It seems like a fitting time of year to write about a place we love to visit — Valentine, Nebraska. Meghan and I drove to Valentine for the first time on one of our annual Nebraska road trips when she was in middle school. We went to see Smith Falls, Nebraska’s largest waterfall, but ended up discovering so much more in this north central Nebraska town at the heart of Cherry County.
We loved the beautiful Nebraska Sandhills that led us there, the views of the Niobrara River and historic Cowboy Trail. Valentine was so much more than we ever expected, and our family always looks forward to returning to the Heart City. Here are a few of the many reasons we love Valentine.
We can stand underneath a waterfall
We don’t see waterfalls in most parts of our state, so a visit Smith Falls is always a treat. Nebraska’s highest waterfall, Smith Falls, is located in the Niobrara River Valley and its spring-fed water falls almost 70 feet. The falls are part of Smith Falls State Park and admission only requires a state park permit. The short hike to the falls is not difficult but does include a steep flight of steps at the start. Before reaching the falls, you get to cross a historic truss bridge that spans the Niobrara River where you can watch people tubing (or tanking) below. There’s also a nature trail you can hike through a portion of the Niobrara River Valley known as the “biological crossroads of the Great Plains,” where six distinct biological systems meet.
We love standing the base of the falls, dipping our feet in the water, and gazing up at one of Nebraska’s most beautiful views.
The prairie dogs are entertaining
I could drive around the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge for hours (just ask Steve). Just five miles east of Valentine on Highway 12, this refuge is home to bison, elk and hundreds of the most adorable prairie dogs you’ll ever see. Each time we’ve been there, we’ve been able to see and photograph all three.
A self-guided driving tour allows you to stop and go as you please and sit quietly and watch the wildlife. I just love watching the majestic bison roam the prairie and could lean out the car window watching the prairie dogs day long. To me, the ways they chase each other, dive in holes, and stand at attention on their mounds is just great entertainment.
We found the cleanest salt shakers in Nebraska there
We loved this restaurant not only for its great food, but also because it continues to be the cleanest place we’ve ever eaten on a Nebraska road trip. We stayed at the Raine Motel again last summer and were delighted to see that the restaurant had grown a bit and now has outdoor seating, which was a great place to relax with a beer and some BBQ pulled pork nachos.
Owners Tim and Dana Colvin operate both the motel and the restaurant and are two of the most hospitable people we’ve met.
Another restaurant we love there is The Peppermill. We are still dreaming about the savory garlic bread, grilled with the steaks and served with beef au jus. Not only does The Peppermill have great food and service, owner Robert Joseph writes THE BEST manager responses we’ve ever read on Trip Advisor.
We can’t get enough of the Sandhills
Speaking of the Sandhills, this is probably what makes us love Valentine the most. To get there, you have to drive through the rolling sandhills of Nebraska with views like we’ve ever seen. This whole region is just so beautiful. The Sandhills, made up of mixed-grass prairie on grass-stabilized sand dunes cover about one fourth of our state and make for some of the most scenic drives in the Midwest.
We hope you’ll visit Valentine someday. Trust us, you’ll fall in love, too.
A few more things to love about the Valentine, Nebraska.
The Valentine Post Office stamps approximately 10,000 Valentine’s Day cards with their special cachet each year and then re-mails for people who want their valentines post marked from the Heart City.
Special events like the Nebraska Star Party, Bull Bash, Cowboy Fast-Draw competitions, Old West Days, and the Cherry County Fair.
Cowboy Trail – The Cowboy Trail rails to trails project converted the abandoned Chicago and Northwestern railroad into a crushed limestone trail with wooden decked bridges. 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!
Golfing at The Prairie Club – I’ve played this course a few times and it is amazing. Just 17 miles of south of Valentine, The Prairie Club offers two world class golf courses plus a challenging par 3 course. The Dunes course has wide fairways, huge sand traps, and natural grasses of the hills for the rough.
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!
For more information about Valentine, go to www.visitvalentine.org.