Valentine, NE 69201
- National Park
The Niobrara River drains over 12,000 square miles of the Sandhills, one of the largest stabilized dunefields in the world. Take a leisurely float on this outstanding Great Plains river in north-central Nebraska. You'll be pleasantly surprised to see pine-clad hills and prairie, numerous waterfalls, tall sandstone cliffs and wildlife like deer, bison, elk, beaver, mink, herons and kingfishers.
Hours + Fees
Floating and Paddling Standard Hours
Most of the river itself is open 24 hours a day, with the exception of the river that flows through Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge. The river in that stretch is open from sunrise to sunset. Please use caution: because the NPS does not own the land, different sites and private businesses have their own hours. Please ensure that you are following individual landowner regulations when you launch, take out, or visit individual areas.
Niobrara National Scenic River Visitor Center
214 W. Highway 20
Memorial Day through Labor Day: 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m, daily.
Rest of the year: 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Closed weekends and holidays.
The visitor center offers a seven-minute film, several temporary displays revealing the importance of the Niobrara National Scenic River, and a hands-on table. Professional exhibits and a new film are being developed. The exhibits should be available installed in late summer of 2015, and the film should be available in mid-2016.
Two visitor centers (managed by other agencies) along the river offer visitor information and interpretive displays:
Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
4 miles east of Valentine off of Hwy 12.
Exhibits explains Fort Niobrara history, local wildlife, and refuge management. Several wayside exhibits addressing Scenic River use and safety are located at the Fort Niobrara launch site.
Smith Falls State Park
Nebraska Game and Parks Commission
15 miles east of Valentine on Hwy 12 and 4 miles south on a gravel road
Open May through mid-September.
280 N. Main Street
The Niobrara Council is a state-recognized organization dedicated to assist the National Park Service and other partners in managing the Niobrara River, coordinating development and carrying out a conservation easement program. Here you can find visitor information as well.The 16 member council has representatives from local, state and federal governments, local landowners, county commissioners, area industries and the environmental community.
Public River Access & Trails: The western reach of the Scenic River has public access points at the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, Smith Falls State Park, and the Middle Niobrara Natural Resource District's Brewer Bridge landing. Other landings are privately owned. Please contact the outfitters for more information.
Nature trails are found at the refuge and state park. The Fort Niobrara Refuge also features a driving tour through elk and bison pastures and a prairie dog colony. The hike to Fort Falls is fairly short and provides a spectacular view.
Most people visit the Niobrara National Scenic River from mid-May through mid-October. The primary season for paddling and floating occurs in June, July and August.
During spring floating conditions, be prepared for variable or unsettled weather and higher water levels. Many migratory birds pass through the valley and nesting Canada geese are often encountered.
June is generally a month of transition and by July temperatures can soar into the 90's and low 100's. The hot weather usually lasts through August.
Fall brings cooler temperatures, brilliant leaf colors and clearer water. Winter floats are possible (using private equipment) if the river has not iced over. The Cornell Bridge to Smith Falls stretch is normally ice free for most of the winter.
There are no fees to enter the Niobrara NSR. However, because the NPS does not own the land along the river, individual sites and private landowners may charge a fee.
Map + Directions
Most visitors travel to Valentine, Nebraska to start a float trip or to tour the river valley. The Niobrara National Scenic River Visitor Center is located in Valentine at 214 W. Highway 20. If the office is closed, please visit the Chamber of Commerce on Main Street to obtain park information. Other nearby communities have information about this scenic river as well.