Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary
Scotts Bluff, Nebraska

Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock
Ezra Meeker in front of Chimney Rock, c. 1906
North Platte Valley Museum

Designated the Chimney Rock National Historic Site, Chimney Rock is one of the most famous and recognizable landmarks for pioneer travelers on the Oregon, California, and Mormon Trails, a symbol of the great western migration. Located approximately four miles south of present-day Bayard in Millard County, at the south edge of the North Platte River Valley, Chimney Rock is a natural geologic formation, a remnant of the erosion of the bluffs at the edge of the North Platte Valley. A slender spire rises 325 feet from a conical base. The imposing formation, composed of layers of volcanic ash and brule clay dating back to the Oligocene Age (34 million to 23 million years ago), towers 480 feet above the North Platte River Valley.

Though the origins of the name of the rock are obscure, the title “Chimney Rock” probably originated with the first fur traders in the region. In the early 19th century, however, travelers referred to it by a variety of other names, including Chimley Rock, Chimney Tower, and Elk Peak, but Chimney Rock had become the most commonly used name by the 1840s. 

After examining over 300 journal accounts of settlers moving west along the Platte River Road, historian Merrill Mattes concluded that Chimney Rock was by far the most mentioned landmark. Mattes notes that although no special events took place at the rock, it held center-stage in the minds of the overland trail travelers. For many, the geological marker was an optical illusion. Some claimed that Chimney Rock could be seen upwards of 30 miles away, and though one travelled toward the rock-spire, Chimney Rock always appeared to be off in the distance—unapproachable.


Chimney Rock
Chimney Rock
M. Forsberg, Nebraska DED

Because of this optical effect, early travel accounts varied in their description of the rock. Some travelers believed that the rock spire may have been upwards of 30 feet higher than its current height, suggesting that wind, erosion, or a lightning strike had caused the top part of the spire to break off. Throughout the ages, the rock spire has continued to capture the imaginations and the romantic fascinations of travelers heading west.

Chimney Rock and its surrounding environs today look much as they did when the first settlers passed through in the mid 1800s. Erected on the southeast edge of the base in 1940, a small stone monument commemorates a gift from the Frank Durnal family to the Nebraska State Historical Society of approximately 80 acres of land, including Chimney Rock.  The plot of land that the State owns provides a buffer zone to protect the historic landmark from modern encroachment.  The only modern developments are Chimney Rock Cemetery, located approximately one-quarter mile southeast, and the visitor center nearby.  Chimney Rock was designated a National Historic Site in 1956.  The visitor center provides information on the history of the Overland Trails and Chimney Rock.


Plan your visit

The Chimney Rock Visitor Center is located 1.5 miles south of Highway 92 on Chimney Rock Road near the town of Bayard in Morrill County, NE.  The center houses museum exhibits, media presentations, and other educational materials concerning life on the overland trails, and a museum shop. The Visitor’s Center is open 9:00am to 5:00pm daily including Memorial Day, July 4, and Labor Day.  Closed on State holidays.  Admission is $3.00 for adults, and children with adults are free as are members of the Nebraska State Historical Society.  For more information visit the Nebraska State Historical Society’s Chimney Rock website.

top
Next page
Comments or Questions

Itinerary Home | List of sites | Maps | Learn More | Credits | Other Itineraries | NR Home | Search