Fort Falls in May 2016
In 2016, I flew into Rapid City, South Dakota. I had the intention to check a few waterfalls off, including some waterfalls in Nebraska. I saw three waterfalls in Nebraska, Snake River Falls, Smith Falls, and Fort Falls. All three of them were surprisingly beautiful. One doesn’t necessarily associate waterfalls with Nebraska, but you should.
Fort Falls is found in Fort Niobara National Wildlife Refuge, which is open sunrise to sunset. Getting to the trail for the falls does require driving through the refuge, where you’re almost guaranteed to see some prairie dogs. They were abundant. Once at the parking area for the trail head, it was a short hike to the falls. At 45′, Fort Falls is an impressive waterfall that just appears. It was definitely fun to photograph, as you can try a few different angles with the falls. If you continue down the trail, you’ll end up at the Niobara River, and will have a great view of some cliffs along the river.
- From Valentine, Nebraska, head northeast on NE-12, the Outlaw Trail Scenic Byway.
- Turn right into the entrance to Fort Niobara National Wildlife Refuge (which might be labeled Nebraska 16D).
- After entering the park, I would follow the signs that clearly indicate where the waterfall is. There is a interconnected system of dirt roads throughout the refuge and they don’t have clear names. If you’re on the right path, you should end up at a looped parking area, and an information sign will indicate that you’re very close to the falls.
Accessibility: 8/10 (easy/moderate)
Length of Hike: 0.75 miles round-trip
Where in the World is Fort Falls?
Smith Falls in May 2016
Two years around this time, I was visiting South Dakota, and took a short venture into Nebraska to see a few waterfalls. I’ve posted information about one of them, Snake River Falls. It’s one of three impressive waterfalls in the Valentine area (that are easy to visit). The second one I’ll discuss is Smith Falls, which is known as the tallest of the falls in Nebraska.
I don’t know what to say about Smith Falls except to mention that it’s probably one of the most unique waterfall I’ve ever seen. There wasn’t a wild amount of water flowing over it (compared to Snake River Falls, which had a very high flow in early May), and so the falls took on a bizarre shape. As you might notice, erosion has occurred around the falls, but the water flows over in a central location and then cascades out as the rock below widens. Instead of being “smoothed out” at the crest of the falls, it’s kind of jagged, and then it expands toward the base. I can’t say I’ve seen any other falls with this distinctly unique shape and flow.
It’s not a particularly difficult hike to get to the falls. I showed up and the visitor’s center was not open. Nobody else was even remotely around. I didn’t have any cash, so I wasn’t sure how to deal with the entrance fee. I decided to explore and donate more to other state parks :). The hike leads you downhill toward the Niobara River. You then cross the Niobara River over a pedestrian bridge, and then head toward the falls, which will be to your right. There are some stairs and a wood pathway that lead to the base of the falls.
- In Valentine, head north along N Main Street.
- Turn right onto NE-12 (E 5th Street, which then turns into the Outlaw Trail Scenic Byway).
- Drive 15 miles along NE-12 heading east. You will notice signs for Smith Falls State Park. (Along the way you pass Fort Niobara National Wildlife Refuge, where you’ll find Fort Falls.)
- Turn right onto the road heading toward Smith Falls State Park. Google does not provide a name for this road. Drive 3 miles or so down this road, and continue to follow the signs.
- There may be a left turn required to get to the parking area with visitor’s center.
- From the visitor’s center, head downhill toward the Niobara River, cross the river via bridge, and then veer slightly right along the trail to the falls.
The address shown on the Nebraska state parks website will lead you down some primitive roads if you follow Google’s directions. It’s better to stay on Nebraska Route 12.
Accessibility: 9/10 (easy)
Length of Hike: 1.2 miles round-trip
I have known about some of the waterfalls in Nebraska for a while, but haven’t had the chance to visit them. One of the reasons is that they’re relatively isolated. I travel a lot of fun by flying, and the nearest commercial airports to these waterfalls are over 140 miles away (North Platte or Pierre). And they’re served by smaller airlines, so it’s not as easy to arrive. When I decided to visit the Black Hills in South Dakota, I looked at the map and realized Rapid City’s airport wasn’t much further away. I extended my trip to be able to visit the Black Hills and some of Nebraska’s waterfalls.
Even then, it’s still a long drive. Valentine is the epicenter of these waterfalls. Once you arrive, it’s still a longer drive to the waterfalls. Snake River Falls is 20 miles or more southwest of Valentine. I was tired of driving already, but it was definitely worth it. Snake River Falls is considered to be the Nebraska waterfall with the most volume, and when I visited a few days ago in early May, this was very obvious. Recent rains and possible snow melt created a wildly impressive waterfall. In searching for info about this waterfall, I saw images of people fishing in the river. That would not have been possible on the day I visited. So while it’s not a particularly tall waterfall (the tallest in Nebraska is Smith Falls), it’s definitely a big waterfall.
Now that you know about it, you just need to find it. As I had read somewhere else, there is absolutely no sign along the main road (NE-97) that would indicate you’re approaching a waterfall. My best advice would be to type in Snake River Falls into Google Maps on your smartphone and have that direct you to the dirt road that leads to the falls. I’m not even sure there’s a name for the road? Realize that this waterfall is on private property of the Snake Falls Sportsmen’s Club. There is a $1 per person fee, which is worth it.
- From Valentine, at the intersection of US-20 and NE-97, head south along NE-97 for 22.2 miles.
- Look for an unmarked dirt road to your right. Turn right, and follow this for 1 mile. If you have the right road, you should end up at the Snake Falls Sportmen’s Club. Park there and pay the $1 per person fee in the mailbox.
- Take the short hike to the falls. Be careful! The rock here is very soft and I couold imagine it being rather slippery. To get to the base of the falls, you have to head downhill. The path are relatively obvious, but I had to hold on to rocks at some points to ensure my safety.
Accessibility: 7/10 (easy/moderate, slippery rock downhill)
Hike: 0.3 miles round trip
Snake River Falls in May 2016
Where in the World is Snake River Falls?