Visit the Mari Sandoz High Plains Heritage Center (308-432-6401, sandozcenter.com), which celebrates the life and work of the author and the High Plains she so carefully portrayed. Next, head four miles east on Highway 20 to learn about the fur trade at the Museum of the Fur Trade (308-432-3843, furtrade.org), stationed on the original site of the trading post James Bordeaux built for the American Fur Company in 1837. All that trapping talk will likely make you hungry, so head to Wild’s Bar & Grill (308-430-2407), voted best bar and grill in the Northern Panhandle by readers of The Chadron Record. If it’s a beverage you need, stop in at the classic 77 Longbranch Saloon (308-432-3380), part of the Olde Main Street Inn, where Gen. Nelson Miles was headquartered during the Battle of Wounded Knee.
1) Head southwest to the Agate Fossil Beds National Monument (308-668-2211), featuring a wide variety of mammal bones from the Miocene Epoch, five to 23 million years ago. Additional displays dig into the area’s Native American tribes and the environmental factors at play in this mixed-grass prairie. For more modern history, visit the chilling site of the Wounded Knee National Historic Landmark in Wounded Knee, S.D., on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, just more than an hour’s drive northeast from Chadron. Here, you’ll find the battlefield where, in December 1890, more than 200 Lakota were gunned down by the U.S. 7th Cavalry Regiment.
2) Roughly the same distance due west, the Toadstool Geologic Park (308-432-0300) features a surreal Badlands topography. In 2015, USA Today named the park’s 3-mile Bison Trail one of the top 10 trails in the country.
Just 30 miles northeast of Chadron, vacationers at Fort Robinson State Park (308-665-2900) can camp, hunt, bike, or ride their horses through 22,000 acres of Pine Ridge scenery. Operated as a fort from the Old West days through the close of World War II, Fort Robinson was the site of the 1879 Cheyenne Outbreak and the death of Sioux Chief Crazy Horse. Today, adventurers can book a stay in the original enlisted men’s or officer’s quarters, which have since been converted to guest lodging. For a less institutional experience, spend a week at Our Heritage Guest Ranch (308-665-2810, vacation-ranch.com) in the foothills of the picturesque Pine Ridge, just outside of Crawford. Choose the Lakota Package to experience the culture and beliefs of the Lakota tribe, or choose the pioneer excursion for a trip into the pioneer past.
The Chadron Commercial Historic District on Main Street is on the National Register of Historic Places.