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21 Great Nebraska Road Trip Stops (Including I-80 Attractions)

Road tripping across Nebraska can be long and boring if you don’t have a plan for rest stops (other than “to get to the other side”). Interstate 80 cuts through Nebraska, running east to west and surrounded by mostly flat farmland. If you stick just to the interstate rest stops and visitor centers you’d think Nebraska is pretty dull. Plan a few road trip stops, though, and see a more interesting side to the state.

Stops along Interstate 80

For this route, we’re heading east to west. Most stops are fairly close to the interstate, though a few are a couple miles from it but they’re worth it.

Nebraska I-80 Road Trip Stops

Stops along Highway 20

If you don’t have time constraints for crossing Nebraska, consider taking the more northern route of Highway 20. It’ll take you through smaller towns and the iconic Sandhills. Here are a few stops along the way.

Highway 20 Stops In Nebraska

How far are Nebraska landmarks from the interstate?

I was well into my fourth decade of life before I saw Chimney Rock. Why did it take so long? It’s a little off the beaten path. OK, it’s a lot off the beaten path.

But, it’s a sight I recommend not just every Nebraskan see. Everyone passing through Nebraska should see it, if only to start to understand the role the state played in the pioneering history of America.

Still, a visit to Chimney Rock or any of the following landmarks isn’t as easy as a quick exit off the interstate.

Chimney Rock

Where: 9822 County Road 75, Bayard

Chimney Rock was the most recognizable landmark along the Oregon Trail. It’s located in the Panhandle of Nebraska, which is about 430 miles away. That’s a long drive (just imagine how the pioneers felt).

Chimney Rock at dusk in Nebraska
Photo courtesy Kevin Reiner

But let’s say you’re already driving out west along Interstate 80. How long does it take to get to then?

Well, when you reach Ogallala, you will need to take Highway 26/NE 92 westward toward Bayard. The drive is a little more than 103 miles.

As you drive Highway 26, be sure to look for Jail and Courthouse Rocks. They are two additional landmarks that pioneers spotted along their journey.

The Chimney Rock Visitor Center is located 1.5 miles south of Highway 92 on Chimney Rock Road near the town of Bayard. There is no charge to visit, and you can still enjoy the view of Chimney Rock even when the visitor center is closed.

Related post: 14 National Parks & National Monuments in Nebraska

Scotts Bluff National Monument

Where: 190276 Old Oregon Trail, Gering

Scotts Bluff National Monument is located in the same region as Chimney Rock, and in fact, you follow the same route for it, as well, if you’re traveling along Interstate 80.

When you turn west onto Highway 26/NE 92 at Ogallala, you’ll drive a little more than 120 miles.

The monument is part of the National Park Service and spans more than 3,000 acres. There is no charge to visit.

Smith Falls

Where: 90159 Smith Falls Road, Valentine

The state’s largest waterfall is located in Smith Falls State Park. Being a waterfall and all, it’s not exactly accessible to interstate or highway traffic.

Here’s how to get there: Driving Highway 20, you’ll turn onto Highway 7 North when you reach the town of Bassett. From there, it’s about 24 miles to reach U.S. Highway 183 North. Drive that for 2 miles, and then turn onto NE 12 West for 37 miles. In all, it’s about 63 miles from the main highway.

Snake River Falls

Where: 23 miles southwest of Valentine on Highway 97 

Snake River Falls is considered to be located in Valentine, but it’s considerably southwest of Valentine. To get there, drive Highway 20 into Valentine, and then turn onto NE 97 South for 23 miles until you reach your destination.

It’s a beautiful waterfall, but there are a few things to remember:

  • Snake River Falls is located on private property and isn’t open to fishing, swimming, hiking or camping.
  • You can view the falls from two roped-off viewing points that are open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The fee is $1 per person.
  • The public viewing points are temporarily closed due to the coronavirus until further notice. Doublecheck here to see if it has reopened.

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