Spectacular proof that Nebraska isn’t at all flat and boring awaits at the end of a mere 2½-hour drive from North Platte.
OK, so it’s a “mere” drive by Nebraska standards. Even so, Smith Falls State Park offers the enterprising daytripper a stunning, 63-foot-tall waterfall along perhaps the most alluring stretch of the Niobrara River valley.
Declared a state park in 1992, the site is one of 70 statewide attractions and 13 west central Nebraska participants in the Nebraska Tourism Commission’s 10th annual Nebraska Passport program.
Locations are grouped into 10 themed statewide tours, with prizes awarded this fall to those who visit all 70 stops or collect stamps from every stop on one or more tours. Information is available at nebraskapassport.com.
The 250-acre Smith Falls site was a popular canoeing and camping haunt before the family of Fred Krzyzanowski leased the waterfall and surrounding land to the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission in 1992.
The commission signed a new 25-year lease with the family in 2018, ensuring continued public access to the site 15 miles east and 5 miles south of Valentine.
Named for Frederic Smith, who received the site’s first ownership patent under the 1862 Homestead Act, the waterfall tumbles from a tree-lined summit and splays into a narrow gorge running a short distance north to the Niobrara.
Once visitors cross the river, a wooden walkway leads them to the base of the falls. Connecting the falls with the park’s visitors center is a 160-foot-long iron truss pedestrian bridge, saved from its original location near Verdigre in 1991 and reassembled at Smith Falls in 1996.
Camping sites are available by reservation, and picnickers, anglers, canoers and kayakers enjoy easy river access. The Jim MacAllister Nature Trail, meanwhile, offers hikes through unique North American ecological areas.