- 200 miles (321 km)
- 4-6 hours, depending on how many points of interest you stop and see.
Extending from east of Valentine (junction of Highways 83 & 20) to the Wyoming border, the Bridges to Buttes Byway journeys through diverse topography and distinctive landscapes. From rolling Sandhills through the Pine Ridge and the Nebraska National Forest onto plateaus from which you can see the Black Hills and into neighboring states, you will experience the sites, solitude and vastness that early travelers and settlers felt as they first saw this region.
The eastern end of this byway conjures up memories of old western movies, the rolling prairie dotted with horses, cattle and genuine, conventional cowboys and cowgirls. If you listen closely, you can just hear the rhythmic beat of a Native American drum of ages past or experience the ceremonies taking place today and learn more about Native American culture and history throughout this region.
This byway also offers a number of sites featuring prehistoric fossils found in the panhandle of Nebraska. Here you can experience first-hand historical frontier military posts, extensive working ranches and an abundance of outdoor recreational opportunities. The Bridges to Buttes Byway connects towns, large and small, that once served as stops for the railroad. Today you can experience these diverse landscapes up close on foot, bike or horse along sections of the Cowboy Trail.
Points of Interest
Points of Interest Along The Way
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument (NE)
The 3,000 acre Agate Fossil Beds is the home of 19.2 millionyear-old Miocene epoch mammal fossils. Like so many other fossilbeds, this area was once a watering hole, thus preserving a varietyof mammals. A life size fossil diorama depicts the life and deathof these animals. The park was once part of "Captain" James H.Cook's Agate Springs Ranch. This ranch was also a place where theOglala Lakota Indian people gathered. Among those was their chief,Red Cloud. On exhibit are many artifacts from the Sioux. There is awhetstone used by Crazy Horse, war club, a pipe used fornegotiations at Fort Laramie, and hide paintings.
Arthur Bowring Sandhills Ranch State Historical Park (NE)
The Arthur Bowring Sandhills Ranch State Historical Park is devoted to preserving the history of the cattle industry in Nebraska of the late 1800s, especially in the unique Sandhills region. These grass-stabilized sand dunes provide some of the best grassland for raising cattle. The ranch house is preserved to show what life would have been like, and the outbuildings, such as the bunkhouse, barns, and corrals, also preserve the working way of life on a cattle ranch. The history of ranching in the area has played an important role. The ranch where the historical park is now was first ranched by Arthur Bowring in 1884. It started with 160 acres, and he added another 480 acres as a result of the Kincaid Act. He married Eva Kelly Forester in 1928. Both she and Arthur were committed to public service, and she served in Washington D.C. It was Eve who wished to preserve the history of cattle ranching in the Sandhills region, and artifacts and memorabilia from the lives of Arthur and Eve Bowring, as well as displays on the cattle industry may be seen at the Visitor's Center.
near Merriman, NE
Chadron State Park (NE)
Chadron State Park is 974 acres set among the beauty of the PineRidge. The Pine Ridge Division of the National Forest surrounds thepark. Dominating the scene are the ponderosa pines that have takento their home here in the generally dry climate. Because thealtitude reaches 5,000 feet in some places, visitors can get abreak from warm summer days. There are hiking trails that you canexplore on foot, bike, or horse. Both modern and primitivecampsites are available. In addition to this, there are cabinaccommodations in the park. Swimming, trout fishing, jeep rides,crafts, and old-time fur trader activities add to the variety ofevents at the park. There are also picnic facilities thataccommodate a nice, relaxing break from the hectic everydaylife.
near Chadron, NE
Cowboy Trail (NE)
This 320-mile (512 km) long trail project from Norfolk toChadron gives abandoned railroad lines a new lease on life ashiking and biking trails. The Rails to Trails Conservancy and theNebraska Game and Parks Commission are developing the Cowboy Trail.When complete, it will be the longest rails to trails project forthe Conservancy. Although this trail runs parallel along theBridges to Buttes Scenic Byway, it intersects with the Outlaw Trailnear Valentine. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy the biking, hikingand equestrian trail, while railroad enthusiasts can catch glimpsesof this region’s colorful railroad past at the many localmuseums along the byway.
Fort Robinson State Park (NE)
Fort Robinson State Park is 22,000 acres of fun. History fromall eras combine with a variety of recreational activities to makethis one Nebraska's largest and most historic state park. Like manyof the forts in this area of the state, Fort Robinson wasestablished as a military post as an Indian Agency protective postin 1874. The fort remained active until 1948. During this time, thefort has seen a wide range of historical events. The fort guardedthe Red Cloud Agency from 1874-1877. Crazy Horse, the victor in theBattle of the Little Big Horn, was bayoneted at Fort Robinsonshortly after he had been arrested and taken there as a prisoner.In 1890s the Buffalo Soldiers were stationed at the fort. It alsohoused WWII German POW's from 1943-1946. Beginning in the fall of1942, K-9 Corps reception and training center was established atthe fort where some 14,000 dogs were trained for the army, navy,coast guard, and civilian agencies.
Today there are many activities that you can enjoy. Horsebackriding or hiking in the Pine Ridge area is a great look at theNebraska panhandle outdoors. Jeep rides, stagecoach rides, and aride on the Tour Train will all give you a feel for the park. Theponds throughout the park offer opportunities to go fishing.Historic buildings and museums through the park give visitors aglimpse into the colorful history of the area and park.
Hudson-Meng Bison Bonebed (NE)
Over 10,000 years ago, hundreds of bison were killedmysteriously at this ancient spring. Ongoing excavations may beviewed by the public when they are in session, and informationprovided helps visitors understand what happened. No one knowsexactly what killed the 600 bison, but stone artifacts from theAlberta culture have been found at the site. The Alberta culturelived 8,000-10,000 years ago and the bison was their main way ofsurvival. Other theories exist about what killed the bison. Youmight picture hundreds of bison being driven over a cliff, however,there is only a gentle rise near the site. Others have proposedthat the bison may have been killed by suffocation in a prairiefire while huddled for protection or they may have been killed bylightning.
near Crawford, NE
Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area (NE)
The Merritt Reservoir is set south of Valentine in the remotestretches of northern Nebraska. This reservoir, however, boastsexcellent fishing. Walleye, crappie, catfish, and white bass canall be found in this deep lake. The Snake River and Boardman Creekfeed into this reservoir. The lake is accessible from numerouspublic boat ramps located along the shoreline. Enjoy your time outin the open air of Nebraska, and bring a picnic. There are picnictables, charcoal-cooking grills, and picnic shelters located here.In addition to this, there are modern and primitive campsites.Nearby McKelvie National Forest and Valentine National WildlifeRefuge offer additional recreational opportunities.
south of Valentine, NE
Museum of the Fur Trade (NE)
The American fur trade was an important era in opening up the western part of the US. The Museum of the Fur Trade documents the lives of the British, French, and Spanish traders, voyageurs, mountain men, buffalo hunter, and Plains and Woodland Indians. The museum is located on the site of the original 1837 Bordeaux Trading Post. There are different collections in the museum, focusing on things such as the Northwest gun, textiles, beads, trade silver, and more. These items all point to the importance of the trade in the area. Many beads, silver, and textiles were important commodities in the trade. Another unique feature of the Museum of the Fur Trade is the Indian Garden. This garden hosts a botanical exhibit of authentic Indian crops. These were important to trading posts because Indian agriculture helped feed the crew at the fort.
near Chadron, NE
Niobrara River (NE)
Often referred to as the "biological crossroads of the Great Plains," the 30-mile (48 km) stretch of Niobrara River east of Valentine, in which Smith Falls is located, is of great biological importance. Along the Niobrara, the ranges of closely related species of eastern and western woodland birds overlap. And in the deciduous forests, an isolated subspecies of eastern wood rats is found 400 miles (640 km) from its nearest relatives in eastern Kansas.
Because of the Niobrara's striking scenery, recreational use and biological diversity, a 70 mile (112 km) segment of the river east of Valentine was designated a National Scenic River in May 1991. At the same time, a 25 mile (40 km) stretch of the Niobrara, from the western border of Knox County to the Missouri River, was designated a Federal Recreational River. In a statement shortly after signing the scenic river bill, former President George Bush called the Niobrara "an outstanding river resource."
The Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge allows visitors a chance to view up-close its resident herd of buffalo. Fort Falls is also within this refuge and is one of the more easily accessible of Nebraska's waterfalls. The falls offer visitors a breathtaking glimpse of the unique geography and geology of this vast region.
Oglala National Grassland (NE)
The Oglala National Grassland covers 94,400 acres of theNebraska panhandle. This ocean of prairie grass brings to mind whatearly settlers found throughout the area. The grass stretches fromhorizon to horizon. Within the area are a variety of wildlife. Youmay see golden eagles, prairie falcons, antelope, mule andwhite-tailed deer, sharp-tailed grouse, and swift fox. There arealso a variety of songbirds that you can see in the area. TheToadstool Geologic Park and the Hudson-Meng Bison Bonebed are bothlocated within the Oglala National Grassland.