Road Trip Guide - Page 34 - Noteworthy nature continued

Road Trip Guide
- Page 34
Noteworthy nature continued
access for jet-setting golfers, numerous hotels and retail options for supplies and tour operators, this local hub is equipped with the various necessary amenities to support traveler access to the region. Remote wilderness access with amenities built into the equation is a bigger deal than some might think.

As someone who has been searching for years for a place that gives my spouse the zero light pollution situation he craves for his telescope activities while having a comfy bed for me and other things to do during the day, I left feeling like we had finally found our mythical destination unicorn.

Regarding accommodation choices, visitors have several at their disposal. Camping, cabins and mid-range hotel rooms are available, depending on your needs. For those juggling work from the road, Niobrara Lodge has high-speed internet access, complimentary daily breakfast and a fridge and microwave in the room to maximize access to the grocery store across the street. With rooms in the $100-a-night range, the price is certainly workable. Private cabin rentals are also something to consider.

There’s a fairly decent selection in the area, and the added pizzazz of a more bespoke experience with fireside wine and a private kitchen to prepare local ingredients can be particularly appealing.

Activities: If you are looking to cool off with a water activity and don’t want to drive out to the reservoir, consider a day on the river. Brewers is a local outfitter that offers affordable mid-range rates for kayaking, canoeing and tubing adventures down the Niobrara. It’s a great day on the water, and a fun way to relax after a long drive. The floats also allow you to stop and explore another popular cooling-off spot, Smith Falls. Many area residents pull over their water crafts at the designated spot to hike into the falls, which are part of Smith Falls State Park.

While this is certainly a great add-on experience to your day on the river, one can grab a more in-depth visit to the falls by visiting the park through its main entrance by car. Whether or not you want to take advantage of the camping options there, you can walk through the campground and stop at the bridge for a river swim before hiking in the rest of the way along the boardwalk to the base of the falls. The park also has restroom facilities, although be advised they are a bit of a schlep from the falls themselves.

Being married to an avid amateur astronomer means accessing the dark-sky viewing options at Merritt Reservoir was a guaranteed part of our travel itinerary, but viewing options for birders abound in this part of Nebraska as well.

Sandhillsbywaybirding.com details numerous stops along state Highway 2 where one can stop to try and catch a glimpse of the various birds that make this region home. Known as the Sandhills Birding Journey, this scenic byway is a great road trip in its own right. It also intersects with the area beer trail at Broken Bow. Just putting that out there.

Golfers have multiple options, including the three courses available at The Prairie Club. The property has cabin rentals, a full-service clubhouse and the broad horizons for which this part of the country is famous.

If you’re in the market for some homespun Nebraska farm fun, however, head to Mullen for the day and try tanking. A summer tradition for locals, this activity involves hopping into a livestock water tank with a bunch of your friends and spending the day heading down the river. Only certain river conditions are suited to this, so picking a random spot to try it on your own isn’t recommended. Glidden Canoe Rental offers two-hour float packages for $25 a head.

Appetites: If you’d like to wet your whistle while still working in an activity, consider a scenic day trip to the region’s winery. Located close to the South Dakota state line near the town of Nenzel, Niobrara Valley Vineyards provides a western winery experience on a property that was originally purchased as the family’s cattle ranch. If you’re plan-