You might want to try a weekend or three day weekend trip to canoe the Niobrara River in the Nebraska Sandhills. Itís about 230 miles (about three and a half hours) from Harlan County Lake to Valentine, Nebraska on the Niobrara River. I have traveled from central Iowa to paddle the Niobrara at least five times in the last 15 years. Thatís 420 miles or about six and a half hour drive for me. Itís a great paddling experience with a landscape you would not expect in Nebraska.
Six major ecosystem types converge in the Niobrara River valley including northern boreal forest, ponderosa pine forest, eastern deciduous forest, tallgrass prairie, mixed-grass prairie, and shortgrass prairie. There are numerous waterfalls along the Niobrara where streams and springs emerge from the Rosebud Formation along the north side of the river. I remember one hot July trip where we kept stopping to sit under the waterfalls for a refreshing break.
While there are rapids in various places along the Niobrara they presented no real problem for our group of inexperienced paddlers. Some did line their canoes through one rapid (an easy walk along the bank dragging the canoes by a lead rope.) We did have to take a short portage around Rocky Ford Rapid (class III.)
Here is a link to the National Park Service Niobrara National River on canoeing the Niobrara (this page includes links to river guides and maps in downloadable PDF format:
EZ Launchģ Kayak & Canoe
Kayak & Canoe Outriggers
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