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This 76-Mile Route in Nebraska Just Became North America's First 'Quiet Trail'

Nebraska News National Parks
by Matador Creators Mar 22, 2024

Everyone understands why it’s important to reserve undeveloped areas — but even deep into the wilderness, there’s still one human-made thing that can be hard to avoid: noise.

But now, if you head to Nebraska, you can paddle, float, or hike near one of only two trails in the world designated as a “Quiet Trail” by Quiet Parks International.

The designation of Nebraska’s Niobrara National Scenic River as the first Quiet Trail in North America was announced in late 2023, making 2024 the ideal time to explore the trail’s 76 miles. The trail follows a section of the Niobrara Scenic River through the Great Plains, running from Valentine, NE, to just north of Newport, NE.

Niobrara National Scenic River

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The river trail was selected as the second Quiet Trail in the world through a process that included quantitative audio testing and subjective takeaways from the Quiet Parks International selection team. “Beyond collecting standard acoustic data, each team member must agree, unanimously and unhesitatingly, that natural quite prevailed throughout the testing period,” said Quiet Parks International co-founder Gordon Hempton. “The Niobrara River’s splendid geologic landscape, unusual atmospheric conditions, and outstanding wildlife all contributed towards a positive outcome.”

The world’s first Quiet Trail is the Cuifeng Lake Circular Trail in Taiwan’s Taipingshan National Forest, which received the designation in 2022 and wraps around Taiwan’s largest lake.

The benefits of silence


Photo: Song_about_summer/Shutterstock

Silence and the sounds of nature offer a powerful double dose of benefits for our well-being. Silence itself can be a balm for our overloaded brains. In the quiet, we can experience a mental pause, lowering adrenaline and reducing stress. It’s also been shown to temporarily boost your creativity and make it easier to focus, which can help if you’re facing significant decisions or life choices that demand your undivided attention.

On a more superficial level, a reprieve from human sounds also allows you to better hear the sounds of nature. Studies have shown that listening to birdsongs, flowing water, and rustling leaves can do everything from lower your blood pressure to improve your mood to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. For most people, natural sounds trigger a relaxation response, countering the negative effects of constant noise pollution like highway noise, machines, and conversations.

“Quiet is rare globally, as 97% of the U.S. population faces noise pollution from sources like aviation and highways,” said Susan Cook, superintendent of the scenic river, in the release.

Other Quiet Places

quiet trails - quiet stay bahamas beach

Photo: Szilard Toth/Shutterstock

While the Niobrara National Scenic River is the first Quiet Trail in North America, it’s not the only location with a designation of some kind from Quiet Parks International. The gorgeous Glacier National Park in Montana was designated as a “Wilderness Quiet Park” in 2022, as was the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota in March of 2023.  Like the new Nebraska site, the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness is primarily a paddling route, though it does have 12 miles of hiking trails and roughly 2,000 individual campsites.

Outside the US, the private island retreat of Cayo Loco in the Bahamas is designated as a “Quiet Place” — a designation for lodging and hotels that meet the organization’s criteria. In South America, Ecuador’s Kapawi Ecolodge — an Indigenous tourism cooperative in the Amazon — is also a Quiet Place, while the Zabalo River in Ecuador is also a Wilderness Quiet Park (the world’s first, no less).

While only a few places have an official awarded status, more than 150 locations around the world have been nominated and will eventually be evaluated for consideration. You can even nominate your favorite place via the Quiet Parks International website.

How to experience the Niobrara National Scenic River


Canoeing, kayaking, and tubing are some of the most popular activities on the Niobrara. Options range from leisurely float trips through outfitters based in Valentine, Nebraska, or more adventurous paddle or canoe trips, tailored to your skill level and desired pace.

Hiking is also an option, with the long-distance Cowboy Trail starting very close to the visitors center. The one-mile Fort Falls hike is also popular year-round, and nearby wildlife refuges include the Valentine Area National Wildlife Refuge and the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge. The Valentine refuge is more than 71,000 acres and is huge with birders as it’s one of a few places to see the weird and wonderful prairie chicken; and Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge is home to bison and elk, with driving and hiking trails.

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