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Nebraska is big, and so is its reputation. It’s the birthplace of rodeo, home to pioneer-era landmarks and crossed with historic byways that led homesteaders to the Old West. A visit here is a direct encounter with Western heritage. See one bold sunset set against the backdrop of the Sandhills, and you’ll understand what drove settlers across the grassland plains and over the bracing rivers to stake their claim to history. Farm tours, friendly ranches and farm-to-table dining, often under the stars, reveal the warmth of their descendants, who will feel more like neighbors than locals when you leave.

And when they offer you steak, don’t turn it down. It’s some of the world’s best, part of a long-standing culinary tradition of heartland comfort food often brought in straight from the farm. Becoming an explorer yourself is easy here, too, with an expansive, ruggedly beautiful landscape to walk, climb or bike.