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Niobrara National Scenic River

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General Information

Description - The upper portion of this river provides excellent canoeing. The river flows through a sparsely populated and very scenic area. The river's greatest feature is that it flows through an ecological crossroads, between eastern woodlands and western grasslands with the respective flora and fauna.

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Current Conditions & Trip Reports

Trip Reports:
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Filed By: Ben Ream
Number of People Encountered: 0-10 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Highly
Report: We canoed this river in mid-October and saw no people in the river. We stayed overnight at Smith Falls. There was a group of people that showed up that night and we still have no idea what they were doing there. We put in at the Refuge bridge, just downstream of the dam. We pulled out the next day at Sunny Brook. The weather was in the mid-60's both days and was wonderful weather for canoeing. The river is very shallow (inches deep in some places)along the sandstone shelf in the river so you have to stay in the channel (which is fairly easy) which is a few feet deep. This is the best canoeing/kayaking river in Nebraska. The nebraska game and parks website gives more detailed information which was a great help.

Filed By: Lawrence Clayton (North Chicago, Illinois)
Number of People Encountered: 0-10 ppl
Recommend to a Friend: Highly
Report: I canoed the Niobrara (pronounced "nigh-brerra") from the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge put-in to the Sunny Brook camp (not on many maps, a mile or two(?) upstream from the Rocky Ford take-out), about 20 miles, on weekday right after Labor Day 2005. There are a lot of canoe outfitters in Valentine and nearby areas downstream; some of these continue to operate after Labor Day though the tourist season more or less ends around this time. I saw NO human beings on the Niobrara that day, not canoeing, not fishing, not hunting (don't know what's in season locally, if anything), nothing. The river is fed from what is left of the Ogallala Aquifer, and the sponge of the Sand Hills (mostly to the south), so it's essentially a year-round deal, the limits being the wintriness of the Great Plains, in season, and the bozoidness of homo sapiens, in season, which means summer weekends, from what I hear. Drunks and party animals are said to be pretty bad. So I would avoid the river on the weekends and perhaps enquire locally about how things are going during the week. Smith Falls State Park, where I camped for several night, a very pretty place, might be a good place to get unbiassed reports on river/drunk conditions. The river, where I travelled it, has a pretty stiff, pretty continuous current, with occasional rapids, mostly "Class One", though some, above Rocky Ford, can shade over into Two's with differing water levels. As I said, it runs all year, but there is some difference from Spring to Fall, such as you would expect elsewhere on the continent, just to a lesser degree. The main impediment to easy navigation is the wind. The Niobrara is a fairly big, open river at this point, so when there's atmospheric movement, your vessel will be aero- as well as hydordynamic. Roughest winds are those from the southeast, as this is the general trend of the river. On the windy days, you might want to cut your trip length, say go from Fort Niobrara to Smith Falls, which is about 10 miles. The river is certainly very pretty; flows through a shallow canyon, with a great variety of trees and other plant life, much of it unique to the Niobrara. North facing bank is heavily wooded with oak, pine, basswood, birch, a hybrid aspen (now dying out) and cottonwoods, with the Sand Hills up top. The south facing bank is more drought & sun resistant stuff, with Ponderora pine and more grassland. There is a surprising amount of water coming into the river, especially from the south side, with a number of waterfalls falling directly into the river, as well as those you can hear roaring up in the hollows. The immediate area is of great interest, aside from the river itself. The Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge is worth a couple of visits, with buffalo & elk ranges in the grassland south of the river, tourable by vehicle, and a beautiful wilderness area, 4500 acres or so, on the north side, accessible for day hiking though not camping. The Valentine Nat'l Wildlife Refuge, totally a Sand Hills landscape of mixed grass prairie, with numerous ponds and lakes, is about 25 miles south of Valentine. There are other protected areas to the west of Valentine, all of them of great interest for anyone who has any taste for prairie landscapes.

More Information

Contact Information:
Niobrara National Scenic River, P.O. Box 591, 114 N. 6th St. , O'Neill, NE, 68763-0591, Phone: 402-336-3970

Additional Information:
Nebraska's Historic Sites -


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