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.

Our stop at Smith Falls State Park last summer.

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.

Smith Falls near Valentine is the highest waterfall in Nebraska.

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.

I could watch the prairie dogs at the Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge for hours.

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 herd of bison at Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge.

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.

Inside Neon Restaurant in Valentine.

We found the cleanest salt shakers in Nebraska there

We wrote a blog post a couple years ago about our stay at the Neon Bar and Grill at the Motel Raine in Valentine.

Neon, in Valentine was, by far, the cleanest restaurant in which we ate during our week-long trip across Nebraska. Even the salt and pepper shakers were clean! (photo by Ann Teget for www.postcardjar.com)

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.

Peppermill garlic bread, Valentine, Nebraska

The garlic bread at the Peppermill comes au jus for dipping.

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.

The Nebraska Sandhills near Valentine.

 

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.  

  • We had a few windy days in the #FloridaKeys this week that stirred up the waters. It created the most gorgeous colors in the Atlantic Ocean including this area at Sombrero Beach.
  • We miss waking up on the Celebrity Edge. That's all.
  • We've been having the best time in the Florida Keys visiting Steve's mom and dad this week. Today, it was cold for Floridians, but we loved the sunshine (and were thankful for awesome neighbors who were likely shoveling the snow from our driveway back home).⁣
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We are so thankful for a flexible schedule and opportunities like this one to share time with family. Life seems to pass us by so quickly the older we get and we're fortunate to be able to travel and share experiences with the people we love most. ⁣
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Feeling especially blessed tonight, in the beautiful Florida Keys.
  • We enjoyed a delicious dinner tonight at Hideaway Cafe on Grassy Key with Steve's mom and dad. We went early at 5 p.m. for the sunset dinner menu which has smaller portions and the most beautiful views of the sunset. ⁣
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The food was fresh and made-to-order and served by gracious and professional staff who made us feel right at home. ⁣
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Hideaway is a great restaurant choice for dinner if you're in the Florida Keys. Get a reservation ahead of time, as it fills up quickly, even at 5 p.m.
  • Need some inspiration for staying healthy while traveling? Good news! We are taking over the @noom Instagram stories this afternoon and hope you’ll all follow along as we share tips on how to make healthy living choices while on a cruise ship. We’ll take you inside the beautiful @celebritycruises Edge and show you how we stayed on track with our Noom goals while still enjoying a fantastic cruise vacation. Be sure to follow @noom! Our takeover has just begun. 😁
  • 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.

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