Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge
One of Valentine’s sightseeing highlights is the massive old railroad bridge over the broad Niobrara River. Just a few miles south of downtown along US-20/83, rising on trestles 150 feet above the water, the bridge now carries the popular “Cowboy Trail” hiker-biker route, which follows the old railroad right-of-way almost all the way across the state. This stretch of the Niobrara River has been protected for nearly 100 years within the nearly 20,000-acre Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge (402/376-3789) and offers top-notch canoeing and tubing. The refuge is named for old Fort Niobrara, semi-famous for never seeing a battle during its 27 years on the Wild West prairie. The diverse environs of the refuge provide a home for a huge variety of native plants and animals; a 3.5-mile, self-guided auto tour lets you watch for resident and migratory birds, while herds of elk, bison, pronghorns, and Texas longhorns roam around the gorgeous green rolling prairies.
Nature-lovers score well at other sites around Valentine. Cyclists and walkers will enjoy the chance to follow the Cowboy Trail, right through town, while seasoned canoeists, kayakers, and keen trout anglers will want to tackle the rough Snake River some 23 miles southwest of town, near the short but powerful Snake River Falls. A good local outfitter is Yucca Dune (148 E. 1st St., 402/376-3330), in downtown Valentine, which rents bikes, rafts, canoes, and kayaks and sells outdoor clothing and climbing and camping gear.