- 1 Valentine National Wildlife Refuge
- 2 Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest
- 3 Nebraska National Forest
North Central Nebraska is the least populated area of the state. Less than 100,000 people live in area covering 19,000 sq mi (30,000 sq km). That's an average of 5 people per square mile (3 people per square kilometer).
This region of Nebraska is a lot of what visitors to the state expect. Open grasslands and treeless landscapes as far as the eye can see. Most of the farmland in this region is for livestock, specifically cattle. Towns are tight-knit and are willing to accommodate visitors.
The low population and small towns have created an area of sky considered ideal for stargazing, especially along NE-97 between Mullen and Valentine. Virtually no light pollution allows visitors a view of the night sky as it would have been hundreds of years ago. This is a double-edged sword, however. Roads outside of towns have no lights, so take care when driving after dark.
Get in and around
North Central Nebraska is about 100 miles from I-80 and I-90 and 200 miles from I-29 and I-25. State highways are going to be the only way of driving into this area. US-83, US-183, and US-281 are the main highways traveling north-south. US-20 and NE-2 are the main routes east-west. There are several municipal airports in the region, located at Valentine, Ainsworth, and Thedford. The nearest major airport would be located in Omaha. These small airports are primarily for cargo and emergency personnel, but civilians are allow to board flights when they are available.
Being the least populated region in Nebraska, crime is not a problem in the region. People are courteous and willing to help.
Environmental hazards pose the greatest threat. This area experiences extreme weather regularly. Severe thunderstorms, blizzards, and tornadoes are regular occurrences. Check your hotel or motel for information regarding severe weather shelters. Camping grounds have severe weather shelter locations marked on maps. Distances between towns can be over one hundred miles, meaning fuel stops are spaced far apart. Make sure your car is ready for long drives and has a full tank of gas before heading out. Roads outside of the cities do not have street lamps, and so night driving is often done in complete darkness and not recommended. Keep an eye out for wildlife crossing the road. Cell phone coverage can be spotty so service might not be available when you need it.
A majority of Nebraska's severe weather is experienced in late May and early June, and again in January and February. Bad weather can strike any time so make sure you know the weather forecast before heading on an outdoor excursion.
- Head north into South Dakota
- Go south and visit Kearney
- Head east towards the panhandle and visit Scottsbluff
- Go east and visit the largest city in the state, Omaha, or the state capital, Lincoln