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Nebraska’s Westward Migration

There’s something about Nebraska that almost compels you to go west.

Maybe it’s the shape of the state itself: a broad swath of prairie with a stub on the end that seems to point westward like a directional arrow. Or perhaps it’s that Nebraska’s thoroughfares — first the Platte River and later Interstate 80 — snake their way across the state from the east side to the west.

Whatever the cause, westward migration has always been a part of the Nebraska ethos. Pioneers traversed its plains to pursue their manifest destiny and etched a trail through the state that leads travelers farther into the frontier with each step they take.

Today, groups visiting Nebraska can experience the draw of the West, traveling many of the trails established by the pioneers and exploring the places that have sprung up along the way. This itinerary starts in Omaha and proceeds to Lincoln before picking up the Platte River trail in Kearney, exploring a railroad hub in North Platte and finishing at a western outpost in Crawford.

Plan to spend five days on this trip west across Nebraska.



Pioneer Places

Omaha is the cultural capital of Nebraska, a cosmopolitan city with a wealth of attractions for visitors. Travelers interested in the state’s heritage of westward expansion will find two sites that tell that story.

Fort Atkinson State Historical Park marks the site of the first council between Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery and the Missouri and Otoe Indians. Today, a visitors center at the park educates guests on the significance of this event, and living-history demonstrators help to re-create the feeling of life in a frontier fortress.

North of the city, the Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarters introduces travelers to the history of the Mormon Trail, one of the major trails that took pioneers through the prairies and into the West. Guided tours at the museum include a full-size covered wagon with an ox team, a log cabin and interactive exhibits. Groups can watch historical films at the site and tour a pioneer cemetery.

While you’re there: Omaha offers an array of great activities for groups. The Old Market at the center of town is the hub of specialty shopping and dining. The Durham Museum is housed in an old train station and tells the story of Omaha and the Union Pacific Railroad.



Get Educated

Home to both the University of Nebraska and the state Capitol, Lincoln has a distinctive vibrancy and energy that makes it a must-stop destination on a tour of the state.

Groups can draw on some of the city’s intellectual prowess by visiting the University of Nebraska State Museum to learn about the state’s natural and human history. Exhibits such as “First Peoples of the Plains” celebrate the Native American cultures of early Nebraska with portraiture and artifacts.

The museum has numerous galleries that introduce visitors to the area’s natural history. The Mesozoic Gallery showcases the fossils of dinosaurs and other ancient animals that lived in Nebraska, and the “Paleontology of Nebraska” exhibit digs further into the history of the rhinos, camels and giant horses thought to have lived there at one time. The Hall of Nebraska Wildlife has taxidermy of many modern animals found around the state.

While you’re there: Enjoy lunch and take a walking tour through the galleries, antique stores, restaurants and coffee houses of Lincoln’s Historic Haymarket District, located in renovated turn-of-the-century factory buildings in the city center.

Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.