Tag Archives: National Wildlife Refuge

Niobrara National Scenic River

Overview

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.  The motto on the National Park Service (NPS) signs is “Public Waters, Private Land.”

Highlights

Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, Fort Falls Trail, Smith Falls State Park, canoeing, tubing

Must-Do Activity

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.  The 22-mile section starting from Cornell Bridge 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.  We floated to the portage at dangerous Rocky Ford Rapid at high water in May and encountered only Class I rapids and a few strainers along the shorelines.

Best Trail

Pull off the river around Mile 15 in Smith Falls State Park to take the short boardwalk to a 63-foot tall waterfall.  The waterfalls along these cliffs are interesting because instead of pouring off a cut bank they develop a prominent ledge that grows as the limestone is dissolved and redeposited (like a cave formation).  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.

Instagram-worthy Photo

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.  The refuge also contains the short Fort Falls Trail, which forms a loop with views of a 45-foot tall waterfall.

Peak Season

Summer, though water levels drop after June.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/niob/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None for the river, but there is a $1 per person launch fee in Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and entry/camping fees at Smith Falls State Park.

Road Conditions

The dirt roads in Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge and Smith Falls State Park are well-maintained and passable to all vehicles.

Camping

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 private campsites are marked on river maps.

Related Sites

Missouri National Recreation River (Nebraska-South Dakota)

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument (Nebraska)

Scotts Bluff National Monument (Nebraska)

Explore More – Named for a town in Nebraska, the Valentine Formation holds what types of fossils?

Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park

Overview

This relatively undeveloped section of Maryland’s Eastern Shore might still be recognizable to Harriet Tubman, who was born here as Araminta “Minty” Ross in 1822.  After her own solo escape to Philadelphia using the Underground Railroad network in 1849, she returned thirteen times to conduct approximately 70 people north, as well as to provide detailed instructions that enabled another 70 to find freedom.  During the Civil War, Tubman served as a Union spy and became the first woman to lead an armed U.S. military assault.

Highlights

Museum, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, Bucktown Village Store

Must-Do Activity

Harriet Tubman lived a hard life, as described in the exhibits at Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park (museum opened in March 2017), managed in association with the National Park Service.  Pick up a map at the museum, then make as many stops as you wish along the 125-mile long Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, which offers a free downloadable audio guide.  You will definitely be inspired by the story of this brave conductor on the Underground Railroad.

Best Trail

Near the museum at Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad State Park, 28,000-acre Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is a great place to see ospreys and overwintering birds. The Key Wallace loop trail is 2.7 miles long.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Bucktown Village Store has been restored to its 1800s appearance and is open to visitors.  Harriet Tubman accomplished amazing feats despite suffering seizures throughout her life from a skull fracture suffered at the Bucktown Village Store during her youth (see the photo below for the full story). 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/hatu/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None, except at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge, which is only $3 per vehicle and accepts America the Beautiful passes.

Road Conditions

All major roads are paved on the 125-mile long Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway and the driving route is well-maintained through Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. 

Camping

There are developed campgrounds at the northern end of Assateague Island National Seashore on Maryland’s Atlantic Coast.

Related Sites

Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (District of Columbia)

Assateague Island National Seashore (Maryland-Virginia)

First State National Historical Park (Delaware)

Explore More – Before it became a National Historical Park, when was Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument established?