(RECENTLY RE-OPENED) – Open Daily 9-5 Among Nebraska’s most spectacular waterfalls, Snake River Falls tumbles over a 54 foot wide ledge and flows 12 miles to the Niobrara River. When the Snake River is full, it is the largest waterfall in Nebraska by volume. The waterfall is located 23 miles southwest of Valentine on Highway 97. Only 3 miles from Merritt Reservoir. Because access to the falls is on private property, it is not well marked. Your turn will be on the west side of the road about a 1/4 of a mile after the canal crosses the highway. Watch for a windmill, large water tank and a few trees. This will be your cue to turn.
You can view the falls from trails on both sides of the Snake Falls Sportsman’s Club building. (Please note: You can no longer hike down the canyon to the base of the falls.) Admission is only $1.00, and there is a pay box in front of the Sportsman’s Club building. Please be respectful of the property when you visit. Do not cross any barriers. Use provided receptacles for all trash. We are privileged to be able to have this beautiful sight open to public access, and would appreciate every effort to adhere to all posted restrictions.
Note – Limited space for turning around with campers and trailers.
Merritt Reservoir is an oasis amid the giant oasis of the Sandhills. The lake has almost 3,000 acres of water, pure sand beaches, and 73 miles of tree-lined shore. Merritt is one of the top trophy fisheries in the state with dozens of master angler and state records caught here. It is well known for its walleye; however, the lake also boasts largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, channel catfish, perch, crappie, bluegill, northern pike, and muskellunge.
The pure water and beautiful beaches are perfect for boating, swimming, or just hanging out on the beach. There is one resort and some secluded campgrounds on the lake; otherwise the surrounding shores are undeveloped. Hookups are available at several locations, with plenty of primitive camping as well.
Five miles east of Valentine on Highway 12 is Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge. It is home to a herd of bison, a herd of elk, and a prairie dog town. A driving tour there will allow you to find all three on most occasions. A beautiful three-quarter-mile hiking trail near the Niobrara River will take you by Fort Falls—one of the area’s prettier waterfalls—and wind down along the scenic river.
As the name indicates, the refuge is the site of a frontier fort. Fort Niobrara was active from 1879 to 1906 and was used as a cavalry remount station until 1911. The visitor center on the grounds has photos and a history of the fort. Also on display are fossils of long-jawed mastodons, giant bison, and three-toed horses.
Today, Fort Niobrara is a National Wildlife Refuge for bison, elk, and prairie dogs. However, as the name indicates, Fort Niobrara was not always for wildlife. In the late 1870s, settlers in northern Nebraska became fearful of an attack by the Lakota Indians from the newly created Rosebud Reservation.
In response, the US government created Fort Niobrara to “contain and control” the Lakota people of the area. At it’s peak in the early 1890s, the Fort garrisoned around 500 men. When the Spanish American War began in 1898, though, the Fort lost much funding and was left with less than 100 men.
The Fort would never reach its early 1890s heights again, and it was closed down only eight years later. Despite its relatively short time of operation, the Fort had a large impact on the region around Valentine. The protection it provided settlers drew many people to the area and its crack down on cattle thieves in had a great economic impact on the ranchers of the county. In fact, Cherry County was named after one of the lieutenants stationed at the Fort: Samuel A. Cherry.
But its closing in 1906 was not the end for Fort Niobrara. In 1912, Teddy Roosevelt made the area a National Reservation via executive order and used the foundation left behind by the Fort to jump-start the project. Originally intended to protect birds native to the sandhills, the refuge expanded to also oversee and maintain multiple herds of bison, a large population of elk, and a prarrie dog town. These are certainly not the only animals that can be found on the Refuge, but they are the only ones they manage.
Fort Niobrara is great place to discover and learn about sandhills wildlife, and with over 19,000 acres of land to explore, there is plenty to see. Open from sunrise to sunset, the Refuge has plenty of activities available that have been pleasing visitors for years.
Hikes such as a the “strenuous,” mile-long Fort Falls hike and a 3.5 mile-long self-guided tour of the area near the visitors center allow guests to observe the Refuge’s beautiful landscapes, foliage, and wildlife.
Speaking of visitor’s centers, the Refuge’s has many exhibits on the history of the fort as well as fossils from interesting, ancient animals such as the mastodon and giant bison. The visitors center also puts on many exhibits throughout the year. For instance, the Bison Roundup and Kid’s Fishing Day are visitor favorites. Activities such as tubing down the Niobrara, fishing, and hunting are also available to guests at the Refuge.
Finally, a scenic drive through the park is perfect if you want to quickly experience the beauty and wonder of the Refuge. I very much encourage you to give the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge a visit. Not only is it filled to the brim with interesting history, but the the park itself, and the animals it houses, are simply breathtaking.
The Cowboy Trail rails to trails project converted the abandoned Chicago and Northwestern railroad into a crushed limestone trail with wooden decked bridges. Currently, the trail is open from Valentine east to Norfolk—almost 200 miles! It is planned to eventually go west to Chadron for a total of 320 miles. One of the most spectacular parts of the trail is the old train trestle that crosses the Niobrara River just outside of Valentine. It is a quarter of a mile long and towers 150 feet above the river. The view is breathtaking!
The Valentine City Park is located just outside of town on North Main Street. Stately oak trees surround Minnechaduza Creek, which flows through the 40-acre park. It is open year-round and offers camping, fishing, a disc golf course, and hiking on more than a mile of trails. There is a rentable pavilion with a full kitchen and seating for up to 80 people and restrooms which offer free hot showers. A Girl Scout cabin on the northwest end of the park is also available for rent. Just across the road, the Mill Pond is a small stocked lake with fishing docks and a boat ramp. Only electric motors are allowed on boats. Down the road is the fish hatchery pond, which is also stocked and offers great fishing.
It’s unique, has views you’ll dream about, and will challenge you to come back and visit again and again at the Frederick Peak Golf Club in Valentine, Nebraska. Designed by the duo, Tom Lehman and Chris Brands of the Lehman Design Group, this public course will be a delight to play regardless of your experience as a golfer. The Lehman Design Group also designed the famous Dunes Course at The Prairie Club which is among one of the top courses to play in the United States. The 10 hole course gives majestic views of the Sandhills and Frederick Peak, a local landmark for which it’s named. Featuring a driving range and two practice putting greens, Frederick Peak Golf Club will be in your dreams, particularly on sweet summer days where you’ll challenge yourself with each of the 10 holes.
One of the Niobrara River Valley’s many waterfalls, Smith Falls is the highest in the state. The spring-fed water drops almost 70 feet and then flows into the Niobrara River. A short hike and a walk across a historic truss bridge that spans the Niobrara River will take you to a walkway to the falls. Nearby you can also find the Jim McAllister Nature Trail—a self- guided hiking trail that is more than a mile long and leads through a portion of the Niobrara River Valley. This area is also known as the “biological crossroads of the Great Plains,” where six distinct biological systems meet.
The beautiful Niobrara River attracts thousands of visitors every year. Designated as a National Scenic River by Congress in 1991, it’s also part of the National Parks family. The river winds through deep canyons with high cliffs, around pine-topped hills, and past many waterfalls. Trips down the river can be made by canoe, tube, kayak, and even stock tank! And your journey can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days.