Grass, Sand Hills and Forest
With the exception of riparian areas along its watercourses, the Nebraska Sandhills is a region largely void of trees. Here we find a national forest that’s mostly grass. “Only” 5,000 acres of Samuel R. McKelvie National Forest are wooded with eastern red cedar, scotch, jack and ponderosa pine. The other 110,000 acres are Sandhills prairie in stunning blend of scenery and wildlife.
The area offers excellent upland game bird hunting, waterfowl and deer hunting. Other popular activities include fishing, hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing and bird watching. Merritt Reservoir is nearby, offering a variety of water recreation. Observational blinds are available March 15-May 31. Ranger station hours are Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m.
Year-round camping is available at secluded Steer Creek Campground. The only sounds you’re likely to hear are birdsong, the occasional lowing of cattle and the whisper of a breeze through the surrounding pines. Bluejay Trail is a one-mile loop for hikers.
The forest is southwest of Valentine. Go 30 miles west of Valentine on Highway 20 to Nenzel, then 18 miles south on Highway S16-F. (402) 823-4154.