The Getaway
Absolute Must-Sees in Nebraska

Nebraska is often overlooked as a vacation destination, but the state has plenty of activities to keep you busy. There are bustling cities with historical districts to explore, as well as a surprising number of natural attractions. The state was key to westward expansion, and residents remain proud of their contributions to the pioneers and homesteaders that settled in the area before moving west. Today, you can see Nebraska as they saw it back then, with hints of its ancient history and the exciting future that lies ahead.


01 Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock Historic Site in Nebraska zrfphoto / Getty Images

For pioneers heading west to Oregon and California, Chimney Rock was one of the most recognizable landmarks along the way. It quickly became a symbol of westward expansion. This natural rock formation features a center spire rising 325 feet upward and an imposing conical base that's impossible to miss. The formation dates as far back at least 23 million years. Today, it looks just as it did when settlers passed through in the 1840s.


02 Toadstool Geologic Park

Toadstool Geographic Park located in the Oglala National Grassland in far northwestern Nebraska Rachel_Hunter / Getty Images

Toadstool Park is the most visually stunning section of the Nebraskan Badlands. Forty-five million years ago, an ancient river laid the thick sandstone layers, striped with red and green from volcanic ash. The river dried up about 26 million years ago. Since then, wind and rain have carved the remaining sandstone into the other-worldly toadstool shapes you see today. This park features a one-mile loop trail, along which you're encouraged to wander among the toadstools. Be gentle as you scurry around looking for fossils of saber-toothed cats and brontotheres, an ancient relative of the rhinoceros.


03 Monowi

Monowi might be the smallest town in America. The population? One single resident. Monowi has slowly dwindled from 150 people in the 1930s to just two residents in 2000. Following her husband's death, Rudy, in 2004, Elsie Eiler is now Monowi's only resident. She is the town's mayor and sole business proprietor, single-handedly running the Monowi Tavern and the town library, which are open to visitors.


04 Pioneer Courage Park

Sculptures in Pioneer Courage Park Nebraska Coco Mault / Visual Hunt

Covering six city blocks in downtown Omaha, Pioneer Courage Park tells the story of the pioneers who settled the area before heading west. This park is a nice place to walk around and take a break from the surrounding city but its main draw is the public art installation. More than 100 statues the story of four pioneer families heading west from Omaha, like the hundreds of thousands who actually passed through the region on their way to settle the west. The series is one of the largest bronze and stainless steel sculpture installations in the world. Don't miss it when you're in Omaha.


05 Panorama Point

Panorama Point, sitting in southwestern Kimball County at an elevation of 5,429 feet above sea level, is the highest natural point in Nebraska. Panorama Point is also known as Constable Mountain, and despite the name, it isn't a mountain or hill, but actually a low rise on the High Plains. It offers spectacular views, including of the Rocky Mountains to the west and of the nearby state corner marker.


06 Lauritzen Gardens

Green natural scenery in Lauritzen Gardens kiszka king / Visual Hunt

Lauritzen Gardens is a 100-acre oasis in southern Omaha. A four-acre arboretum features plants from seven regions, including prairie, marsh, flood plain, and savannah. There are multiple gardens to explore. Stroll through the fragrant rose garden, check out the indoor conservatory, or take the kids to the children's garden or model railroad garden. Lauritzen Gardens also offers seasonal activities like a Halloween garden and holiday poinsettia show.


07 World's Largest Ball of Stamps

If you're a fan of quirky attractions, the world's largest ball of stamps might be right down your alley. Measuring 32 inches in diameter and weighing a whopping 600 pounds, the solid ball of stamps is made up of an estimated four million stamps. The ball dates back to 1953 when the Boys Town Stamp Collecting Club used a golf ball as the base for consolidating some of their less-valuable stamps. The ball hasn't been added to since it was featured in Ripley's Believe It or Not in 1955, and you can now find it in the Boys Town visitors center.


08 Scotts Bluff National Monument

Sun shining on Scotts Bluff National Monument dszc / Getty Images

Scotts Bluff was an important landmark for homesteaders heading west as well as the pony express riders. The site includes two bluffs as well as five major outcroppings, and a portion of what used to be the Oregon Trail. Over 3,000 acres of land are protected here, including mixed-grass prairies and badlands. A drive to the top of the bluff provides amazing opportunities for photography, especially at sunset.


09 Ruins of Prairie Peace Park

The 1994 opening of Prarie Peace Park was celebrated by over 1,500 attendees, including several celebrities. Once intended as a gathering spot for meditation and contemplation away from the outside world, the park has been left to rot since its closure. For the curious, however, two key pieces of art remain — Dance of the Children, a metal globe sculpture, and the World Peace Mural, a collaboration between dozens of international artists.


10 Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari

Antelopes at Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari Ashland, Nebraska, USA ramesh1502 / Getty Images

A safari is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about Nebraska, but the Lee G. Simmons Conservation Park and Wildlife Safari is something you won't soon forget. Visit the Bison Overlook and Nature Play to see bison in their natural habitat. Explore Wolf Canyon to observe gray wolves and black bears, then head to the Eagle Aviary for an up-close and personal look at bald eagles. There's also Pelican Wetlands, Deer Woods, and Prairie Dog Town to round out this unique experience.


11 Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park

Fossils in the Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park Ammodramus / Wikipedia

The history of Nebraska goes back a long way, and Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park gives you some idea of just how far. This area is filled with extraordinarily preserved fossils from 12 million years ago. The mass grave was a result of a volcanic explosion that covered the area with ash, quickly damaging the lungs of the animals roaming there. Within five weeks, everything was gone, and their bodies were covered with ash. The area was mostly undisturbed, and some of the fossils were so intact when found that it was possible to determine their last meal. Today, paleontologists are still making new discoveries and are on-site to answer questions. Choose a trail and go explore the area.


12 The Homestead National Monument of America

Clear skies above Homestead National Monument of America, Beatrice, Nebraska


President Lincoln signed the Homestead Act into law in 1862. This law was instrumental in settling the west. It granted homesteaders 160 acres of land in exchange for a small filing fee. Settlers moved onto more than 80 million acres by 1900, transforming the region. The Homestead National Monument of America explores the westward expansion, commemorating its importance as well as the effects it had on the native peoples, landscape, and animals. Explore three miles of trails and the many interesting exhibits, including an award-winning film and the chance to research homesteading genealogy.


13 Indian Cave State Park

Indian Cave State Park CitizenClark / Getty Images

Indian Cave State Park is another place to see some of Nebraska's interesting history. The park gets its name from a cave where prehistoric petroglyphs depict nature scenes and wildlife. It's a great place to explore the outdoors, too. The park is located on the banks of the Missouri River and is ideally situated for camping, hiking, horseback riding, fishing, and skiing in the winter.


14 Carhenge

Carhenge site in Nebraska Paul Harris / Getty Images

There's only one Carhenge, and the only place to see it is outside of Alliance, Nebraska. This art installation features 39 cars arranged in the prairie grasslands, designed to perfectly replicate the real Stonehenge in England, if on a smaller scale. The cars include a 1962 Cadillac and an ambulance, as well as and other cars and pickup trucks. This site contains other interesting works of the artist Jim Reinders, as well.


15 Durham Museum

Omaha's Union Station closed in 1971, and there were question marks over what would become of it. Union Pacific Railroad ended up donating the station to the city, and by 1975 the Western Heritage Museum came into being. Two decades later, civic leader and engineer Chuck Durham and his wife paid the bulk of the money necessary to upgrade the museum. In 2008, collaborations with the likes of the Smithsonian Institution broadened the museum's scope. Durham Museum has a range of exhibits to suit various interests, from a temporary Downtown Abbey costume exhibit to the permanent Byron Reed coin collection. Visitors enjoy the striking art deco architecture, the trains, and dipping into history.


16 Sunken Gardens

Sunken Gardens in Lincoln, Nebraska apainter/ Getty Images

The Sunken Gardens in Nebraska's capital exists because of the Great Depression. It began as a public works project to create employment and transformed a dump site into a small but gorgeous recreational space. If you want to see a riot of color, the springtime bulbs are something special. But visit any time of year for fantastic landscape design, the calming sound of fountains and waterfalls, art installations, an uplifting stroll, and a sense of joy in the air, thanks to the families who come here to take portraits. This is a great place for toddlers, grandmas, and everyone in between. Sit by the koi pond and consider that the best things in life are free and accessible as long as you can find parking.


17 Nebraska State Capitol

Nebraska State Capitol landscape at sunrise Miriam Bade/ Getty Images

A stop at the Nebraska State Capitol will be worthwhile if you're in Lincoln. The building is less than a century old, so it's relatively new. The 400-foot tower looks over the city, is visible from up to 20 miles away, and makes the statehouse the second tallest in the land. New York church architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue intentionally created the lofty structure to rise, symbolically, above the mostly flat Cornhusker State, and the capitol is humorously known as the "Penis of the Plains, so be sure to snap a thumbs-up picture in front of it." The grounds were designed by Ernst H. Herminghaus.


18 Museum of American Speed

If you love cars and racing, Lincoln has another treat for you. The Museum of American Speed is seriously underrated. You'll find information about all kinds of motorsports, learn about automotive history, and see trendy vintage cars from different periods, as well as Indy and Le Mans race cars, for example. Even if cars aren't your thing and you're tagging along with friends or family members, you'll find interesting items. There are toy cars, motorcycles, guitars, engines, and hood ornaments, and these just scratch the surface—it's enough to warrant a day trip from a few hours away if you're a car enthusiast. Gearheads can easily spend four hours in this massive museum. The building is wheelchair-friendly, but operating hours are limited, so plan accordingly.


19 Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

Trail to University Hill at Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Nebraska Posnov/ Getty Images

Cars may not be your speed, but the admittedly slower-paced fields of natural history and paleontology might. Agate Fossil Beds National Monument near Harrison is known for its Miocene fossils that date back to, get this, 20 million years ago. And we're not talking fish bones here, but mammals. Horse ancestors, mini rhinos, pig-like animals, hippo-like animals, bear dogs (you're intrigued, right?), and more. There are hiking trails at this National Monument and exhibits about local Native American tribes. As a bonus, the scenery is pleasant.


20 Joslyn Castle

Joslyn Castle, AKA Lynhurst, is a mansion in Omaha's Gold Coast Historic District. It was built in the early 1900s in the charming Scottish Baronial style and contains 35 rooms. Construction was fairly rapid and took under a year to complete. A visit here isn't free, but it's interesting to see how the wealthy lived around the turn of the century.


Scroll Down

for the Next Article

The Getaway Badge
Sign up to receive insider info and deals that will help you travel smarter.