Editors' Picks: 20 of the Best Things to Do in Nebraska

Nebraska - the state's name derives from a Native American word meaning "flat water," which seems appropriate considering that it has the largest underground aquifer in the country and more miles of river than any other state.

Back in 1927, all that water came in handy when the powdered drink mix known as "Kool-Aid" was first invented in Nebraska. Perfect for washing down another state invention: the Reuben Sandwich.

Among the celebrities hailing from the Cornhusker State: Fred Astaire, billionaire Warren Buffett, former president Gerald Ford and the "Godfather" himself, Marlon Brando. There are so many interesting things about Nebraska, you may wonder why they ever left. But in the meantime, here are 20 of the coolest things about the state that you must check out.

1. The Sandhill Crane Migration

It's one of the prettiest things in nature, the sight of nearly half a million cranes (with wingtips spanning 6 to 8 feet) feeding and hanging out along the Platte River. Watching them take flight at sunset will take your breath away. There are several locations to observe the event; find them here.

2. Carhenge

Nearly 40 cars jut out from the prairie in various formations, replicating Stonehenge in quirky fashion. It's so close to the real thing, that a solstice event takes place at the site a few times a year. (Alliance)

3. Joslyn Castle

Early in the 20th century, the Joslyn family were among Omaha's most prominent citizens - and their opulent home shows it. Explore this Scottish-style castle and the gorgeous grounds, which feature exotic plantings from all over the world. (Omaha)

4. Frank H. Woods Telephone Pioneer Association Telephone Museum

Long before we carried them around in our pockets, the telephone resided on the wall or hall table. This wonderful museum showcases the earliest days of Bell's original design, along with various other models from early days. (Lincoln)

6. Ashfall Fossil Beds State Park

Visitors are always surprised at what's being uncovered by paleontologists at the site of this ancient volcanic blast. There's even an area for little kids to do their own "dig." (Royal)

7. The Niobrara River

This river has two advantages: first, it's one of the most scenic spots in the state. Second, it only runs about hip-deep in summer, so canoeing it makes it a little less scary if you happen to overturn. Great for kids or novices.

8. Chimney Rock

For thousands of pioneers heading west during the 1800s, this ancient formation was a noted landmark. Rising nearly 500 feet into the sky, it's as imposing as it was back then. The Visitor Center provides an intriguing look at the Overland Trail, as it was during the days of wagon trains. (Scotts Bluff)

9. Lake McConaughy

The biggest lake in the state provides plenty of chances to camp, lounge on the beach, do some fishing or pretty much any other great waterside activity.

10. Santee Indian Reservation

It's been home to the Santee Sioux since 1868. Before that, the Ponca tribe called it home for eons. The annual Pow-Wow takes place every June. (Niobrara)

11. The Archway

The museum honors the adventurers who lived, worked and passed through the state, from the pioneers to Pony Express riders to fur trappers and those who helped build the transcontinental railroad. (Kearney)

12. Strategic Air and Space Museum

Spread over 300,000 square feet, this sleek facility showcases tons of different airplanes, helicopters, spacecraft - even a really cool planetarium. It's been a huge hit ever since it first opened in 1959. (Ashland)

13. The Golden Spike Tower

It's an eight-foot tower that looms over the Bailey Yard, the world's largest rail yard (10,000 cars come and go each and every day). Climb the tower to take it all in - as well as stunning views of the Platte river valley. (North Platte)

14. Museum of The Fur Trade

Back in the day, fur wasn't just a necessity for staying warm in frigid parts of the country, it was one of the biggest businesses in North America. This museum is on the site of a former trading post from the early 1800s, and shows how traders, trappers and Native Americans got 'er done. Pull up a bearskin and have a look around. (Chadron)

15. The Sunken Gardens

National Geographic has listed this as one of the best public gardens in America. Every year since 1930, they've put on an astonishing display of over 30,000 different plants, arranged as a theme. (Lincoln)

15. Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park

During the heyday of his 19th century Wild West Show, Buffalo Bill Cody built this ranch, featuring an incredible mansion. There's a ton of memorabilia on display from the life of one of America's most colorful characters. (North Platte)

16. Joslyn Art Museum

Visitors to Omaha rave about the collection, which includes everything from ancient Egyptian pieces to important works of modern art. Plus, there's a wonderful floor-to-ceiling glasswork by Chihuly that always inspires "oohs" and "aahs." And admission is free!

17. The Christmas Bird Count

Every year during the holiday season, bird watchers descend upon Ponca State Park to help out the Audubon Society in their National Bird Count. And there's a chili feast afterwards. Check the website for exact dates.

18. The National Museum of Roller Skating

Do you know how roller skating even came to be? You will after a visit to this quirky museum. From the crazy costumes worn in early days to roller derby and more, it's a fun look at a fun sport. (Lincoln)

19. Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium

Besides 130 acres of animals, caves and more, this zoo boasts the largest indoor rainforest in North America. A nice way to escape a cold Nebraska day and warm up.

20. Pioneer Village

It's one of the most eclectic collections of Americana you'll ever find, encompassing Currier and Ives prints, an authentic Pony Express station, a recreation of a general store, and the world's oldest Buick. Over 50,000 items provide a slightly crazy look at how America came to be. (Minden)

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