Nebraska Tourism has this slogan, perhaps you’ve heard of it: “Nebraska, it’s not for everyone.” It got some good chuckles when it was announced. If you take the time to explore the state, though, I believe you’ll find something for you. Summer is a great time to travel through Nebraska, so, I created a list to inspire some summertime fun. Here are 10 thing to do in Nebraska that are unforgettable.
UPDATE: This post was written in 2019 and updated in June 2023.
Nebraska has more miles of water than any other state, so you bet there are some opportunities to canoe. One of the most scenic and popular waterways is the Niobrara River in north-central Nebraska. The scenic section of the river I’m most familiar with takes about three hours to a half-day to canoe (depending how much you stop) and ends at Rocky Ford. That section takes you right by Smith Falls State Park, where you can park your canoe and walk up to the falls. The outfitter my group has always used is Rocky Ford Camp & Outfitters.
Related post: My Nebraska Bucket List
2. College World Series
The best show on dirt, as they call it, occurs every June in Omaha. The NCAA Division I Men’s College World Series takes place at Schwab Ballpark (used to be called TD AmeriTrade Park) in north downtown. The biggest crowds (and parties) occur that first weekend. If you’ve never been, be sure to check out the Essential Guide To The College World Series.
3. Off-road jeep ride
I never thought I’d be zooming around cliffs in Nebraska, but I had the opportunity to ride in an off-road jeep tour at Fort Robinson State Park. My kids were pretty young at the time, and they enjoyed the thrill. It’s a bit of a rocky experience, but you can’t beat the views of the buttes.
4. Chuckwagon dinner
I have a love affair with the idea of chuckwagon dinners or cowboy cookouts. Truth be told, though, I’ve never been to one. It sounds like the best kind of cookouts, one with a little entertainment with the fresh air. At Fort Robinson State Park, they offer hayrack breakfast rides as well as buffalo stew and steak cookouts. At Niobrara State Park in the summer, they hold buffalo cookouts with entertainment such as cowboy poets and storytellers.
Why canoe or kayak along a river when you can tank it? Tanking involves cruising in style in a water tank originally intended to keep cattle hydrated. Pack snacks and bring a cooler, and enjoy the quintessential Nebraskan ride.
6. Re-live Nebraska history
Learn about Nebraska history by actors taking on the roles of the very people who lived it. One of the closest places to Omaha to see living history is Fort Atkinson Historical State Park, which has historical re-enactments on the first weekend of the month in the summer. One of the most popular weekends is the one near the Fourth of July. Be sure to cover your ears if you happen to catch them firing a cannon!
Other places to catch living history in Nebraska include: Rock Creek Station Historical Park in Fairbury; Fort Kearny State Historical Park in Kearney; Fort Hartsuff State Historical Park in Burwell; and Homestead National Monument of America Education Center in Beatrice, which holds unique events including Homestead Days and Living History Extravaganza.
You can also enjoy interacting with costumed actors at Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer in Grand Island.
The thrills and edge-of-your-seat action are all a part of rodeos in Nebraska. You can catch a weekly rodeo held at Fort Robinson State Park or plan on attending on at NEBRASKALand Days in North Platte or the Pony Express Rodeo in Gothenburg. You can even catch the rodeo in Omaha during AKSARBEN Stock Show & Rodeo.
8. Horseback riding
There are state parks with trail rides near major metropolitan cities like Omaha and Lincoln, including at Platte River State Park and Mahoney State Park. Those rides will be through wooded areas, mostly. If you ask which I prefer, I’d pick Platte River’s trail.
There are plenty of horseback riding options near Omaha, but for a more rugged experience, head west. Trail rides are offered at state parks in western Nebraska including Fort Robinson and Chadron.
9. Summer festivals
Nebraska’s Fourth of July town is Seward, where the celebration is spread out over more than one day. Other summer festivals you might want to see include NEBRASKAland Days in North Platte, Oregon Trail Days in Gering, and the celebration of a fried delicacy…the Testicle Festival in Ashland.
10. Wildlife safari drive-thru
Ever have a bison walk by your passenger window? How about a herd? The Nebraska Wildlife Safari is located half-way between Lincoln and Omaha in eastern Nebraska. See native Nebraska animals up close, including elk, cranes and those bison, as well as wolves, eagles and more.
Midway through, there’s a point where you can park and get out on short trails to see more animals, including some cute goats at the petting zoo.