Nebraska : Safety by City
- Grand Island
- La Vista
- Nebraska City
- North Platte
- South Sioux City
McCook, Nebraska, is in the southwest part of the state, less than 15 miles from Kansas and 75 from Colorado, in a region known as the High Plains.
It’s places like McCook that prompted the Nebraska Tourism Commission to produce the tongue-in-cheek campaign of “Nebraska. Honestly, it’s not for everyone.”
Mari Sandoz wrote of the High Plains in 1854 that Nebraska is “that long flat state that sets between me and any place I want to go.”
It is also places like McCook that back up “The Good Life” signs you’ll see as you enter the state.
It’s an acquired taste that goes down smoothly.
McCook is known as the Capital of the Buffalo Commons, a plan once presented to restore vibrancy for the soil losing its luster due to over-farming and lack of understanding of how to preserve it.
The pioneers who settled here took the path of most resistance (unknowingly) and tried everything from sod underground houses to braving choking dust storms to survive.
This story is still told through the many options in McCook, and it’s a way to fall in love with the “flat” plains that helped this country move mountains through agriculture and livestock.
Warnings & Dangers in McCook
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's a low risk here, but some wild headlines have made news over the years in this small town of 7500 people. The places a tourist would visit are some of the safest in Red Willow County.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
There's a small public transportation system available on demand, but you'll need your own rental car here. Taxis and rideshares will be hard to find, as the city is barely two miles wide. The only risk is driving in bad weather, but we'll get to that.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
Two purse snatchings were reported in 2021, likely at one of the major events in the city. The risk is low, but we do know the snatchings that happened each were worth more than $1000. Don't carry that kind of cash or valuables around with you anywhere.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
There's a medium risk here any time of year. In this region, it's also not unheard of to have a tornado one day and a snowstorm two days later (or vice versa). Winter weather can be brutal and isolating, considering the two-lane roads that stretch for miles across the plains. Spring brings tornado season and severe storms. Nebraska is also a windy state. I can attest that "wind rage" is real because it seems like we can't have a nice, low-humidity day without 35-mile-per-hour gusts. Winter temperatures can also get 30–40 degrees below 0°(F).
MUGGING RISK: LOW
There hasn't been a year with more than one robbery going back to 2014, and some years there are none. The risk is low, but with the rate of drug crimes increasing, you should always watch your back.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
I don't think even terrorists could find this on a map. It's a rural area in a bigger rural area in a rural region. The risk is low, but you can always check the Terrorism Advisory Bulletin from Homeland Security, just to be sure.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
I checked the Better Business Bureau and police department social media posts from the past year. Most scams are the common ones, like fake calls to grandparents saying their grandchild is in jail in Mexico and needs money. Common sense goes a long way, but report any fraud you suspect.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
There's a low risk for women, but if you're uncomfortable being alone in a remote area, you might want to bring a friend. People in this part of the country are called "Nebraska Nice," so you'll still meet great, helpful people. It just is really *way out there in the middle of the empty Plains.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The 2022 Water Quality Report shows full compliance and no violations. If any urgent issues arise, that would be shared on social media pages and wouldn't be reflected in this annual report.
Safest Places to Visit in McCook
Visit McCook is the tourism website name for the city, and you can’t miss it with the giant buffalo on the landing page.
You can download a free activity guide, including a “Where the locals would take you to eat” section and “Buffalo Tales,” which offers podcast-type audio options to learn about the history.
McCook is an hour south of I-90, and you’ll take Highway 83 to get there, with B Street being the main road in the city.
All the hotels in town are located on these major roads.
Red Willow State Recreation Area is just 10 minutes away, with 4,300 acres and a reservoir (lake) that has several different habits of wildlife, including some of the best birding trails in the state.
Medicine Creek, Swanson, and Enders are three other State Recreation Areas in this region, with camping, fishing, hiking, and wildlife viewing available at each one.
If you’re into birding, don’t miss the Red Willow County Birding Challenge, where you’re tasked with finding 50 different bird species during your visit.
Winners get a commemorative patch and bragging rights.
Golfers can play on the prestigious Heritage Hills Golf Course, with “Stay & Play” packages available.
The Kelly Creek Disc Golf Course has 18 holes through various elevation changes to make it more challenging.
If you’re there in spring, you can’t miss the famous Prairie Chicken Dance Tours.
It’s not quite the Circle of Life from The Lion King, but you’ll watch as males strut, tap dance, and show off to woo the ladies, while then having to battle other males for the “prize.”
I’d suggest watching the videos on the website beforehand, as it can be a little surprising to see how feisty they get.
Senator George W. Norris State Historical Site pays tribute to a man you’ve likely never heard of but will quickly learn was a force to be reckoned with during his political career.
The Museum of the High Plains and Carnegie Library offers insight and reflection into the pioneers who settled this land, the challenges faced, and the popularity that came when the railroad started rolling through town.
Need a little more incentive to visit here?
This is also the home of the man who invented Kool-Aid!
Grab a walking tour map while you’re there to explore the 10-block historic district.
You can also plan your trip around one of the great annual events here:
- Buffalo Commons Storytelling Festival: June
- Red Willow County Fair: July
- Old Settlers Celebration: August
- Heritage Days: September
- Farm & Ranch Expo: November
For live entertainment year-round, check out the Bieroc Cafe schedule.
Places to Avoid in McCook
There aren’t inherently dangerous neighborhoods or parts of town, but Nebraska Nice ends at the property lines.
People don’t like strangers on their property because, as far as they know, you might be there to steal crops or animals.
Stick to the interstates and marked roadways.
You should seriously reconsider a trip here if there’s a bit winter storm brewing.
This side of the state gets hit especially hard by winter weather, and even if it’s sunny and warm in Omaha, there can be blizzard conditions in western Nebraska.
All the roads will shut down, and limited cell phone service could leave you stuck.
There is a Frank Lloyd Wright design here called Sutton House.
It’s at 602 Norris Avenue, but the best you can do is drive by since it’s a private home.
You can walk on the public sidewalk but stay off the property.
It’s worth a snapshot, however,r as it’s the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in Nebraska.
Safety Tips for Traveling to McCook
- McCook has its own police department, with the Red Willow County Sheriff’s Office covering the unincorporated areas. Follow them on Facebook @mccookpolice and @rwcso.org.
- McCook is in the Central Time Zone, but 40 miles west of the city Mountain Time Zone begins. Even rural highways have signs that note when the time change happens. Central Time Zone is one hour ahead of the Mountain Time Zone.
- The police department has a Crime Stoppers program where you can report criminal activity (that isn’t urgent) online or by calling the hotline. The Facebook page is @mccookarea.crimestoppers, and the phone number is (308)345-5440.
- Use 511 Nebraska to check road conditions in any region. There are live highway cameras to see for yourself and color-coded roads to show where roads are dry, wet, or snow-covered. This is also where you can see snow plow cameras in the winter. There’s an app available to download.
- If you have an accident in this region, you can download the crash report online instead of having to go to the police department. Your insurance company will need a copy of this report. Crash Docs is the name of the website.
- Use the Nebraska Outdoors app to research fishing and hunting licenses, plus seasonal restrictions. A fishing license is easy to get for non-residents, but a hunting license has several safety requirements.
- You’ll need to know the difference between tornado watches and warnings, plus have a safe place determined in case a storm happens. Most hotels will have a designated area. The National Weather Service has plenty of resources to research weather terminology.
- Whenever possible, find covered or garage parking. Hail storms here can produce large hail, capable of breaking windshields or denting cars. Golf ball and baseball-sized hail have been reported here. I’ve been stuck outside in nickel-sized hail, and it felt as painful as a bee sting (what a welt left behind too).
- Even though this is a big birding area, don’t ever feed or touch the birds. Feeding them can be dangerous and cause them to become more aggressive toward other humans. Touching them can risk the spread of the Avian Flu, which requires an entire flock to be destroyed if just one bird tests positive. Enjoy the birds by sight only.
- Always keep an eye on the road when driving, but keep your eyes moving to your side mirrors and rearview mirror. On the long, straight roads here, it’s easy to fall into highway hypnosis. Use your eye scanning of the horizon to look for wayward cows or bison on the road.
So... How Safe Is McCook Really?
McCook is a safe small town with an ominous past that you likely wouldn’t even know about unless someone like me tell you.
A gruesome double murder in the 70s was the biggest headline in McCook until staggering drug increases in rural parts of Nebraska stole headlines in 2019 and beyond.
Police Chief Joel Smith said drugs, drug-related, or drug-adjacent crimes are by far the biggest criminal and safety concerns in the community.
“You deal with the same people on this problem over and over and over again.
It’s just so sad.
The resources to deal with this problem are difficult to come by.
And the drug problem can cause mental health issues, and there’s just not resources in place to deal with the mental health issues,” Chief Smith said.
A shocking case in 2020 tied a sex trafficking ring to this rural part of Nebraska, with a McCook man being charged.
Day-to-day headlines are more commonly cows running loose on the road or dangerous dogs running at large (two of them even damaged a parked vehicle.).
The violent crime rate is less than half the national average, and just one violent crime in 2021 was against a stranger.
It’s worth keeping your guard up because that one stranger was a woman walking on the sidewalk, and two men approached her with weapons and took her purse.
Even though theft rates are lower than the national average, 20% of those involve car break-ins and car accessory thefts.
In a place with drug activity, desperate thieves will rifle through unlocked cars or break windows to get to valuables.
Lock your car, leave the windows rolled up, and bring in all personal belongings when you park.
For what it’s worth, the theft rates are 300% lower than they were in 2014.
Stay away from any drug activity, and you’ll immediately raise your safety level.
Also, in the spirit of “Nebraska Nice”, report any suspicious activity you see.
How Does McCook Compare?
|Siem Reap (Cambodia)||63|
|Phnom Penh (Cambodia)||61|
|Niagara Falls (Canada)||87|
|Buenos Aires (Argentina)||60|
You'll need a passport that isn't within six months of expiring, so check the date on yours if you're coming from another country. A visa or visa waiver is required, but the one you can get depends on where you are from. Use the U.S. State Department website to get started.
Only the U.S. Dollar can be used here, but don't wait until you get to rural Nebraska to get your cash. Take care of that before you leave home to get the lowest fees. Try to pay for as much as you can with a credit card.
The only season that's guaranteed is a hot, humid summer. The rest of the year can have fluctuating temperatures. When winter does hit, it can be intense. Your best bet is to check the 10-day forecast while you're packing, but always bring layers. It can be freezing one day and shorts and t-shirt weather the next.
McCook does have a small airport with flights through the Denver Flight Connection. Check out the regional airports in North Platte, Grand Island, and Kearney for more options. You'll drive anywhere from 1 to 2.5 hours, but it's better than 4–5 hours to Denver or Omaha.
Travel insurance should be part of your planning since storms, wildfires, and winter weather can shut down rural roads or even major interstates and lead to many flight cancelations.
McCook Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
|Temperature / Month||Jan||Feb||Mar||Apr||May||Jun||Jul||Aug||Sep||Oct||Nov||Dec|
Nebraska - Safety by City
|South Sioux City||78|