Memorial Day Weekend Road Trip 2021 | Driving From Omaha to Halsey | Hiking and Camping in Nebraska National Forest
Curtis had a 4 day weekend for Memorial Day, and we couldn’t just not take advantage of that this year! While we still have over a year left in Nebraska, our schedule for the rest of this year is already full and we’re realizing how quickly the next year will likely pass, and how fleeting these warm summer days are. And so without making any reservations or concrete plans, we set off for Western Nebraska with a route that would cover a lot of counties and scenic areas we’ve been wanting to see. I was especially excited with these plans because compared to our last vacation (backpacking 128 miles) this one felt much more relaxing and laid back.
We set off on Thursday afternoon after Curtis came home from work. After getting out of Omaha, we took NE-92 West all the way to Merna. Once we were passed Wahoo, the evening traffic disappeared and we enjoyed the open and empty highway. Our route took us through Butler and Polk counties, which had been a gaping hole in our map between I-80 and US-30 for far too long. We decided to only stop to see courthouses that were on our route for our drive today, as it was already early evening and we wanted to arrive at our (hopeful) campsite by sunset. We managed to see four courthouses that were on the way: Polk County in Osceola, Howard County in St. Paul, Sherman County in Loup City, and Custer County in Broken Bow.
We made it to our chosen campground that night in Nebraska National Forest near Halsey right around sunset. We set up our tent and took Charlotte on a short walk around before calling it a night. It felt like such a treat to be able to camp with mattress pads, pillows, and extra sleeping bags laid out after having the bare minimum while backpacking! We were thankful to be so comfortable and that the tent side of the campground had only one other occupant. But while the campground was quiet, it was located next to some very active train tracks and we heard at least 6 pass by throughout the night.
The next morning, we decided to do a hike in the area both to help Charlotte burn some energy and because the weather was so pleasant, and we thought it would end up being too hot for her later. Curtis had a letterbox saved near the Scott Lookout Tower, and though we could’ve driven up to that point we decided to do a 6 mile round trip hike to get there. We broke camp and then drove a little ways into the forest and parked near the trailhead, then began our hike.
Curtis explained to me as we were walking that the Nebraska National Forest is actually an experimental forest, conceived around the turn of the century as a means of providing ‘local lumber’ to the otherwise treeless plains. After walking a ways through the forest, we came to the conclusion that their experiment was successful, and maybe it was time to start experimenting with some mountains. 😉 In all seriousness though, we really enjoyed this hike as we had the entire thing all to ourselves. The trail gained about 500 feet of elevation very gradually, and we enjoyed seeing wildflowers along the way. Curtis even found the letterbox — he was the first finder 10 years after it was planted!
We kept looking ahead of us whenever we had a break in the trees hoping to see the tower, but in true tower fashion we weren’t able to see it until we were almost on top of it. We decided to take turns climbing up while the other would stay at ground level with Charlotte, but when Curtis started climbing, Char decided she wanted to join him. She made it up to the first landing before she realized what she was getting herself into — maybe she suddenly remembered her one experience climbing a firetower in New York? So instead, she turned around and started heading back down. She stopped about halfway and started crying until we came to her rescue and helped her back down. After that she was perfectly content to sniff around the base while Curtis and I took turns enjoying the view from the top.
After we had enjoyed the view and had some snacks, we hiked back to our car. If you’re interested, check out our AllTrails recording here. We got back on the road heading West, hopeful that this peaceful and scenic hike was a sign of more like it to come!