This 72,000-acre refuge is set in a beautiful combination of rolling sandhills and pristine spring-fed lakes. Nine of the lakes are open to fishing year-round, offering bass, northern pike, perch, and bluegill. Fishing hours are sunup to sundown, and only electric motors are allowed. The refuge is also home to great hunting habitat and is well-known for its sharp-tailed grouse and prairie chicken populations. Deer, pheasant, and waterfowl hunting are allowed in season. Waterfowl hunting is limited, so check with the refuge for its game regulations.
If just enjoying the peace and quiet is what you prefer, there is plenty of space for hiking, including a self-guided interpretive trail. Spectacular bird watching awaits as well. During their annual migration, thousands of ducks and geese stop to feed. In April and May, photo blinds are placed on prairie chicken and sharp tailed grouse booming grounds.
Located just northeast of Valentine in a pine-covered valley, the Valentine Fish Hatchery is one of five hatcheries in the state. Spread over 700 acres, the hatchery handles millions of fish eggs annually. In most years, lakes in Cherry County alone are stocked with some 675,000 fish.
Just to the north, Government Canyon—a 640 acre area—offers prime wildlife habitat and activities including hiking, biking, bird watching, and hunting in specified areas.
(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.
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.