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The best 15 things to do in North Platte, Nebraska

15 best things to do in North Platte, Nebraska

Geography determined North Platte’s destiny. Let geography determine your stay’s destiny, and enjoy the ideal location for the entire family vacation. 

The West-Central Nebraska city sits west of where the North and South Platte Rivers join to create the Platte River. North Platte’s biggest claims to fame are the Union Pacific Bailey Yard, the world’s largest railroad classification yard; the home of “Buffalo Bill” Cody; and the North Platte Canteen. All three came to North Platte because of its location on the broad, flat Platte River Valley. It was the easiest route to the Pacific Coast.

Because of the valley, the Oregon Trail, Transcontinental Railroad, the Lincoln Highway, and Interstate 80 all traversed the Platte Valley. The Lincoln Highway was the nation’s first coast-to-coast highway

Discover the city’s destiny in the top 15 things to do in North Platte, Nebraska.

Table of contents: Golden Spike Tower | Buffalo Bill Ranch | Lincoln County Museum | Tanking | Cody Park | Go-Karts | National Cemetery | Veterans Memorial | Box Elder Canyon | Lake Maloney | Sutherland Reservoir | Sutherland Railroad Park | Grain Bin Antiques | Fort Cody | Eat and stay

Introduction to North Platte

North Platte is about halfway between Omaha and Denver on Interstate 80. The city of 23,000 people is home for Economics Research Topics to North Platte Community College. The Union Pacific’s Chief Engineer Grenville Dodge platted the town because of its good water and distance from Grand Island, Nebraska.

Related: Dodge City, Kansas, may be named for Grenville Dodge.

Cody traveled the world with his Wild West Show. North Platte’s rail network enabled Cody to load his huge cast, crew, and equipment and send them wherever the next show would take them. Cody’s Scouts Rest Ranch is only one of several North Platte attractions to bear his name. 

During World War II, the North Platte Canteen fed 6 million service members, and none paid a cent. In 2008, the Golden Spike Tower opened above the Bailey Yard. The yard looks like the world’s most intricate model train layout from the overlooks. We can watch the trains jockey around the yard for hours. 

In the spring, hear the haunting songs during the sandhill crane migration. Millions of migratory birds descend upon the rivers. Find the best viewing sites with advice from the North Platte Visitor Center.

Let’s explore the top 15 things to do in fascinating, historic North Platte, Nebraska.

Visit North Platte hosted me. The opinions in this story are my own. If you use our affiliate links, including Amazon Associates and Stay22, to make a purchase, we might earn a small commission for our time and website costs (at no additional cost to you).  These links are always disclosed. 

Golden Spike Tower, North Platte
View the Bailey Yard, the world’s largest railroad classification yard, from the Golden Spike Tower.

1. The Golden Spike Tower, North Platte’s best attraction

Whether you’re a railfan or not, you must watch the Bailey Yard from the Golden Spike Tower. Looking out from the tower’s top two floors, all the trains you could ever imagine are spread out before you. It’s like a giant dance floor of people performing a variety of the most rigorous dances simultaneously. All of them are dancing without missing a step or interfering with each other. 

Bailey’s statistics are mind-blowing. Seventeen receiving tracks and 16 departure tracks handle 14,000 railcars every 24 hours. Gentle “humps” sort four cars into east and westbound trains each minute. The fueling and service center processes 8,500 locomotives monthly and the car repair facility replaces 10,000 pairs of wheels yearly. 

Repair roundhouse at Bailey Yard along the overland trails
Vast amounts of track feed into Bailey Yard’s roundtables in North Platte.

What to see and do at the tower

Before you watch the intricate dance, watch the orientation film on the ground floor. Browse the excellent gift shop. Above, the seventh floor offers 360-degree views and volunteer docents will explain the railroad’s operations.

While the top floor offers the most complete views, plus shelter from the elements, the open sixth floor is the best place to shoot pictures or videos because you won’t have to fight reflections. The Bailey Yard view makes the tower one of North Platte’s top 10 things to do.

On the ground, let your kids play on the wooden train as you examine the 23 flags of the states the UP serves. Compare the figures on the flagpole bases to learn which state has the most UP track and which ones have the least.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: During North Platte Rail Days, you can tour the Bailey Yard and examine model layouts in the Model Train Show. To view the yard 24/7, see its webcams

Buffalo Bill State Historic Park, one of the top 10 things to do in North Platte
Cody’s Second Empire Mansion was called “Mansion on the Plains.”

2. Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park, a North Platte gem

Cody enjoyed worldwide fame when he lived in “The Mansion on the Plains” west of North Platte. Visible from the railroad, his ornate Second Empire-style house stood out against the plains. But, to ensure that everyone knew who lived there, Cody painted “Scout’s Rest Ranch” on the barn roof. The ranch is now the Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historic Park.

Before Independence Day 1882, North Platte’s mayor told Cody he should put on the city’s Fourth of July event. Cody devised the Old Glory Blowout, which lasted for four days. Cody didn’t stop with a local event. The Blowout became Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. The show continues influencing how the motion picture industry portrays the American West. At the time, it spawned over 100 imitator shows and created the modern rodeo circuit. While Cody lived at the ranch, he bought and trained horses, recruited performers, and rehearsed his shows.

Scout's Rest Ranch barn
Never shy about self-promotion, Cody painted Scout’s Rest Ranch on his barn’s roof so railroad passengers would remember him.

What to see and do at the ranch

In the mansion’s dining room, examine the wallpaper. The custom design features the highlights of Cody’s life. The ormolu clock on the mantle is set to 12:05 p.m., the time Cody died on Jan. 10, 1917. The mansion’s furnishings are all either Cody’s possessions or from the period. Cody’s mannequin stands in one of the bedrooms. Also look for Cody’s desk, Wild West Show costumes, firearms, Cody’s bed, family artwork, and souvenirs. Cody’s elaborate costume hangs in a shallow closet. The Wild West band uniform was also ornate, complete with a Prussian Pickelhaube.

The barn houses tack, carriages, a chuckwagon, Wild West Show memorabilia, historic photos, and more. Also, visit the cob house and the ice house.

Look for the bison on the grounds. If the animals are near the fence, stay back. They can get testy and charge. 

Legend says Cody earned his nickname in a bison shooting contest near present-day Oakley, Kansas. Cody didn’t slaughter bison for no reason. His kills fed railroad workers. 

Related: Visit the Buffalo Bill Cultural Center in Oakley to see a huge sculpture of Cody riding his horse Brigham as he is about to shoot a bison. The center is an attraction on Western Vistas Historic Byway.

Roxie’s reliable report: North Platte’s NEBRASKALand Days are the blowout’s direct legacy. It’s Nebraska’s Official State Celebration.

Lincoln County Museum, one of the top 10 things to do in North Platte
Explore the history of Lincoln County at the Lincoln County Museum. (Visit North Platte)

3. Lincoln County Historical Museum

The North Platte Canteen is a beautiful story. North Platte led hundreds of volunteers to serve service members during World War II. North Platte was a railroad division point, and trains had to stop there for 10 to 20 minutes for engine lubrication and water tank refill.

During the stop, volunteers brought food to servicemembers on the train. Inside the depot, they served those who could come inside. Those who had a birthday received a birthday cake. The volunteers brought food from all over Nebraska and parts of Northeast Colorado. During severe rationing, they gave what little they had to provide some cheer for soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who were away from home. The canteen is a signature exhibit at the Lincoln County Historical Museum. Because the story is so touching, I fought tears throughout the exhibit. 

Of course, Lincoln County’s story has more chapters than the canteen. Learn about the overland trails that followed the Great Platte River Road, the railroad, pioneers, and agriculture in the museum.

Behind the main building, find the heritage village. Buildings include the 1860s Pony Express log cabin, Fort McPherson’s headquarters, the 1869 two-story log home of Lincoln County’s first homesteader, and the 1876 birthplace of North Platte’s William Jeffers, who was the President of Union Pacific Railroad from 1937 through 1946.

Related: Read more about the North Platte Canteen and the Great Platte River Road.


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Tanking is one of the top 10 things to do in North Platte
Visit North Platte staff Muriel Clark (left) and Heather Jones took me on a tank ride down the North River.

4. Tanking on the North Platte River

When I was a kid, we borrowed tractor inner tubes from our farmer friends and floated down the Platte River. Sometimes we couldn’t find anyone with spare tubes, and our hoped-for expeditions fell flat. Dusty Trails in North Platte will ensure your expedition won’t fall flat. 

I’ve tubed and canoed down Nebraska rivers but hadn’t tanked until I went to North Platte. I’m ready to go again. Dusty Trails provides stock tanks with benches inside, perfect for loading your friends and favorite beverages. Load at Buffalo Bill Ranch State Recreation Area and float to Cody Park. The trip takes between 90 minutes and 2 hours. Usually, the North Platte River’s current will pull you down the river. If you get caught on an obstacle or hit a bank, use the oars or get out and extract your tank from the problem. The shallow, cool water feels great. Tanking is a peaceful experience and conversations flow easily.

If you prefer to float on a tube, row a canoe, or paddle a kayak, Dusty Trails offers those options as well. If you enjoy riding horses, join Dusty Trail’s rides through Buffalo Bill’s ranch.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: To safely exit the tank, stand on top of the bench before stepping out of the tank and use an oar to steady yourself.

Fun fact: To sound like a local, call the North Platte River “the North River” and the South Platte “the South River.”

Cody Park Railroad Museum, one of the top things to do in North Platte, Nebraska
Examine the iconic trains at Cody Park Railroad Museum.

5. Cody Park, one of the top things to do in North Platte

Buffalo Bill and the railroad come together at Cody Park. Add in an antique carousel, carnival rides, and an ice cream stand and you have a perfect recipe for a relaxing day. The Cody Park Wild West Memorial, a gazebo, a marker, and an avenue of flags, greets you as you enter Cody Park. Citizens of Great Britain donated a statue of Buffalo Bill to North Platte. For protection, the city surrounded the statue with a cage and glass. The flags represent every state and nation where the Wild West Show performed. The memorial also honors the show’s entertainers.

Carousel horse at Cody Park, one of the top 10 things to do in North Platte
Ride the patriotic horse or choose one of the other selections at the Cody Park carousel.

What to see and do at the park

It’s all aboard at the open-air Cody Park Railroad Museum. With North Platte’s strong railroad heritage, you’d expect a railroad museum as one of the top 10 things to do in North Platte. The world’s only Challenger 3900 series steam locomotive on display is here. And, unlike many railroad displays, you can climb into the engineer’s cab. I wondered how its occupants survived the heat of that coal-burning engine. Beyond the heat, what a view! And what heavy responsibility! 

After pretending to be an engineer, walk through the cars, including a postal car and a caboose. I imagined sorting mail while the train was rocking beneath me. 

Engines 3977 and 6922 at Cody Park Railroad Museum, North Platte
Engines 3977 and 6922 at Cody Park Railroad Museum, North Platte

Next to No. 3977 is No. 6922. In contrast to the steam-driven 3977, the 6900 series were diesel-powered, the largest locomotives ever made. UP accepted the first 6900 series on the centennial of the Transcontinental Railroad’s completion, so the locomotives became known as “Centennial” locomotives. Their horsepower rating was a mind-blowing 12,000. They could reach 90 mph. While the 3977 shows its interior, the 6922 displays its incredible engines. The engine’s 36 cylinders seemed to be the size of dinner plates. 

I loved this train, and you will, too. After you visit the trains, explore the former Hershey depot on-site.

Fortunately, the park’s 1913 Herschell-Spillman Carousel does not rotate at 90 mph. However, the carousel rotates at a good speed. The hard-carved horses move up and down and they are all original. Kids may ride a Ferris wheel in enclosed cars and other kiddie-sized rides. Eat delicious soft-serve ice cream at the concession stand near the carousel. You must eat the scrumptious blackberry-vanilla twist cone. Before you leave, walk or drive around the zoo enclosures.

6. Cody Go-Karts

Is driving Interstate 80 a little too predictable? Would you like a driving challenge? Then head to one of the top 10 things to do in North Platte. Sign up for the Slick Track go-kart ride at Cody Go Karts. The surface is like driving on ice. Ask the operator to throw more powder on the track if you’d like an even greater challenge. Afterward, you’ll be relieved to drive I-80 again. For more auto adventures, test your racing skills on the speedway. When it’s time to switch from go-karts, drive a mini train, and spin in bumper boats. You’re not done yet! Play miniature golf and slide down three water slides. Little ones may slide down tree stumps.

Fort McPherson National Cemetery, one of the top 10 things to do in North Platte
Medal of Honor recipient James W. Fous rests next to his father Stanley in the Fort McPherson National Cemetery.

7. Fort McPherson National Cemetery

Fort McPherson (pronounced Mc-FEAR-son) is long gone, but its national cemetery remains. Four Medal of Honor winners, James FousGeorge JordanDaniel Miller, and Emanuel Stance, are resting here. Jordan and Stance were two of the Ninth Cavalry’s 15 Medal of Honor recipients during the period. The Ninth and 10th Cavalry units were all-Black regiments, nicknamed “Buffalo Soldiers.”

Related: The Buffalo Soldiers mustered in at Fort Leavenworth.

After frontier forts closed, the army reburied the fallen from 18 graveyards at Fort McPherson. Because of this, the soldiers who rest here came from Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, and Wyoming, and one from Fort Manila in the Phillippines. The largest contingent, 198, arrived from Fort Kearny, Nebraska.

Related: Because of discrimination, Jack Weinstein received his Medal of Honor decades after he earned it.

Fous earned his posthumous Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War. He lies next to his father, a Navy veteran who died several months before him. How his family must have suffered from the losses of father and son so close together. 

Roxie’s reliable report: Cody earned a Medal of Honor while stationed at Fort McPherson.

Less gloriously, a white obelisk marks the resting place of enlisted men who died in the 1854 Grattan Massacre. Grattan’s high-handed actions caused him and all his men to die after a Minneconjou warrior took a Mormon Trail emigrant’s sick cow. The incident sparked 22 years of war.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Look for Oregon Trail ruts outside the cemetery’s walls.  

This Seventh Iowa Cavalry trooper stands guard where Fort McPherson’s flagpole once stood.

Find Fort McPherson’s site near North Platte

Near the cemetery, a Seventh Iowa Cavalry trooper’s statue marks where Fort McPherson’s flagpole once stood. The Seventh Iowa built the fort in October 1863, next to Cottonwood Springs. The fort protected the Platte River’s crossing at a key indigenous north-south road.

Related: Fort McPherson had a role in the Kidder Massacre.

Lincoln Highway marker stands next to the soldier because the paved county road is part of the original Lincoln Highway route. The route tended to follow section lines, so prepare for sharp curves.

Visit North Platte’s elaborate veterans memorial in Iron Horse Park south of I-80.

8. Honor 20th-century veterans at the 20th Century Veterans Memorial

Visit the 20th Century Veterans Memorial shortly before sunset when the sculptures glow in the light of the setting sun. A figure and a flag represent each service. A high-relief brick mural depicts scenes from each of America’s 20th-century conflicts. Next to the walled main plaza, a tombstone for the unknown dead stands next to a marker and statue honoring the North Platte Canteen. Across a sidewalk, the Lincoln County Law Enforcement Memorial honors the 11 officers who have died in the line of duty since 1916.

Hike the rolling hills in Box Elder Canyon.

9. Box Elder Canyon, where North Platte is far from flat

Non-Nebraskans often have the mistaken idea that Nebraska is flat. To defy the reputation, journey a short distance south of the river to Box Elder Canyon State Wildlife Management Area southwest of Maxwell. Box Elder above the North Platte River is a hidden emerald gem. Park at the small lot and cross into the wildlife management area. A narrow trail climbs a hill. Shortly after you begin the ascent, your vehicle drops out of sight. Instead, wildflowers surround you on the narrow path. It’s separated from a pasture by a barbed-wire fence. Green hills fill your vision.

Where is this flat reputation? Nowhere to be seen. The best part? Box Elder is only one of the area’s scenic canyons.

10. Lake Maloney

The 1,000-acre Lake Maloney State Recreation Area (SRA) is only six miles south of North Platte on Highway 83. It’s one of a pair of great outdoor activities near North Platte.

The lake is popular for boating, fishing, water sports, camping, and family fun. Watch wildlife, fish for a variety of species, or ride a wakeboard. Enjoy shady camping, grilling, and picnicking spots. The SRA provides 56 electric plus and 200 primitive campsites. Look for coin-operated showers, a dump and fill station, two boat ramps, and primitive restrooms. Camping is all first-come, first-served. The area limits stays to 14 consecutive days in a 30-day period. Parkfishing, and camping (PDF) permits are required.

11. Sutherland Reservoir

A Nebraska Public Power canal joins Lake Maloney to the Sutherland Reservoir State Recreation Area 25 miles west of North Platte. Thirty-seven acres surround the 3,017-acre lake. Enjoy fishing, power boating, camping, and a swimming beach. The reservoir is south of Interstate 80 on Highway 25.

Roxie’s reliable report: The Sutherland Supply Canal is one of the state’s best trout fishing destinations. However, remain on the top of the canal’s banks. The canal’s slopes are steep, making it easy to fall into the water and difficult to escape.

12. Sutherland Railroad Park

The Bailey Yard’s westbound trains pass below a pedestrian bridge over Highway 30 in Sutherland. Carefully place your camera lens between the fence netting for prime images. Take a picnic lunch and eat underneath large shade trees or in the picnic shelter in Sutherland Railroad Park. The picnic areas include barbecue grills. Enjoy a playground and horseshoe pits.

Fort Cody Trading Post
The cavalry has been defending Fort Cody Trading Post since 1963.

12. Fort Cody Trading Post

The stockade around the Fort Cody Trading Post marks a North Platte icon. If you haven’t been to Fort Cody, you haven’t been to North Platte.

Experiencing Fort Cody is like watching a Pixar movie, with layers for children and adults to enjoy. As the exterior suggests, the store sells every wonderfully kitschy souvenir imaginable. Beyond the kitsch, I loved the store’s book selection, jewelry, onyx dishes, and Nebraska-made food. The store also includes a museum of Western and Cody artifacts (including a two-headed calf).

Don’t miss the store’s showstopper, the Wild West Show in Miniature. It’s a 20,000-piece hand-carved, automated look at the Wild West Show. Ernie Palmquist met Cody as a child and attended the Wild West Show. Later, Palmquist took 12 years to carve his diorama. The Palmquists toured the world with the diorama before selling it to Fort Cody. Highlights include a bull attempting to buck off a cowboy, the Congress of Rough Riders of the World’s parade, and backstage glimpses. The narrated free show runs every half hour and is worth waiting for.

Kids can stretch their legs in the stockade behind the building. A giant Muffler Man turned into a warrior, and a Conestoga wagon decorate the stockade’s interior. On Thursday nights during the summer, relax and listen to the Fort Cody Summer Music Series.

12. Grain Bin Antique Town

Pat and Lori Clinch were enthusiastic antique shoppers. They moved a grain bin from Paxton to their farm, intending to use it as a sitting room. A year later, they discovered 14 more historic grain bins near Palisade and moved them to their property. Grain Bin Antique Town now includes 20 grain bins. Look for authentic antiques, not craft items, in the bins.

Mural at the Lincoln Highway Diner
The Lincoln Highway Diner mural displays the arch that marked the boundary between Central and Mountain Time.

13. Eat and stay

For nostalgic diner classics, visit the Lincoln Highway Diner. The oversized Lincoln Highway marker in the parking lot ensures that you won’t miss it. Arrive well before the lunch rush and try the breakfast burrito. A mural shows the North Platte arch that marked the former Central-Mountain Time Zone boundary. The boundary used to be at the west end of the Bailey Yard. Now the time changes at the Lincoln-Keith County line.

In the Historic Canteen District downtown, eat a delicious Green Goddess wrap at the Espresso Shop by Caravan. The ambiance there is incredibly relaxing. I loved its mismatched chairs and tables. While you’re downtown, enjoy the historic walking tour. Look for the North Platte Canteen marker at the former depot site, 300 N. Front St. The marker is made from bricks salvaged from the demolished depot.

For supper, eat the Portobello mushroom ravioli at Luigi’s Italian Restaurant or sashimi at Tempura Japanese Restaurant. We love to quaff a great beer at Pal’s Brewing Company.

Stay at the Hampton Inn behind Fort Cody, and dream of a railroad bearing Buffalo Bill across the nation and around the world.

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