1) Hosted in Lincoln, Neb., the Capital City Stampede in May (pinnaclebankarena.com) is a must-see event. Also be sure to check the schedule for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Rodeo Team, which often competes at the Lancaster Event Center (lancastereventcenter.org). And early pioneer wagon ruts can still be seen at the Spring Creek Prairie Audubon Center(402-797-2301, springcreekprairie.audubon.org). Using stories and artifacts, the Nebraska History Museum(402-471-4754, nebraskahistory.org) details our frontier heritage, while the Great Plains Art Museum(402-472-3082, unl.edu) interprets the art and literature of the Great Plains. Hit Misty’s Steakhouse and Brewery (402-262-4798, mistyslincoln.com) for wheat beers, ales, and porters paired with prime rib and steaks.
2) Along the route of Lewis & Clark’s Corps of Discovery expedition, Omaha became known as the Gateway to the West. The Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail Visitor Center(402-661-1804, nps.gov/lecl),Mormon Trail Center at Historic Winter Quarter (402-453-9372, visitomaha.com), and the Durham Museum(402-444-5071, durhammuseum.org) provide intimate looks into the past. General Crook’s Museum House(402-455-9990, omahahistory.org) was built by the famous Indian fighter (and later, defender) in 1879. The Joslyn Art Museum(402-342-3300, joslyn.org) exhibits watercolors and drawings by nineteenth-century explorers Alfred Jacob Miller and Karl Bodmer. Taking microbrews to the next level, the Nebraska Brewing Co.(402-934-7100, nebraskabrewingco.com) ages their Fathead Barley Wine in whiskey barrels to extract the oak tannins and whiskey character.
3) The Old Freighters Museum(402-873-6188, nebraskacitymuseums.org) in Nebraska City showcases the area’s transportation history dating back to 1846: railroad, oxen, Pony Express. The Lewis and Clark Missouri River Visitor Center(402-874-9900, mrb-lewisandclarkcenter.org) displays a Plains Indian home and a keelboat once used on the “Big Mo” (the Missouri River). Fort Western Outpost(402-873-7388, fortbrands.com) is the place for Western jeans, shirts, boots, hats, saddles and tack. Enjoy grilled burgers, Cajun chicken, prime rib, Texas beef brisket, Georgia pulled pork, ribs, and local brews at Parkers Smokehouse Barbecue(402-873-0557, parkerssmokehouse.com).
4) Minutes east of Nebraska City, Sidney, Iowa, hosts the Sidney Iowa Championship Rodeo(712-374-2695, sidneyiowarodeo.com), held since 1923 and one of the oldest outdoor rodeos in America. Head to B&C’s Chaps Bar & Grill(712-374-4536) for live Western music or to Whip’s Steakhouse and Saloon (712-374-2728) for prime rib, burgers, and ranch potatoes. Opened in 2013, the Iowa Championship Rodeo Museum (www.fremontcountyhistorical.org) is a worthwhile stop, too.