Fort Niobrara provides numerous recreational opportunities to thousands of visitors every year. During your visit, you can view the unique geology and diverse wildlife and plants whether driving, hiking, or river floating. Hunting is allowed in areas north and west of the Niobrara River and fishing is allowed in Minnechaduza Creek and in the Niobrara River downstream of the Cornell Dam. Floating the Niobrara River is permitted throughout the year.
You can learn more about wildlife and their habitats by stopping at kiosks and the Visitor Center on the Refuge. The Visitor Center has informative displays and exhibits and is open during normal office hours, Monday - Friday, excluding federal holidays. Stop by and check out the Sandhills Prairie Refuge Association (Friends Group) gift shop!
Location and Contact Information
Fort Niobrara Refuge, established in 1912, is located on the northern edge of the Nebraska Sandhills along the Niobrara River. An unusual mix of topography, soils, and rock formations along with differing exposures to sun, wind, and moisture creates a rich diversity of plants and animals. Deciduous forests and wetlands border the river; coniferous forests grow on drier hillsides and canyon slopes; and mixed grass prairie is found on hard tablelands north of the river and sand dunes to the south. Sharp-tailed grouse, greater prairie chickens, and a variety of migratory birds thrive on the Refuge along with bison, elk, and other resident mammals, reptiles, and amphibians.
Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge is one of 6 managed refuges within the Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge Complex. The Complex includes Refuges in Nebraska and South Dakota.
Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge is located at:
39983 Refuge Road
Valentine, Nebraska 69201
Visitors are rewarded with views of bison, deer and a variety of native grassland birds while driving through the Refuge. Maps and additional information may be picked up at the Visitor Center. Bison are dangerous animals and the best photographic opportunities occur while staying in your vehicle.
What We Do
Wildlife conservation is at the heart of the National Wildlife Refuge System. It drives everything on U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lands and waters managed within the Refuge System, from the purposes for which a is established to the recreational activities offered to the resource management tools used. Using science, staff of the Refuge System manage Service lands and waters to help ensure the survival of native wildlife species.
Management of Fort Niobrara Refuge focuses on conserving native birds, bison, and the biological diversity of the area. To help plants and wildlife, Refuge staff use a variety of habitat management tools to maintain, recover or enhance plant and wildlife communities.
The Refuge routinely partners with state agencies, universities, and non-governmental organizations to complete projects on refuges. These partnerships typically benefit refuge habitats, infrastructure, recreational opportunities, higher education, and the local economy. From its start in 1903, the National Wildlife Refuge System has owed its very existence to concerned citizens eager to protect America's natural resources. We welcome volunteers! The Sandhills Prairie Refuge Association is a Friends Group established to support the refuges of the Sandhills NWR Complex.
Refuge managers and biologists conduct scientific inventory and monitoring of the habitats and wildlife on the Refuge. It is important to know what types of plants and animals historically used the refuge. The information they obtain is used to make decisions in how to best maintain or improve habitat conditions to provide for the diverse array of plants and animals that live on the refuge and surrounding area.
The mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System is to administer a national network of lands and waters for the conservation, management and restoration of the fish, wildlife and plant resources and their habitats within the United States for the benefit of present and future generations of Americans.
The Refuge System protects some of the country’s most beautiful wild places and the fish and wildlife that rely on them: prairies of the heartland, teeming with native pollinators and bison; hardwood forests of the Southeast, a source of regional and cultural pride; desert Southwest landscapes, home to vibrant and rare plant communities that draw new life during the summer monsoon season. The Refuge System also conserves waterways that give life to all of them — critical ecosystems along rivers, streams, wetlands, coasts and marine areas.
The National Wildlife Refuge System lands and waters serve a purpose distinct from that of other U.S. public lands: Wildlife conservation drives everything on national wildlife refuges, from the purposes for which each refuge was established, to the recreational activities offered, to the resource management tools used.
Each refuge is established to serve a statutory purpose that targets the conservation of native species dependent on its lands and waters. All activities on those acres are reviewed for compatibility with this statutory purpose. Fort Niobrara NWR employs grazing, prescribed fire, wildlife monitoring, and more to attain the mission of the National Wildlife Refuge System. We also offer mission-compatible recreational opportunities such as fishing, hunting, wildlife viewing, hiking and more.
Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge was established “... as a preserve and breeding ground for native birds.” Many national wildlife refuges were established for migratory bird conservation; however, Fort Niobrara includes the conservation of non-migratory native bird species such as prairie chickens and sharp-tailed grouse. Fort Niobrara Refuge is also home to many other species including elk, coyote, badger and bison.
Projects and Research
Inventory and monitoring projects are conduct to and support Refuge purposes; further understand the wildlife and plant communities, inform management for a diversity of species and environmental health. This includes federally threatened and endangered species. Perhaps the most interesting project on the Refuge is the bison program. Bison are rounded up each year to manage the herd. During the fall roundup, staff monitor herd health and collect blood samples or hair samples to document genetics within the herd. This event is open for public viewing!