Nebraska City, Nebraska

Photo: Arbor Day Foundation

“Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” That’s the new slogan being used by the Nebraska Tourism Commission. Really. It’s self-aware, even self-deprecating, as it admits that the Midwest state consistently finds itself last—out of all 50 states—on national tourism rankings. Additional advertisements declare, “lucky for you, there’s nothing to do here,” and “famous for our flat, boring landscape.” They certainly caught your attention.

The Cornhusker State doesn’t have any big cities. The largest, Omaha, is home to less than a half million people. The capital, Lincoln, has almost half of that. Its nationally protected land is limited to monuments and trails, instead of vast parks. The endless Dissected Till and Great Plains fill much of the rest of the state. So, upon first glance, there isn’t much attracting you to Nebraska.

So you dig deeper. That’s when you stumble upon Nebraska City. The city along the Missouri River may be little (population just over 7,000), but it has a lot of history. Lewis and Clark first explored the Native American land at the beginning of the 19th century. The Missouri River Basin Lewis & Clark Visitor Center now focuses on the duo’s scientific discoveries. The United States Army built Old Fort Kearny, an outpost along the Oregon Trail, in 1846. A decade later, it became the state’s first incorporated city and its only stop on the Underground Railroad (be sure to visit the Mayhew Cabin & Historic Village and John Brown Cave). Then in 1872, J. Sterling Morton, the Secretary of Agriculture, established Arbor Day in the United States. His home is now the 260-acre Arbor Lodge State Historical Park.

Photo: Arbor Day Foundation

It’s the Arbor Day connection that finally hooks you. The holiday is still two months away, but given that climate change has become a national, make that a worldwide, emergency, it’s importance continues to grow. About 25 years ago, the Arbor Day Farm was added to the Arbor Lodge. Its grounds now include orchards and vineyards, a greenhouse and a treehouse, a classroom and hiking trails. It also features a lodge that is, of course, eco-friendly.

The Lied Lodge is a getaway from the everyday. Its soaring lobby is full of wooden beams and leather couches. Arbor Day Coffee is set out here each morning. Towering timbers extend into the aptly named Timber Dining Room. The restaurant may look like a barn, but its finishes and food are nothing but refined. Cozy nooks include the fireplace in the Library Lounge, the spa with its signature apple-blossom massage, and the indoor, Olympic-size swimming pool, whose large windows and French doors overlook the farm. Right now, snow blankets everything out there.

So you have a few days of winter hiking, wine tasting, and swimming laps ahead of you. You’ll visit museums, watch as woodchips are converted to steam in the Fuelwood Energy Plant Gallery, and learn how to properly plant a tree. You’ll sample apple cider and buy a freshly baked pie. While, somewhere along the way, you’ll be surprised to find that Nebraska is, in fact, for you.

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