A summer Niobrara trip

By Alex Duryea, Ecotourism Consultant, Nebraska Tourism Commission

The Niobrara River rises in Wyoming’s high plains and flows eastward across northern Nebraska before joining the Missouri River. It’s the launching point for many ecotourism operations including Niobrara Adventures, a local outfitter that provides kayak and tube rentals that I visited recently. Their private launch point is about a half-mile up Verdigre Creek, which flows into the Niobrara.

I got a safety briefing and tutorial on how to read the river as it’s easy to get stuck on sand lurking just beneath the surface if you don’t follow the channel.

The river keeps you crawling along well. I found it pretty easy to keep in the channel, although in Verdigre Creek, the water was so low that I got stuck a few times and had to drag the kayak. I saw about 20 pelicans on the river and chased a blue heron down the river, which was a great experience. I came across a few waterfowl hunting blinds along the edges of the river as the Niobrara area is a popular place among game birds because of the river deltas and channels formed by moving sediment on the Niobrara and Missouri Rivers. The sediment buildup in these rivers is a topic for a later time…

As the trip came to an end, I could see the takeout by the HWY 12 bridge. On the day I was on the river, there was about 25 yards of sandy shore to take out my kayak, but the water levels will vary. I was tempted to continue down the river and enter the Missouri River but was told the railroad bridge crossing the river at Niobrara State Park has had an excess build up of sediment, raising the water level to where you won’t fit under the bridge. A trip out there afterward confirmed that, no way to fit under the bridge but probably easy enough to portage around it.

With non-motorized paddle sports on the rise, destinations like Niobrara are sure to see an increase in visitors due to their prime location on the Missouri National Recreational River water trail. I’ll be interested to see where paddle sports are in 5 years and what impact it will have on the nearby communities.