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Canoe Trails Guide
The Niobrara River, "Running Water" as it was known to the Indians and early settlers, extends across northern
Nebraska from its narrow beginnings 50 miles inside eastern Wyoming. It empties into the Missouri River some 486 miles later between the village of Niobrara and Niobrara State Park.
The main sources of inflow are tributaries and Sandhills groundwater.
South of the river are the unique grass-covered Sandhills, which cover nearly 20,000 square miles. The vast Ogallala Aquifer, which extends into Texas, underlies the hills. The sandy soil acts like a sponge, and water eventually
percolates downward to an impervious clay layer. It then travels laterally toward the river where it emerges as seeps and springs which collect and form cascading waterfalls.
Cornell Bridge to near Norden Bridge - 30.4 miles.
The Niobrara is challenging, its water flowing water 2 to 3 miles an hour. The numerous springs and seeps contribute to its relatively clear, cold quality and to the large discharge, which ranks it second in Nebraska to the Platte River. Fast water, a few riffles and rapids, due to the rocky bottom, and two portages before the end are noted on the map. About
three-fourths of a mile after leaving the Ft. Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge launch site, you will encounter some fast water riffles where the river is passing over rock. To the right of this spot, where a creek is entering the river, is a path you can take to visit Fort Falls on the Niobrara Refuge. The next 5 miles down the river you will pass through a national wilderness area, with high cliffs and numerous water seeps from the aquifer. After passing under Buffalo Bridge, you will see on the left bank a designated hiking trail to a high overlook of the refuge and the river. Refuge managers ask that you leave the gates
as you find them.
After passing under Berry Bridge you can stop to enjoy Berry Falls which drops directly into the river, a good refresher on a hot day. Three miles below Berry Bridge you will arrive at Smith Falls State Park where you can stop and rest, have a picnic and enjoy Smith Falls, Nebraska’s tallest waterfall, at nearly 70 feet. Another three miles down river will bring you to Brewer Bridge and the Middle Niobrara Natural Resources District’s (NRD) public access area. Two miles beyond Brewer Bridge is Conner’s
Rapids; which you’ll hear before seeing it. Stay to the left, then make a sharp right turn and go right down the middle. One mile farther you will reach Fritz’s Island; go left around the island. Going to the right will take you over a rock ledge where it is easy to capsize into deep water. Less than a mile farther is Fritz’s Chute, a fun ride if you stay in the middle. About 3.5 miles away is Rocky Ford; stay to the left here, you must portage. About 2 miles below Rocky Ford is Eglehoffs’s Rapids, where a large hole in the middle of the river is disguised until it is too late. Stay left again and portage. Two miles below Eglehoffs’s Rapids
the river will speed up again at Egelhoff’s Narrows where the river forms a quick S, stay in the middle. The river will start to widen about 1/2 mile below the Narrows. Except for another quick drop over a rock ledge at Kuhre’s Rapids, about 1½ miles down stream, the river will run fairly flat for 3 1/2 miles to the Norden Bridge. Beware of a large hole and rapids just prior to, and under, the Norden Bridge; stay left (north) and pull out before the bridge.
Most canoeists will avoid the section below the bridge after June 1 because of low water.
Valentine is located at the junction of U.S. 20 and 83 in north-central Nebraska. Take Nebraska 12 east from Valentine 4 miles to the refuge. At the Refuge, you will find a public access parking lot and restrooms adjacent to Cornell Bridge. A $2 daily refuge access fee is charged and a sticker must be affixed to your vessel (canoe, tube, raft, etc.). Twelve miles downriver is Smith Falls State Park. The park entrance is on Highway 12 at mile marker 15 and vehicle park permits are required. At Brewer Bridge there isparking and a restroom. This site can be reached from Nebraska 12 at mile marker 18. All other access sites on the river are on private land and users must make prior arrangements to use them.
In May of 1991 a 76-mile stretch of the Niobrara was added to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System to preserve unique biological features. Eastern, western and northern species of trees and wildlife all can be found intermixed on slopes along the river. From Valentine, 30 miles to the east, you will encounter more than 90 waterfalls along the south bank. Fenced herds of elk and bison are at the refuge; free-ranging elk, mule and white tail deer, coyotes, red foxes, bobcats, mink, badgers and porcupine to name a few mammals; over 200 species of birds; 29 species of amphibians including rattlesnakes inhabit the area. Trout inhabit cold water tributaries, and channel catfish are in the river.
The telephone number of the Cherry County Hospital in Valentine is (402) 376-2525. The Valentine Chamber of Commerce telephone number is (402) 376-2969. The Refuge telephone number is (402) 376-3789. Smith Falls State Park telephone is 402-376-1306.
Dialing 911 will reach emergency personnel in the area.
The National Park Service manages the river through partnerships with the Game and Parks Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Niobrara Council, and various Natural Resources Districts. The National Park Service's address in Valentine is Niobrara National Scenic River, 141 S. Hall Street, P.O. Box 319, Valentine, NE 69201. Phone: (402) 376-1901.