The Midwest is huge and it seems like it takes days to cross it, in a car with air-conditioning and entertainment. Consider crossing the midwest from east to west in a covered wagon with everything you own for a new life you’ve never seen. Or on horseback with enough food for a day. Located in the western side of Nebraska, Scotts Bluff National Monument is a 800-foot rock formation that’s been a beacon for centuries for migrating peoples. Visitors can learn about the rock formation along with the people that used it as a landmark. Here are the top things to do at Scotts Bluff National Monument.
Scotts Blufs at at Glance
|Year Established: 1919|
|Located: Western Nebraska|
|Size: over 3,000 acres|
|Top Features: The view from Scotts Bluff|
Top Things to do at Scotts Bluff
Might be a quest to visit all 50 states, or you might be on your way to the Black Hills of South Dakota or Yellowstone National Park, either way Nebraska offers a great road trip stop.
Head to the Visitor Center
Learn about the People who used Scotts Bluff
Take a Scenic Drive to the Summit
Hike at Scotts Bluff
Earn a Junior Ranger or BARK Ranger
Have a Picnic
Discover More near Nebraska
Visitor Center at Scotts Bluff
Inside the Visitor Cener find an interpretive area explaining the migration of 250,000 American pioneers that passed through this area from 1843 to 1869. The Visitor Center features a short film too.
William Henry Jackson is known as the first person to photograph Yellowstone National Park. He was born in Vermont though settled in Omaha, Nebraska, before joining the Hayden Geologic Survey of Yellowstone in 1871. The largest collection of his sketches, photographs and paintings.
The visitor center is open daily from 8 a.m. 6 p.m. in the summer from late May until late August. For the rest of the year, it is open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. It is located at 190276 Old Oregon Trail Road.
What’s Scotts Bluff
With 3,000 acres to explore, Scotts Bluff National Monument protects the remnants of the overland trail ruts, badland formations and Scotts Bluff, a geologic feature. Scotts Bluff rises 800 feet above the North Platte River, located nearby and offered a notable natural feature along the Oregon, Mormon and California Trails–the pioneer trails that passed through this area.
Named after a fur pelt clerk,Hiram Scott was an employee of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company. He died in the area under a cloud of mystery in 1828.
Drive to Scotts Bluff Summit
It’s a 1.6-mile (2.5 km) drive to the Scotts Bluff summit. It’s takes about 7 to 10 minutes from the Visitor Center. Completed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Summit Road features the only three tunnels in Nebraska (kids love tunnels) and it’s the oldest concrete roadway in Nebraska.
At the top of the bluff, we found hiking trails and vast views in every direction. The summit features parking but no restrooms or picnic tables. Open daily in the summer from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the year.
Hop aboard the free Summit Shuttle if your vehicle is prohibited on Summit Road. Due to tunnels and sharp turns, RVs over 25-feet are prohibited. Note: The Summit Shuttle isn’t running in 2021.
Hiking in Scotts Bluff
Take a hike during your visit to Scotts Bluff. Hiking gives families a chance to explore the summit or take a one-way hike back to the Visitor Center.
- North Overlook Trail is a paved .5-mile (.8 km) loop. Moderate.
- South Overlook Trail is a paved .4-mile (.6 km) loop. Easy.
- Saddle Rock Trail is a 1.6-mile (2.5 km) one way hike from the summit area to the Visitor Center, includes steep grades and sharp turns. Difficult. (Temporarily closed due to a recent rock slide.)
- Prairie View Trail is a paved 1.2-mile (1.9 km) trail.
- Oregon Trail Pathway is .5-mile (.8 km) one path that follows a portion of the original Oregon Trail with Conestoga wagon replicas.
Ranger Programs at Scotts Bluff
Learn more about the history of the area by attending a Ranger Program. Topics include history, geology along with the plants and animals of the area.
It is free to attend and check in at the visitor center for the availability during your visit.
History of Scotts Bluff
Scotts Bluff has been as a natural landmark since the beginning. The first human traces found in this area date back 10,000 years. The Pawnee and Kansa people, among others, set up semi-permanent villages next.
The European explorers and fur traders used this route along the North Platte River to travel between St. Louis, Missouri, and the mouth of the Columbia River on the Pacific Coast. Hunting and trapping were common, especially the beaver pelt. The pelts exuded luxury in the 1800s.
Starting in 1836, emigrants traveled west along the Oregon Trail. When they reached Oregon, they received 320 acres of farmland. In 1847, Brigham Young lead the first Mormon wagon train to Utah.
The Pony Express rode this route from 1860-1861 to transport mail between Sacramento, California, and Saint Joseph, Missouri. The transcontinental railroad linked the coasts in 1869.
In 1919, the area was designated a national monument.
Kids and Pets at Scotts Bluff
The Junior Ranger Program is the go-to program for families to learn more about a National Park Service site. It’s free and takes about two hours to complete. My kids love the badges that the Rangers present them after completing their booklet.
I found exhibits depicting the migration of 250,000 American pioneers that passed through this area from 1843 to 1869. The Visitor Center features a short film too.
If time and weather allows, take a hike. Or drive up Summit Road to Scotts Summit for a short family-friendly hike.
Next the Visitor Center I found a living history area with covered wagons. This area helps the kids understand the journey on the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon. On most Saturdays, costumed interpretive rangers explain the history of the area.
Scotts Bluff welcomes pets as long as they practice the principles of the BARK program.
B–Bag waste and dispose of it in the trash
A–Always leash your dog for their safety and others
K–Know where you can go
Where to Eat
Scotts Bluff National Monument offers a vending machine for drinks and a water fountain with a bottle filler. The monument doesn’t offer food service.
Find three covered picnic tables near the Visitor Center.
Sandhills Scenic Byway
Take a scenice byway that bisects Nebraska from east-to- west. Crossing 272 miles from Grand Island to to Alliance, Nebraska, discover the Nebraska Sandhills, the largest sand dune formation in the Western Hemisphere. Also drive through the Nebraska National Forest, the largest U.S, forest that was hand-planted.
Where’s Scotts Bluff National Monument
Scotts Bluff National Monument located at190276 Old Oregon Trail in Gering, Nebraska, on the western border. Open from sunrise to sunset. It is free to enter.
Know Before You Go
- Summit Road is narrow and includes three tunnels. Vehicles longer that 25 feet and taller than 11’7” are prohibited.
- Trailers are prohibited on Summit Road.
- Summit Road remains open year-round, though closed Christmas Day (December 25) and New Years Day (January 1).
- Summit Road opens from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the summer season and closes at 5 p.m. during the rest of the year.
- Cyclists can use Summit Road after the daily closure until sunset.