The Cornhusker State is filled with miles and miles of country roads that beckon for a slow, Sunday drive, but a vast network of paved corridors exists for swifter, less-dusty and often just as scenic travels. Air travel options are becoming more numerous, as are public transportation options by bus and train. Oftentimes, the toughest part of traveling is simply deciding where you want to go next.
It’s helpful to be aware of the state’s large size and unique demographics when trying to get from point A to point B. With more than 77,000 square miles, Nebraska weighs in as the sixteenth largest state. However, Nebraska is only the 37th most-populous one with roughly 1.9 million people. Omaha and Lincoln, the two biggest cities in the state, are located on the more densely populated eastern side. In comparison, Central and Western Nebraska tend to be more sparsely populated.
The state’s largest airport is Eppley Airfield in Omaha. Alaska, Frontier, Allegiant, Southwest, American and United Airlines offer travelers nonstop options from major hubs such as Chicago, Denver, Atlanta, Las Vegas and Washington, D.C., as well as connections world-wide. The next-largest airport is the Lincoln Airport, located in Nebraska’s capital city about an hour west of Omaha. Flights from Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver and Atlanta are available via United and Delta. The Central Nebraska Regional Airport in Grand Island offers nonstop service from Las Vegas, Orlando, Dallas and Phoenix through Allegiant and American. The Western Nebraska Regional Airport provides nonstop flights from Denver to Scottsbluff via Peninsula Airlines.
Denver International Airport in Colorado is another option for airline transportation and currently offers service to Kearney, North Platte, Scottsbluff, Chadron and Alliance.
You can drive across Nebraska in a day, but it’s going to be a long one.
The state isn’t exactly a rectangle, but it’s roughly twice as long as it is wide. The journey from east to west along Interstate 80 covers 455 miles, crossing into the Mountain Time Zone and a different climate. In comparison, north-south routes range between 160 and 220 miles.
I-80 bisects the state between Omaha and the Wyoming border, following the same path that Oregon, California and Mormon Trail pioneers forged in the 1800s. It still serves today as a major transportation artery for cross country travel in the United States. With a 75 mile-per-hour speed limit, travelers are in for a streamlined, educational journey across the state. More than 80 exits lead to sights of historic interest and special attractions, as well as plentiful opportunities for rest and refueling. Larger cities along the interstate include Lincoln, Grand Island, Kearney, North Platte, Ogallala and Sidney.
Bus service is available to/from cities state-wide on Greyhound. Travelers can also find routes to larger cities via regional carriers such as Country Travel Discoveries, Burlington Trailways and Black Hills Stage Lines.
Omaha and Lincoln also offer local bus transportation to popular destinations within their city limits. In Omaha, the Metro runs daily routes to shopping hubs, medical centers, major attractions and even takes passengers across the border to Council Bluffs, Iowa. In Lincoln, StarTran routes offer transportation to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the Lincoln Airport and other points of interest.
For travelers seeking train service, Amtrak offers passenger transportation to/from Omaha along the California Zephyr route between Chicago and San Francisco. This route also passes through Lincoln, Hastings, Holdrege and McCook allowing for additional destinations for in-state transit by train.
Nine scenic byways lead through Nebraska’s captivating and diverse landscapes. These 2-lane highways trace the paths of pioneers, explorers and outlaws as they meander through grassy plains, river bluffs, rocky escarpments, pine forests and the state’s awe-inspiring sand hills. Historical sights and odd attractions lurk behind many bends and offer off-the-beaten paths for adventure and discovery.
The Gold Rush Byway travels north-south through the state’s panhandle in the west on U.S. Highway 385 between the South Dakota and Colorado borders. This 158-mile route was used in the late 1800s to transport gold from South Dakota’s Black Hills to railroad lines near Sidney, but it today takes travelers on a sweeping journey through the buttes and canyons of the Nebraska Badlands, on into the wide-open sand hills near Alliance and ends in the high plains near the southern border.
The Bridges to Buttes Byway runs east-west from Valentine to the Wyoming state line along U.S. Highway 20. This 197-mile route begins in the solitude of the Sandhills region and then travels the breadth of the Pine Ridge escarpment with breathtaking views of the state’s rocky and remote northwest corner.
The Heritage Highway stretches 238 miles east-west on U.S. Highway 136 starting in Brownville and ending mid-state not far from Holdrege. This road-less-traveled begins on the banks of the Missouri River then journeys past the nation’s first homestead in Beatrice and the town of Red Cloud, the hometown of Nebraska author Willa Cather.
The Lewis and Clark Scenic Byway is an 82-mile trek north-south along U.S. Highway 75 between South Sioux City and Omaha. Running parallel to the Missouri River and following in the footsteps of these ambitious explorers, modern day travelers pass through some of the state’s earliest settlements and present-day Native American reservations.
The Lincoln Highway Scenic and Historic Byway follows U.S. Highway 30 east-west from the Iowa border to Wyoming. Known as America’s Main Street, this 400-mile route was the first to connect the country from New York to San Francisco.
The Loup Rivers Scenic Byway meanders alongside three rivers west of Grand Island on Nebraska Highways 11 and 91. This 150-mile route curves through the farmlands of central Nebraska and ends in the Sandhills near Nebraska National Forest at Thedford and Halsey. Opportunities for outdoor water adventures abound at three state reservoirs.
The Outlaw Trail Scenic Byway runs east-west from South Sioux City to Valentine along Nebraska Highway 12. This 231-mile journey leads through historic cowboy country where the likes of Jesse James once roamed with scenic views of the Missouri and Niobrara rivers.
The Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway covers 272 miles east-west from Grand Island to Alliance along Nebraska Highway 2. Deemed one of the top 10 scenic drives in the country, this route begins in the spring migration grounds for sandhill cranes and continues through the heart of the state for an extensive exploration of the grass-covered dunes of the Sandhills.
The Western Trails Scenic and Historic Byway runs east-west from Ogallala to the Wyoming border on Nebraska Highway 92 and U.S. Highway 26. This 144-mile route passes by Nebraska’s largest lake, Lake McConaughy at Ogallala, then follows the path of the North Platte River. This Western Nebraska route showcases several large rock formations that Oregon, California and Mormon Trail pioneers relied upon to guide their journeys west. Chimney Rock and Scotts Bluff National Monument still rise high above the plains as dramatic reminders of primitive navigation.
Need a little help finding your way? The Nebraska Department of Roads offers free highway maps for travelers at DOR offices and visitor welcome centers across the state. Maps may also be requested online at roads.nebraska.gov. Current road conditions, possible construction delays and weather forecasts can be accessed online at 511.nebraska.gov or by calling 511 on your mobile device or (800) 906-9069 from a landline.
No matter what path you travel in Nebraska, all routes lead to the Good Life and memorable journeys.