The jagged cliffs, hills, valleys and draws of Nebraska’s northern border provided refuge for frontier outlaws like Doc Middleton, Kid Wade and their associates. That rough topography is also what necessitated the twisted trajectory of Highway 12 – the Outlaw Trail Scenic Byway.
The eastern terminus of this route is South Sioux City, once known as the “wildest little town on the Missouri River.” Wildly fun family times take place in South Sioux City at Crystal Cove. The 60-acre park has nature trails and a lake. More than 200 bird species have been seen here. Summer and winter fish stockings provide more fun, and the disc golf course is open all year long. Find Crystal Cove at West 39th Street in South Sioux City.
From here, the asphalt stretches 231 miles through farmland, prairie and sand hills on its way to Valentine. Travelers taking the scenic route can explore more than three dozen communities within the byway corridor.
Highlights along the route include scenic views at Ponca State Park along 22 miles of hiking and biking trails. Head north out of Ponca on Spur 26E for four miles to get there. Bob’s Bar in Martinsburg is famous for its giant hamburgers at 5205 Main St. The smoking Ionia Volcano, which Lewis and Clark noted in their journals when they passed by here, is no more, but Missouri River mist billows from Gavin’s Point Dam 12 miles north of Crofton.
Along the Niobrara River in Boyd County, Angel’s Straw Bale Saloon is just that – a biker-friendly saloon built with straw bales. 89541 Power Rd.
Hardy residents cut a hole in that frozen Niobrara River each February in Meadville for the community’s annual Polar Bear Festival. They dive right on in, and after that chilly plunge they feel warm all day. Find this fun-loving hamlet 18 miles north of Ainsworth on Old Highway 7. Inquire at the Meadville Store. 89247 Meadville Circle.
Waterfalls, unique ecosystems and canoe trails become more prevalent as the river and Highway 12 wind their way through the Sandhills and to the official end of the byway in Cherry County.
Hundreds of destinations await discovery. For more information on the Outlaw Trail Scenic Byway visit nebraskaoutlawtrail.org.