As you are meandering your way through the fields of Western Nebraska, you will suddenly be greeted by a gigantic series of bluffs that have risen out of the ground seemingly from nowhere. Welcome to Scotts Bluff National Monument!
The Bluffs are a stark contrast to the surrounding plains and due to this they were a landmark for the covered wagons making their way along the Oregon Trail (also California and Mormon Trails).
We stopped in to the newly renovated visitor center. There were lots of kid-friendly, hands-on exhibits. We also took the short Oregon Trail Pathway that leaves from the visitor center.
This brings you to the covered wagon replicas but also brought us to some living history demonstrations. These re-enactors taught us about how food and water was transported, common kids toys, and how to assess a buffalo chip to see if it is ready to be used for fuel. My kids were fascinated by the buffalo chip thing and this would come in handy when we visited Custer State Park. Ha! If you walk to the end of this trail you will also see the old wagon wheel ruts that mark the Oregon Trail.
When returning to the visitor center, you can either take the Saddle Rock trail (1.6 miles) up to the top of the Bluff or you can drive to the top. We opted to drive.
There are 2 overlook trails at the top. Both are easy to manage and you can view down to the valley with the visitor center or look over the town of Scottsbluff.
This was a quick stop and you can easily do some other activities in the area to complete your day. May I suggest:
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
This is located northwest of Scottsbluff. It is a bit out of the way but still fun and they do offer an engaging junior ranger program. The visitor center is surprisingly big with large fossil displays. The Native American artifacts and story steal the show.
There are two trails available in this monument and we opted for the Daemonlix Trail. There is a Paleocastor fossil displayed on this trail. This is the spiral corkscrew fossil that made this monument famous. The story is really interesting but I don’t want to ruin the surprise.
This famous rock (that is displayed on the Nebraska quarter) is due east of Scottsbluff. You can see the rock from the Overlook Trails at Scotts Bluff NM. This was also a landmark for travelers on the trails. There is a hands on museum located here but it is not included in the National Park Pass.
This is advertised as “The Nebraska answer to Stonehenge”. It just cracks me up. We were thwarted in our visit due to a Thunderstorm and I was devastated. It looks amazing. This is also east of Scottsbluff in Alliance, NE so you could loop this together with Chimney Rock.
Runzas are these doughy balls full of ground beef (along with cabbage and onion I believe). They are a Nebraska tradition and I’m pretty sure you are required to eat at least one before leaving the state. The Runza chain restaurant that is located throughout the state will help you accomplish this goal.
Town of Scottsbluff
The town of Scottsbluff itself is fairly large. It has large chain restaurants, shopping and hotels. We stayed overnight here to break up the trip. There are other tourist attractions in the town including the Legacy of the Plains Museum. So don’t just skip over Scottsbluff.
Our next destination….South Dakota!