If you love being somewhere where you have room to breathe, think, and explore, then you’re sure to love Nebraska, a land of rolling hills and historical treasures. The vast grasslands have always been home to indigenous peoples and in the 1800s became a base for homesteaders. Nebraskans have a penchant for being self-reliant and in-tune with the nature that surrounds them.
Today, Nebraska is a great state to explore the great outdoors, historical sites, archeological findings, the culture of the Old West, and more. In between the major landmarks and endless fields are many small towns, each with their own unique personality and offerings for tourists of all types. Each small town is perfect for spending the day, weekend, or simply however long you feel like! To make the most of Nebraska, it’s best to cancel all hard-booked plans and go with the flow. You’ll easily fall in love with the friendly, more in-the-moment pace of life that Nebraskans are known for.
Lets explore the best small towns to visit in Nebraska:
Founded in 1854, this tiny town of Brownville is a historical gem with so much to offer despite its small size.
Travelers will love perusing the museums, boutique shops, bookstores, folk art galleries, and even stay in a floating bed and breakfast accommodation on the river.
Brownville also has a plethora of a walking and biking trail, arboretum, and a 100-year-old barn surrounded by vineyards.
In the evenings, tourists can also go to Brownville Village Theatre, a delightful venue with talented live performers of all types.
And if there’s nothing going on there, you can also head to the Brownville Concert Hall, a happening place renowned for featuring Bluegrass artists.
McCook is a well-rounded small town in Southwest Nebraska known for its friendly locals, historical sites, and well-maintained public parks.
Surrounding the area are four main prairie lakes, a clear river, and manicured walking trails that are perfect for bird watching, exploring, and swimming.
McCook takes pride in showing all who come by the highlights of the Midwest lifestyle.
The local farms offer hands-on experiences of produce picking, cattle cutting, and a look at how the pilgrims once lived.
Other top sites include the Frank Lloyd Wright’s Sutton House, Senator George W. Norris State Historical Site, and the Museum of the High Plains and Carnegie Library.
You can easily spend more than a weekend in Minden, a small-town chock full of museums, natural parks, and lively community events.
Just outside the town center of Minden, you can head to Rowe Sanctuary, a wildlife haven with thousands of Sand Hill Cranes and other migratory birdlife.
Minden is also home to Pioneer Village, a village made up of over 28 buildings where you have an intimate look at the exciting pioneer times.
There are over 50,000 historical items, making it the largest private Americana collection in the world.
You can easily spend a day checking out the steam carousel, flying machines, Jackson paintings, antique tractors, and even a 1903 Ford!
Aurora is a small town with a little under 4,500 residents with many historical, natural, and architectural sites.
It’s a great stop for travelers wanting to experience a typical small town lifestyle but still explore some interesting highlights.
There is also the Egerton Explorit Center, an interactive learning and science center that’s perfect for visitors of all ages.
Many guests state that this center rivals those usually found in big cities, despite being in a small town!
For a small dose of history, check out the Plainsman Museum, where you can learn all about history of the everyday people who worked and lived in the Hamilton County region.
Some interesting sights include a covered wagon, replica barbershops, toy stores, and jail, and an entire floor that highlights the region’s agricultural importance.
A mix of modern and antique, Ashland is a small town that does an incredible job of straddling the eras of then and now.
It’s a great home base for exploring the nearby sites of the Mahoney State Park, the Wildlife Safari Park, and a handful of golf courses.
The town itself offers a quaint shopping area where you can easily find unique objects for a friend or for yourself.
The Strategic Air and Space Museum in Ashland is also a top site, where you can look at authentic space and air machinery, learn about black holes, and the legacy EC-135 restored aircraft.
Love wide open spaces? Then you’re sure to love Chadron, a small town surrounded by incredible plains and trees– perfect for spotting wildlife.
The Chadron State Park and the Pine Ridge National Recreation Areas have clean campgrounds, hiking trails, and pristine bodies of water.
The museum curators paid an incredible amount of detail to the fur trade history, mapping routes and collecting artifacts that span earlier than 1776.
Other cultural sites include the Chadron Arts Center, where you can view live performances and artwork from local artists.
There is also the Mari Sandoz Heritage Center and the Dawes County Historical Museum for travelers addicted to learning all about the areas that they explore.
Ogallala is an interesting small town whose historic front street looks just like you’ve stepped back into the days of the wild west.
There are tens of area attractions both manmade and natural.
If you’re interested in architecture, the Little Catholic-Protestant Church at Keystone and the Haythorn Ranch houses are must-sees.
At Lake McConaughy and Lake Ogallala, you can picnic and search for hundreds of bird species that call the shores of these lakes their home.
Ogallala makes a great base for seeing the Ash Hollow State Historical Park, a site where you can discover history about the regional geology, paleontology, ancient Native American life, fur trappers, and more.
8. Red Cloud
With a population of just a tad over 1,000 residents, Red Cloud is a cute small town that was once the hometown of Willa Cather, one of America’s greatest Pulitzer prize winning writers.
Willa Cather often depicted life on the great plains and brought not only great interest to the region but also highlighted the issues that were unique to the area.
Since she was such a notable figure, Red Cloud established the Willa Cather Foundation that offers a tour through seven important buildings.
There is also the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie, a beautiful wide space that inspired many of Willa Cather’s novels.
Outdoor-loving travelers making their way through Nebraska would be foolish not to stop at Valentine, a small town known for hosting incredible adventures.
Take a hint from the locals, most of who spend their leisure time exploring part of the 19,000-square mile large Sandhills region or the Niorbrara River.
There is also the Arthur Bowring Ranch State Historical Park, where you can get an up-close and interactive feel for ranch
All around the Valentine town, visitors can go hiking, fishing, canoeing, kayaking, swimming, horseback riding, camping, and more.
With just 600 residents, Dodge is a safe, friendly, small town with a strong community.
While in Dodge, you have to visit the Robin’s Nest Garden of Hope, a memorial park and landscaped garden with walking trails and shady gazebo.
The town established the garden after a beloved resident died of cancer.
The town also has a bowling alley, park with sports fields, and anyone can go swim or fish at the nearby Elkhorn River.
There is also the Dead Timber State Recreation Area and the Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area just for people looking to make the most of their leisure time.
Visit in July to attend Dodge Daze, a festival with all-you-can-eat pancakes, a swim meet, sidewalk sale, concerts, and all types of physical activities.
Or, visit in September to watch the Demolition Derby that usually has nearly 60 entries.
Despite being in the center of the USA, Verdigre is known for being the Kolach capital of the world.
What is Kolach anyways? Well, it’s a traditional pastry filled with jams, cheeses, or other toppings from the Czech Republic.
The small town holds strong ties to their Czech heritage with Kolach days, a summer festival with parades, games, and even polka dancing!
Aside from the scrumptious pastries, Verdigre is surrounded by endless outdoor parks.
Head to the Wild Wood Acres Park or the Bohemian Prairie for wildlife, hiking trails, fishing areas, camping areas, and more.
12. Nebraska City
Don’t let the name fool you, Nebraska City is more small town than urbanite city.
Nebraska City loves its trees and celebrates Arbor Day with a gusto – this is why you can visit fun tree-themed parks and venues all year round.
Go apple picking at the Kimmel Orchard and Vineyard, spend time at the Arbor Day Farm Tree Adventure, taste a slice of apple pie at the Union Orchard, visit the Enchanted Arboretum, or head to the Arbor Day Farm.
Did we mention that this town loves its trees?
There are also highlights like the Titan Toy Museum, the NC Museum of Firefighting, Pioneer 3 Theatre, Grimm’s Gardens, and the Missouri River Basin Lewis and Clark Center.
For outdoor enthusiasts, there is the Steamboat Trace Bicycle Trail that weaves along mirrored water.
Harrison, a small town located on Nebraska’s northwest boasts the cheeky tagline of, “Nebraska’s Top Town.
” Harrison makes a great base not just for seeing the town itself but also for exploring the beautiful Pine Ridge area, best seen via Sowbelly Road, a scenic byway.
There is also the nearby Warbonnet Battlefield, known for tragic battles that took place against Native Americans.
At the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, you can view an impressive collection of artifacts gathered from the region – including Native American tools, fossils, and more.
Harrison is a great town for learning more about the pre-colonial history of the area.
Rushville has held onto the identity and spirit of the Old West, embracing the times where cowboys, homesteaders, and Native American tribes ruled the land.
The Niobrara River has always been an important landmark for transportation, recreation, and culture.
Today, you can canoe down it and dock to see the Sandhills.
Ten miles from Rushville is Pine Ridge, a pine-studded stunning area of canyons and cliffs.
Other must-see nearby sites are Smith Lake, Walgren Lake, and City Park.
History buffs will love Rushmore as well.
There is the 1890 Armstrong House Museum that serves to preserve the region’s past and the early 1900s historic buildings like the Sheridan County Courthouse and the Gourley Opera House.
All of them are incredible sites that are unique to Rushville.
Holdrege has the best of both worlds when it comes to modern living and a small town lifestyle.
The streets are wide, tree-lined, and it’s common to see the locals lounging on their welcoming front porches.
The town is clean, safe, and certainly a great stop for spending a day or two.
The main attraction is the Nebraska Prairie Museum.
The venue captures the personality of the heartland and has many exhibits that go beyond everyday prairie life, like features on POW camps from WWII, Native American artifacts, antique cars, tools, dishes, and the crowd favorite, old wedding gowns.
It’s a must see if you’re driving across the state or simply if you’re interested in experiencing a quaint, quirky museum.