Valentine, Nebraska is an easy place to love. And not just because of its name, either.

When we took our trip around Nebraska this summer with my folks, we knew that one of our stops had to be Valentine. There is just so much to see and do in and around this city of only 2,803.

Our first stop was Nebraska’s tallest waterfall, the 70′ high Smith Falls. Nebraska as a rule isn’t thought of as a state with beautiful waterfalls or even a place where there might be a sudden, 70′ change in elevation. Smith Falls is a beautiful exception to that thinking.

We arrived at Smith Falls State Park early in the day and were surprised to discover that we were the only ones there. We’ve normally gone later in the afternoon when the falls have a number of people visiting, wading under the falls and cooling down from the heat of the day. This time, we were all alone. Watch the video below to see what it’s like to go to one of Nebraska’s most beautiful destinations and have the place to yourself.

While most folks park in the parking lot above and use steps down to the river, those with disabilities can access the falls by driving down to the river and parking before taking the wheelchair-accessible path to the falls. All folks visiting Valentine, though, should plan a couple hours to make the trip to Smith Falls.

From there, we headed back toward Valentine, pausing at the scenic overlook that overlooks the scenic Niobrara River valley. (I’m not sure Ann thinks that ‘scenic’ sentence is as clever as I do.) If you like seeing beautiful views when you travel — and who doesn’t — then you’ll definitely want to stop here.

Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge overlook, Valentine, Nebraska

Steve’s mom overlooks the scenic view of the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge.

The land on the far side of the river in this photo makes up the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge, one of our favorite stops when visiting Valentine and a place we really wanted to take my parents. We love driving slowly along the roads while watching prairie dogs pop in and out of their dens. They are so fun to watch!

Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge prairie dog, Valentine, Nebraska

A prairie dog pops out of its den at the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge.

We also love driving into the field that serves as home to the reserve’s herd of bison. We love watching these majestic, 1,400 lb. animals roam the open prairie. On this particular trip, we even watched a few majestically wander onto the road between our car and the reserve’s exit. One of them even majestically lay down on the road, meaning that we had to wait a bit to leave. Think of it as a Sandhills traffic jam.

Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge bison, Valentine, Nebraska

We found ourselves stuck in traffic at the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge.

Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge bison, Valentine, Nebraska

Bison grazing at the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge.

Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge bison, Valentine, Nebraska

Mature bison graze as two bison calves relax in the summer sun at the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge.

After the bison mosied off the road, we headed back into Valentine, our sights set on a new (to us, anyway) destination. Built in 1897, Centennial Hall is Nebraska’s oldest still-standing school building. Legend says it’s haunted by the spirit of a girl who was fatally poisoned via her clarinet reed in the 1940’s. Locals are aware of that legend and even say weird things happen in the building, though we couldn’t find anyone who remembers hearing anything about an actual murder.

Centennial Hall exterior, Valentine, Nebraska

The exterior of Centennial Hall Museum. This building is the oldest still-standing school building in Nebraska.

Now a museum, it is put together unlike any museum we’ve seen. They have converted classrooms into “theme” rooms.

Centennial Hall, Valentine Nebraska exhibit directory

The exhibit directory at Centennial Hall

One room has been subdivided into what different rooms in houses would have looked like in the early days of Valentine and includes some sort of hair styling machine. Another room is dedicated to fashion over the years. Still another features memorabilia from Valentine High School, while another room houses a collection of thousands of bells. Each of the 10+ rooms was well done and chock full of interesting artifacts.

Centennial Hall, electric hair curler, Valentine, Nebraska

We had never seen a hair curling device quite like this one we found at Centennial Hall. A number of readers remember them, though.

We were tickled when we found a stack of “Kitchen Klatter” magazines. Published in my hometown of Shenandoah, Iowa, the magazines took my folks and me down memory lane — especially when we found the issue with the photo of my brother on the cover as he prepared to start kindergarten.

Kitchen Klatter Magazine, Centennial Hall, Valentine, Nebraska

Steve holds up the Kitchen Klatter Magazine issue that featured his brother on the cover. My mom insists that his plaid pants were very stylish back in the day.

The ladies who volunteer at Centennial Hall are wonderfully nice, and we could have chatted with them all day. Of course they wouldn’t let us leave without them making a copy of the cover and pertinent pages from the magazine for us, either.

From Centennial Hall we headed downtown to the Plains Trading Company. Ann and I had heard about this bookstore in a class on Nebraska travel we taught and had made a note to stop in the next time we visited Valentine. This store is definitely worth a stop.

Plains Trading Company book display, Valentine, Nebraska

A book display featuring area books at the Plains Trading Company.

With unique books from Nebraska as well as national bestsellers, the shop has art, teacher supplies, coffee, candles, and a huge line of Burt’s Bees products. I think we spent about an hour in that store, and had a great time.

Plains Trading Company interior, Valentine, Nebraska

The Plains Trading Company in Valentine is a great store.

Of course, no visit to Valentine is complete without pausing for a picture under the iconic heart in downtown. After all, Valentine is the heart city.

Valentine, Nebraska heart sign

Make sure you pause to take a photo under the heart sign in Valentine.

After a long day, we returned to our rooms at the Raine Motel where we freshened up and then went for dinner in the outdoor portion of their Neon restaurant. The delicious meal capped off a wonderful day visiting one of our favorite Nebraska destinations.

We didn’t get to everything on our list as we would have needed another day to walk on the Cowboy Trail bridge and take the kayaking/tubing/canoeing/tanking trip down the Niobrara that we keep meaning to take. But that just means we’ll have to go back. And considering we love Valentine, that’s not a bad thing.


Up next on our Nebraska adventure, we visit the mill in Neligh before heading into Norfolk.

  • The Rooftop Garden is a unique space on the top deck of the @celebrityedge. There’s no water slide on this ship, no go-carts, and the’s no rock wall for climbing. Instead the Rooftop Garden provides a “living urban playscape inspired by childhood playgrounds and designed to waken the inner child in all of us,” according to the Celebrity Cruises website. There are live plants, comfortable outdoor seating, and unique art installations that set the space apart from anything else at sea. @cruisecelebrity
  • Blu is a restaurant on the Celebrity Edge that is dedicated to guests in Aqua Class.  It serves “clean, crisp flavors and inventive cuisine” in a gorgeous blue venue. To give you an example of the types of entrees served, for dinner tonight Blu is offering seared duck breast with wilted chard, farro risotto, and black cherry jus; a cracked pepper corn-crusted tuna salad, watercress, and dijon vinaigrette; and pumpkin gnocchi with sautéed arugula, sundries tomatoes, marinated artichokes, goat cheese and basil pesto. What would you order?
  • Yes, cruise ships are huge, but if you do a little exploring, you’ll find that the designers have included many small spots perfect for intimate conversation and watching the world go by. We found this nook in Eden, on deck 5 of the Celebrity Edge, near the stern.
  • Last Sunday we began the second half of our very first back-to-back cruise on the Celebrity Edge. We’ve had the best cruise vacation and have enjoyed every single minute of our vacation. The Edge  been an ideal place to relax, recharge, and prepare for a new year. We’ve also used this time to try new things and focus on a healthy lifestyle. Thank you all for coming along on our journey and sharing your sweet comments with us along the way. We are grateful for each of you.
  • We just love these guys!! These two characters were the bartenders on the Retreat Sundeck for our cruise aboard the Celebrity Edge. Johannes and Vince created a light, fun atmosphere and made you want to go to the pool every day. Their personalities helped make the Retreat a welcoming place with professional service. We shouldn’t be surprised, though. We found similar cheerfulness in crew around every corner of the Edge, under the command of @captainkatemccue.
  • A refreshing drink...⁣
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Something we've done this cruise is work to find drinks we could enjoy by the pool that didn't have lots of calories from alcohol or sugar. Thankfully, @celebritycruises has some pretty great bartenders willing to help us out. ⁣
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To make this drink, Vince, our Retreat bartender, first muddled some lemons and limes in the bottom of a shaker. He then poured a little fresh lime juice over it, added a couple of mint leaves, and then ice. Finally, he shook the mixture, then poured it into a glass before adding diet Sprite to the top. ⁣
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What we got was a delicious, refreshing drink that really satisfied on a warm day by the pool. The best part is that it only had a few calories from the lime juice.⁣
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We think we'll have another.⁣
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  • Isn’t she beautiful? The @celebrityedge is like no other ship at sea. Her striking bow is distinct and efficient. Plus, we think it just looks cool. We took this rare nighttime photo from the pier in San Juan, Puerto Rico after docking near sunset giving us a completely different view of the same alluring ship. @captainkatemccue and her team have given us a glorious week at sea that we will never forget.
  • Sailing into and docking in San Juan, Puerto Rico tonight on the @celebritycruises @celebrityedge took our breath away. You can watch a live video on our Facebook page @postcardjar.

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