Valentine title

The 11 best places to visit in Valentine, Nebraska

Top 11 reasons to take your Valentine to Valentine Nebraska

I went to Valentine, Nebraska, on a field trip in 1993. We canoed down the National Scenic River. The clouds built up and caught us in a pop-up thunderstorm. The storm was so severe that it made news in the Omaha World-Herald. What an adventure! I have raved about the Valentine, Nebraska, experience ever since. When Eric had three days off in a row, he suggested that we go to Valentine. We weren’t even dating when I had visited before, so this was the first time I went to Valentine with my forever Valentine.

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Valentines on the Niobrara River near Valentine, Nebraska
Roxie and Eric in front of the Niobrara River’s Norden Chute.

Valentine is an outdoor-lover’s paradise. With a national wild and scenic river, two national wildlife refuges, miles of trails, hunting, fishing, and championship golf courses, visitors to Valentine never lack things to do. And did I mention a winery, a brewery, and two state parks? Valentine, population 2,600, is a small town with a big reputation for outdoor recreation.

Eagle with Valentine, The Heart City, sign
Celebrate love in Valentine, the Heart City.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Follow these directions to send a Valentine from Valentine to your love. To ensure arrival before Valentine’s Day, send your envelope enclosing your letter(s) before February 9. The early date will allow Cupid to do his job on time. Cupid’s Mailbox will use special Valentine-themed postal cachets as a postmark.

No. 1: The Niobrara River runs through Cherry County

floating down the Niobrara River
Enjoy the serene experience of floating down the winding Niobrara River.

The 76-mile Niobrara (NIGH-oh-brare-ah) River is undammed from source to mouth. The low Cornell Dam east of Valentine is the lone exception. Because the Niobrara is in its natural state, the National Park Service designated it as a National Wild and Scenic River. Many outfitters rent canoes, kayaks, or tubes for guests to float down the river. Whether you float down the river or follow the river road, experiencing the Niobrara is a must-do. Outfitters and others offer camping and cabins on the riverside.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: To follow the river, use the map in the Explore Valentine guide. offers a guide to the Niobrara.

No. 2: Arthur Bowring Ranch State Historical Park near Merriman

Bowring (BAU-ring) Ranch is an hour west of Valentine, near Merriman on the Bridges to Buttes Scenic Byway. Upon her death, Eve Bowring donated the 7,202-acre Barr 99 Ranch to the State of Nebraska. Arthur Bowring, her husband, homesteaded the land in 1894 and developed his herd of Hereford cattle. He was a Nebraska state legislator. After his death, Eve Bowring briefly became the first Nebraska woman in the U.S. Senate. After her Senate term, President Dwight Eisenhower appointed her to other federal posts.

First Lady Mamie Eisenhower sparked Bowring’s interest in fine china and silver, and she began collecting pieces. She also loved fine Persian rugs. The ranch collection includes Bowring’s dress for President John Kennedy’s inaugural festivities. Unfortunately,  a drunken guest accidentally pushed Bowring into a swimming pool while she was wearing the elegant gown.

Related: President Lyndon Johnson also owned a Hereford cattle ranch. Meet Ike and Mamie in Abilene, Kansas.

Arthur Bowring built his ranch from humble beginnings. The rustic ranch still tends to descendants of the Bowrings’ cattle. On the other hand, you have fine furnishings and accessories in the ranch house. The house also includes her photographs of the political figures of the time. Arthur Bowring’s original ranch home was a sod house, called a soddie. The soddie replica offers another sharp contrast between early ranch life and life as a successful rancher.

Roxie’s reliable report: The ranch hosts special events, Sod House Sunday in June and Christmas at the Bowring.

Investigate the Midwest’s state parks in the book Midwest State Park Adventures (ad).

At the Valentine, Nebraska, sign with our Valentines
The sign east of Valentine marks the Cowboy Trail nearest the Valentine Bridge.

No. 3: The improved Cowboy Trail starts in Valentine

Nebraska’s Cowboy Trail is America’s most extended rails-to-trails project. The full trail stretches 321 miles, nearly the length of the state, from Chadron eastward to Norfolk. Valentine is at the western end of the 192-mile improved trail. The Bryan Bridge east of Valentine is one of the trail’s literal high points. The quarter-mile-long historic truss bridge stands 148 feet above the Niobrara River. The parking area and trailhead on Highway 20 are a short distance from the actual bridge. Take your time to bask in the unimpeded 360-degree views.

The limestone-rock trail is easy, and the river views are worth the walk. To save fuel, railroads were built with two percent or lower grades and wide, sweeping curves. Humans powering their transportation appreciate these features.

Bicyclists on the trail should carry extra tire tubs because sand burrs, also known as puncture vines, are hard on tires and impossible to avoid.  Watch for horse droppings and rattlesnakes. Because of the trail’s unimpeded views, high winds can be troublesome.

Roxie’s reliable report: No worries if you didn’t bring your bike to Valentine. Rent a bike at Valentine Bike Share next to Comfort Inn.

Hole 13 on Prairie Club's Pines Course south of Valentine, Nebraska
This demonic sand trap awaits unwary golfers below the Hole 13 green at Prairie Club’s Pines Course.

No. 4: Championship golf courses in the Sandhills

Since Valentine is in the Nebraska Sandhills, sand traps are easy to construct. But they are hard to escape. Take the challenge at the 10-hole public Frederick Peak Golf Club east of Valentine and/or the Prairie Club tucked into the Sandhills south of Valentine.

The semi-private Prairie Club features two 18-hole courses and a 10-hole course for equestrians. Even if you don’t golf, ride around the courses. The contrasting landscapes between the Dunes Course and the Pines Course are Cherry County in microcosm. The Dunes Course has nary a tree. Portions of the Pines Course back up to the Snake River Canyon. Golfers can hear Nebraska’s Snake River running far below and smell the pines. The club has everything a golfer would need, including a comprehensive pro shop, fine dining, and top-notch accommodations. included the Prairie Club in its 100 Top Golf Resorts.

Roxie’s reliable report: Prairie Club assesses no replay fees. Because of this, summer golfers can get in 72 holes in a day.

No. 5: Nebraska has waterfalls

Smith Falls near Valentine
Cool off fast below the 70-foot Smith Falls.

Smith Falls, the highest waterfall in Nebraska

Drench yourself near Valentine at the highest waterfall in Nebraska, Smith Falls, in Smith Falls State Park. Walk across the footbridge and up wooden stairs to view the 70-foot-high falls. Walk down to stand under the cold, spring-fed water. On a hot day, the shock is exhilarating.

A visitor center, restrooms, camping, and a concession stand are all available in the park.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Pack a picnic. This basket (ad) has all you need except the food.

Fort Falls
Forty-foot-high Fort Falls is in Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge.

Fort Falls, 40 feet of beauty

The 40-foot-high Fort Falls cascades down the slopes in Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge. The stairs down to the falls are made from metal grids. The last few feet are sloped instead of stepped. The footing is slippery, but the view on the short hike down and at the base is worth any qualms.

The refuge’s visitors center is near the trailhead. Look for the cutout of Lt. Samuel A. Cherry, Cherry County’s namesake. Substantial herds of bison and elk are the refuge’s largest wildlife. In the spring, watch and listen to prairie chickens performing their mating dances.

Look for the Minnechaduza (MIN-ee-cha-DOO-za) River sign to find the falls. The turn for Fort Falls is nearby.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Wildlife watchers should visit the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge. The Audubon Society designated the refuge a Nebraska Important Bird Refuge in 2005.

Related: Visit Cheyenne Bottoms, an internationally-rated birding site near Great Bend, Kansas.

Norden Chute on the Niobrara River east of Valentine
Look for the Norden Chute near the Norden Bridge.

Norden Chute, a miniature Horseshoe Falls

Follow the Niobrara River for more rapids. We found the Norden Chute near the Norden Bridge. We were surprised because the chute was not marked on our map. The chute reminded us of Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

The chute is visible from the bridge, but take the unofficial trail around the bridge for a close look. The water is shallow near the chute, and we could walk right to it. The deepest water was only ankle-deep. The water level would be higher in the spring, and walking in the river would be more treacherous. Know your limitations. Use trekking poles and be cautious.

Snake River Falls

The Falls are located on the Snake River Preservation Group’s property. Public access for viewing only is provided within two roped-off viewing points. The organization may close the access at any time.

No. 6: Niobrara Valley Vineyards near Nenzel

Niobrara Valley Vineyards sign
Enjoy “A Taste of the Sandhills” at the Nenzel winery.

Niobrara Valley Vineyards say they are “an island of grapes in an ocean of grass.” The fifth-generation Nenzel, Nebraska, residents sell out of their wines almost yearly. They grow their grapes and use Nebraska fruit in their wines as often as is practicable. Try their award-winning wines on their Sandhills beef ranch. Follow the winery’s directions.

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Harvest Hosts members with self-contained RVs can enjoy a night of star-filled solitude on the winery’s grounds.

Related: Stay at Shiloh Vineyard, another Harvest Hosts destination, near WaKeeney, Kansas.

Bolo Beer in Valentine
Belly up to the Bolo Beer bar in Valentine.

No. 7: Bolo Beer in Valentine

The Sandhills are a prime recharging source for the Ogallala Aquifer. The aquifer supplies water for a swath of the Plains from Texas to South Dakota. The sand filters the water as it trickles down through the earth. Valentine’s Bolo Beer Company uses the aquifer’s filtered water to produce beer. We enjoyed the Aquifer and the Alpacalips IPA brews.

Roxie’s reliable report: The brewery does not have food service. Instead, the facility invites guests to bring food and eat it at their tables.

No. 8: Merritt Reservoir in the Nebraska Sandhills

Pack up your fishing gear, water toys, and hunting gear for an all-around outdoor experience at Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area in the Snake River Canyon. It’s 26 miles south of Valentine, deep in the Nebraska Sandhills. The 2,728-acre reservoir reaches 100 feet deep. Fish for walleye, crappie, and white bass. Drive whatever boats you have, launching from five ramps and seven docks. Look for sharp-tails and prairie grouse, whitetails and mule deer, wild turkeys, and waterfowl during hunting seasons.

Roxie’s reliable report: State recreation permits are available here. Drop camping fees in the iron ranger lock boxes.

Merritt’s isolation makes it a prime stargazing locale. Every August, Snake Campground hosts the Nebraska Star Party.

No. 9: Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest in the Sandhills

In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt set aside treeless portions of the Nebraska Sandhills as a national forest. One of these was the 116,000-acre Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest. The forest is mostly grassland, but every tree was hand-planted. Explore the national forest by hiking and horseback riding. Bird watching and camping are also available.

boots at Young's Western Wear
Who can resist the grinning shark boot at Young’s Western Wear?

No. 10: Cowboy boots in Downtown Valentine

For service, quality, and selection, cowboys and cowgirls need to look no further than Young’s Western Wear in Valentine, the Heart City. While you’re downtown, visit Janine’s Flower Exchange for yummy chocolates. We collected Christmas ornaments on our trips and bought our Valentine-themed ornament at Janine’s. Stop to admire the exquisite brick mural on Security First Bank‘s exterior. “Epic” is the only appropriate word. Pictures do not do it justice.

No. 11: Centennial Hall and Cherry County Historical Society Museum in Valentine

Centennial Hall, formerly Valentine High School, is the oldest Nebraska high school building. It’s an ornate cross between Romanesque and Queen Anne architecture. Highlights include the 1,700-bell Hallock Collection. The museum is said to be haunted by a poisoned clarinetist. The Cherry County museum features a log cabin, rare on the mostly treeless plains. Inspect a unique doll collection. Appropriately for a community on the Outlaw Trail Scenic Byway, learn about early-day cattlemen, including the rustlers who hid at Rustlers’ Roost.

Where to eat and stay in Valentine

Three generations have run the Peppermill, and they know how to prepare steak.

The Old Mill is a combination eat-in deli, wood-fired pizza parlor, bakery, and bulk food grocery store, wrapped in beautiful rustic decor. Yum, yum!

Roxie’s reliable recommendation: Especially on summer weekends, lodging in Valentine can be hard to find. Consider road-tripping to Valentine on weekdays.

More to explore

North Platte, Nebraska, is two hours south of Valentine. Its namesake river was the route of the Oregon Trail and other overland routes. Join the pioneers and visit the Platte Valley. Valentine is only 10 miles south of the South Dakota line. Explore more Nebraska destinations and destinations in the Midwest. Travel America’s byways.

Related: Explore the top 10 things to do in North Platte and learn North Platte Canteen‘s sacrificial story.

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