Smith Falls State Park is in the northern part of Nebraska, located directly on the Niobrara River. This is the newest park in the state. There are two ways to enter the park – either by hiking along the trails connected to the road that leads there or by way of the river. The park was built to protect the biological species of the region, as well as to preserve the scenic beauty. Smith Falls is the highest waterfall in the state. The falls cascade over a high rocky cliff, landing on the rocks below and eventually flowing into a stream that runs into the Niobrara River. Visitors especially enjoy this waterfall because it is possible to climb along the rocks below it and stand under the stream. Be warned – even in the summer, the water is very cold.
One of the most popular ways to access the park is by way of the river. Visitors are welcome to bring their own rafts, inflatable tubes, canoes or kayaks on the water. The Niobrara River has a few sections of low-class rapids, but they are mild. There are several launch points, usually located near bridges, outside of Valentine. There are usually meeting points where visitors can leave their vehicles, which they pick up at the end of the trip, and meet a bus that will take them along the rest of the rough dirt roads to the launch point. Bus charters are available from rental companies in Valentine. The city has at least five rental companies. These companies offer several lengths of trips, but all distances include the area of Smith Falls. At the end of the designated trip length, the rental water equipment may be left at the drop-off point, which will be the same area guests park their cars. The river is not deep – usually between two and five feet deep.
For travelers along the river, the Smith Falls State Park recreation area is well-marked and usually visible from a far distance, as there are large clusters of canoes, kayaks and tubes docked there. A trail and boardwalk bridge is located near the river’s shore, leading to Smith Falls. There is a staircase at the end where visitors can climb down on the rocks and have friends take their picture under the falls. Visitors not traveling on the river who enter from the roads and bridge on the other side of the park will have to follow some steep trails to get to the bottom of the falls. An open clearing near the river has several picnic areas for river travelers. Further along the roads past the protected trails near the falls, there is a campground with several tent sites, concessions, restrooms and pay showers. Showers are limited to three minutes, so plan on a quick shower.
Since most visitors to Smith Falls State Park prefer the river route, there are a few things to know about river travel on the Niobrara. There are river police who will inspect coolers at random. Alcoholic beverages are a safety risk and are prohibited, so avoid putting them in coolers. Bring plenty of waterproof sunscreen and continually apply it. Sunburns happen faster on the river where the rays are reflected. Also remember to keep a life jacket on at all times. There are few undercurrents, but they do exist, so be safe. Visitors who plan to skip the river journey and camp should remember to watch the signs carefully and know the rules of the park before entering. Smith Falls is a protected site, so hiking off the trails may lead to legal consequences. There are several rocks and plants that are vital to the survival of the park located there. Erosion of the rocks that support the falls is also a worry. For these reasons, the most crucial rule for hikers near the falls is to stay on the trails. Also ticks are thick in the brush and may carry disease, so this is another good reason to follow the rules. To obtain more details about the park, contact their office directly at:
Smith Falls State Park
HC 13, Box 25
Valentine, Nebraska 69201