Five miles east of Valentine on Highway 12, Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge is home to herds of bison, elk and a prairie dog town, as well as more than 230 species of birds. Because of its location near the center of the continent, the refuge is on the fl ight path for many species of migratory birds. Th e refuge includes a pine-dotted canyon with nature trails and a favorite “putting-in” spot for Niobrara River canoeists. A 3.5-mile driving tour lets you view the herds up close. Just remember while near the herds, stay in your car. A buff alo bull can weigh a ton and can move with astonishing speed. Near the Niobrara River, a steep, 3/4 mile nature trail descends from an overlook site down to the base of Fort Falls, then continues to the river and circles back to the top of the canyon. It’s a strenuous hike, well-rewarded with scenery and wildlife.
As the name indicates, the refuge is the site of a frontier fort. Fort Niobrara was active from 1879-1906 and was used as a cavalry remount station till 1911. Long before that, however, the grounds were home to long-jawed mastodons, giant bison and three-toed horses. Fossils are displayed in the visitor center, which is open 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day, and Monday through Friday the rest of the year. Admission is free.
JOIN FOR JUST $16 A YEAR