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Scotts Bluff, Nebraska

Scotts Bluff National Monument

Scotts Bluff
Scotts Bluff
National Park Service

The National Park Service administers Scotts Bluff National Monument to protect 3,000 acres of unusual land formations that rise over the otherwise flat Nebraska prairieland. Scotts Bluff itself is an ancient landmark that was once part of the ancient High Plains.  Erosion over a long period cut the surrounding valleys down to their present level leaving the bluff and the adjoining hills. The unbroken plains now lie farther to the west. In addition to being a prominent geological feature, Scotts Bluff was a major landmark to travelers in the North Platte Valley who were part of the great westward overland migration during the 19th century. American Indians lived in the area for many years prior. The vast herds of buffalo that inhabited the region made Scotts Bluff a major hunting ground of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho. An Indian name for the bluff is Me-a-pa-te or "the-hill-that-is-hard-to-go-around."

The first white men to pass through the Scotts Bluff area were the fur trappers of the Astorian Expedition, who wintered there from 1812 to 1813. Until the beginning of the overland trail routes in the 1840s, most of the whites who saw Scotts Bluff were either trappers or missionaries. The bluff takes its name from a fur trapper, Hiram Scott, who died in the vicinity in 1828. During the 1840s and 1850s, thousands of emigrants traveling along the Oregon-California trails moved through the North Platte Valley seeking land in Oregon, California, or Utah.  Although a prominent landmark on the journey west, the bluffs were also a barrier to travelers, who used two passes to traverse them. Robidoux Pass was the primary trail until 1851, when Mitchell Pass became the major route. Pony Express riders, stage and freight wagons, the first transcontinental telegraph, and the military all moved through the Scotts Bluff passes over the next several decades. The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 marked the decline of the Oregon Trail, including the portion through Scotts Bluff, although locals continued to move through the area.

Early in the 20th century, local and State interests devoted themselves to promoting Scotts Bluff as a symbol of the nation’s pioneering past. Following an intense lobbying effort, Scotts Bluff became a National Monument on December 12, 1919. Despite widespread public interest, the bluffs saw little change, save for foot trails and picnic areas, until the 1930s. With the onset of the Great Depression, the monument experienced a period of active infrastructure development under the aegis of government employment programs such as the Civil Works Administration (CWA), Works Progress Administration (WPA), and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).Workers constructed Summit Road with its three tunnels and parking lot and State Highway 92, for many years the major roadway to the site.  They also built the Scotts Bluff National Monument visitors center, which now houses a notable collection of paintings and memorabilia of the famed Western artist William Henry Jackson.

During the early 1960s, the National Park Service completed a number of construction projects to upgrade facilities, roads, and trails as part of the "Mission 66" program that marked the 50th anniversary of the creation of the National Park Service. Moving forward, the Scotts Bluff National Monument staff plans to add a significant addition to the visitor center, update outdoor interpretive elements, and create an audio cell phone tour for visitors.

Plan your visit

Scotts Bluff National Monument, a unit of the National Park System, is located 3 miles west of Gering, NE on NE 92. Click here for the National Register registration file: text and photos. The Oregon Trail Museum and Visitor Center is open from 8:00am to 7:00pm during the summer and from 8:00am to 5:00pm in the off season. Summit Rd., the road leading visitors to the top of the bluff, is open from 8:00am to 6:30pm during the summer and from 8:00am to 4:30pm in the off season. The monument trails are open from sunrise to sunset throughout the year. Visitors may drive, hike, or bicycle. For additional information and fees, visit the National Park Service Scotts Bluff National Monument website.

Four National Historic Trails run near Scotts Bluff: Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, California National Historic Trail, Oregon National Historic Trail, and Pony Express National Historic Trail. See the National Park Service National Historic Trails website for more information.

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