Kayaking the North Platte River

Getting Back To Nature in North Platte

By Paul Colbert

Kayaking the North Platte River

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If you yearn for wide-open spaces, North Platte, Nebraska, is an ideal place to get back to nature with a touch of history and hospitality.

Located in the middle of America’s heartland, North Platte offers a peaceful quality of life. It’s nestled among verdant plains, rolling hills, and rising mesas. Close your eyes, and you can almost see the prairie schooners making their slow trek to the promised land more than a century-and-a-half ago. Don’t be surprised if you can also picture a buckskin-clad horseman on a rise. North Platte was the home of Buffalo Bill Cody, famed scout and Western showman.

Of course, the landscape has changed since Buffalo Bill’s day. Once, vast herds of buffalo trampled the prairie. But the cattle still graze, and corn reaches for the sun. The North Platte and South Platte rivers converge here to form the Platte River, which winds its way to the wide Missouri. Birders visit each spring to catch the sandhill cranes, which gather by the thousands. It’s one of the biggest birding events in the country.

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Waterfowl share the river with locals who have created a unique method of travel called tanking. The “boat” is actually a metal water tank for cattle and can hold a family, along with chairs and coolers for a lazy drift on the water.  The river attracts canoe and kayak enthusiast as well. You’ll find an assortment of watercraft available for rent.

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Today’s visitors will find accommodations greatly improved from the days when early travelers had to sleep under their wagons. Lake Maloney State Recreation Area offers spaces for RV and tent campers. The lake’s ideal for boating and swimming and the fishing is great for walleye, bass, and catfish. After a day on the water and hiking the trails, you can relax and watch the gorgeous sunsets over the calm water.

To stretch the muscles, the North Platte Trails Network beckons bikers. Potter’s Pasture Mountain Bike Trail consists of nearly 100 miles of bike trails through hills, canyons, and grasslands. For hunters, the opportunities range from pheasant to deer — in season and with permits, of course.

No visit to North Platte is complete without a stop at Buffalo Bill’s home.  It’s been preserved at The Buffalo Bill Ranch Historical Park. The Victorian home where Cody lived with his family is open to the public. You’ll learn about one of the most colorful figures of the Old West, who took his background as a buffalo hunter and scout, added showmanship and became one of the first worldwide celebrities. You’ll also see a rendition of his famous wild west shows that thrilled audiences in America and across Europe. Visitors to the ranch can wander the beautiful grounds and barns and step back in time. Horseback riding is available, so you can trot in the same hoofsteps as the old scout.

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North Platte, population about 25,000, stays busy year-round with world-class rodeos, musical performances, dirt-track racing, and other activities. The city is also home to the annual Miss Nebraska Pageant. Modern hotels are available for those whose idea of roughing it is walking to the pool and restaurants.

Nebraska winters can be brisk and snowy, but spring and summer are balmy.  Average high temperatures in the summer in North Platte are in the mid-80s. But nighttime lows in the 40s and 50s make for great snuggle-up sleeping under the stars after a day of adventure.

Paul Colbert is a travel blogger and nature enthusiast. He loves exploring new places and new ways to enjoy the outdoors.