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

On a quest to see the lower 48, the carful of kids drove to Jasper National Park in Canada from Central Texas. Our most recent stop included an Old West shoot-out in Dodge City, Kansas. And before that, we explored Lawton, Oklahoma, to learn about the Comanche people. And we’re exploring Scotts Bluff National Monument in Nebraska.

A road trip stop in Nebraska, Scotts Bluff National Monument.
A new state, Nebraska, offers miles of crops and a national monument. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

This area of the U.S. does NOT offer a north/south interstate to jump on and speed things up. I would have to drive west to Denver to catch I-25. So far, we seen miles of crops dotted with occasional road construction while driving through the midwest.

Scotts Bluff 

Scotts Bluff National Monument rises 800 feet above theNorth Platte River, located nearby. It offers a notable natural feature along the Oregon, Mormon and California Trails. All pioneer trails that passed through this area.

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

Named after a fur pelt clerk,Hiram Scott was an employee of the American Fur Company. He died in the area under a cloud of mystery.

History of Scotts Bluff

Scotts Bluff stood 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.

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

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 the valuable beaver, 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.

Scotts Bluff Summit

Hop aboard the free Summit Shuttle if your vehicle is prohibited on Summit Road. The driver will share the significance of this monument during the 7 to 10 minute drive.

Visit the Bluff Summit with the kids.
Scotts Bluff Summit is a must with kids if you have time, a quick 10-minute drive from the Visitor Center. Photo Credit: Catherine Parker

Completed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), Summit Road features the only three tunnels in Nebraska. And kids always love tunnels.

At the top of the bluff, we found hiking trails and vast views in every direction.

What to do with Kids at Scotts Bluff

At the Visitor Center we picked up ourJunior Ranger Badgesand 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.

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

If time and weather allows, I always include a hike when we explore a new national park site. So we drive up Summit Road to Scotts Summit to take 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.

Hiking in Scotts Bluff

Hiking gives families a chance to explore the summit or take a one-way hike back to the Visitor Center. During our visit, we hiked around the summit that features parking but no restrooms or picnic tables.

  • North Overlook Trail is a paved .5-mile loop. Moderate.
  • South Overlook Trail is a paved .4-mile loop. Easy.
  • Saddle Rock Trail is a 1.6-mile hike, one way, from the summit area to the Visitor Center, includes steep grades and sharp turns. Difficult.


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.

When road tripping and visiting national parks, I always pack meals when we are away from towns. The carful of kids found three covered picnic tables near the Visitor Center and pulled out the cold-cuts for a picnic dinner.

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. The admission is $5 per car or purchase an America The Beautiful National Park Pass for $80 if visiting several national park sites.

An ideal road trip stop when driving to the Black Hills of South Dakota to visitMount Rushmore, Wind Cave and Jewel Cave,and Custer State Park.

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. #NationalParks #NPS #Nebraska What to do in Nebraska | Road Trip Stops in Nebraska | National Parks in Nebraska

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