When most folks think of Nebraska they imagine endless dusty prairie scenes of the Oregon Trail, yet between the wide Platte and Missouri Rivers also runs the 535-mile long Niobrara River. The Niobrara cuts across the 100th Meridian of Longitude that roughly divides in half the continental U.S. This special area is home to species representative of the eastern forests, Rocky Mountains, boreal forests, and prairies; consequently it has high biodiversity.
Smith Falls State Park, Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, canoeing
The 76-mile section of river designated the Niobrara National Scenic River in 1991 begins within Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge where the first 4.8 miles are closed to the public. From Cornell Bridge downstream is the most popular portion for canoers, tubers, and people who float downstream in round metal cattle troughs. The Niobrara River has a few big Class IV rapids, but nothing more than Class II through the first 27 miles.
Pull over in Smith Falls State Park for a short walk to a 63-foot tall waterfall, which is interesting because it pours off a prominent ledge instead of a cut bank. You can also drive to the state park and walk over the Niobrara River on the Verdigre Bridge, originally built in 1910 and relocated here in 1996.
Do not miss the opportunity to drive the dirt road through Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge to see the bison herd, especially in May when the bison calves are born.
Summer, though water levels drop after June.
None for the river, but there is a launch fee in Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and entry/camping fees at Smith Falls State Park.
The dirt roads in Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and Smith Falls State Park are well-maintained and passable to all vehicles.
Camping options are limited since most of the river banks are privately owned, though Smith Falls State Park offers a campground ($6/person/night) and other campsites are marked on river maps.
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