Photograph by Chuck Haney
GPS: 42°52'N 100°32'W
Little known fact: Traditionally, a “frontier” town is defined as a place with fewer than six people per square mile—Valentine, then, definitely situated on the frontier. Wide open spaces, quiet lakes, grasslands, secluded waterfalls, and one of the best canoeing waterways in the country are the big draws here.
“You come upon the Niobrara unexpectedly,” says outfitter and lodge owner Lee Simmons. “There along its banks is what looks like a rain forest, surrounded by high desert. It’s always astounding.” The Niobrara, a National Scenic River, flows calmly through wide verdant valleys, steep sandstone canyons, waterfalls, and cliffs (www.nps.gov/niob). Some six ecological systems collide along the 30-mile (48-kilometer) stretch near Valentine. Graham Canoe Outfitters rents boats and provides shuttles (rentals from $30 a day; www.grahamoutfitters.com).
Sit down to a steak or BBQ ribs in the upscale main room at Jordan’s Fine Dining, then cut loose in the beer garden out back (www.jordansfinedining.com).
Get a taste of the Old West prairie at Lord Ranch Resort, a cozy collection of cabins set among quiet wild grasses, just outside of town (cabins, from $89 per night; www.lordranchresort.com).