Niobrara National Scenic River

Quick Facts

Niobrara National Scenic River


(401) 364-9124

Map Directions

Things To Do


The Niobrara National Scenic River and surrounding area offers a wealth of recreation and vacation opportunities. Besides floating the beautiful scenic river by canoe, kayak or tube, there are plenty of area activities and quaint communities to explore. The 76-mile reach of the Niobrara River in northcentral Nebraska was added to the nation's Wild and Scenic River System in 1991. The river is swift and shallow over much of its length, cutting through bedrock forming riffles, rapids and waterfalls. The Scenic River preserves a superb example of a Great Plains river and protects a unique ecological crossroads where six distinct ecosystems and their associated flora and fauna mix, some at or beyond their normal geographic limit. The western third of the Scenic River is home to over ninety waterfalls -- highest is Smith Falls that cascades seventy feet from a Sand Hills cliff. Many locally-owned ranches are found along the river retaining the valley's rural flavor, yet much of its wild character is preserved. Wildlife abounds: animals such as white-tailed deer, coyote, beaver, mink, bull snakes, soft-shelled turtles, turkeys, herons, and sandpipers are commonly sighted. Enjoyed by tens of thousands of canoeists yearly, the upper reach of the Niobrara is noted as one of the country's outstanding canoeing rivers. A portion flows through a federally designated wilderness.

The western reach of the Scenic River has public access points at the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, Smith Falls State Park, and the Middle Niobrara Natural Resource District's Brewer Bridge landing. Nature trails are found at the refuge and state park. The Fort Niobrara Refuge also features a driving tour through elk and bison pastures as well as a prairie dog colony. The hike to Fort Falls is fairly short and provides a spectacular view.

Map of Niobrara

Latitude, Longitude: 42.867820, -100.553028



  • Boating

    Most visitors to the Niobrara rent vessels and equipment from private outfitters. Some bring their own boats and equipment and either contact an outfitter for a shuttle, or drive their own vehicles between the launch and takeout locations.

  • Bicycling

    The Cowboy Trail is multi-use trail perfect for cycling.

  • Auto/Motorcycle

    Multiple state highways and roads parallel the Niobrara. Of note is the Allen Bridge, built in 1903 and is the longest single span bridge across the Niobrara (188'). It is listed on the National Register of Historic Structures.

  • Camping

    A variety of state park and refuges offer camping near the Niobrara River. However, keep in mind that most of the land along the Niobrara River (including the streambed, banks and islands) is privately owned.

  • Climbing

    During the cold winter months when temperatures drop well below zero degrees F the Niobrara River freezes over in most places. Tall ice cliffs form on river bluffs and attract ice climbers to the Niobrara National Scenic River.

  • Fishing

    Angling opportunities are abundant along the Niobrara National Scenic River and its many tributaries. Rainbow and brown trout are present in several spring-branch canyon tributaries, and can provide a challenge for any avid fly fisher. Anglers interested in using the more popular bait or lure methods can try their hand at channel catfish, carp, bluegill, green sunfish, grass pickerel, and many other fish species.

  • Hiking

    The Cowboy Trail is designed for hiking.

  • Horseback Riding

    The Cowboy Trail, a Nebraska State Recreational Trail, will eventually stretch from Chadron to Norfolk. There is a completed section accessible from Valentine. A number of river outfitters also offer equestrian activities.

  • Hunting

    Game birds such as wild turkey, pheasant, and sharp-tailed grouse, in addition to several waterfowl species including mallards, blue-winged teal, and Canada geese provide excellent hunting opportunities along the Niobrara National Scenic River. Public land is available for hunting, but it is somewhat limited along the Niobrara. The majority of all hunting activities along the scenic river occur on private property. Individuals who wish to hunt on private property must be granted access by the landowner. All state hunting regulations apply on public and private property.

  • Picnicking

    Picnic areas are available.

  • Water Sports

    Visitors can float the river by tube, canoe, kayak or raft from mid-April to mid-October.

  • Winter Sports

    During the cold winter months when temperatures drop well below zero degrees F the Niobrara River freezes over in most places. Tall ice cliffs form on river bluffs and attract ice climbers to the Niobrara National Scenic River.


Open year-round. Visitors can float the river by tube, canoe, kayak or raft from mid-April to mid-October. Most floaters come on weekends in June, July and August, when summer temperatures can soar from the 90s to low 100s.

During spring floating conditions, be prepared for variable or unsettled weather and higher water levels. Many migratory birds pass through the valley and nesting Canada geese are often encountered. Fall brings cooler temperatures, brilliant leaf colors and clearer water. Winter floats are possible (using private equipment) if the river has not iced over. The Cornell Bridge to Smith Falls stretch is normally ice free for most of the winter.

Park Partners

Niobrara Council

The Niobrara Council works with the National Park Service for the preservation and protection of the Niobrara National Scenic River and accepts donations. They also coordinate the purchase or acceptance of scenic easements on private land along the river.

(402) 376-2793



Most visitors travel to Valentine, Nebraska to start their float trip or to tour the river valley. The Niobrara National Scenic River Headquarters office is located in Valentine at 214 W. Highway 20. If the office is closed, please visit the Chamber of Commerce on Main Street to obtain park information. Other nearby communities have information about this scenic river as well.

Valentine is 76 miles south of I-90 on Hwy 83; or 130 miles north of I-80 on Hwy 83.


The nearest major airports are in Rapid City, SD (220 miles); Denver, CO (391 miles); and Omaha, NE (300 miles)

Phone Numbers


(401) 364-9124