- 238 miles (383 km)
- 7 hours
The wild west era where famous outlaws, horse thieves, lynchmobs, and lawmen ruled this area is past. Today along the OutlawTrail (Nebraska Highway 12), you'll be greeted only by friendlyfolks and big smiles as well as plenty of quiet hideaways.
Extending from the metropolitan area of South Sioux City to the"Old West" in Valentine, the Outlaw Trail Byway meanders alongsidethe Niobrara and Missouri Rivers where steep bluffs andtree-shrouded slopes give way to lush, rolling green hills. Thedeep canyons and ample tree cover surrounding Devil's Nest createda meeting point and hideout area for Jesse James and his gang. Onthe western end of the byway, verdant farmland graduates into thewide open spaces of ranching country and the massive Sandhillsregion of Nebraska.
Captain Meriwether Lewis and Lieutenant William Clark's Corps ofDiscovery Expedition was the nation's epic exploration of theAmerican West in 1804-06. This 8,000-mile excursion up the MissouriRiver to the Pacific Ocean navigated through this area. Documentedsites from their journey still can be seen here today. The"Nebraska Everglades," a region that borders two national riversand several lakes, is full of outdoor recreationalopportunities.
Following the Outlaw Trail takes you through the Santee SiouxReservation, which is home to 750 tribal members. This region isknown for its friendly people, small towns, and immense landscapes.If you are respectable folks who are craving scenic beauty orwishing to explore this region's colorful history, then the OutlawTrail is a route you shouldn't miss.
Points of Interest
Points of Interest Along The Way
Ashfall Fossil Beds State Historical Park (NE)
After a major deposit of volcanic ash, Ashfall Fossil Beds StatePark contains the fossilized remains of 10-million-year-old mammalsthat died at a watering hole following a massive volcanic eruption.This site is the only one of its kind in the world. Rhinos, horses,camels, birds and turtles were caught in falling ash 10 millionyears ago. The nature of their quick burial preserved theskeletons, often intact and sometimes even unborn young and stomachcontents.
Visitors can observe the excavation of complete skeletons in the'Rhino Barn,' where paleontologists continually uncover newskeletons, which are then left intact for visitors to see. Thisunique experience gives the visitor the opportunity to observepaleontologists at work. The Visitor's Center has interpretivedisplays for the site and a fossil preparation lab. The AshfallFossil Beds State Park is a joint project of the University ofNebraska State Museum and the Nebraska Game and ParksCommission.
Six miles north of Royal
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.
Runs parallel along the Bridges to Buttes Scenic Byway from Norfolk to Chadron
Lewis and Clark Lake and State Recreation Area (NE)
Seven miles (11 km) north on Highway 121. This Missouri Riverreservoir (Nebraska's second largest) offers six recreation areason the Nebraska side; it also features the newly renovated WeigandBurbach area with asphalt camping pads, electrical services,cabins, a convenience store and marina with boat docks available.There are many opportunities to go fishing, hunting, camping, andboating. The Lewis and Clark State Recreation Area is also a primespot for watching birds, especially bald eagles. Park areas areopen year round. During the wintertime, visitors can enjoy icefishing, skating, and snowmobiling.
Seven miles (11 km) north of Ponca State Park on Highway 121.
Lewis and Clark Trail (NE)
Explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark traveled theMissouri River on their “Corps of Discovery” to find aroute to the Pacific Ocean through the newly acquired LouisianaTerritory. They mapped the land as they went, recorded itsresources and contacted its native inhabitants. In the summer of1804, Lewis and Clark traveled through what is now eastern Nebraskaand western Iowa.
The Lewis and Clark Trail ultimately follows the route Lewis andClark took through 11 states. In Nebraska, the Trail follows theeastern Nebraska border, as well as the northern border along theMissouri River. The trail intersects with the Outlaw Trail in SouthSioux City. South Sioux City is a scenic stop on the Lewis andClark Trail, which is also home to some historic sites, such as theSgt. Floyd Monument, a 100-foot monument which memorializes Sgt.Floyd, the only officer to die during the Lewis and ClarkExpedition.
The mighty Missouri River played an important role in the Lewisand Clark Expedition, and there are many opportunities to view theMissouri River from Ponca State Park or Lewis and Clark Lake andRecreation Area. Opportunities to go boating, fishing, or campingare also along the river.
Parallels the byway
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.
Along the byway
Ponca State Park (NE)
Two miles (3.2 km) north of Ponca on Highway 26E, Ponca StatePark is a perfect getaway to enjoy the landscape of Nebraska.Situated astride the picturesque Missouri River bluffs innortheastern Nebraska, Ponca State Park is at the eastern gatewayof the Missouri National Recreational River, a 59-mile (94 km)section featuring the only unchannelized section of the riverbordering Nebraska. The National Park Service declared the park aspart of the Lewis and Clark Historical Trail. This state parkoffers the visitor many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors fromthe extensive trail system, to camping and cookouts.
Inside the park, there are camping facilities, both modern andprimitive, as well as cabins. In addition to these choices,visitors may enjoy the programs the park offers on astronomy,ecology, history, and paleontology. Ponca State Park is a paradisefor observing wildlife, especially bird watching in the fall andwinter. Deer, wild turkey and even bald eagles reside in the PoncaState Park. The park also is home to unique plants and trees. Infact, in the center of the park a black oak tree, the "Old OakTree," has survived 360 years. Camping, hiking, horseback riding,fishing, cookouts, family events and more await visitors to thepark. Visitors are also able to view three states from theTri-State Look Out.
Smith Falls State Park (NE)
A National Historic bridge across the Niobrara River providesaccess for visitors to walk to the state's highest waterfall, SmithFalls. The falls are created where a small, spring-fed creektumbles 70 feet (21 m) over a rock ledge to the Niobrara Valleybelow. The 30 mile stretch of the Niobrara River east of Valentineis home to a variety of birds, as well as plants.
The Jim MacAllister Nature Trail alerts hikers to the diversityof ecological systems present in the valley, which exists nowhereelse in North America. Both wildlife and plants in the park areunique, making this stop one of a kind. There are 160 distinctspecies of plants and animals in the area. Because this area is sodiverse, a 70-mile stretch of the Niobrara River east of Valentineis considered a National Scenic River. Water sports, especiallycanoeing, are popular on the river.
The Sandhills (NE)
It's a wide-open landscape where cattle outnumber people. TheSandhills is a 19,000 square mile (49,400 sq. km) area ofgrass-stabilized sand dunes that sit atop the Ogallala Aquifer.This area, which is the largest of its kind in the world, isrenowned for its gentle rivers meandering through pine-studdedcanyons, waterfalls and an endless ocean of prairie grassesalongside America's largest hand planted forest.
The Sandhills are also known for cattle ranches of giganticproportions that are better comprehended from the air than theground, and for wildlife refuges dedicated to protecting andpreserving the Sandhills wildlife. Up-close views of ranching,cowboys, Native American history, wildlife viewing opportunities,cowboy poetry, story telling and art await the visitor to thisquiet and seemingly undisturbed region.