The Town with a Population of One

photography by: Brandon

For years and years, I’ve been hoping to make it to the rural town of Monowi, Nebraska. Before you tell me I’m crazy, let me back up a bit. Like many people, I became furloughed in 2020. I took this time to explore our country via camper van, and drove over 8,000 miles through mountains, deserts and plains. One of the most unique places I came across was the seemingly insignificant hamlet of Monowi.

Monowi is in Northern Nebraska and is known for having a population of one, the only place in the country with this stat. The town, post office, pub, library, etc are all run by the lovely Elsie, who is now in her 80s. She’s made national news, done the morning shows, and even a few commercials. When I stopped in, Elsie was warm and kind, and showed me the hospitality for which Nebraska is known.

The main two buildings in Monowi are shown here. The functioning tavern building is to the right.

photography by: Brandon


When you drive over the border from South Dakota into northern Nebraska, you pass through a small amount of badlands that just barely bleed down into the state before the terrain becomes flat. The sky is wide and encouraging; the only roads have names like “Farm to Market 250” or “Old Highway 13.” There is something so special about seeing a place like this, one where driving is the only means of discovery. There’s no airport, no train station, no bus stop to welcome visitors. The land is purposeful and real, and this what a roadtrip is all about- getting to know the places you’re driving through.

A look at the gorgeous hills surrounding the Missouri River.

photography by: Brandon


After only 15 minutes of driving, the small but infamous sign appears showing the population count: Monowi, 1. The town is essentially a few small buildings clustered together on a street corner. It used to house more people (as many as 123 back in the 1930s), but over the decades, most of them left to head to larger population centers nearby, like Souix Falls or Omaha. By 2000, it was just Elsie and her husband Rudy left. When Rudy died in 2004, he left Elsie as the only resident, and thus the de facto mayor. Elsie runs the Monowi Tavern, which is a watering hole for those in the surrounding villages, as well as the library and post office.

The infamous Monowi sign right outside of the town limits. This is the only fully incorporated town in the United States with a population of one.

photography by: Brandon


In the late 2000s, the uniqueness of being a town of one started to spread, and soon Elsie was serving guests from all over the world. Elsie’s sweetness and perseverance lead to multiple interviews, articles, and even a Super Bowl commercial. When I met Elsie, I asked her how she handled all of the notoriety, but she answered calmly that it doesn’t get to her. Her days are spent thinking about inventory, ingredients for the Tavern, and what’s happening locally. For me, Monowi embodies so many things: a preservation of smalltown americana, a roadside attraction, a geographic oddity. But mostly, it shows how someone can manifest their own happy paradise, whatever that means to them.

I finally got to meet the sole resident of the town, Elsie!

photography by: Brandon


Right down the road from Monowi is the beautiful Niobrara State Park, located right on the confluence of the Niobrara and Missouri rivers. The result is a spectacular hiking destination, with riverside walks, hidden ponds, and plenty of campsites and cabins alike. I arrived on a quiet weekday, and the wildlife was abundant. I never thought I’d find such a peaceful spot in what I had deemed an unremarkable place. I would definitely recommend combining these two sites on your next road trip for a wonderful overnight experience of the heartland of the US.

A hiking trail in the nearby Niobrara State Park.

photography by: Brandon


About Me

I’m a constant traveller who loves documenting and sharing my trips, because I believe sharing  local experiences is the best way to learn about the world. I’ve just completed a 6-week, 8,000 mile US road trip and while living out of a camper van! I’ve been visiting State and National Parks and I am in love with being on the road. I invite you to follow my adventures below.

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photography by: Brandon