Nebraska’s Bucket List Destinations

The Cornhusker State inspires images of wide-open prairies, never-ending cornfields and pancake-flat horizons. These stereotypes only reflect a fraction of the state’s varied landscapes. The nation’s 16th-largest state is peppered with geological and manmade wonders that will make you rethink your definition of Nebraska.

  1. The Nebraska State Capitol, built from 1922-1932, was the first statehouse to completely deviate from the prototype set by the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C. Designed by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue, the 400-foot domed tower can be seen from miles away and is topped by “The Sower,” a bronze sculpture of a barefoot man casting grain seeds – a nod to the state’s agricultural foundations. Free tours are available daily, except major holidays. 1445 K St., Lincoln. (402) 471–0448.

2. Memorial Stadium, the home of the University of Nebraska Cornhusker football team, qualifies as the state’s third-largest city on Game Day. Built in 1923 and named in honor of Nebraskans who have sacrificed their lives in military service to the country, the stadium seats 86,000 faithful fans. Each home game has been sold out since Nov. 3, 1962. Guided tours are available by appointment. 600 Stadium Dr., Lincoln. (402) 472-3333.

3. The Archway, built in 1999, pays tribute to the pioneers who trekked across the country on Nebraska’s Great Platte River Road. This 308-foot bridge spans I-80 near Exit 275 at Kearney, emulating a covered bridge at sunset. Visitors walk through exhibits showcasing the history of the West as they stroll above the interstate. Open daily. 3060 E. First St., Kearney. (308) 237-1000.

4. Chimney Rock rises 480 feet above the North Platte River Valley near Bayard. Resembling an upturned funnel, this rock spire is widely considered the most famous landmark for pioneers on the Oregon, California and Mormon trails. A visitor center is open year-round, except major holidays, 1.5 miles south of Highway 92 on Chimney Rock Rd. (308) 586-2581.

5. Toadstool Geological Park resembles the moon for its landscape and remote location. Located in the northwest corner of the state, the park’s unusual mushroom-like rock formations jut out of the Oglala National Grasslands. Also referred to as the Nebraska Badlands, this area has bumpy gravel roads that become notoriously challenging after rainstorms. Open year-round for hiking and seasonally for camping. From Crawford, follow Highway 2/71 for 4 miles, then turn left on Toadstool Road and follow signs for 15 miles. (308) 432-0300.

6. Carhenge is Nebraska’s version of Stonehenge. Designed by Jim Reinders, 38 cars, all painted gray, replicate England’s famous stone circle in proportion and placement. Some stand upright with their trunks five feet into the earth, balancing other cars on their bumpers, while a 1962 Cadillac serves as the heel stone. This quirky landmark celebrates its 30th anniversary with a party June 21. Later in the summer, the skies above Carhenge are expected to darken for more than two minutes during the total solar eclipse Aug. 21. 305 Box Butte Ave., Alliance. (308) 762-3569.

7. Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is considered one of the world’s most significant sites for Miocene Epoch mammal fossils. Beardogs, pony-sized rhinoceroses and land beavers with corkscrew-shaped burrows have been unearthed at this great bone bed near the Niobrara River. Visitors can hike the 2.7 mile Fossil Hills Trail to the spot where James Cook discovered the first fossils in the 1880s. Open daily, except major holidays. 301 River Rd., Harrison. (308) 436-9760.

8. Scotts Bluff National Monument stands 800 feet above the North Platte River and served as an important landmark for pioneers traveling the Oregon, California and Mormon trails. Today’s visitors can hike scenic trails or drive through the state’s only automobile tunnels to reach the bluff’s top. Open daily, except major holidays. 190276 Old Oregon Trail Rd., Gering. (308) 436-9700.

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