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.

  • Like everything Ree Drummond does, the Pioneer Woman Boarding House is over the top in a really good way.⁣
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Guests in the appropriately named Emerald Room receive a true luxury experience especially in the bathroom. With a claw foot tub, walk-through shower, two vanities and two toilets, this room is a jewel. ⁣
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Have you stayed at the @pwboardinghouse? #postcardjar #midlifetravel #emptynesttravel #goplaces #emptynest #emptynesters #midlife #couplestravel #couplestrip #thepioneerwoman #reedrummond #pawhuska #mercantile #pwboardinghouse #oklahoma #ranchlife #oklahoma #visitok @visitoklahoma #okie @VisitOsageCounty
  • Strawberry fields forever...⁣
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While traveling, we adore stopping in farmers markets and checking out the fresh produce available for sale. When we saw these strawberries in Tallinn, Estonia, we just had to take a picture.⁣
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The vibrant color of the berries tells us they were ripened naturally on the vine. You just don't get that color trucked in to a supermarket. And that natural ripening means, of course, that these are some of the sweetest strawberries you'll ever taste. Yum! #postcardjar #midlifetravel #emptynesttravel #goplaces #emptynest #emptynesters #midlife #couplestravel #couplestrip #celebritycruises #cruising #seastheday #cruise #sea #beyondborders #humansatsea #cruiseaddict #cruisecritic #tallinn #lifeisbeautiful #cruiseship #cruiselife #estonia #strawberries #farmersmarket #lifeisshort #visitestonia #adventuregirls #tallinngram #berries
  • On our Baltic Sea cruise, we stopped in Stockholm, Sweden. To get there, we had to sail through the Stockholm Archipelago. ⁣
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For days leading up to our arrival in Stockholm, the captain of the ship kept telling us that we should plan to be up early so we could take in the scenery as we passed through the archipelago. After enough repetitions, we resolved to get up early to see what he was so excited about.⁣
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We are so glad we set the alarm. That morning, we sat on our balcony and had breakfast watching some of the most beautiful scenery we'd ever seen pass by our cabins. We had an up-close view of land that we've rarely had from a cruise ship unless it was docked. ⁣
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Sure, we travel to see specific things. Who doesn't? But we really love it when we find something like this that we didn't know existed, but it is so amazing it enriches our lives and makes us want to go back again and again.
  • In the @visitmasoncityiowa airport, is a new restaurant called CAVU American Kitchen & Cocktail Lounge. Offering chef-crafted foods and incredible cocktails, this restaurant has the best airport food we've ever eaten. In fact, we'll call this airport a destination.⁣
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Pictured here is Chef Cassie's fried potato salad. This was her elimination dish from the show, "Master Chef." Apparently, Wolfgang Puck didn't think much of it. After trying it, we don't think much of Wolfgang Puck's taste.⁣
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This dish, which is served warm, is composed of crispy fried potato chunks covered in delicious potato salad dressing. The combination of flavors and textures had us going back for more. #postcardjar #midlifetravel #emptynesttravel #goplaces #emptynest #emptynesters #midlife #couplestravel #couplestrip #midwestliving #midwestlivingmag  #midwestmoment #igersmidwest #midwestisbest #masoncity #clearlake @masoncity
  • In Rochester, Minnesota, in the shadow of the famed Mayo Clinic, is a beautiful pedestrian area called the Peace Plaza. Because of its location, it's often the last area a person walks through as they go to the clinic hoping for help. And, it's the first place people pass as they leave the clinic sometimes with good news, other times to confront their own mortality.⁣
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The designers of the plaza seemed to understand the huge role the space would play in the lives of the people coming through. They designed it as a calming, meditative space filled with tranquility. It's a place you can refocus a little, and take some time to transition from the clinic to the world. And, it's just one more example of the ways that @minnesotas_rochester demonstrates humanity to the hundreds of thousands of visitors who come each year to the clinic.
  • Are these salt and pepper shakers not the cutest?? Pawhuska, Oklahoma, is a magical place at Christmastime. We stopped by the @pwmercantile this morning and snapped a few new pics. Getting excited for the Holiday Lights Parade tonight!
  • We have four holiday gift guides up on the blog for the traveler, home cook, cruise lover, and road tripper on your shopping list! Just click on the link in our bio to check out our blog. ⁣
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One of our all-time favorite items (it made two of our lists) are these @EagleCreek packing items. This starter set goes with us on every single trip. Last year, Steve packed 16 size XXL shirts in on of them. They are super lightweight, safe space in your suitcase, and help you stay organized as your travel. ⁣
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What are your favorite gift ideas for travelers this year? ⁣
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#postcardjar #midlifetravel #emptynesttravel #goplaces #emptynest #emptynesters #midlife #couplestravel #couplestrip #giftideas #giftsfortravelers #traveler #travelgifts #giftguide #roadtrippin #packingtips #packingbags #howtopack #packlight #eaglecreek #celebritycruises #travelblogger #packing #packinghack #giftsph #holidayshopping #giftidea #travelgram #packing101
  • Who's ready for some pumpkin pie??⁣
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The thought of digging in to a piece of pumpkin pie (served with a cup of coffee with pumpkin spice creamer) takes us back to a small town festival we love. ⁣
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A few years ago, our town of Crete, Nebraska, began holding the Great Pumpkin Festival during the first weekend of October.⁣
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From spring to fall, local volunteers tend gardens filled with pumpkin vines so that folks who come to the festival can take home a reasonably priced, locally-grown pumpkin. ⁣
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The festival is full of games, food, performances and fun. It's a wholesome day where the town turns out to celebrate another year together in a relaxed, calm atmosphere.⁣
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Does your town have a festival? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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