Do you want to do something outrageous? Do you want to see the beauty of the sandhills up close with the sun on your face and the wind in your hair? Then take on the challenge of biking the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway. At 297 miles it’s a big enough challenge for even the most dedicated cyclists but that doesn’t mean you have to ride the whole thing. No matter if you want to head out for a weekend and explore a small section or commit to the whole journey you’ll find stunning views, rolling hills, unique towns, and hearty food that will fuel you to your next stop. With an average distance between towns of about 15 miles there are plenty of stops along the way to refuel, rehydrate, or spend the night as you make your way through the Nebraska Sandhills.
If you’re interested in taking a bike tour of the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway we’ve got a sample itinerary that will take you from Grand Island to Halsey, home of the Bessey Ranger District of the Nebraska National Forest. The route is 132 miles one-way and can be easily broken up into four reasonable legs. This route gives you the option of camping out or if you don’t feel like lugging camping gear with you on a bicycle, staying in unique local places.
Starting in Grand Island you can camp out at Mormon Island State Recreation Area or stay at one of the multitude of local hotels. If you’re looking for dinner that evening, head out to the Wave Pizza Company for some brick oven pizza and maybe a beverage or two. Don’t go overboard because the next morning is your first day in the saddle.
After you have a big breakfast get on Nebraska Hwy 2 and start heading west. The first day’s ride will take you from Grand Island to Ravenna. You’ll pass through the town of Cairo on your way to Ravenna. The ride is only 33 miles so it should be a pretty easy day to start off the trip. Once you get to Ravenna there’s camping at Ravenna Lake and for those of you not camping, The Printed Page Bed and Breakfast offers Midwestern hospitality and wonderful breakfast.
The next morning you’re in for your longest leg of the trip. Ravenna to Broken Bow is 50 miles. You’ll head through Litchfield and Ansley on your way. Personally I’m going to recommend stopping and having a meal in one of those lovely communities. If you’re going to ignore that suggestion and you’re feeling like Lance Armstrong Floyd Landis Jan Ulrich a pro cyclist who hasn’t been caught doping and want to roll straight through, there are lovely things waiting for you in Broken Bow. You can set-up camp at The Cove, it has river frontage on the Middle Loup River. If you’re opting for a hotel you definitely want to give the Historic Arrow Hotel a look. When you get hungry there are wonderful cafes in town and we have it on good authority that the Bonfire Grill in the Arrow Hotel is great as well.
When you’re ready to leave Broken Bow you’ll saddle up for your shortest ride of the trip. Broken Bow to Anselmo is only 20 miles if you feel like a superhero you can fly straight through to Halsey, it’s only another 30 miles, that said you want to stay in Anselmo. If you’re camping, then you need to head to Victoria Springs State Recreation Area. It’s the third-oldest park in Nebraska’s state park system and was renowned for it’s therapeutic springs and is a must visit even if you’re not camping. For those of you looking for small town hospitality the Buckeye Bed and Breakfast is just what you’re looking for.
The final leg of your bike trip to the Sandhills will take you 30 miles from Anselmo to Halsey and the Nebraska National Forest. The forest is 93,000 acres set between the Middle Loup and Dismal Rivers and offers all of the outdoor recreation you’re looking for in the largest hand-planted forest in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s truly an amazing place that belongs in the home of Arbor Day, Nebraska. If you’re looking for lodging close enough to the forest to explore but don’t want to stay in a tent then the Halsey Frontier Inn offers the best of both worlds. It’s just one mile away from the forest in historic downtown Halsey.
So there you have it. A completely doable bike tour, superhero’s can get ambitious and go fast, and those of us who favor a pace closer to a mosey can still complete the trip and have a great time seeing what this beautiful part of Nebraska has to offer. Get the bikes tuned up, take some time off of work and go explore. Go west.