On the Road in Nebraska

The great US road trips are many and varied, but when it comes to distance, scale and sights, few can match the epic drive along Interstate 80. Spanning the States, it wends its way from California across the American heartland to New Jersey on the east coast.

In the middle sits the Cornhusker State. Nebraska is vast and sprawling, teaming thriving, modern cities with small towns where life hasn’t changed all that much since they were first settled.

The endless prairies and cornfields make driving here a pleasure. Revel in the wide open spaces as you head down routes that give you a flavour of this frequently breath-taking state.

The Heritage Highway

There are no fewer than nine scenic byways in Nebraska – and the Heritage Highway is probably the pick of them. This 240-mile stretch running along the south of the state, from Edison to Brownville, sweeps past glimmering lakes, prairies, farms and plenty of historic sites.

It passes through 10 counties in all on its way along Highway 136, with countless spots to stop off and explore the region’s rich history. At Rock Creek Station State Historical Park, close to Fairbury, you’ll be following in the footsteps of Wild Bill Hickok. Look out for the preserved wagon ruts from the original Oregon Trail.

You’ll also find ample opportunities to learn about Native American life in the area, while in Brownville you can hop onto a riverboat and make your way further down the Missouri river. 

Lewis and Clark Scenic Byway

At the beginning of the 19th century, explorers Lewis and Clark made their way along the Missouri river here, attempting to pick out a route to the Pacific Ocean. This scenic byway traces their journey as it shadows the Missouri along US Highway 75.

In the days before highways, trappers and traders used the river to navigate Nebraska. It’s why some of the oldest settlements in the state can be discovered here – places like South Sioux City and Fort Atkinson.

Here on the eastern state border you’ll see Native American reservations of the Omaha and Winnebago Nations, as well as wildlife refuges and the Ponca State Park, with its abundance of bald eagles, deer and wild turkey.

Sandhills Journey

Ready for Carhenge? You’ll find this distinctly non-natural wonder on the Sandhills Journey scenic byway. At 272 miles long it’s one of the bigger stretches, all along Highway 2.

Stop off at Carhenge to take in this quirky tribute to the motor car that’s inspired by its near namesake stone circle in the UK. Next, get a hands-on insight into the settler life at the fascinating Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer.

Western Trails Scenic and Historic Highway

This historic 144-mile route running along U.S. Highway 26 and Nebraska Highway 92 takes you from Ogallala to the Wyoming border – and gives you a sense of the solitude the pioneers must have felt two centuries before.

Ogallala will delight youngsters with the cowboys and shootouts of the Old West brought back to life at the Crystal Palace Revue on Front Street. The Cowboy Museum next door is free and packed with pieces of Wild West history, along with a replica jail and barbershop.

The town is also home to ‘Big Mac’, or Lake McConaughy. The region’s largest inland lake, it combines white-sand beaches with excellent fishing.

Get a taste of pioneer life at the Chimney Rock National Historic Site and Visitors Center near Bayard, including an authentic wagon ride with the Oregon Trail Wagon Train.

When you reach Gering you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the North Platte River Valley at Scotts Bluff National Monument, which has served as a landmark for Native Americans and settlers through the centuries.

Bridges to Buttes Byway

What makes this route so special – nearly 200 miles of it along US Highway 20 – is the variety and diversity of landscapes it whisks you through. It’s the perfect way to make the most of car hire in Nebraska, with its stunning plateaus and buttes, tell-tale prairies, historic bridges and the huge Nebraska Sandhills.

Head for the fossils and staggering rock formations of Toadstool Geologic Park, then check out the elk and bison of Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, before ending your drive in true cowboy country.

With charming and historic places to explore, a scenic drive through Nebraska’s epic landscape and its quaint towns makes for a truly memorable road trip in the very heart of America.