Loup is the French word for “Wolf” and brings to mind French Trappers and Native Americans roaming the broad expanse of the American Prairie. The Loup Rivers Scenic Byway allows the modern traveler a glimpse of this past as it takes them on a journey through the heart of central Nebraska from the plain of the Platte River Valley north and west to the Sandhills, one of the earth’s most distinct eco regions.
The transition from the fertile farmland along the Platte to the grass stabilized sand dunes and shallow lakes of the Sandhills happens gradually as you cross the Loup Basin, named for three rivers that each have their source in the Ogallala aquifer, a vast underground reservoir beneath the dunes of the Sandhills; the North Loup, the Middle Loup and the South Loup Rivers. The Loup Rivers Scenic Byway follows the course of the North Loup River from Wood River and the Platte/I-80 corridor in the south, north and west to Dunning where it joins the Sandhills Journey Scenic Byway.
Along the way the Loup Rivers Scenic Byway allows the traveler to visit small towns where hospitality is the order of the day and local festivals showcase community pride and identity.
From the Danish Grundlovsfest in Dannebrog, Polish Days in Loup City, the Kolache Shootout in Elba, Popcorn Days in North Loup to Nebraska’s Big Rodeo in Burwell, there’s always something happening along the route.
The Loup Basin offers plenty of outdoor recreation as well. Three reservoirs, Sherman Reservoir SRA, Davis Creek WMA and Calamus Reservoir SRA provide ample opportunities for bird-watching, fishing, boating, watersports, camping and hunting. Other attractions along the Loup Rivers Scenic Byway include Happy Jack Peak and Chalk Mine and Fort Hartsuff State Historic Park. Built to protect the friendly Pawnee from raiding Sioux, Fort Hartsuff gives visitors a glimpse of life on the frontier.
From Burwell west to Dunning, the Loup Rivers Scenic Byway enters the Sandhills proper. This unique ecosystem was historically a favored bison hunting ground for the tribes of the Great Plains, including the Pawnee, Omaha, Poncha, Cheyenne and Sioux and, because the loose sandy soil is not well suited to plowing and cultivation, it was considered a desert by early settlers. Bison did thrive here and it has since become one of the most productive cattle ranching areas in the world. The lack of plowing has left much of the Sandhills ecosystem intact and allowed the area to retain a great diversity of plants and animals with 720 species of plants and 314 species of animals.
The Ogallala aquifer is close to the surface here, feeding the numerous shallow lakes, marshes and wetlands that characterize the area and fostering a variety of waterfowl and migratory birds. Just beyond Dunning you find the Nebraska National Forest, an entire forest planted by hand, which offers numerous recreational opportunities including camping, hiking and ATV trails.