They say that Virginia is for lovers, but the most romantic place in the country might just be Valentine, Nebraska. Known as the Heart City, this north-central Nebraska community seemingly celebrates Valentine’s Day every day of the year, from special postmarks to signs with hearts.
However, Valentine is more than just romantic -- the area is home to historic attractions as well as impressive natural landmarks.
Here are just a few reasons why you should bring your valentine to Valentine.
1. It’s Unabashedly Romantic
As you explore Valentine, you’ll find Valentine’s Day hearts painted on street signs as well as on sidewalks. Stop by the city’s iconic Valentine: Heart City sign for a photo opportunity.
Bring an envelope or postcard to the local post office, where you can have it stamped with a special postmark. Thousands of letters, postcards, and wedding invitations arrive at the Valentine post office annually with requests for the postmarks, according to the local office. Each year, the post office receives anywhere from 5,000 to 20,000 requests! The postmarks are designed by local artists. One features an outline of the state with a heart in the middle, and another features a heart and the words Heart City.
2. It’s Steeped In History
Home to the oldest standing schoolhouse in Nebraska, the Centennial Hall Museum highlights local history in a series of themed rooms featuring exhibits on military history, fashion, and education. The museum is rumored to be haunted, and some people claim to have seen things move by themselves. Maybe you can do your own paranormal investigation!
Nearby is the Cherry County Historical Society Museum, which explores the area’s past through exhibits on Native American artifacts, American military history, and pioneer life.
Both museums are open from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday from Memorial Day to Labor Day or by appointment.
3. It’s Naturally Beautiful
Valentine is home to some of the most beautiful prairie landscapes you’ll ever see. The town is situated in the Sandhills, the world’s largest area of sand dunes with a seemingly endless sea of wild prairie grass (in fact, Nebraska was once part of a prehistoric sea).
Rolling hills greet you at the stunning Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge, located about a 5-mile drive from town. The refuge is home to herds of bison and elk -- they’ll sometimes cause traffic jams as they meander along the main roads! Take in views of prairie-dog towns as the cute squirrel relatives dart in and out of their dens, alerting the village of human visitors. The refuge also offers a .75-mile hiking trail that takes you to the scenic Niobrara River.
A visitor center located on the site of the former Fort Niobrara features exhibits on the history of the structure, which operated from 1879 until 1911.
The Valentine National Wildlife Refuge is home to a variety of waterfowl as well as prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse. There are a number of hiking trails -- including a self-guided interpretive trail -- and excellent bird-watching opportunities. The refuge puts up photo blinds during April and May, since these are prime months for prairie chicken and sharp-tailed grouse mating dances.
Smith Falls State Park is home to Nebraska’s most impressive waterfalls, including Smith Falls, the state’s largest at more than 63 feet tall. The park welcomes visitors year-round, but the falls are at their best between spring and autumn. The falls are known for their cold water, and people kayaking or canoeing along the Niobrara River will often park their boats and dash through them for a quick refresh.
Snake River Falls is another impressive spot to visit; it’s Nebraska’s most voluminous waterfall and is about 12 miles from Valentine.
The Cowboy Trail is a hiking/biking trail that covers nearly 200 miles of a railroad line once used by the Chicago and North Western Railroad. It currently runs from Norfolk, Nebraska, to Valentine, and the trail’s most photographed spot is the bridge that crosses the Niobrara River near Valentine. The bridge offers a beautiful view of the surrounding landscape.
4. You Can Kayak Down The Gorgeous Niobrara River
The Niobrara National Scenic River runs from the Nebraska Panhandle to the Missouri River in northeastern Nebraska. With its slow-moving current, the Niobrara River offers kayakers an opportunity to enjoy the area’s summer sun while taking in scenic views of tall bluffs and cascading waterfalls. The shallow river features shoreline trails where you can park your boat and explore the area.
There are spots featuring challenging Class II rapids, but skillful kayakers can easily navigate them. Novices can kayak the river from Berry Bridge to Rocky Ford with ease. You can either take a self-guided trip or work with an outfitter. The river is also good for canoeing and tubing.
5. The Food Is Fantastic
Perhaps the best-known restaurant in town is the Peppermill and Valentine Lounge, home of the Mulligan, an 8-ounce sirloin steak that’s aged seven to 10 weeks for maximum flavor. If your valentine has a hearty appetite, order them the Joseph Grilled Prime Rib, slow-roasted and served in 16- or 32-ounce portions. Each entree comes with a salad and a side.
If you’re in the mood for burgers and maybe a chicken-fried steak, you might want to check out the Bunkhouse Restaurant and Saloon. The restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Neon Bar & Grill is located at the Raine Motel. Open Wednesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., the restaurant offers burgers and salads as well as aged steaks and homemade barbecue.
6. You Can Stay At A Cozy Lodge Or Guest Ranch
With 61 guest rooms, the Niobrara Lodge offers a comfortable stay near downtown Valentine. The lodge features a complimentary breakfast buffet as well as amenities such as an indoor pool and an outdoor patio with grills.
Outdoor enthusiasts will love the Heartland Elk Guest Ranch with its charming cabins available year-round. Guests have the opportunity to appreciate wildlife (such as elk, of course) and take in scenic views of the area, including the Niobrara River, tall trees, and wildflowers. It’s the perfect place to commune with nature at its most peaceful.
If you’re a history buff, nature enthusiast, or romantic soul, you’ll enjoy spending a weekend or longer in Nebraska’s Heart City. Whether you’re exploring the small town or the wildlife refuges and trails, Valentine offers the opportunity to enjoy a side of Nebraska that few experience.