An all-American road trip in Nebraska to make your summer
A summer road trip is good for the soul. Wide open roads, fresh Midwest air, quirky attractions and good eats are some of the essentials—and Nebraska has got them all.
Enjoy some of the state's signature experiences. Fuel up with their staple food, the Runza; make a pitstop at Carhenge (the state’s own unique take Stonehenge) and float down part of their 80,000 miles of river in a livestock tank.
We’ve compiled a list of trip suggestions to keep in mind as you unfold your map, uncap your pen and plot out your Nebraska summer road trip.
Hit the highways to find the byways
While I-80 crosses the length of Nebraska and is where you’ll find the major cities like Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney and North Platte, you’ll want to get off the main road and explore. To do that, the state’s nine scenic byways are a great starting point for planning a road trip. Head to the Lewis and Clark Scenic Byway on the state's eastern edge to follow in the footsteps of these famed explorers, learn about Native American culture and journey along the Missouri River.
To see natural beauties like Scotts Bluff National Monument (where you can see remnants of the Oregon Trail) and the geological landmark Chimney Rock, hop on the Western Trails Scenic and Historic Byway. Gering, one of the small towns along the route, is hosting their 102nd annual Oregon Trail Days July 13-16. It's the state's oldest celebration, and you can expect events like a chili cookoff, parades and live entertainment.
For rolling hills and a bit of history, head to the 385-Gold Rush Scenic Byway in the state's northwest corner. At its peak, this route once carried more than $200,000 worth of gold daily. Today, you'll strike a different kind of gold—road trip pit stop gold. It's home to Carhenge, a unique replica of Stonehenge that was constructed in 1987 with old cars. The sight is open year-round to the public for free.
As you plan out where to spend your nights, there's a lot of options to choose from. Pick a few of the many campgrounds across the state, all sure to offer beautiful views as you wind down and wake up. Or take it up a notch with a stay on a ranch, where you could experience activities like fishing or horseback riding. But if a room key and reliable AC are more your speed, there's plenty of hotel options too.
Yes, there are things to do!
Nebraska's summer events calendar is packed with music, shows, festivals and more. See balloons adorn the sky at the Falls City Hot Air Balloon Festival on June 17. If you're in town over the Fourth of July, Tree Adventure at Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City is hosting a Patriotic Gnome Hunt (there's no shortage of quirky here).
When it comes to museums, take your pick from the historical or the mythical variety. In North Platte along the Lincoln Highway (aka US 30) which spans the middle of the state, is the Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park. Here, visit the former home of William F. "Buffalo Bill" Cody and learn about his life and legacy. If it’s a different kind of legend you’re after, travel 150 miles east to Hastings where the Bigfoot Crossways of America Museum is not far from US 30. This collection is a labor of love by a long-time Nebraska resident, and may pique your curiosity after seeing the life-size bigfoot replica and other exhibits.
Nebraska's biggest cities—Omaha and Lincoln—are two essential stops when visiting the state. Get a taste of Nebraska's art and culture at the Old Market in Omaha and Lincoln's Historic Haymarket District where you can find shopping, eats and entertainment.
For those making the trip a family event, Omaha's Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium ranks as one of the best in the country. See exhibits like the Desert Dome, which the zoo claims is the world's largest indoor desert, and the 70-foot shark tunnel in their aquarium.
When in Lincoln, bring the kids (and kids at heart) to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's Dairy Store for some handmade ice cream. The store rotates flavors, but always has Scarlet and Cream—vanilla swirled with strawberry—on menu, in honor of the University's colors.
Enjoy Nebraska’s simple pleasures
When you're in Nebraska, tanking is a good thing. In fact it's one of the best ways to appreciate the state's thousands of miles or rivers. A cornhusker's alternative to tubing, it involves hopping into a former livestock water tank to spend a few hours gently floating downstream. Tanking outfitters around Nebraska offer your vessel and logistics, so all you have to worry about is packing the cooler and enough sunscreen for a leisurely afternoon on the water.
Thanks to low light pollution and those wide-open sky views, Nebraska is a stargazing destination. You can find spots throughout the state to enjoy the night sky, but perhaps the best spot is Merritt Reservoir. Located in the Nebraska Sandhills, it was officially designated as an International Dark Sky Place in 2022.
If hopping into a livestock tank or staying up past your normal bedtime to see the stars doesn't sound like your thing, you can still get out and appreciate some of Nebraska's natural beauty with a hike. Hit the trails, which range from easy to challenging, to find scenic forests, wildlife preserves and waterfalls. The Schramm Park State Recreation Area is a popular option, where the wooded trails offer views of the Platte River, and during migration season it's an ideal bird-watching destination.
Be amaized at what food and drink the Cornhusker State is serving up
Cap off your day exploring with a craft beverage. You'll find an abundance of breweries around the state. In Hastings (just a few miles away from the bigfoot museum) First Street Brewing Company is serving brews like their Queen City Kölsch and Haze Stings IPA (get it?) made with local ingredients. The Boiler Brewing Company in Lincoln is located in the former boiler room of the storied Grande Manse building, and has beer, mead and cider on tap.
No trip to Nebraska is complete without trying the Runza—ground beef, onions, cabbage and a blend of spices stuffed into a pocket of warm, fresh bread. It originated in Lincoln, and now you can find this hearty dish throughout the state at its namesake's restaurants.
Get a taste of a familiar favorite, the Reuben in its (contested) birthplace of Omaha. A former hotel in Omaha claims to have invented the sandwich in the 1920s, and today the Crescent Moon Ale House across the street is serving up their original recipe (whether it's the true first or not won't matter once you're a few bites into this delectable concoction).
Once properly fed, you’re ready to tackle another road trip across the state.