Discover America Radio
Nebraska

The Sandhills of Nebraska

Listen to the prairie whisper


This mesmerising sweep of unspoiled, rolling prairie in north-central Nebraska escaped the plough for one reason only—the soil was too sandy to grow crops like corn. The Sandhills are the largest set of stabilised sand dunes in the Western Hemisphere, ranchland still blanketed with Indian grass and bluestem that stretches across 19,000 square miles of the state.

Achingly beautiful in its own quiet way, it is one of the least familiar of the United States’ geological curiosities. Created some 8,000 years ago, the mountains of sand were whipped into drifts by powerful winds and slowly covered with grass over time. The largest of these dunes are 400 feet tall and 20 miles long, creating an undulating topography unique in North America.

The best way to understand their full grandeur is to drive the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway, a 272-mile trip that Charles Kuralt called one of the nation’s ten most beautiful drives. It runs along Highway 2, starting in crane country’s Grand Island and cutting northwesterly through mile after mile of rolling grassy dunes and endless sky. You can drive for long stretches without seeing another car—that’s how empty it is.

With its lakes, marshes and tall grasses, the 72,000-acre Valentine National Wildlife Refuge is a major stop for migrating songbirds and 150,000 ducks. More than 260 species of birds have been spotted here, including herons, terns, pelicans and long-billed curlews. And when the prairie is carpeted with wildflowers in the spring, prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse gather to perform their elaborate, foot-stamping courtship displays, said to have inspired local tribal dances.

“Anyone can sit back at the seashore and be inspired, because it shouts at you,” said Father Val Peters, the most recent director of Boys Town in Omaha. “But the prairie only whispers. You must listen closely and not miss the message.”

This trip idea can be found in:

1,000 Places to See in the United States & Canada Before You Die®

Trip idea text ©Patricia Schultz. For contact information about the places mentioned and many more USA trip ideas, see Patricia Schultz's blockbuster book.

Welcome to Discover America!

Now that you have registered, you can save trip ideas to your suitcase.

Start exploring

Enter your email address and we’ll send you a link to reset your password.

Please check your email.

Start exploring

The password on your account has successfully been changed. Please use your new password to login.

Start exploring

This website is set to 'allow all cookies' for the best user experience. By continuing without changing this setting, you are consenting to this. You may change your settings at any time at the bottom of this page.

More information about cookies

Cookies are very small text files that are stored on your computer when you visit some websites.

We use cookies to make our website easier for you to use. You can remove any cookies already stored on your computer, but these may prevent you from using parts of our website.

If you choose to disable non-essential cookies, the website will:

  • Allow you to log in and remember you are logged in, while in session
  • Determine your country of origin in order to serve you the most relevant version of the site

This website will not:

  • Restrict welcome messaging to the first time you visit the site
  • Track any activity on the site for analytics purposes

More information about cookies