Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge

Quick Facts

Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge

Nebraska

(402) 376-3789

Map Directions

Things To Do

Overview

Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) is 19,131 acres in size and located 4 miles east of Valentine along the Niobrara River in north-central Nebraska. Fort Niobrara NWR was established by Executive Order in January 1912 as a "preserve and breeding ground for native birds." Its purpose was expanded later that same year to include the preservation of bison and elk herds representative of those that once roamed the Great Plains.

Approximately 350 head of buffalo, 70 head of elk, a prairie dog town, and deer can be found on the Refuge. The rolling sandhills and breaks along the Niobrara River canyon are home to a great variety of wildlife. In the winter, bald and golden eagles can be seen along the river. Wild turkeys are spotted among the birch, burr oak, and Ponderosa pine. The unusual and unique assemblage of plant communities currently present on the Refuge, including sandhills prairie, mixed prairie, Rocky Mountain coniferous forest, eastern deciduous forest, and northern boreal forest, supports a rich diversity of wildlife largely unchanged from pre-settlement times.

The Refuge offers many activities for visitors. Bison, elk, deer, and prairie dogs can be seen along the wildlife drive at all times of the year. Interpretive displays at the visitor center explore the history and ecology of the area. Hiking trails lead to Fort Falls and, for the more adventurous, into the Niobrara River Wilderness Area. Canoeing or tubing through the Refuge down the Niobrara River is a popular activity.

Map of Fort Niobrara NWR

Latitude, Longitude: 42.880000, -100.450627

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Activities

  • Boating

    The more adventurous visitor can enjoy the Fort Niobrara Wilderness Area on foot or by floating the Niobrara River.Allow 2-4 hours for a float trip through the Refuge.To help offset the costs of providing visitor services, a small fee is charged for each watercraft launching on Fort Niobrara NWR. Private outfitters in the area rent watercraft and provide shuttle services.

  • Auto/Motorcycle

    A 3.5-mile, self-guided auto tour route starts near the visitor center and provides the opportunity to view bison, elk, prairie dogs, and other natural and historic points of interest. At stop number 13, an accessible observation deck overlooks the scenic Niobrara River corridor.

  • Hiking

    An arduous, ¾-mile nature trail descends from the overlook to the base of Fort Falls, and then continues to the river before circling back up to the top of the canyon.

  • Historic Sites

    The land and water of Fort Niobrara NWR have sustained a rich diversity of wildlife for thousands of years. Fossils from more than 20 extinct mammal species, including the long-jawed mastodon, giant bison, and three-toed horse, have been unearthed on the Refuge. These animals roamed the area from 13 million years ago through the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago.

    As the nation's frontier moved westward in the late 1800s, market hunting and habitat loss caused once plentiful wildlife to decline dramatically. Bison nearly became extinct. Native Americans were moved onto reservations. Fort Niobrara Military Reservation was established in 1879 to keep peace between the settlers and the Sioux Indians and to control cattle rustlers and horse thieves. During its 27 years of existence, Fort Niobrara was a quiet place, the soldiers fought no battles, but were kept busy maintaining the fort and drilling. The fort was abandoned in 1906 and made into a remount station for the cavalry. By 1912 even this activity was discontinued and the fort dismantled. All that remains is one building (the red barn), old foundations, and earth works. The army closed the fort in 1906 but used it to supply fresh horses for the calvary until 1911.

Directions

Driving

Fort Niobrara NWR is located about 5 miles east of Valentine, Nebraska, on U.S. Highway 12. The visitor center is about 18 miles from the Refuge entrance. Various directional signs are located along the route.

Phone Numbers

Primary

(402) 376-3789

Links