Midwest Road Trips

Explore Scotts Bluff National Monument for Family Fun

Visit Scotts Bluff National Monument with kids for Pioneer History.
Scotts Bluff in Western Nebraska marked the end of the plains for pioneers on the Oregon Trail. Photo Credit: NPS

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. Scotts Bluff National Monument is a 800-foot rock formation that’s been a beacon for centuries for migrating peoples. Find out what to do at Scotts Bluff National Monument.

Top Things to do at Scotts Bluff

  • Head to the Visitor Center
  • Take a Scenic Drive to the Summit
  • Hike at Scotts Bluff

Scotts Blufs at at Glance

Year Established: 1919
Located: Western Nebraska
Size: over 3,000 acres
Top Features: The view from Scotts Bluff


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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 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. with extended hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It is located at 190276 Old Oregon Trail Road.

What’s Scotts Bluff 

Visit Scotts Bluff National monument to learn about the Oregon Trail.
At the entrance of Scotts Bluff National Monument, we stop for a picture, a family tradition. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

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

Visit the Bluff Summit with the kids.
Scotts Bluff Summit is a must, it’s a quick 10-minute drive from the Visitor Center. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

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 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the year with longer hours in the summer.

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.
  • 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.

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History of Scotts Bluff

chuck wagon in Nebraska.
Scotts Bluff sits along several pioneer trails, like the Oregon Trail. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

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.

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What to do with Kids at Scotts Bluff

Hike on top of the Scotts Bluff Summit for family fun
The interpretive signs at the summit tell us what’s on the horizon. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

At the Visitor Center pick up a Junior Ragner booklet and walked through the interpretive area. 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.

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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.

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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.

Learn how pioneers moved West in the 1800s on the Oregon Trail. Explore Scotts Bluff National Monument in Nebraska to see covered wagons and the ruts they left over 100 years ago. What to do in Nebraska | Road Trip Stops in Nebraska | National Parks in Nebraska #NationalParks #Nebraska
credit: Catherine Parker

Learn how pioneers moved West in the 1800s on the Oregon Trail. Explore Scotts Bluff National Monument in Nebraska to see covered wagons and the ruts they left over 100 years ago. What to do in Nebraska | Road Trip Stops in Nebraska | National Parks in Nebraska #NationalParks #Nebraska

Catherine Parker has a passion for travel and seen all 50 U.S. States. As a former flight attendant with one of the largest airlines, there isn't a North American airport that she hasn't landed in at least once. Since clipping her professional wings after 9/11, she combines her love of the open road with visiting architectural and cultural icons. She is based out of Central Texas dividing her time between writing and restoring a pair of 100-year-old houses. She shares her life with her three kids and her husband.

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