Your 4 season, family fun, Nebraska Sandhills adventure awaits!
Fort Niorara National Wildlife Refuge
Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge is a plethora of fun, activities, and things to do. The first and easiest thing that you can do at Fort Niobrara NWR is to take the auto tour which showcases the unending views of the Sandhills and tall grassed prairies.
Imagine these landscapes going on for miles and miles...before the land was ever settled. You may get a glimpse of the occasional elk, bison, and deer roaming around. The refuge is home to hundreds of bird species as well; and the cutest little dogs ever - the priaire dog! In the past burrowing owls shared their tunnels, so did snakes. All this is seen from the comfort of your heated or air conditioned vehicle, depending on the time of year.
When traveling to Fort Niobrara NWR on Highway 12, continue up the hill past the entrance to take in the panoramic views at the Scenic Overlook. In the fall and winter months, bison roam these deep canyon ravines, or up on top, grazing the meadow ground. The Scenic Overlook areas are handicap accessible and have benches to enjoy the breathtaking beauty any time of year.
In spring and fall, Canadian geese use the refuge as a stop-over on their migration pathway, as do many other birds, including swans, ducks, and an eagle every now and then.
In the fall, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gather up the bison for their annual sale. This week long event begins in late September or early October with the actual sale a couple weeks later. Check with refuge personnel for the exact date as this changes from year to year.
For the more adventurous, there are stairs that will lead you down to the Niobrara River Valley floor where you can experience Fort Falls. A little trail will take you out to the Niobrara River. Here you can either turn around and go back the way you came or continue on the pathway where you can hike to the top of the canyon walls for the river view below. This hike is under a mile. Hikers can also roam over the prairie to the wilderness area which is open to the public. This area is also open to those who enjoy horseback riding - you will have to provide your own mount.
Visitors to the refuge can also float the Niobrara River by launching at Cornell Dam. Alcohol is not allowed within refuge boundaries. Outfitters will provide you with your choice of vessel: tube, canoe, or kayak, and provide shuttle services. Trips can be anywhere from two hours to several days depending on your destination choice.
History buffs will enjoy all that Fort Niobrara has to offer as well. Not only is there the history of the actual Fort, but the history of the geological formations which remain today. One lone building remains from the days when Fort Niobrara served as an outpost. Painted rustic red, it's visible from the roadway and is not open to the public.
Inside Fort Niobrara NWR Headquarters are a gift shop with books that share information about the area and its wildlife, including identification guides. There is also a very elaborate display that has a full bison mount, a depiction of the Niobrara River Valley and the many habitats that converge here.
The Niobrara River Valley habitat is quite unique with six regions converging in one area and include: Sandhill Prairie which grows on top of the sand dunes south of the river; mixed grass prairie is found on tablelands to the north, Rocky Mountain coniferous forest grows on the dry, rocky soils and steep eroding cliffs.
The water rich areas support plant life from the tall grassland prairie, the eastern deciduous forest, and northern boreal forest. This is a remarkable confluence of plant life which supports many different animal and bird species. It's all here for you to enjoy - all 19,131 acres!!!