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How to Spend an Hour at Scotts Bluff National Monument

From a distance Scotts Bluff National Monument is impressive. It towers above the surrounding plains and is 800 feet above the North Platte River. The enormous bluff has been a prairie pathway landmark for at least 10,000 years first for indigenous people and then for pioneers on the Oregon Trail during America’s westward expansion. The remnant of ancestral high plains is in the far northwest corner of Nebraska. When looking at Scotts Bluff, you’re looking at over 31 million years of rock layers. In the early 1800s, explorer Stephen H. Long described the dry prairie lands of Nebraska as part of the “Great American Desert.” It’s a land of extremes with temperatures soaring over 100°F in summer and plummeting to be -40°F in winter.

After stopping at the visitor center, I drove the 1.5 twisty road with three short tunnels to the top. There’s no stopping on the narrow road.

At the top the drive there are two short hikes. It was very windy, but I decided to do both short hikes starting with the South Overlook Trail, It’s an easy, out-and-back paved path that’s only 0.8 miles each way. From the South Overlook you get a great expansive view of the road you drove up to the north side of the bluff.

Once back at the small parking area, I headed over to the North Overlook Trail, which is a half. It’s a loop and the path is a little more rugged than the South Overlook Trail. I went to the right and enjoyed the views. Of the two, I think the view from South Overlook is more impressive. Before finishing the North Overlook Trail loop, I decided to hike part of Saddle Rock Trail, which is 1.6 miles each way linking the visitor center and summit. I hiked down to where the path turns into a dirt trail and got treated to a great view of Chimney Rock about 22.5 miles in the distance before returning to top and completing the loop.

Back at the visitor center, I walked part of the path that leads to Saddle Rock Trail and watched the cloud shadows dance along the land formation.

I spent about an hour at the national monument. My last stop was at the national monument sign, just south of the visitor center on Old Oregon Trail. I noticed a short trail behind the sign. It leads to an incredible view spot of Scotts Bluff National Monument.

While exploring northwest Nebraska, make a stop at Carhenge. Jennifer also spent time in the Central Platte River Valley for the world’s largest sandhill crane migration.