Top 10 Scenic Drives in Nebraska

The state of Nebraska is the epitome of America’s Midwest with historical markers and scenery that evokes memories of the Old West. Vast grassy prairies dominate the scene, inspiring a sense of hope and an inquisitiveness about the unknown. There is also a rich Native American history and an Eastern European influence with many German and Danish immigrants calling the state home. With so many wide open spaces to explore, it can be difficult to decide where to begin a closer examination of the region. If in doubt, try one of our favorite Nebraska scenic drives on for size:

No. 10 – Schramm State Park Tour

Schramm State Park Tour Nebraska
Flickr user: George Thomas

Starting Location: Gretna, NE
Ending Location: Louisville, NE
Length: 15 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Although this scenic drive is short, the route provides the basis for a pleasant morning or afternoon ride when there is time to stop and explore along the way. Stop in Schramm State Park, which is known for its excellent fishing and on-site Ak-Sar Ben Aquarium. When you leave this day-use area, there are several opportunities to pull over for water recreation on the Platte River before this route ends in Louisville.

No. 9 – Western Trails Scenic & Historic Byway

Western Trails Scenic & Historic Byway Nebraska
Flickr user: mlhradio

Starting Location: Scottsbluff, NE
Ending Location: Ogallala, NE
Length: 124 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

As you pass through the fertile lands formed by the influence of the Platte River, you may feel transported back in time. The town of Front Street features replicas of Western buildings like the lively Crystal Palace Saloon. Then, visit Boot Hill in Ogallala to see the graves of cattlemen and troublemakers from the Old West or Chimney Rock National Historic Site, which once served as a navigational landmark to travelers on horseback.

No. 8 – Outlaw Trail

Outlaw Trail Nebraska
Flickr user: Kelly DeLay

Starting Location: South Sioux City, NE
Ending Location: Valentine, NE
Length: 251 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Twist and turn at the top of steep bluffs overlooking the Missouri and Niobrara Rivers. Travel through green, rolling hills on this drive that passes the same way famous outlaws and lawmen traveled in the Old West. See buffalo herds up close at Fort Niobraro National Wildlife Refuge or hike to the cascading waters of Fort Falls. In Smith Falls State Park near Valentine, see the state’s highest waterfall along with ample birdwatching opportunities.

No. 7 – Loup Rivers Scenic Byway

Loup Rivers Scenic Byway Nebraska
Flickr user: John Carrel

Starting Location: Dunning, NE
Ending Location: Grand Island, NE
Length: 141 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Enjoy rolling hills, vast farmlands, and river views on this drive along the Loup Rivers in the heart of the state. At 2nd Wind Ranch near Dunning, it’s worth stopping to see the assortment of windmills of all shapes and sizes - some of which are about 100 years old. In Burwell, tour the carving tunnels and caverns at Happy Jack Peak and Chalk Mine for a unique experience with plenty of photo opportunities.

No. 6 – Lincoln Highway Scenic & Historic Byway

Lincoln Highway Scenic & Historic Byway Nebraska
Flickr user: Jasperdo

Starting Location: Bushnell, NE
Ending Location: Blair, NE
Length: 452 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This portion of the Lincoln Highway, that passes through Nebraska along the first coast-to-coast highway, showcases a mix of historic sites and wide open spaces to quiet the mind. Visit Buffalo Bill State Historical Park to see where the cowboy legend made his home and view memorabilia that once belonged to Chief Sitting Bull. In Gothenburg, there are two preserved Pony Express stations to explore.

No. 5 – Lewis & Clark Scenic Byway

Lewis & Clark Scenic Byway Nebraska
Flickr user: USFWSmidwest

Starting Location: Sioux City, NE
Ending Location: Omaha, NE
Length: 100 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Largely winding along with the Missouri River, this drive on the eastern border of Nebraska passes through lush woods and two Native American reservations. Birders may enjoy stopping at the DeSoto National Wildlife Refuge near Ft. Calhoun to see migrating ducks and geese in the fall. Ponca State Park provides a nice area for hiking, camping, horseback riding, and other outdoor activities.

No. 4 – Heritage Highway

Heritage Highway Nebraska
Flickr user: JeromeG111

Starting Location: Cambridge, NE
Ending Location: Auburn, NE
Length: 254 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This drive through wooded hills and sweeping prairie lands is as rich in history as it is in simple beauty. Stop at the Homestead National Monument of America near Beatrice, which is situated on the property of the first man to claim land under the Homestead Act and showcases a typical cabin and schoolhouse from that time. In Red Cloud, named for a formed Sioux chief, visit the 1902 Starke Round Barn or try fishing and canoeing in the Republican River.

No. 3 – Gold Rush Byway

Gold Rush Byway Nebraska
Flickr user: John Lillis

Starting Location: Chadron, NE
Ending Location: Sidney, NE
Length: 148 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

With the discovery of gold in the Black Hills of South Dakota in 1874, the route between Sidney, Nebraska and Deadwood, South Dakota rose as a means to transport the wealth along the railroad. This byway largely follows that same path, making a lovely drive through rolling hills and by pristine lakes. In Chadron State Park, seize the opportunity to get closer to nature on one of the many hiking trails or test your luck at catching trout.

No. 2 – Bridges to Buttes Byway

Bridges to Buttes Byway Nebraska
Flickr user: IIP Photo Archive

Starting Location: Harrison, NE
Ending Location: Valentine, NE
Length: 188 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

Connecting towns that once revolved around the railroad, much of this byway has an Old West flavor,yet many of the historically significant stops stretch further back in time than the cowboy era. View fossils that are over 19 million years old at the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument or the Hudson-Meng Bison Bonebed, the site of an ancient and mysterious mass death of bison.End the trip at the Museum of Fur Trade near Valentine, which is located right inside the original 1837 Bordeaux Trading Post.

No. 1 – Sandhills Journey

Sandhills Journey Nebraska
Flickr user: James Holloway

Starting Location: Grand Island, NE
Ending Location: Alliance, NE
Length: 272 miles
Best Season to Drive: Spring, Summer, and Fall
See this drive on Google Maps

This route along Nebraska’s Highway 2 has frequently been deemed one of the most scenic drives in the country, and it doesn’t take travelers long to see why. Before setting off, explore the city of Grand Island and all of its offbeat cultural venues or enjoy a hiking trail through the prairie. The highway later passes through the Nebraska Sandhills - a 20,000 square mile stretch of rolling dunes covered in soft grass - with the hand-planted Nebraska National Forest standing like an oasis in the desert right in the middle of it all.

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