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The state of Nebraska's image is often associated with being flat and full of cornfields; however, that’s not all the Cornhusker State has to offer. This perception is usually the result of what can be seen along Interstate 80, which bypasses some of Nebraska’s most unique landscapes. You just need to get a little off the beaten path when you’re camping with an RV here to see all that this beautiful state has to offer.
One of the best places to explore the roads less traveled is the Sandhill region near the border with South Dakota. No endless cornfields here, just vast expanses of grass-covered dunes punctuated with beautiful rivers and a few rocky outcroppings that are ideal for hiking. It’s also where you’ll find the town of Valentine – a fantastic basecamp option when you’re looking to book an RV in Cherry County, Nebraska.
Valentine is home to the Fishberry Campground, a beautiful, albeit rustic campground halfway between the town and the South Dakota border. This family-friendly campground offers full hookups for your rental RV along with hot showers, bathrooms, and a coin-op laundry facility. Sites are gravel and are surrounded by grassy areas that are ideal for picnicking with the family. A couple of walking trails branch off from the RV sites, but for the most part, the recreational opportunities are all outside the park.
Smith Falls State Park should be your first stop when you camp in an RV near Valentine. A 63-foot-tall waterfall (the largest in the state) serves as the centerpiece of this green space, but even without the sights and sounds of rushing water, this state park has some excellent hiking trails to enjoy. The trails are relatively short and not difficult and can be enjoyed by all ages and fitness levels.
Another fun outing to take during your motorhome camping adventure is the Cowboy Trail, which runs for nearly 200 miles between Valentine and Norfolk, Nebraska along the defunct Chicago and North Western Railway line. Given its enormous length, it’s best explored on two wheels, but if you don’t feel like renting a bicycle in Valentine, it’s still a solid choice for a stroll or quick jog.
If you want to experience the animals of north-central Nebraska though, make a trip over to the Valentine National Wildlife Refuge to the south of town. There’s a great driving tour through the refuge that highlights the flora and fauna of the area, with particular attention paid to the elk and bison herds.
Perhaps the most unusual outdoor activity in the Sandhills region is known as tanking – floating down the river in a large stock tank designed for livestock to drink from. It falls somewhere between inner tubing and rafting with the casualness of the former and the camaraderie of the latter. Up to eight people fit in one of these metal float tubs, giving the whole experience a party atmosphere.
Valentine is a fairly compact and easy-to-navigate city with highways 12, 20, 83, and 97 fanning out from it. Most of the shopping, grocery stores, and restaurants are on the south side of town, flanking Highway 20. This is also where you’ll find the town's truck stop, which is quite useful if you need to empty your tanks or just want a little more room for maneuvering a large RV rental.
For a little bit of history about the Sandhill region, head east to Ainsworth, where the Sellors Barton Museum is located. The local gem is loaded with antique furniture and household items that give you a sense of what living in 19th-century Nebraska was really like. A little farther away but definitely worth the drive is the Grant County Museum in Hyannis, which has a lot of fascinating history on display, mainly the memorabilia from stuntman Charles Hayward, who frequently stood in for John Wayne.
If you’re interested in Native American culture and history, the Rosebud Reservation is just over the border in South Dakota. The Buechel Memorial Lakota Museum in Saint Francis is one of the better places to start with its detailed description of Lakota Sioux history and dozens of interesting artifacts from the tribe’s past. Farther into the state is the Sicangu Heritage Center Museum and Archives in the town of Mission. It’s a bit smaller than the Buechel but has some great interactive exhibits that are fun for the kids. You’ll also find a few stores selling authentic handicrafts from the tribe, and if you’re a gambler, there’s a sizable casino on the reservation.