THING TO DO

Shoot Winter Photography at Fort Falls

A small creek flows through a snowy landscape.
Leading lines bring depth to Nature Photography in Winter.

NPS Photo

Make Nature's Art Gallery your Own

with one quick trip to Fort Falls and the Niobrara National Scenic River. The serenity of winter on the Niobrara River is a scenic escape for photographers of all skill levels and styles.

Here are some tips and tricks for stunning winter photography on the Niobrara River and Fort Falls:

  1. Go when there is snow and ice. While the Niobrara and Fort Falls are stunning sites in all seasons, for great photography and capturing that winter glow in real time, we suggest making sure there is some snow on the ground, or even better, snow flakes falling to be captured by your lens in real time. The ice that freezes along the sides of the Fort Falls creates intricate patterns and shapes that can make your photos one-of-a-kind.
  2. Take photos at sunrise or sunset. These are considered "golden hours" of day light, when the sunlight is not in full force on the landscape your are capturing. Taking snowy photos in full sunlight can cause overexposure and a burned-out glare or large shadows in your photos. Getting out to the falls at sunset is easier in winter because you can go after work when the sun is setting and still make it home for dinner. Another option is to go on a cloudy day when the sun can't shine directly and cause burn-out or shadows in your photos.
  3. Look for contrasts and patterns in the landscape. Find fun textures like bark and stone to photograph against the softness of snow. Colors like evergreen against snow can be striking and make for great contrast; visual interests, like small plants sticking up from fresh snow, can make close-up shots look larger than life. Leading lines like streams or trails going into the distance are great visual interests for winter photography too.
  4. Take photos at multiple distances and angles. Try macro-shots of very small objects like snowflakes or frost on a dark surface from really close-up to capture all of the details, or go big with a large shot of Fort Falls flowing downstream from far away to get all of the waterfall's best angles.
  5. Look for wildlife on open water. Waterfowl and animals need water to live, so if you want to take a crack at wildlife photography, Fort Falls and the Niobrara River are both great sources of flowing water where you might find some animals enjoying a winter's rest or lapping up a quick drink. Sheltered river valleys like the one where the Fort Falls flow, provide nice resting areas for these animals. Note: animals are more stressed in winter because of lack of resources; keep your distance and do not disturb them, even if it would be "the coolest picture ever."
  6. Add some depth by making a photo sandwich. Capture a subject in the mid-distance of a shot (a hiker or animal) and with a blurry/out of focus background (Fort Falls) and some blurry objects in the foreground near the lens like blades of grass or pine needles on a branch. This layered affect draws the eyes to your subject--a friend observing the Fort Falls.
Details
All ages encouraged and welcome! We just ask that children be supervised because if a child goes into the water or waterfall in winter, safety is a great risk.
Pets are welcome at Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge on leashes. Photograph you pets experiencing the falls for a unique pet's-eye-view!
Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge is free for the enjoyment of the people in all seasons.
Fort Falls is located along the Niobrara National Scenic River at the Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge near Valentine, Nebraska. The Fort Falls offer beautiful potential for great photography in all seasons just a short walk from your car.
No Reservations are Required.
For Winter Photography, we recommend bundling up! Wear a heavy coat, hat, gloves, boots, and thick pants. Temperatures can be as cold as -20 F, but are usually around 20 F for most of the winter; being near water makes it feel even colder out because of the humidity. Snow is normal, so boots with traction are highly recommended to keep visitors from slipping on walkways and stairs to and from the Fort Falls.
Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge is open dawn to dusk, but most visitors visit in the mid-day or afternoon in winter. Because the sun sets around 5:00 PM-6:00PM CST in winter, you can get a "Golden Hour" shot after work and still be home for dinner!
Accessibility Information
The trail to Fort Falls is not highly accessible. The trail is are not cleared in winter but visitors can still make the trip down metal footbridges and down a flight of about 40 metal stairs in the winter. This is challenging with snow. There are handrails that can be used for stability along the walkway and stairs. The rest of the trail is not cleared in winter and is single track dirt, wide enough for walking. 

For more accessibility information, see Fort Niobrara National Wildlife Refuge's Website
A waterfall flowing over a ledge and into a pool with snow on all sides.
Fort Falls can be captured in any season, but winter is stunning because of the stark contrast between ice and stone.

NPS Photo

More to do on the Niobrara

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    Last updated: January 13, 2021