Chimney Rock

Ezra Meeker at Chimney Rock, c. 1905
Ezra Meeker in front of Chimney Rock, c. 1906

North Platte Valley Museum


Chimney Rock has become one of the most famous landmarks in the American West. The first recorded mention of Chimney Rock was in 1827 by Joshua Pilcher. He journeyed up the Platte River valley to the Salt Lake rendezvous of the Rocky Mountain fur trappers. The first non-natives to see the pillar were probably the Astorians of Robert Stuart in their eastern journey from the Pacific Ocean in 1813.

In 1941, 80 acres containing the site, near the town of Bayard, Nebraska, were transferred to the Nebraska State Historical Society by the Roszel F. Durnal family. In 1956, Norman and Donna Brown deeded additional land to the society. In that same year, Chimney Rock was designated a National Historic Site by the federal government.


Emigrant Landmark

During 1800’s, Chimney Rock served as the most noted landmark along the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails. As the emigrants passed by this rock, most of them noted in their diaries or journals that they were glad to see that they are going the right direction and it spired to the heavens. So intrigued were the emigrants that thousands climbed up the cone to carve their names on the tower. Though no inscriptions are known to survive today, there is ample written testimony that thousands of names once adorned the rock.

Chimney Rock
In 1830, Warren A. Ferris offered the first known estimate of Chimney Rock’s height.  Ferris wrote, It’s a half mile in circumference at the base and rises to the height of 300 feet.



The United States Geological Survey calculated the elevation of Chimney Rock in 1895 as 4,225 feet above sea level.

The spire has lost about 30 feet in the last 150 years. Today, It’s summit rises 470 feet above the North Platte River and measures 325 feet tip to base, with the spire measuring 120 feet.

During the time of the western migration, Chimney Rock was substantially higher. Natural weathering, erosion, and lightning have cut down its height over the years, although the exact amount is disputed.

Chimney Rock 1958
Chimney Rock, 1958

NPS - Mattes


Throughout the years, Chimney Rock has been called by many different names.

  • The Chimney by the fur trappers
  • Nose Mountain by Warren Ferris- American Fur Trading Company
  • The Smokestack by Virgil Pringle
  • The Teepee by Native Americans
  • Wigwam by Native Americans
Chimney Rock 2014
Chimney Rock and a blue, prairie sky.


What is it made of?

The pillar referred to as “marl” or “earthly limestone” by the emigrants, consists primarily of Brule clay interlayered with volcanic ash and Arikaree sandstone. Because the Brule is susceptible to erosion, it undermines the Arikaree, resulting in changes that are episodic and unpredictable, such as rock falls. The harder sandstone layers near the top have helped protect the pillar. In somewhat less striking fashion, this is the same geological principle that is demonstrated at Scotts Bluff National Monument.

Early accounts made by emigrants mentioned a split in Chimney Rock. Many of these emigrants made dire predictions about Chimney Rock's demise. The split can still be seen in the prominent landmark's spire today.

William Henry Jackson painting
Approaching Chimney Rock

William Henry Jackson

Significance of Chimney Rock

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 centerstage in the minds of the overland trail travelers. For many, the geological marker was an optical illusion. Some claim that Chimney Rock could be seen upwards of 30 miles away, and though one traveled toward the rock-spire, Chimney Rock always appeared to be off in the distance.

Pony Express Station


Chimney Rock Pony Express Station

In the immediate vicinity of Chimney Rock there was an excellent spring that made it a favorite campsite. In the 1860’s there was a Chimney Rock Pony Express Station that later became a telegraph and stage station. The exact location of this site is still unclear. Two traditional sources place the station between the Chimney Rock formation and river. One source places the station at Fickling Springs, nine miles northwest of Bridgeport, while the other source locates it two miles south and one mile west of Bayard.

Nebraska State Quarter
The Nebraska State quarter was released in April of 2006

US Mint

Nebraska State Quarter

The 2006 Nebraska State quarter depicts an ox-drawn covered wagon carry pioneers in the foreground and Chimney Rock, the natural wonder that rises from the valley of the North Platte River, in the background. The coin also bears the inscriptions Nebraska, Chimney Rock, 1867 and E PLURIBUS UNUM.


Visiting Chimney Rock Today

Today, Chimney Rock is maintained and operated by the Nebraska State Historical Society. The street address for the Chimney Rock visitor center is:

9822 County Rd 75

Bayard, NE 69334

Last updated: January 16, 2023

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

P.O. Box 27
Gering, NE 69341


308 436-9700

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