visit in Nebraska.
One of the most interesting roadside attractions in Nebraska is the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument, located in Kearney. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Kearney

Kearney, Nebraska is a city located in the central part of the state. It is a popular tourist destination due to its many historical sites and attractions. Here are some of the things you can do in Kearney:

  • Visit the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument, located on Interstate 80 three miles east of Kearney. It is dedicated to the history of the Oregon Trail. It features a museum, a theater, and a variety of outdoor activities.
  • Take a ride on the Kearney Area Scenic Railroad. This railroad offers a variety of scenic rides through the Kearney area.
  • The Kearney Area Children’s Museum is dedicated to the education and entertainment of children. It features a variety of exhibits, interactive activities, and educational programs.
  • Go hiking or biking in the Platte River State Park. This park offers a variety of hiking and biking trails. It is a great place to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise.
Taps Fort McPherson Cemetery
Honoring our U.S. Military at Fort McPherson National Cemetery, near North Platte, Nebraska

North Platte

Located on the Platte River, North Platte is a popular tourist destination due to its many historical sites and attractions.

Here are some of the places to visit in North Platte:

  • Visit the Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park and State Recreation Area. This park is dedicated to the life and career of William F. Cody, also known as Buffalo Bill. The park features a museum, a ranch, and a variety of outdoor activities.
  • Take a ride on the Union Pacific Railroad, one of the largest railroads in the United States. Visitors can take a ride on the train and experience the history of the railroad.
  • One of the best places to learn more about the area’s railroad history is the Golden Spike Tower. This tower offers stunning views of the Platte River and the surrounding area. It is also a great place to learn about the history of the railroad.
  • Go hiking or biking in the Platte Valley Recreation Area. This recreation area offers a variety of hiking and biking trails. It is a great place to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise.
  • Visit the North Platte Canteen was a stop for soldiers during World War II. The museum features exhibits, artifacts, and a variety of programs.
Migration of Sandhill cranes largest gathering in Nebraska.
Ancient Sandhill crane migration still stirs emotions at dawn. Photo courtesy Crane Trust
  • Visit the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at Rowe Sanctuary, smack dab in the heart of the world’s largest Sandhill Crane Migration – an experience not to miss! Responsibly witness the migration of 600,000 + birds in Central Nebraska during a Sandhill Crane Festival!
  • Take time to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice with a visit to Nebraska’s oldest National Cemetery, Fort McPherson. Established on March 3, 1873, this national cemetery is the final resting place of war veterans.

These are just a few of the things you can do in North Platte. If you are looking for a city with a rich history and culture, North Platte is a great place to visit.

The view from the Scotts Bluff National Monument, one of many places to visit in Nebraska.
The views from Scotts Bluff National Monument, commemorating the Oregon Trail and the Mormon Trail, are stunning. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Places to Visit in Scottsbluff

Located on the North Platte River, Scottsbluff is a city in Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska, United States. The city is the county seat of Scotts Bluff County and the largest city in the Nebraska Panhandle.

Here are some of the things you can do in Scottsbluff:

  • The Scotts Bluff County Historical Museum is a museum located in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. The museum tells the story of the history of Scotts Bluff County, and it features a variety of exhibits, artifacts, and photographs.
  • Visit the Legacy of the Plains Museum in Scottsbluff. The museum tells the story of the history of the Great Plains region, and it features a variety of exhibits, artifacts, and photographs.
  • Go for a hike or bike ride on the Monument Valley Pathway, a paved trail that runs along the North Platte River. The pathway is a great place to go for a hike or bike ride, and it offers stunning views of the surrounding area.
  • Visit the year-round Riverside Discovery Center to see view majestic tigers, grizzly bears and bison, then hang out at the petting zoo and meet Bonnie the bobcat.
  • The Midwest Theater is a historic movie theater located in Scottsbluff, built in 1927, and one of the few remaining movie theaters in Nebraska. The theater shows a variety of movies, and it is a great place to catch a movie.
  • Attend a concert or show at the Scottsbluff Performing Arts Center. The center hosts a variety of concerts, shows, and events. The center is a great place to enjoy a night out.

Road Trips from Scotts Bluff

  • A short 10-minute road trip away in Gering is the Scotts Bluff National Monument and its over 3,000 acres of protected history, a stop along the Oregon Trail. This United States National Monument commemorates the Oregon Trail and the Mormon Trail, which passed through the area in the 19th century. The monument features a bluff that rises 800 feet above the North Platte River, and it offers stunning views of the surrounding area.
  • While in the area, continue 23 miles east of the Scotts Bluff National Monument to Chimney Rock National Historic Site. Rising nearly 500 feet above the North Platte River Valley, this is one of the most famous landmarks in the American West, as the pioneers and Native Americans used this as a guide as they explored the area.
    • In 2023, the Oregon National Historic Trail celebrates 180 years, and at the Chimney Rock Museum families can learn more with hands-on activities such as using the wagon simulator to “pack your wagon” with coffee, food, bedding, and other needed materials to survive the journey, or spinning the Oregon Trail wheel.
  • Visit the Lake Minatare Lighthouse, a 25-minute drive from Scotts Bluff. The lighthouse was built in 1922, and it is one of the few lighthouses in Nebraska. The lighthouse is open for tours, and it offers stunning views of the surrounding area.
Carhenge, one of many places to visit in Nebraska.
Another quirky, only-in-Nebraska tourist attraction is Carhenge, a sculpture park in Stonehenge formation with vintage cars located in Alliance. Photo credit: D. Curran / VisitNebraska.org

A Little Town with Fun Things to Do: Alliance, Nebraska

Just one hour from Scottsbluff, visit Alliance, this western Nebraska small town, and be surprised at how much it has to offer:

  • Located just outside of Alliance, visit Carhenge, a sculpture park made up of cars arranged in a Stonehenge-like formation and a popular tourist attraction.
  • Explore the Box Butte County Historical Museum, which tells the story of the history of Box Butte County. The museum features a variety of exhibits, artifacts, and photographs.
  • Dobby’s Frontier Town is a living history museum that recreates a frontier town from the 1800s. The museum features a variety of exhibits, including buildings, shops, and a saloon.
  • A peaceful place to pay respect, the Nebraska Veterans Cemetery is dedicated to the men and women who have served in the United States military.
Couple tubing on Lake McConaughey, one of many places to visit in Nebraska.
Lake McConaughey is the perfect place for family fun and cooling off in the summer by tubing the lake. Photo credit: Diana Rowe

Lake McConaughey and Ogallala

My multigenerational family LOVES visiting Ogallala and Lake McConaughey, just 3 hours from Denver, and these are some of the best places to visit in Ogallala and Lake McConaughy.

  • Visit the Ogallala’s Front Street Steakhouse & Crystal Palace Saloon, a historic restaurant, and bar that has been in operation since 1885.
  • Visit the Ogallala Museum which tells the story of the history of Ogallala and the surrounding area. The museum features a variety of exhibits, artifacts, and photographs.
  • The Ogallala Art Center is an art center that features a variety of exhibits, including paintings, sculptures, and photography. The art center also offers a variety of art classes and workshops.
  • Lake McConaughy is a large reservoir and a popular destination for boating, tubing, water skiing, sailing, fishing, and swimming. Visitors can take a boat ride on the lake and enjoy the views of the surrounding area.
  • Go for a hike or bike ride on the Lake McConaughy State Recreation Area, a state park that features a variety of hiking and biking trails. The park is a great place to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise.
Group taking on a Nebraska river, one of many places to visit in Nebraska.
Fun, relaxing, and crazy, a river float in a horse trough, tanking in one of Nebraska’s many rivers. Photo credit: VisitNebraska.org

Experience the Different in Nebraska

While being different may not be for everyone, why not branch out and experience what makes Nebraska different? With so many backroads and Interstate 80 that runs through it, add these not-to-miss Nebraska small towns, festivals, state parks, quirky roadside attractions, and tourist attractions.

  • Central Nebraska is home to North America’s largest intact sand dunes, covering a quarter of this unexpected state. This is also where the annual Nebraska Star Party is held in a remote area near Valentine. The area has one of the biggest swatches of minimal light pollution in the US, in which about 80% of North America can’t see the milky way anymore.  
  • Floating on a river in a horse trough? Um yes, only in Nebraska, and tanking is a local-favorite activity, particularly in this state.
  • The Niobrara River Valley is a beautiful area of Nebraska that is home to many natural wonders, including the Niobrara River, the Niobrara State Park, and the Niobrara National Scenic River
  • The state has no shortage of historic trails for riding, hiking, or horseback riding! Spanning 321 miles from Norfolk (east) to Chadron (west), the Cowboy Trail is the largest rails-to-trails project in the United States. Another option is the Pony Express National Historic Trail, which spans across southeastern to western Nebraska over Chimney Rock, Homestead National Historical Park, Gothenburg Pony Express Station, and The Oak Grove Pony Express Station
  • In northwestern Nebraska on the borders of Wyoming and South Dakota in the Oglala National Grassland discover the Toadstool Geologic Park. It is home to a variety of rock formations that resemble toadstools, hence the name, and features a badlands landscape. The park is also home to a variety of fossils, which makes it a great place for people who are interested in geology and paleontology.

Some of the Coolest, Smallest Towns are in Nebraska:

  • “America’s Most Famous Small Town” is Red Cloud, for its literary history and childhood home of author Willa Cather.
  • Monowi is the nation’s smallest town with a population of ONE where Elsie Eller pays herself taxes to serve as the town’s mayor, clerk, treasurer librarian, bartender, and community member.
  • Seward, dubbed “America’s Fourth of July City” and also happens to be home of the world’s largest time capsule with 5,000+ items.
  • Visit Indian Cave State Park, located in southeast Nebraska, along the Missouri River near Shubert. Made up of natural sandstone formations, Native Americans used the cave as shelter. Learn more about its history in the park’s museum. Go hiking and biking on its over 22 miles of trails. Camp at over 100 campsites.
  • Nebraskans love to hold festivals for anything and everything. Four of our favorites are:
    • Junk Jaunt – one of the biggest vintage item festivals in the country, spanning 500 miles
    • Testicle Festival – celebrating Rocky Mountain Oysters
    • Wayne Chicken Show – featuring a parade and cluck-off
    • Kool-Aid Days – a weekend fair and parade at the birthplace of this beverage staple
For more than 20 years, Denver-based freelance writer Diana Rowe has specialized in travel, family, and multigenerational family travel — and rightly so, with 10 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. She writes for multiple publications including SheBuysTravel.com and PrimeWomen.com, and her own blogs: TravelingInHeels.com & WineLoversVillage.com.
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