Niobrara Canoe Trip

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Summer wouldn’t be complete without a camping trip! This year, Jenny and the gang returned to the Niobrara River for a canoe trip up between Valentine and Springview, where Vivian and I had camped back in 2007 and 2010. With the weather dry and pushing triple-digits, it was nice to have a campsite right by the river, ready for us to take a cool dip at any time. A nearby hill seemed to be daring me and Jon to scale it on Friday, so we trekked up to the top to check out the scenic view high above our campsite.

That evening, we broke out the burgers and s’mores around the campfire. Then, when the sun started to set, we dropped by the field behind our campsite for a completely random photo shoot with Libby.

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The next day, after a brief bagel breakfast, we headed off to start our long, 20-mile trek down the Niobrara River. We started our journey at the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, which meant we didn’t have to put up with any tubers swilling light beer at nine in the morning.

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Our first stop was at the Fort Falls, which provided a quick cool shower and an overlook to anybody interested. There were also little waterfalls all along the river, some of which were useful if you needed a cold shower to wake you up along the river. Vivian and I actually ran out of water on our trip, and I was so thirsty I actually drank from one waterfall we passed by. The water was so crystal clear and cold it was impossible to resist (and I’ve no Montezuma’s Revenge to speak of, either).

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Smith Falls State Park was our halfway point for lunch, and we made our usual trip up to the tallest waterfall in Nebraska along with dozens of other people crowding into the slippery, rocky base for a photo opportunity. Of course, everyone also had to take a turn underneath the torrents of water as well.

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We continued up the river to our favorite spot along the Niobrara — the “jumping off point” I’ve since learned is called Fritz’ Island. After 18 miles of paddling in the sun, it was a welcome relief to jump off a rocky base into a churning river and get carried downstream. The Niobrara is actually quite low this year, which means Vivian and I had to deal with getting stuck on dozens of sand bars that weren’t there before. That always makes a canoe trip even more difficult.

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I was pretty dead on my feet when we returned to camp. I guzzled a bottle of water in one gulp and then headed to the showers to wash off the river (and eat the Best Ice Cream Sandwich in the World). We had brats around the campfire that night and played our annual camping trip games: of Catchphrase, Story-go-Round, and a few “experiments” with Diet Coke and Mentos, courtesy of Jon.

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The next day — after having pancakes and sausage for breakfast, tearing down our campsite, and comparing bug bites — we headed back home to Omaha. A couple of us had the same bright idea of stopping by the O’Neill Pizza Hut for lunch.

Jack and Donna had been kind enough to watch Hannah for the weekend and treated us with barbecue ribs and potato salad when we got home. Hannah only seemed mildly curious when Vivian and I returned after a long weekend of camping. We let her have her first rib to chew on as a reward for being such a good girl.

Thanks to Jenny for planning yet another fun outdoor experience!

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