As fall continues to run its course, the question of ‘what to do’ should never be questioned when you live in a state with as much untapped natural (and manmade) beauty as Nebraska. Nestled within the state’s undeniably scenic and famous Sandhills lies a forest whose beauty is as equally intriguing as its notoriety. What forest is this, you might ask? It’s the Bessey Ranger District, of course!

Revered as the largest manmade forest on the North American continent, the Bessey Ranger District occupancies an area of 141 square miles (or 90,000 acres) just west of Halsey, NE, and 40 miles east of Mullen, NE along Highway 2. Established in the early 1900s by renowned botanist Charles E. Bessey, the forest has stood the test of time (and wind-blown erosion) as a means to determine whether or not manmade forests are sustainable in the Sandhills.

One of only two forests comprising the Nebraska National Forest system, Bessey Ranger District offers an unmatched melting pot of opportunity for people with varying interests ranging from bird watching to hiking. To ensure your fall is as exciting as it can be, we’ve put together a list of the top 10 reasons why you should make your way to Bessey Ranger District as soon as possible.

  1. For bucket list sake: Bessey Ranger District is literally the biggest manmade forest in North America and the ONLY hand-planted forest in the world! For the sake of crossing a couple items off your bucket list, Bessey Ranger District is a must-see sight.
  2. For its fishing: The fishing scene in and around the forest offers opportunity for fishers of all skill levels. Fishers can expect to catch a variety of fish species including: large and smallmouth bass, channel catfish, bluegill, walleye, northern pike, muskellunge, crappie, perch, and even an occasional rainbow trout at a variety of lakes, reservoirs, and streams.
  3. For its botanical significance: If you’re a botanist, the idea of even being able to bear witness to the aftermath of Charles E. Bessey’s successful experiment should get you on your feet.
  4. For its historically significant nursery: The Bessey Ranger District’s Charles E. Bessey Tree Nursery is responsible for the production of 1.5 million seedlings per year and serves as the second seedbank of the Rocky Mountains. The nursery is the oldest Federal tree nursery in the US!
  5. For its hiking: Take a hike to the Scott Lookout Tower, a three mile trail leading to a lookout tower offering 360-degree views of the forest and surrounding grasslands. Fun fact: the Scott Lookout Tower remains as the only active fire tower in the entire state!
  6. For camping: To take an overnight camping trip to Bessey Recreation Complex and Campground before visiting us in Mullen! There’s fun for the whole family.
  7. For off-roading: Visitors can enjoy an 11 mile ATV trail along the Dismal River among several others.
  8. For birdwatching: Enjoy birdwatching while taking in the stunning views of the forest and Sandhills. (Make sure to bring your National Audubon Society birdwatching book!)
  9. For horse riding: If you have a horse, Bessey Ranger District is the perfect place to take your favorite hooved friend out on an adventure.
  10. For an opportunity to relax: Take a breath of fresh air and enjoy a moment (or several hours) of relaxation. During these undeniably uncertain times, it has never been more important to find opportunities to get out and enjoy the splendor of our beautiful country.

While we capped our list of reasons you need to visit the Bessey Ranger District at ten, we hope you find plenty more reasons to make a trip to our favorite forest. If you do go, make sure to visit us in Mullen and share all of your photos! Have fun adventuring.