Rising 800 feet above the plains in the Nebraska panhandle, Scotts Bluff served as a prominent landmark for early travelers. Scotts Bluff National Monument's massive promontory is a cross-section of high plains that formed in the continent's interior after the uplifting of the Rocky Mountains.

Scotts Bluff National Monument
©National Park Service
Scotts Bluff is an easy-to-spot landmark, making it
important to early travelers in the West.

Four or five million years ago, the land began to erode at a relatively fast rate, but certain concretions, in isolated patches near the surface, were more durable than the surrounding materials. This protective top, known as caprock, has kept Scotts Bluff from eroding away. Fossils of huge turtles, rhinoceri, camels, and mammoths imbedded in the bluff attest to the rich diversity of animal life once found here.

Plains hunters camped in the vicinity as far back as 5,000 to 10,000 years ago. Indians called the craggy bluff Me-a-pa-te, meaning "hill that is hard to go around."

In the early 1800s, fur traders began to pass by the monument. The bluff is named after a fur trader named Hiram Scott, whose skeleton was discovered nearby in 1828. The first wagons took the overland route that would become known as the Oregon Trail in 1843. Thousands made their way past Scotts Bluff, some pausing to carve their names into the soft sandstone.

The 2,998-acre monument includes a visitor center, museum complex, and a short segment of the actual Oregon Trail.

Scotts Bluff National Monument Information
Address: Three miles west of Gering, NE, on Old Oregon Trail (State Highway 92 West)
Gering, NE
Phone: 308/436-4340
Hours of Operation:

  • Open daily
  • Closed on Christmas and New Year's Day
  • Hours vary according to season

Admission: $5 per car or $3 per person

Learn about these other national monuments:

­Agate Fossil Beds National MonumentColorado National MonumentGeorge Washington Birthplace National MonumentNatural Bridges National MonumentScotts Bluff National Monument
Alibates Flint Quarries National MonumentDevils Postpile National Monument George Washington Carver National MonumentOcmulgee National MonumentSunset Crater Volcano National Monument
Aniakchak National Monument and PreserveDinosaur National MonumentGila Cliff Dwellings National MonumentOregon Caves National MonumentTimpanogos Cave National Monument
Booker T. Washington National MonumentEffigy Mounds National MonumentGrand Portage National MonumentOrgan Pipe Cactus National MonumentTonto National Monument
Buck Island Reef National MonumentEl Malpais National MonumentHohokam Pima National MonumentPetroglyph National MonumentTuzigoot National Monument
Cape Krusenstern National Monument El Morro National MonumentHomestead National MonumentPinnacles National MonumentWalnut Canyon National Monument
Capulin Volcano National MonumentFlorissant Fossil Beds National MonumentHovenweep National MonumentPipe Spring National MonumentWupatki National Monument
Casa Grande Ruins National MonumentFort Frederica National MonumentJewel Cave National MonumentPipestone National Monument
Castle Clinton National MonumentFort Matanzas National MonumentJohn Day Fossil Beds National MonumentPoverty Point National Monument
Cedar Breaks National MonumentFort Stanwix National MonumentLava Beds National MonumentRainbow Bridge National Monument
Chiricahua National MonumentFossil Butte National MonumentMontezuma Castle National MonumentRussell Cave National Monument

Find out more about travel destinations in North America:

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Eric Peterson is a Denver-based freelance writer who has contributed to numerous guidebooks about the Western United States.