Nebraska : Safety by City
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Ogallala is as fun to visit as it is to say (“Oh-GUH-la-la”).
It offers all the excitement and history of the High Plains, with Colorado’s mountainous incline starting just 30 miles west of this western Nebraska town.
For those who played Oregon Trail in their younger years, this is where you likely needed to replace wheels or buy some food, but the real history is preserved at the Mansion on the Hill Museum and surrounding properties, including a Boot Hill tribute for those who didn’t complete the journey or survive the rugged lifestyle here.
The real show-stopper here for many is Lake McConaughy, also known as Big Mac, as it’s the largest reservoir in the state and one of the top fishing destinations.
Downtown Ogallala has a distinct Old West town vibe with a museum and cowboy museum that will make you tip your hat to this small-town treasure.
This region is where buttes and rock formations start to build toward the Rocky Mountains.
It’s a nice break from the flat part of Nebraska if you’re heading west, but for those heading east, know that it gets flatter all the way through Omaha.
Warnings & Dangers in Ogallala
OVERALL RISK: LOW
There's a low risk here. Most crime totals can be counted on two hands, and the tourist attractions provided some of the safest spots in the state.
TRANSPORT & TAXIS RISK: LOW
Ogallala Public Transit is an on-demand system for locals and visitors. You need to schedule a ride at least two hours ahead of time. Taxis and rideshares are available sparingly. A rental car is the more flexible and safest way to explore.
PICKPOCKETS RISK: LOW
There's a low risk here, with none reported over the past few years. You should still use caution, especially when being distracted by a cowboy show or event, but there's really not an issue with that here.
NATURAL DISASTERS RISK: MEDIUM
Ogallala gets a lot of weather throughout the year, and it should be treated as a medium risk to prompt education. The High Plains get wicked snowstorms, severe weather, tornadoes, wind storms that make driving hard, and wildfires. The weather systems that fire up coming off the Rocky Mountains hit places like Ogallala first before working their way across Nebraska.
MUGGING RISK: LOW
This is a low risk, with no more than two robberies a year in the past decade, and in six of those years, there were no robberies.
TERRORISM RISK: LOW
This is another low risk, as this is a rural area surrounded by a lot of empty space. If you have additional questions, view the Keith County Government website.
SCAMS RISK: LOW
Residential scams are the biggest problem here, but you can visit the Better Business Bureau of Ogallala online to see what's trending before your visit.
WOMEN TRAVELERS RISK: LOW
This is a lone stretch of highway with a lot of rural lands, which might make solo female travelers feel uneasy. I have driven this road several times and can honestly say I'm more distracted by the beauty than by any safety concerns. Common sense and standard safety practices go a long way to low risk.
TAP WATER RISK: LOW
The Water Quality Report for 2021 shows full compliance and no violations. The Ogallala underground reservoir is making headlines in 2023 for agriculture, but it won't impact water quality. Any water safety issues would be reported through social media sites of the city, county, or law enforcement.
Safest Places to Visit in Ogallala
The Ogallala city website and ILoveLakeMac.com are robust sources of information for things to do in the region.
There is a Lake McConaughy mobile app to help you get the lay of the land.
Don’t let the lake website be misleading because it covers all the attractions in Keith County.
Lake McConaughy has been ranked as one of the 100 fishing holes in America.
It’s popular with boaters, too, and has a sandy beach in the summer with winter trails to explore.
Campgrounds are available on a first-come basis but do require a reservation.
Between the woods and beach, there are 1,500 campsites available.
Lake Ogallala is nearby, and both require a parking permit to get in.
Learn more at Outdoor Nebraska’s website.
While you’re there, don’t miss the nearby Ash Hollow State Historical Park, which is easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it.
This was an important stop on the Oregon Trail, and while the park isn’t much from a distance, you’ll see how wonderful it is when you start to wander around.
Soak in those views while you’re there.
Back in Ogallala, the Front Street Steakhouse and Crystal Palace Saloon will transport you back to the Old West and show you why this town earned the nickname Cowboy Capital.
The Cowboy Museum is free, and you’ll want to book Crystal Palace Saloon shows as early as possible to get a spot.
The Petrified Wood Galley displays some of the best wood-turned-stone artifacts found in the High Plains, and you’ll also learn how that process works.
Mansion on the Hill Museum takes you to the luxurious side of cattle derives in a Victorian mansion with authentic artifacts throughout.
The museum is open seasonally.
This is a historic house that was built in 1887 by a wealthy cattleman.
It features Victorian architecture and furnishings, as well as exhibits on local history and culture.
You can take a guided tour of the mansion and learn about its past residents and guests.
The museum is open from May to September, Tuesday to Sunday.
Ogallala was once a dangerous town, and while visiting a graveyard might sound macabre, Boot Hill Cemetery is worth it for the headstones alone (some of which are no more than a painted stick).
The lawless, lewd, and unlucky are buried here.
The Tri-Trails Park signals the crossroads of the Oregon Trail, Pony Express, and Great Western Cattle Trail.
To blaze your own trail, use the Visit Nebraska website to check out the Scenic Byway options.
Places to Avoid in Ogallala
In the 1800s, this topic would’ve been much different, but the lawless and dangerous nature of this town is now just history.
There are no shootouts over poker games or catastrophic cattle drive accidents.
The town is now too small to have dangerous neighborhoods anyway.
It’s also hard to get lost in Ogallala because if you’re surrounded by fields, you’ve gone too far.
Avoid just showing up to Lake Mac and starting your adventure.
There’s planning that needs to be done, from fishing licenses to boating safety courses to fire restrictions to life vest rules.
Download the Nebraska Outdoors app to get all that information.
I’d recommend keeping your vehicle gassed up here since the long stretches of interstate can leave many miles between you and the next gas station.
Some exits might only have one gas station and feel a little sketchy.
Safety Tips for Traveling to Ogallala
- Ogallala has its own police department and posts often on Facebook, @ogallalaPD. You can email specific questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or call (308)284-2024.
- If you have any information about criminal activity that isn’t urgent, call Tri-County Crimestoppers at (308)284-4600.
- Download and use the 511 Nebraska app often. It gives you road conditions, traffic delays, construction zones, and live cameras of all the major roadways in the state. Snow plows have live cameras when they’re in action. I use the live cameras on I-80 often to check road conditions as storms roll in since I’m in eastern Nebraska.
- The police department posts an annual report that summarizes safety, crime trends, and events. This is a great way to get an overview of the city before your visit.
- Sign up for CodeRED notifications to learn weather alerts as they are issued. It’s critical to be informed about risks here since storms can develop quickly, and a wildfire risk can create a burning inferno when the right (wrong?) conditions are present.
- If you’re visiting Ogallala in your golden years, look for the RSVP section of the city’s website. It stands for “Retired Seniors and Volunteer Program” and helps residents and visitors find safe activities and enjoy their time here.
- The city has snow routes that will get plowed first during big weather events, which is helpful to download and keep with you if you’re trying to get to or from the interstate during a snowstorm. Avoid parking on public streets during snow events, so the plows can get through.
- For those wanting to make a western road trip, you can get to Dodge City, Kansas, from Ogallala, but it’s a good five-hour drive on remote roadways.
- If you’re staying at Lake Mac, don’t rely on mobile phone signals for emergency alerts. Take a weather radio with you and extra batteries. That way, you don’t miss any alerts or drain your mobile phone battery searching for a signal.
- There’s this wrong assumption that as soon as you get to Colorado, the Rocky Mountains will be laid out in all their glory. To ward off your disappointment, you should know it’s a good two to three hours before you’ll even see the outlines of the mountains. What you will notice if that you’re going on a slow incline, which burns more gas. On the flip side, heading to Ogallala from Denver, you’ll save some gas by the gentle slope.
So... How Safe Is Ogallala Really?
Ogallala hasn’t seen more than 12 violent crimes in a year since 2000, with most years being closer to six (which is where 2021 ended).
Just four of those violent crimes were against strangers going back to 2017.
Honestly, the Ogallala police department’s social media sites have more lost and found dogs than anything else.
Car break-ins or accessory thefts, like catalytic converters, make up 26% of the theft rates.
As an interstate town, you can’t always trust the safety rating of the city because you don’t know who is going to be driving through.
That’s more incentive to lock your car and leave personal belongings out of sight or locked in your hotel room.
The one safety concern I’d lament here is for winter visitors—if a snowstorm, blizzard, or ice storm is going to shut down any part of I-80, this is it.
It’s not even a matter of if you *can drive in snow.
The interstate and nearby roads will be shut down to all traffic.
You also need to know wildfire and severe storm safety tips, as both are more than likely at any time a watch or advisory is issued.
As someone who is skilled at traveling through storms, I know it might sound a little pedantic, but I don’t want anyone to get stuck on the interstate in this rural part of Nebraska or be miles from an exit as a tornado is approaching.
How Does Ogallala Compare?
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International travelers need a visa or visa waiver, and you can determine which one you must have by visiting the U.S. State Department website. You will also need a passport, but check the expiration date. Any passport within six months of expiring could cause problems.
Only the U.S. Dollar can be used here. Exchange currency before you get to this small town. In fact, your home bank will have the best rates and be the most accommodating to your needs.
Bring layers of clothing because even the four seasons don't always stick to the script. Winters will likely need a coast, and summers will generally be hot and muggy. Sunscreen and bug sprays are needed, and comfortable walking shoes will help you explore without blisters or sore feet. This is a very casual town.
North Platte Regional Airport is the closest commercial option, and that's an hour away. You can also drive to Denver's airport in less than three hours, but I'd advise against that plan in winter when the roads can close down between the two.
Travel insurance is smart for your flight, luggage, and rental car since there's a lot of potentially dangerous weather that could impact travel plans.
Ogallala Weather Averages (Temperatures)
Average High/Low Temperature
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Nebraska - Safety by City
|South Sioux City||78|