A getaway from Wisconsin – to the Plains states! On my tour out west, I wanted to discover another National Wild and Scenic River, so my Mom and I paddled 7 miles of it on a beautiful morning. The river is clear with a rocky bottom (sometimes the bedrock) and some plants that streak it green. It looks strange from above. The National Park Service has a list of outfitters that rent canoes, kayaks, tubes and even tanks – plastic cattle troughs – and they will shuttle you (https://www.nps.gov/niob/planyourvisit/privateoutfitterslist.htm). We used Sharp’s Outfitters.
Arriving at 8 a.m. on a fine day was perfect. Any later and we would have gotten too hot; it was warming up by the end even after just 2 hours. There are plenty of waterfalls along the river. The first one was right after our put-in at Berry Bridge. The tallest is at Smith Falls State Park. You have to leave your boat and hike a half mile up to it, a shower down a cliff face – the tallest waterfall in Nebraska at 63 feet. A unique feature of these waterfalls is that the rocks that they are on budge outwards (usually there is an undercut.) This occurs because they are spring fed and water is flowing all year – the rocks don’t freeze and break off.
The river meanders through cliffs and fields, usually with the cliffs alternating sides. Some of the cliffs, particularly on the right, are weeping because the Oglala Aquifer is opened on the cliff face. Allen Bridge is about halfway, and there is a restaurant there. Smith Falls State Park is soon after, with camping.
There are riffles throughout the ride, and in August, the river can be very shallow. Try to stay in the current to keep off of sandbars and watch out for rocks.
Our takeout was a little bit past Brewer Bridge at Spark’s Landing, where our outfitter was located. There are a few other landings right after Brewers Bridge that appeared to have camping through outfitters.
The flora and fauna was somewhat similar to the rivers I am used to. There were juniper, ash, red pine, butternut, oak and yucca. On the river, I saw a kingfisher, great blue heron and a prairie falcon with a beautiful cream and spotted belly. Nearby at Fort Niobrara Wildlife Refuge, we saw elk and prairie dogs as we drove through. This is along the river upstream from where we paddled.
If you are in Northern Nebraska, I would strongly suggest paddling this river! It is beautiful and unique, listed by Backpacker Magazine as one of the top ten rivers to paddle in the US, and one of the top 100 adventures by National Geographic!
Paddled August 29, 2016