Last Updated on May 4, 2021 by Jody Halsted
Today's guest is Jenn Gjerde, the current marketing manager for the Nebraska Tourism Commission. A former TV news reporter, Jenn worked all across the state of Nebraska covering record flooding, elections and more before being hired by the commission in 2015.
Like most people, I've driven across Nebraska – east to west and back again – and it is a long (long) trek. I've also ridden Amtrak across the state – but that takes place overnight (both ways). Though Interstate 80 is the most direct path across the state, it certainly doesn't share many amazing highlights.
People need to remember that the interstate and train systems were built in the flattest part of the state they could find for ease so it doesn't show off a range of beauty at all.
Many people think Nebraska is just one large flat cornfield, but the reality is Nebraska has beautiful bluffs that line the eastern part of the state along the Missouri River. And then the central part of the state is natural prairie, which is the beautiful Sand Hills. And then when you get to the Western part of the state, you find the Buttes and the area that leads into the Rockies and the Badlands. So it's actually very hilly as you get further West in Nebraska.
If you go into some old pioneer diaries, Nebraska has western landmarks documented in a lot of ways. One is Chimney Rock, very popular tourism destination, but also well-documented with pioneers. Today Chimney rock has a brand new visitor center that actually opened just last year.
Visit Nebraska Travel Highlights
- Sandhill Crane Migration – every spring more than half a million Sand Hill cranes will roost on the Platte River valley, which is Central Nebraska.
- If people love birding, they can also come and see the mating rituals of prairie chickens or bald eagles on Lake McConaughy in Western Nebraska. There's lots of different birding options for people.
- Toadstool Geologic Park in the very, very far Northwest part of Nebraska. It's the ‘entryway to the Badlands', but you do the hike there you'd literally feel like you're walking on the moon because it's just so unique. There is also an active dig site on a Bison bone bed.
Visiting Nebraska's Cities
Omaha is Nebraska's largest city and it's probably most well known for two things. One being the home of the College World Series and two the Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, of course ranked one of the top zoos in the world.
Lincoln has beautiful state capital building that is an architectural wonder. One fun fact about it is that it was built debt-free. So they really had a plan when they built it. We're also a unicameral system, which is extremely unique. So we don't have a house and a Senate. We have one party and I think, I believe we're the only state in the continental US like that. So it's a fun government lesson if you need one.
Lincoln also has a children's zoo, which is greatly different from the Omaha zoo, but it's a great day trip and it's very hands-on. Lots of hands-on experiences.
Boys Town was started by Father Flanagan in 1917, and it became a national organization for saving children and healing families. And it was made famous in the 1930s by a movie about Boys Town that won an Oscar.
Quirky Nebraska Sites
Carhenge is a fun stop. It's a replica of Stonehenge made out of cars. It was built in the late '80s. It's just sculptures of old car parts. It's not just the car hinge circle anymore. There's other sculptures that are made out of car parts and people love to just stop there.
Just a mile down the road from Carhenge is the Nebraska Rest Area, which is a hay bale rest stop with a toilet sitting on it. Super quirky.
Bob is the bridge that connects Omaha to Iowa and it's a pedestrian bridge and you can literally stand in two states at one time. Bob has his own Instagram page who's on personality, from what I hear, Bob is trying to date around. He would love to get on with like a date with the Golden Gate Bridge or something, but he hasn't quite got there. And as of last year, he has a new friend, OMAR the Troll that lives underneath.
Outdoor Activities in Nebraska
- The Cowboy Trail – a rails to trails conversion that is 195 miles long, from Valentine, NE to Norfolk (northwest to northeast). The trail is not completed yet- it could continue to the Wyoming border.
- Go tanking – think of a big metal cattle tank and you throw it on and you throw a radio in and a cooler and get 10 friends in there and you just float down the river.
- There are seven state parks in Nebraska. And this year is a huge year for our state parks because it's actually the Centennial for state parks.
Nebraska's BIG 3 in 2021
State Park Centennial
Olympic Swim Trials- Still learning what this will look like
150th Arbor Day celebration
Get Your Nebraska Travel Guide
VisitNebraska.com to order or download a free travel guide.
Also go to nebraskapassport.com. The Passport is an annual that highlights 70 different stops every year across the state. In 2020 over 1000 people visited all 70 stops.