Nebraska’s got more than just its rock formations & grasslands to show visitors in the Cornhuskers State! The top 10 things to do in Nebraska include a number of natural and manmade landmarks that take you back to the great migration to the west, and some points that rank among the largest & tallest attractions.
1. Get onto the Archway on I-80
The Archway, or the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument, is in Kearney, Nebraska. Made to look like a covered bridge, this monument arches over Interstate 80 in Kearney. It’s a tribute to the great adventurers of the United States.
Built in the year 2000, the Archway is a salute to the people who passed this way along The Great Platte River Road on their travels westward, be it on on the Oregon Trail, Mormon, California, or other trails.
Take exit 75 to get to the archway and its museum that has exhibits that will tell you more about Native Americans, Fur Trappers, & Pioneers who traveled west and helped expand the United States.
2. Go see Chimney Rock
Further along the migratory route in the Platte River Valley is another one of the best things to do in Nebraska called Chimney Rock. Chimney Rock is near the town of Bayard. It has been of interest since the 1800s when people were on the route of the Great Western Migration.
Probably named for the way it stands out from the plains this rock informed the migrants that just beyond the plains was a rocky stretch on their path out west. This geological structure is a little over 4000 ft above sea level, and its spire rises to a good 300ft. It can be seen from several miles away.
At the site are a few trails you can walk through, some tunnels to see and some great views to catch. The visitor center near the rock gives more information about the geology of the area and the history of the ancient trails. On weekends you can expect to see rangers in costumes narrating stories from ages ago.
3. Explore Scotts Bluff National Monument
Go further west from Chimney rock and you’ll come across another rocky area, another marker on the westward route. These rocks that rise to over 800ft and are spread over an area of 3000 acres were a landmark for those traveling on the Oregon, California, & Mormon trails.
Scotts Bluff is situated near the city of Gering in western Nebraska, and visitors to the area can hike through the rocky landscape and drive the 1.6 mile – Summit Road for views of the surrounding badlands & prairies. And the visitor center has a lot of exhibits & information about the people who travelled this way and about the land itself. You’ll also find William Henry Jackson’s photographs & paintings showcased here.
4. Pay a visit to the largest Mammoth Skeleton in the world
Another one of the things to do in Nebraska that you might want to see are the remains of the animal life native to the area. Mammoth fossils have been discovered all over the state, however, the most talked about is the skeleton of the largest one that now stands in Morrill Hall or the University of Nebraska State Museum.
Called Archie, the largest mammoth skeleton is that of a Columbian Mammoth which stands 14ft. tall and has been on display for over 80 years now. Archie is the biggest attraction of this natural history museum, but you can also see some other skeletons, some taxidermy exhibits, revisit the Jurassic era, and learn about the fauna of the area.
5. Experience the largest Indoor Rainforest
Nebraska is not just home to the largest mammoth skeleton in the world. It’s also where the largest indoor rainforest is. Called Lied Jungle this indoor rainforest is in the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha.
With waterfalls, tropical plants and a larger number of plants & animals in it, the largest Indoor Rainforest showcases rainforests of South America, Asia, & Africa. You can expect to see monkeys, pygmy hippos, lizards, macaws, & tapirs among other animals here.
Henry Doorly Zoo also has a large indoor desert as well as a nocturnal exhibit, and is among the most popular zoos in the country.
6. Check out the second tallest Capitol building
Make sure to make a stop in the capital city of Lincoln to see the second tallest capitol building in the country. It is one of the most popular things to do in Nebraska. Nebraska’s 400-foot Capitol building used to be the tallest one in the United States before Louisiana’s was built to be taller than it.
Built with Indiana Limestone and completed in the year 1932, this building is also said to have been the first one to incorporate a functional tower into its design. The tower holds several offices and the 14th floor, which is in the Memorial Chamber, is the highest level that can be publicly accessed. The observation decks offer some great views of Lincoln, NE.
7. Catch the sights & sounds of Bailey Yard from Golden Spike tower
Nebraska also has the world’s largest rail-yard in the world. It’s a classification yard located in North Platte and is owned and operated by Union Pacific. Spread over 2,850 acres, Bailey Yard occupies over 200 miles of tracks and employs over 2500 people so as to function as the classification yard it is. It sorts locomotives & cars that go in different directions and services & repairs them.
Go up the privately-owned Golden Spike tower to see the vastness of the yard and watch it in operation. There’s an open-air observation deck on the 7th floor of the tower and an enclosed one on the 8th floor.
8. Photograph the vintage cars of Carhenge
If you are looking for some unique things to do in Nebraska, look no further. Locally called Nebraska’s Answer to Stonehenge, Carhenge is a quirky attraction in the farmlands of the Cornhusker State. Situated on Highway 87, near the city of Alliance, Carhenge is where you’ll see 39 vintage cars installed in a circle to look like Stonehenge.
Jim Reinders built it in 1987 on his family’s farm and dedicated to his father. Before putting it together, he studied the original Stonehenge.
Also near the Carhenge is Car Art Reserve with newer installation art made with more cars & car parts.
9. Bike the Cowboy Trail
Among the longest rail-trails in the US is the Cowboy Trail in Northern Nebraska. This mostly-biking trail stretches 195 miles along the now decommissioned Chicago and Northwestern Railways route.
Cowboy Trail runs from Norfolk, NE to Valentine, NE, and passes through mixed grass & tallgrass prairies, and over sandhills and the Niobrara River. You can even hike and snowshoe through parts of the trail.
10. Hike through Niobrara State Park
To see more of Nebraska’s landscape and properly hike through it, you could use the 14 miles of trails available in Niobrara State Park. These trails are one of the most popular things to do in Nebraska. This park is located at the confluence of the Niobrara & Missouri Rivers, and offers a range of activities for visitors to the park. Apart from hiking, you can picnic, fish, go horseback riding, & even camp at this park. You’ll even find some cabins around here.
You might be able to spot some of the local animal life at Niobrara State Park. White-tailed deer, muskrats, beavers, minks, & coyotes are just some of them.