The Niobrara National Scenic River
In 1991, Congress declared a stretch of the Niobrara River in northern Nebraska as a National Scenic River. The 76-mile Scenic River stretch begins at the Borman Bridge State Wildlife Area near Valentine, and runs east to the Highway 137 bridge northeast of Bassett.
The legislation designating the Scenic River was carried by Senator J. James Exon in the Senate, and Representative Doug Bereuter in the House. The law came after years of work by the Nebraska Wildlife Federation and other conservation groups, and requires that the river valley’s outstandingly remarkable values be protected, including the scenic, historic, archaeological, and scientific features.
The Scenic River area is known for its beautiful landscapes, awe-inspiring vistas, and unique collection of plants and wildlife. The free-flowing river is fed by groundwater springs that create some 200 waterfalls in the river valley.
The area is a unique biological crossroads, where tallgrass prairie, mixed grass prairie, and Sandhills prairie mingle with eastern hardwood forest, Rocky Mountain pine forest, and paper birch and ferns that are remnants of the northern forests that grew here during the ice age.
The unique collection of plant communities supports a very diverse combination of fish and wildlife. The Niobrara boasts more species of fish than any other Nebraska river. Warm-water fish like channel catfish and bluegill mix with cold-water trout and pearl dace, which live in the cool spring-fed tributaries.
White-tailed deer and mule deer, free ranging elk, moose, mink, beaver, and the occasional mountain lion are all residents of the valley. A wide variety of birds live here, including some unusual hybrids of eastern and western species that come together along the Niobrara. 92 species of butterflies have been found along the Niobrara.
The Scenic River area is internationally renowned for the large number of important paleontological sites (at least 164), and the diversity of ancient species found here (146 vertebrate species at just one site).
Some 80 species of extinct vertebrates were first identified in fossil beds found throughout the area. The river cuts its way through Rosebud and Valentine bedrock formations, revealing an unusually rich geological signature throughout the Scenic River area.
In addition to the Scenic River’s outstandingly remarkable scenery, fish and wildlife, paleontology and geology, the National Park Service has recognized the area’s outstanding recreational value. Tens of thousands of people canoe, kayak or float the river each year. Tens of thousands camp at Smith Falls State Park or one of the private campgrounds in the area.
Hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, and sightseeing draw a growing number of visitors from Nebraska and across the nation to take advantage of the areas recreational opportunities.
The National Park Service manages the National Scenic River area, in partnership with the Niobrara Council and other agencies. To learn more, visit the National Park Service’s Niobrara National Scenic River.