Agritourism and Ecotourism in Nebraska


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By Angela White

Agritourism is defined as any agriculture-based operation or activity that brings visitors to a farm or ranch. Examples are U-pick fruit farms, wineries, farm stands or shops, farm stays, tours, on-farm classes, fairs, festivals, pumpkin patches and orchards.

With fewer and fewer people growing up on farms and in farm communities, many people enjoy getting the opportunity to experience some part of the rural life. Whether going out to pick berries, getting lost in a corn maze, taking a trail ride or just experiencing what one’s parents or grandparents did, consumers are turning to rural attractions as tourist destinations. This also gives Nebraska farmers opportunities to diversify their operations and add additional sources of income.

The Cowboy Experience

  Nebraska’s Big Rodeo in Burwell draws nearly 10,000 spectators each year. (Nebraska Tourism/M. Forsberg)

Satisfy your inner cowboy with a visit to one of Nebraska’s authentic working ranches. Learn to work cattle, ride the range and experience life as a real cowboy or cowgirl. Ride, rope, drive the herd and help sort cattle.

Rowse’s 1+1 in Burwell, Neb., is widely known for its wide open spaces, genuine hospitality and extensive horseback-riding opportunities. From early morning till quitting time, it’s you, your horse and companions, soaking up warm sun and fresh air. The goal of the ranch is to make you feel like you’ve walked back in time to live the real cowboy life and experience the simple pleasures of western American heritage.

Spring, summer and fall offer unique opportunities and plenty of saddle time. Spring brings the excitement of calves and foals being born, working cattle and cattle drives. Summer brings long pasture rides checking cattle, cattle drives, working cattle, cowboy socials, team roping and team penning. October is fall Round-Up, which involves long cattle drives on horseback, team roping and penning.

The ranch is family owned and operated, an authentic working ranch—not a traditional dude ranch or guest ranch resort, but a working cattle ranch. It offers over 7,000 acres of prime ranch land and is located just 80 miles from Grand Island and 200 miles from Omaha. It’s an area of breathtaking beauty in the heart of the Sandhills, the largest sand dune formation in all of North America.

 Nebraska is still home to genuine cowboys who spend their days roping and riding under wide-open skies. (Nebraska Tourism)

The Sandhills region played a tremendous role in the history of Nebraska. With westward expansion in the 1800s, the area became populated with hearty, adventurous folks. Today the Sandhills is among the most productive cattle ranching areas of the world, and the Sandhills region comprises roughly one-quarter of the state of Nebraska. For more information about the ranch, visit, and to find other cowboy vacation options, go to

Pumpkin Patches

Since 1980, thousands of fun-seekers journey to the Roca Berry Farm and Pumpkin Patch near Roca, Neb., to pick their own pumpkins, go on hay rack rides, experience the thrill of a haunted house and explore the surrounding haunted woods.

What started as a small pumpkin and berry farm has grown to a local tourist attraction. Home to the oldest and largest pumpkin patch in Lancaster County, kids of all ages enjoy picking out the perfect pumpkin for a jack-o-lantern or a home decoration.

Through the years, as the success of the farm grew, Roca Berry Farm evolved to feature Roca Scary Farm at night, building a following among teens and adults who enjoy haunted houses and Hallo­ween-season thrills. Thous­ands of hours of training and preparation by dozens of workers help Roca Berry Farm get ready to entertain for the fall season. Roca Berry Farm is open Sept. 21–Oct. 31 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. To find a pumpkin patch near you, go to

Nebraska Wineries

Nebraska’s wine industry has seen a tremendous amount of growth since its first winery opened in ­­­1994. Cuthills Vineyards was the first winery to open in the state, and its owners have been given credit for helping to pioneer the industry in Nebraska, which has now grown to over 30 vineyards and wineries. Cuthills can be found in the rolling hills of northeast Nebraska, located just three miles west of Pierce and north of Willow Creek State Recreation Area. Cuthills Vineyards offers its visitors award-winning wines in a restored 1920s dairy barn surrounded by seven acres of vineyards.

Cuthills Vineyards focuses on producing wines that pair well with food. Their wines vary from dry to sweet. Grapes grown in their vineyards include deChaunac, Temparia, LaCrosse, Loralei, Brianna, Pe­tite Amie, Concord and over 600 experimental varieties. Owners Ed and Holly Swanson run the operation, which not only produces grapes and wines but also offers tastings, workshops, weddings, anniversaries, bridal showers and more. Winter hours are limited, so please check before you visit.

Wineries have become a great way for traditional Nebraska farmers and ranchers to expand and diversify their operations. Silver Hills Vineyard and Winery is a great example of a true farm winery. This small operation is run by June and Phil Simpson. The winery is home to a three-acre vineyard as well as apple, corn and soybean crops. It offers most of its wines for $4 per glass and less than $18 per bottle. Blends include Silver Fox, St. Croix, Carriage House Red and Prairie Star.

The Simpsons started the winery as a way to create a 100 percent Nebraska-grown product and to be able to control that process from beginning to end. Their apple orchards contribute to the wine ingredients, as does the honey from a neighbor’s apiary. The tasting room and adjacent deck are open Friday through Sunday only, but the Simpsons will open by appointment. You can find their wines in many local liquor stores and grocery markets. Wine drinkers who enjoy fruity vintages and just exploring what various small wineries have to offer will have a fun visit here. For those who want some food with their wine, check the website for the grill menu offered on Sundays. For those who really want to become part of the process, the Simpsons recruit volunteers to help harvest the grapes in late August and early September.

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Ecotourism is a form of tourism involving visiting fragile, pristine, and relatively undisturbed natural areas, intended as a low-impact and often small-scale alternative to standard commercial tourism. One of the main benefits of ecotourism is that it serves to educate the traveler and to foster respect for nature, different cultures and unique historical environments.

Nature at Its Best

As the home of Arbor Day’s late founder, J. Sterling Morton, Nebraska City offers some great ecotourism opportunities, including the Arbor Day Foundation’s Arbor Day Farm. Visitors from all over the world experience firsthand sustainable practices and innovative agroforestry, conservation and early childhood education demonstrations at Arbor Day Farm. The working farm and tree adventure features nature trails, a 50-foot tall tree house, an orchard, vineyards, nature classrooms for children, a greenhouse and much more.

Visitors to Nebraska City during the annual AppleJack Festival can enjoy fun activities, exhibits and, of course, apples! (Nebraska Tourism/ R. Neibel)

Located on the original estate of J. Sterling Morton, the 260-acre farm allows visitors to experience, firsthand, the ir­replace­able value, service and beauty of trees in the natural world. Arbor Day Farm’s Tree Adventure is open 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m.–5 p.m. Admission includes a tree for you to take home and plant as a souvenir of your visit.

A Pioneer Adventure

Experience what it felt like to be a pioneer in the mid-1800s by taking a covered-wagon tour of the Oregon Trail at the Oregon Trail Wagon Train Restaurant and Campground in Bayard, Neb. You can camp overnight at the tent and RV campgrounds and then start your morning bright and early with a three-hour historic tour of Chimney Rock by covered wagon. Chimney Rock was one of the most prominent features that pioneers wrote about in their journals.

If that’s not enough time to live like a pioneer, then make your reservations for a 24-hour trek of Chimney Rock that includes relaxing evening cookouts and country prime rib on the North Platte River.


To Learn More, Attend the 2014 Nebraska Agri/Eco-Tourism Workshop

Feb. 3–5, 2014
Holiday Inn Hotel & Convention Center, Kearney, NE

Why Should You Attend?

✦ Learn to get the most out of your land.

✦ Gain the latest industry knowledge.

✦ Hear fresh marketing ideas.

✦ Find greater financial opportunities.

✦ Network with potential partners.

Keynote Speaker – Carol Patterson, president, Kalahari Management Inc.

Carol will be sharing her adventures as a professional accountant turned tourism consultant. She will show that you don’t have to invent the next “big” thing to prosper. Carol will help you reinvent your tourism organization and ignite the untapped passions within.

Other topics:

✦ Inventorying your Potential

✦ Building Strong Partnerships and Networking Resources

✦ Exploring Potential Cross-Marketing Opportunities

✦ Calculating your Marketing ROI

✦ Low-Cost and No-Cost Public Relations Opportunities

For more information or to register, call Karen Kollars at (308) 249-3220.

Brought to you by the Nebraska Tourism Commission in partnership with Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

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