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Discovering Nebraska’s Dark Sky Party and Day Adventures Filled With Amazing Sights

Traveling through the Northwestern area of Nebraska unveils a variety of spectacular sights. Being the 37th state to join the Union in 1867, Nebraska is renowned as one of the prime locations in the United States for observing the night sky.

Due to the spread-out nature of the towns in this region, the sky becomes exceptionally dark on clear nights with minimal to no light pollution. A particularly unique spot offering an exceptional nocturnal setting is the Merritt Reservoir State Recreation Area. Situated above the town of Valentine, this area was recently designated as the 200th certified Night Sky place by the International Dark-Sky Association. This certification is awarded to locations that demonstrate outstanding starry night quality which is specifically safeguarded for scientific, natural, educational, cultural, and public enjoyment purposes.

Merritt Reservoir hosts the annual Nebraska Star Party every August. The Snake Campground in Merritt Reservoir provides stunning astronomical views, boasting one of the largest expanses of minimal light pollution in the U.S., making it possible for about 80% of North America to witness the Milky Way.

Jenna Bartja, an Adventure Travel Specialist at Nebraska Tourism, emphasized the significance of dark skies. She shared insights on the requirements for a location to be designated as a dark sky site, including adherence to IDA guidelines for the specific designation pursued. A key factor is demonstrating exceptional dark sky characteristics relative to the surrounding lands and communities.

For daytime excursions, a short drive to Niobrara River offers opportunities to explore spring-fed waters, sugar sand beaches, and Smith Falls State Park. Visitors can enjoy kayaking, canoeing, or floating down the river with Little Outlaw Outfitters. Smith Falls, named after Frederic Smith, offers the highest waterfall in the state and remains an area of biological importance where ice age species can still be found.

Other notable dark sky destinations in Nebraska include Toadstool Geological Park, known for its unique geological formations and fossils dating back approximately 30 million years. The park provides limited light pollution in the evenings, allowing for spectacular views of stars, constellations, the Milky Way, and even the International Space Station passing overhead every 90 minutes.

For a unique lodging experience, visitors can stay at Our Heritage Ranch in Crawford or High Plains Homestead in the Old West theme glamping adventure. These accommodations offer a blend of history, nature, and adventure, providing a memorable stay.

Scotts Bluff National Park, Chimney Rock National Historic Site, and surrounding attractions offer geological wonders and historical insights for visitors to explore during the day. Papa Moon Winery & Cider House and dining spots like The Steel Grill and Flyover Brewing Company provide opportunities to relax and savor local flavors.

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To wrap up the day, Monument Inn and Suites near Scotts Bluff National Monument offers a comfortable overnight stay. Visitors can enjoy the panoramic views from the monument and hiking trails before heading home.

Nebraska’s unique offerings cater to both stargazing enthusiasts and daytime adventurers, promising a blend of natural beauty, history, and gastronomic delights.

Image Source: The Grand Island Independent

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