90159 Smith Falls Rd. | Valentine, NE 69201
Scenic Smith Falls State Park is home to Nebraska’s highest waterfall, also called Smith Falls. The state park is a popular destination for campers, as well as canoers, kayakers, tubers and others who visit the area to experience the beautiful Niobrara River, a National Scenic River. Many outfitters use the park as a take-out spot, which make it a convenient camping site for those planning to paddle or float the river.
Smith Falls is named for Frederic Smith, who filed the first homestead patent on the land that encompasses the falls. The site became a state park in 1992. Not only is the land home to the beautiful falls, it is also an area of biological significance where several ice age species can still be found.
Perhaps the biggest draw of Smith Falls State Park is, of course, the famous falls. At 70 feet, these falls are the highest waterfall in Nebraska. From the north side of the park, cross the footbridge that spans the Niobrara River and then travel the boardwalk to the falls. Remember: Hiking to the falls is limited to established trails to prevent erosion and protect rare plants.
A 76-mile stretch of the river east of Valentine is a nationally designated scenic river. This stretch of the river boasts some of the best canoeing, tubing and kayaking you will find. For those who don’t have their own watercraft, several outfitters in Valentine rent equipment and provide shuttle service. Customized float trips from 2-6 hours can be arranged.
The visitor center is open daily from May to September, and offers maps and information about the area, park historical information, photographs, a fossil display and restrooms. The center has a parking area, picnic area and pollinator garden, as well as concessions. Concessions include firewood, charcoal, ice, snacks, beverages, posters, cards, stickers, clothing, hats and field guides, as well as park permits and camping registration.
More than 230 bird, 75 mammal, 28 reptile and countless insect species live in this region, part of the reason this stretch of the Niobrara River has been designated a National Wild and Scenic River. Hang around, and you’re likely to see herons, bald eagles, river otters, spiny softshell turtles, blue damselflies and more — including a combination of Eastern and Western species of animals and plants.
The Cowboy Recreation and Nature Trail passes through spectacular Nebraska scenery as it travels 195 miles from Valentine east to Norfolk. This trail is great for biking, hiking and horseback riding. One of the most spectacular parts of the trail is the old train trestle that crosses the Niobrara River just outside of Valentine.
The Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge is a 19,131-acre refuge west of the park and is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Bison, elk, deer and prairie dogs can be seen along the 3.5-mile wildlife drive through the refuge. The more adventurous visitor can enjoy the Fort Niobrara Wilderness Area on foot and hike to Fort Falls.
Located 26 miles southwest of Valentine, this park is situated in a narrow, picturesque valley of the Snake River. The reservoir covers 2,906 surface acres and has 44 miles of shoreline. Camping, boating, fishing, water skiing, and other water-related activities are permitted. Merritt is a designated International Dark Sky Park.
Smith Falls State Park offers beautiful Basic campsites ideal for tent camping while floating the river or viewing the falls. The campground is located along the north side of the river. The campground has picnic tables, restrooms and pay showers.
Reservations can be made online or by calling the Nebraska State Parks reservation call center at 402-471-1414. Those camping without reservations should visit the park office upon arrival to check availability and register to camp.
Picnic pavilions may be rented for your activity. Reserve by calling the park office.
A park entry permit is required to visit state parks and may be purchased at the park, statewide Game and Parks offices and permit vendors, or in advance of your arrival online. View those fees, as well as attraction and amenity pricing.
Reservations are accepted for cabins, lodge rooms, and group lodges up to one year in advance of the arrival date. Reservations for camping are accepted up to 180 days in advance of arrival date. The Reservation Call Center hours are Monday-Friday 9 a.m. – 6 p.m. (CT) and closed on holidays.