If the word “Nebraska” conjures up images of a “redded-out” football stadium and endless fields of corn, fair enough. After all, the Nebraska Cornhuskers are the closest thing my neighbors to the north have to an NFL team. But Nebraska is more than football and cornfields. Here’s what you should do, see, and eat when you visit Nebraska.
To celebrate visiting all 50 states, an accomplishment that just happens to coincide with a milestone birthday of a similar number — WHAT??? I still feel 30 on the inside!!! — this article is part of a series that will cover all 50 states and Washington, DC, over the next year.
Nebraska, along with the neighboring states of Kansas and Iowa, is one of the least-visited states in the Union. But, by poking fun at stereotypes and demonstrating a sense of humor, it recently made headlines across the country for its new ad slogan, “Honestly, it’s not for everybody.”
Although known for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers football and acres and acres of farmland, there’s more to Nebraska. Its largest city, Omaha, is home to a world-renowned zoo and has been recognized as an up and coming US travel destination. In the west, Chimney Rock was an important landmark to pioneers traveling the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails in the mid-19th century.
Fun Fact: Did you know that the University of Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium becomes the third largest “city” in Nebraska each home football game? Only the actual cities of Omaha and Lincoln will have a larger concentration of people those Saturdays in the fall! Here’s why Lincoln is one of the best college towns in the Midwest.
Here are the activities you should add to your travel bucket list in order to fully experience the Cornhusker State when you visit Nebraska.
Things to Do and See in the Eastern Part of the State When You Visit Nebraska
Take a Walk on the Wild Side at the Omaha Zoo
Recommended by Kim Reiner from Oh My! Omaha
Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium is the most-visited attraction in Nebraska. Some of the major exhibits to see there include the nation’s largest indoor rainforest and Desert Dome, as well as two of the newest areas: African Grasslands, with its own herd of elephants, and Asian Highlands, with the adorable red panda exhibit. If you go to the Desert Dome, don’t skip the lower level. It’s called Creatures of the Night, and it includes very realistic cave and bayou experiences. Another not-to-miss building is the aquarium with an incredible shark tunnel to walk through. The zoo is a good destination in the winter as much as it is in the summer. In the winter, there are five major indoor exhibits near the entrance, making it easy to visit even on the coldest day.
Summertime brings additional exhibits and activities. Our favorite areas to visit in the summer include the splash park called Alaskan Adventure and the Children’s Adventure Trails. Bring a change of clothes or swimsuits for the kids if you go to either of them. For additional fees, you can ride a camel or feed stingrays in the summer.
Pro Tip: Based in Omaha, the husband and wife duo behind The Walking Tourists travel blog wrote the book on what to do and see in Omaha. Literally. Check out 100 Things to do in Omaha Before You Die to round out your Nebraska bucket list.
Pro Tip: Watch 35+ animals from around the country through these live animal cams.
Explore the Old Market
Omaha’s Old Market neighborhood makes me feel like I’m in Europe. Except everyone is speaking English, and there are w-a-y more pick-up trucks. With its paved brick streets, street performers, and horse-drawn carriages, this historic district has an Old World feel. Enjoy the area by browsing the art galleries and boutiques or grabbing a bite at one of the restaurants, cafes, or ice cream shops.
Pro Tip: If you plan on seeing the USA in an RV, be sure to check out the best RV road trips in the US.
Stand in Two States at Once on “Bob the Bridge”
Spanning the Missouri River to connect the states of Nebraska and Iowa is the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge. But this no ordinary footbridge. Known affectionately as “Bob the Bridge,” it is 3,000 feet of so much more.
Other Places in the East to Add to Your Travel Bucket When You Visit Nebraska
- Camp in a caboose in Waterloo.
- Enjoy some of the best fried chicken in the Midwest at Big Mama’s Kitchen in Omaha
- Go on safari in Ashland (yes, you read that right, Nebraska has a wildlife safari!)
- Hike your heart out in the Fontenelle Forest.
- Participate in a pow wow.
- Go on safari in Ashland at the Wildlife Safari Park.
- Savor the local flavors by grabbing a Runza. These loaf-like sandwiches with ground beef, onions, cabbage, and spices baked in the middle were founded in Lincoln.
- While in Lincoln, check out the murals, mosaics, tapestries, and distinguishing architectural details of the Nebraska State Capitol. (Is it just me, or does the building look like it was inspired by Chimney Rock?)
- Honor the Nebraska civilian that President Eisenhower dubbed “the man who won the war” by designing the amphibious boats used to land on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day at the Andrew Jackson Higgins National Memorial in Columbus
- Celebrate Arbor Day where it all began on a treeless prairie nearly 150 years ago.
- And no visit to Nebraska is complete without a tour of (and hopefully a football game in) Memorial Stadium at the University of Nebraska.
Things to Do and See in the Central Part of the State When You Visit Nebraska
Observe the Sandhill Crane Migration
Recommended by LeAnna, the Well Traveled Nebraskan
Each year, hundreds of thousands of majestic sandhill cranes make their annual migration to their nesting grounds. But one spot in the world is so heavily visited by these birds that they even inspired the area’s name: The Nebraska Sandhills.
Along the frequently traveled 1-80 interstate, travelers can stop at Kearney, in the heart of Nebraska, and witness this truly phenomenal migration themselves. Dawn and dusk are the ideal times as that day’s hoards and flocks of birds come to land or take off in the ideal conditions of the flat Platte River and eat among the cornfields.
While dusk gives you stunning colors, dawn offers a thundering presentation as they all take off at once. People (mostly bird lovers) come from all over the world and the US to experience this great migration. So, if you are wanting a truly unique experience, one that will last a lifetime, this just might be it.
Pro Tip: At the Well Traveled Nebraskan, LeAnna has even more Cornhusker State experiences to fill up your Nebraska bucket list.
Other Places in the Center of the State to Add to Your Travel Bucket When You Visit Nebraska
- Keep “kool” by exploring the Kool-Aid exhibit at the Hastings Museum.
- Experience the wild and scenic Niobrara River where it runs through Smith Falls State Park.
- Go tanking in North Platte to take in the Nebraska scenery from the river in a cattle tank.
Fun Fact: With a line running just west of center, the eastern half of Nebraska observes Central Time while the western half observes Mountain Time.
Things to Do and See in the Western Part of the State When You Visit Nebraska
Travel the Oregon Trail
Recommended by Gretchen Garrison from Odyssey Through Nebraska
When the Oregon Trail wound around through Nebraska, one of the most important stops along the path was Ash Hollow. Located in a valley, Ash Hollow provided a much needed place of rest and refreshment. Long before the 1850s, Native Americans dwelled in this part of Nebraska. Today visitors can explore this area that is now a Nebraska state park.
In the visitor’s center, displays are set up in chronological order. Featuring artifacts and tales from long ago, these dioramas provide visitors with a glimpse into Nebraska’s past. When the weather allows, hiking the area is strongly encouraged. With paths that lead to a cave, a stream and through the hills, walking around helps visitors to understand the area. On the edges of the park is Windlass Hill. Although a climb is involved, the top of the hill provides breathtaking views. Pioneer buildings, including a rare rock school house and a sod house are found in different parts of the park.
Near Ash Hollow Park is the town of Lewellen. When driving into town, travelers will want to stop at the cemetery. The gravestone of pioneer Rachel Pattison is still cared for by the town over 150 years later. This marker is a reminder of the loss that happened along the trail. During warmer weather, “The Most Unlikely Place” in Lewellen is highly recommended for all travelers. This local art gallery also is a coffee house and bistro with delicious local offerings for breakfast and lunch. Although this location is generally closed from November through March, when they are open, visit this spot to find beautiful art along with delicious food.
Check Out Chimney Rock
Rising 470 feet (145 meters) above the North Platte River Valley, Chimney Rock is one of the most notable landmarks along the route between the Midwest and the West Coast. Made of Brule clay, volcanic ash, and Arickaree sandstone, Chimney Rock has a slender spire rising 325 feet (100 meters) from its base. First used as a beacon by fur traders, trappers, and mountain men, it guided wagon after wagon of pioneers traveling west along the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails in the mid-19th century. Near the town of Bayard, the Chimney Rock Visitor Center is open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Other Places in the Western Part of the State to Add to Your Travel Bucket List When You Visit Nebraska
- Trek through Toadstool Geological Park.
- Behold the quirky, roadside attraction that is Carhenge, a quirky Stonehenge replica in Alliance, Nebraska, that is an automotive twist on England’s Stonehenge. (P.S. And it’s free!)
Pro Tip: Looking for more inspiration and advice as you plan to visit Nebraska? Check out this Pinterest board focused exclusively on the Cornhusker State.
To Plan Your Visit to Nebraska
Start with the Visit Nebraska website where you can:
- request a free travel guide,
- browse destinations by interest (like adventure, family fun, and nightlife), and
- find other useful information to plan your trip.
Have You Visited Nebraska?
What did you like most when you spent time in the Cornhusker State? Is there anything else you’d add to this list? Share your experiences in the comments section below.
Want to See More of the USA?
Here are the other articles in this See the USA series:
Please note: Photos not watermarked by me or clearly attributed to a specific photographer or organization are from the community of talented photographers over at Pixabay.