Hiking Scotts Bluff National Monument

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The Scotts Bluff National Monument dominates the landscape around it, serving as a landmark for people for hundreds of years. It is a sacred place for Native Americans and a marker for emigrants who traveled the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails. Today, it is a connection to the past for travelers who come to learn its history, hike its trails, and view its geological wonders.

Story by: Irene North


The Monument sits on 3,000 acres where visitors can hike, explore, and gaze and the variety of flora and fauna that have found homes in, on, and under its land.

With hikes from easy to strenuous, the Scotts Bluff National Monument has nearly four miles of trails for visitors to traverse. Trails are open every day from sunrise to sunset, giving hiking enthusiasts the chance to add their footsteps to the thousands who came before them. The visitors center and Summit Road have seasonal hours. Be sure to check in advance of their times.


| THE SUMMIT TRAILS

The Bike Path is the only trail available for cyclists and hikers. It begins at the visitor center at the eastern boundary of the park, dropping 50 feet (15 m) in 1.2 miles (1.9 km).

The 0.4-mile (0.64km) Oregon Trail Pathway is a favorite among children. The paved trail begins west of the museum where visitors can view eroded depressions, or swales, from the original Oregon Trail. There are also three replica-covered Murphy and Conestoga wagons. During the summer, visitors can speak with park rangers, dressed in period costumes, discuss the items used on the trails, and learn what life was like traveling along the trail. The trail continues uphill at a 13% grade, with the location ending in Mitchell Pass near the William Henry Jackson campsite.

The Summit Overlook Trails can be reached by foot via the Saddle Rock Trail or by vehicle via the 1.7-mile-long Summit Road. The South Overlook trail is a relatively flat 0.4-mile (0.64 km) path whereby visitors can view the visitor center and Mitchell Pass from above. The 0.5-mile (0.8 km) North Overlook trail begins with quick a 16% uphill trek before leveling out. There are several overlooks on this trail to view the North Platte Valley below. The final 100 yards (91 meters) of the trail consists of a 19% downhill grade, with drop-offs on both sides of the trail. Hikers on the North Overlook Trail will reach 4,659 feet (1,420 m) above sea level, the highest point on the bluff.

| SADDLE ROCK TRAIL

The Saddle Rock Trail is popular with locals as well as visitors. The 1.6 miles (2.4 km) long paved trail begins at the visitor center parking lot, ascending 435 feet (133 m) to the top of the bluff. The first 700 yards (630 meters) to Scott’s Spring are wheelchair accessible, crossing prairie grasslands and a juniper ravine near the base of the bluff. Beyond this point, wheelchair use is not recommended because the trail rises steeply for more than 1,700 yards (1,554 meters) with sharp drop-offs.

Eagle Rock Scotts Bluff National Monument Photo © Hawk Buckman
| SOUTH BLUFF

For more experienced hikers who are looking for a more primitive hike, the South Bluff is an alternative option to the paved trails. Hikers are advised to check in with park rangers at the visitor center before and after a hike at the South Bluff.

oR summit of South Bluff is 4,692 feet above sea level. It is a relatively unspoiled area of the national monument. Visitors often marvel at its geological features, the varied botanical interests, and the scenic views.

South Bluff consists of sandstone, siltstone, volcanic ash, and limestone.

The National Park Service intends on keeping the area as it is, with no modern improvements. South Bluff features three of the five rocks which make up the monument – Dome Rock, Crown Rock, and Sentinel Rock. Because of the soft nature of the Brule clay formation of these steep rocks, it is not permitted to climb them.

The eastern side of South Bluff consists of Dome Rock, its largest, and isolated, feature. Coyote Pass, a gap between Sentinel and Crown Rocks, is 4,331 feet above sea level.

Adventure Awaites In Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska
Adventure awaites at Scotts Bluff National Monument. Photo © Hawk Buckman

The famed Mitchell Pass lies at the western end of South Bluff, between South Bluff and Sentinel Rock and Eagle Rock.

For everyone’s safety, please stay on the trails. The Saddle Rock Trail and Summit Trails contain soft and crumbly rock. Leaving the trails can be extremely dangerous. If you have small children, it is recommended you use a harness. There are no safety barriers along the trails, which have several hundred-foot drops should one slip and fall.

Pets are allowed on the trails but are required to be on a leash at all times. Leashes cannot exceed six feet in length. This is for the safety of your pets, the wildlife who call the monument home, and other visitors sharing the trails with you. Pet owners are asked to clean up after their pets as well.

The prairie rattlesnake is common in western Nebraska. Though it is shy and tends to avoid humans, it will strike if it feels threatened. Snakes can be easily spotted from the trail but can be hidden by vegetation if hiking off-trail.

The park asks everyone to pack out what they take in so others can enjoy the beauty of the area.

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Travel Scotts Bluff National Monument
Photo © Hawk Buckman

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Scotts Bluff National Monument
Scotts Bluff National Monument – Night Sky Landscape. Photo © Hawk Buckman
Scotts Bluff National Monument. Photo © Hawk Buckman
| REFERENCES AND MORE INFORMATION

Scotts Bluff National Monument, Scotts Bluff County, Nebraska
Scotts Bluff National MonumentVisit Nebraska
Scotts Bluff National Monument  Wikipedia

Established in 1919 by Presidential Proclamations, Scotts Bluff National Monument preserves and protects over 3,000 acres of mixed-grass prairie, rugged badlands, towering bluffs, historic trail remnants, and riparian area along the North Platte River. The bluff served as an important landmark for pioneers on the Oregon, California, Mormon Pioneer, and Pony Express Trails. Visitors to Scotts Bluff National Monument can walk in the footsteps of pioneers on remnants of the Oregon Trail, drive to the top of the bluff via the Summit Road and stand in awe at the sight of the bluffs raising from the prairie. The park boasts over 100,000 annual visitors. 

Park grounds, trails, and picnic areas are open daily from sunrise to sunset. Visitor Center and Summit Road hours vary upon season and road conditions. 


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