5 Surprising Scenic Drives in Nebraska To Try

In comparison with other states, Nebraska usually isn’t given much time and attention when it comes to road trips and scenic drives. You might end up being surprised though at what this central state has in store beyond farmlands and prairies! 

From strange rock formations to gorgeous waterfalls, check out what some of the best scenic byways in Nebraska have to offer. These drives give you the perfect opportunity to break up your trip into smaller segments and get out to hike or visit some charming towns to pick up antique souvenirs or local bakery items. 

Many of these drives make perfect additions to longer road trips, so if you’re crossing through Nebraska, it’s worthwhile seeing if one of these byways makes sense to add to your drive for some additional scenery along the way. 

1. Nebraska Scenic Drives: 385-Gold Rush Scenic Byway 

  • Distance: 131 miles 
  • Time Needed: 3-6 hours

Take a step back in time to travel the same route as gold diggers making their way west through the United States. With the promise of riches on the other end of the road, travelers crossed across Nebraska along the Colorado/South Dakota border through a particularly beautiful section of the state. 

USA Scenic Drives in Nebraska - Chadron State Park

Today, you can take in the rich Nebraska scenery on this stunning byway. The route connects the towns of Chadron and Hemingford through a diverse landscape of rolling hills, forests, and rocky formations. 

It’s worth spending a bit of time in Chadron to check out the cultural sites like the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center and the Museum of the Fur Trade. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, some notable points of interest along the drive include Chadron State Park and Box Butte Reservoir State Park Recreation Area which has a campground and fun water activities. 

Another quirky point of interest you’ll want to see is Carhenge, a unique landmark created using cars assembled in a resemblance of Stonehenge! 

When to go: Any time of year is good for this drive in Nebraska. 

2. Nebraska Scenic Drives: Loup Rivers Scenic Byway

  • Distance: 150 miles 
  • Time Needed: 4 hours or a day or two if you want to camp

The Loup River is one of the most picturesque areas of the state, and a perfect chance to appreciate one of the best scenic drives in Nebraska. 

USA Scenic Drives in Nebraska - Loup River

This drive is located right in the center of Nebraska and connects Dunning and Wood River. It also passes through the city of Ord about midway through the drive, which is known for its combination of outdoor recreation and town charm. 

Ord is close to four lakes, and four rivers, and water recreation activities like swimming, kayaking, and rafting are all popular here in summer. 

Past Ord on the southern portion of the drive, the byway passes through the Nebraska Sandhills, a region that is characterized by sand dunes and prairies for a truly striking landscape. 

When to go: Any time of year is good, but summer is best for water activities in the Loup River Valley. In the springtime, the Sandhills region is particularly beautiful, thanks to all the blooming prairie wildflowers. 

3. Nebraska Scenic Drives: Sandhills Journey National Scenic Byway 

  • Distance: 272 miles 
  • Time Needed: 5 hours to 1 day 

If you’re on a cross-country road trip, then this is one of the best scenic drives in Nebraska to include in your route. The drive crosses right through the center of the state, so if you’re on a road trip out west to California or headed east to Washington, D.C., this is a perfect byway to add some beautiful scenery to your drive. 

USA Scenic Drives in Nebraska - Sandhills

In addition to the tranquil rolling prairie of the Sandhills, you can also stop to visit some of the historical landmarks along the way. Pick up snacks and learn about the region at the Sandhills Journey Visitor Center in Broken Bow. 

If you need a break from driving and want to get out to walk around for a while, then plan for a stop at the Victoria Springs State Recreation Area. The recreation area is close to Anselmo and has a nice picnic area as well as camping, fishing, paddle boating, and hiking paths. 

When to go: Spring and summer are the best seasons to appreciate the scenery, but any time of year is good for this drive. 

4. Nebraska Scenic Drives: Bridges to Buttes Scenic Byway 

  • Distance: 197 miles
  • Time Needed: 4 hours to 1 day

Western Nebraska has some stunning places to visit, and if you’re already heading toward Wyoming, then Bridges to Buttes is one of the best Nebraska scenic byways to take. 

USA Scenic Drives in Nebraska - Toadstool Geologic Park

The two top places to visit on this drive are Toadstool Geologic Park and Agate Fossil Beds National Monument. 

Toadstool gets its name from the interesting geologic formations found here. The process of erosion has created sculpted rocks that have a mushroom-like appearance. The unique landscape will make you feel like you’ve left Nebraska far behind and possibly ended up on another planet! 

Nebraska’s fossil history isn’t as well known as Utah’s or Arizona’s, so you might be surprised by the number of preserved fossils on display in Agate. In addition to the visitor center, which has some interesting displays and interactive exhibits, there are also several hiking trails through the excavation sites in the area. 

When to go: This drive is good any time of year. 

5. Nebraska Scenic Drives: Outlaw Trail Scenic Byway 

  • Distance: 231 miles
  • Time needed: 5 hours to several days, depending on stops

Outdoor enthusiasts will want to make note of Outlaw Trail, one of the best scenic drives in Nebraska along the northern portion of the state. The drive follows State Highway 12 between South Sioux City and Valentine and passes through Smith Falls State Park and Valentine National Wildlife Refuge

USA Scenic Drives in Nebraska - Smith Falls State Park

Smith Falls has the state’s highest waterfall, a beautiful 70-foot cascade flowing down a horseshoe-shaped basin in the Niobrara River. Besides visiting the falls, other activities in the park include hiking, canoeing, river rafting, and kayaking. 

To experience the best of small-town charm in Nebraska, make a pit stop in the tiny town of Crofton. The town is also very close to Lewis and Clark Lake, which has a lot of opportunities for water sports like swimming and fishing. 

When to go: Summer is the best time of year if you want to enjoy the outdoor water activities found along this drive in Nebraska. 

More Midwest Driving Adventures

Looking to continue your driving adventure through the US Midwest states? Plenty of scenic journeys to enjoy – often year round – why not also check out:

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