Nebraska: Float the Niobrara

Photograph by Chris Machian, The New York Times/Redux

Photograph by Chris Machian, The New York Times/Redux

Paddle a wondrous river that snakes through the heartland.

What Is It? The Niobrara, a national scenic river, wanders through a sea of grass and extraordinary, fossil-filled sandstone cliffs hidden in northern Nebraska. Explore the river’s diversity with a mellow, 22-mile Class I/II weekend float from the Cornell Bridge to Rocky Ford. Camp or stop midway for a stay at the Niobrara River Ranch, a log cabin retreat and working cattle ranch at river’s edge.

Why Do It? You’ll enjoy exploring this beautiful waterway as it flows peacefully and steadily, carving a lush valley filled with birch, oak, ash, walnut, aspen, and ponderosa pine. Keep an eye out as you pass hundreds of waterfalls that line the river corridor; some merely trickle down side canyons while bigger ones—such as 60-foot Smith Falls, the largest in the state—plunge over the corridor’s rocky bluffs. Six major ecosystems converge on the Niobrara, creating a biodiversity hot spot that’s home to 160 animal and plant species. The river also cuts through several rock formations that hold distinctive fossils, including beaver, horse, mastodon, and alligator. Pay attention on side hikes and you might get lucky!

Make It Happen: Visit the Niobrara National Scenic website for updated conditions and detailed information about canoeing and kayaking. Arrange for accommodations and rentals through the Niobrara River Ranch.

See all the summer weekend adventures.

More: See America’s 100 Best Adventures and Long Weekends Like a Local

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50 Best Summer Weekend Adventures: Great adventures are all around us—and summer is the ideal time to seek them. To give you some ideas and inspiration, every weekday we will be sharing a different U.S. summer weekend adventure, state-by-state from A to Z. We invite you to share your favorite summer weekend adventures in the comments section below when your favorite state is featured. Report back after the weekend to tell us about the outdoor adventures you had.