Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

For those travelling west on the Oregon Trail there are many great landmarks that helped them on their way. Scotts Bluff is a magnificent scene that awaits you on the trail. Where Nebraska changes from flat to rock formations rising above the land.

After a couple of days on the Oregon Trail you have travelled westwards over the vast miles of the flat prairies of Kansas and Nebraska. Suddenly though, when you get into western Nebraska the landscape changes. Scotts Bluff welcomes you into a new kind of terrain.

P5180589B Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

The Two Bluffs

A bluff is more a US term and means a rounded cliff or rocky edge. Not so vertically edged like a true cliff itself. Scotts Bluff actually consists of two Bluffs, South and North Bluff with the latter being literally named Scotts Bluff.

P5180686B Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

P5180614B Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

How Was it named?

Before the pioneers of course came the fur trappers. And a grizzly and sad tale from one of these groups gave the Bluffs their name. In 1825 a group of trappers canoeing along the river capsized and ruined their guns and powder. Little was known of the area in this time so they foraged and walked. They ended up 60 miles from the bluffs. One of the party was called Hiram Scott and he became severely ill.

The group saw signs of a trail and decided to follow it but made the decision to leave Scott behind to his slow demise. He couldn’t walk. They simply told Scott they were going to look for food and left him. They followed the trail and survived but kept what they did to Scott a secret.

The next year, the same group, with others were near the the rocks. They found a bleached skull that could only have been the man named Scott they left to die. However they realised he must have crawled the 60 miles to this area in desperation.

The rock monument was therefore named after him.

P5180677B Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

P5180592B Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

The Oregon Trail originally passed here nearer the North Platte River, it was a difficult area to pass nearer to the river and this area was known as the ‘badlands’.

Eventually a better pass was made that passed straight through the middle of the two bluffs. Mitchell Pass.

P5180616B Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

Little is known of life around here before then but there are signs it was used for camping and for looking down to chase and hunt the Buffalo that used to be very prevalent here before non-native people arrived. Once the traders had established the Oregon and Mormon Trails that passed by, many thousands recalled it as a great landmark on their wagon train journey to the west.

P5180607B Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

P5180624B Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

P5180608B Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

P5180658B Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

P5180660B Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

Walking The Bluffs

Today of course it is still a striking landmark. A great group of bluffs and rocks that invite you to explore them top to bottom. You can take the climb on foot (about 1 and half miles) or you can take the easy way and drive to the top and wander around. The views are remarkable.

P5180634B Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

P5180629B Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

P5180671B Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

The rock formations may look stunning from below or afar but they take on a whole new sense from above. You can see literally for miles and miles. The true summit is 240 m (800 ft). Whilst I was there this day a storm was brewing over the prairie giving a great dramatic feel.

P5180644B Nebraska: Scotts Bluff National Monument

This is an area of Nebraska well renowned for its rock monuments. This was a landmark for those travelling west and this section was full of dramatic rock formations. Scotts Bluff is not far from Chimney Rock too. Ancient stone that guided people of old towards the foothills of the Rocky Mountains and the west. Scotts Bluff is a must visit amongst them. A place you must see for yourself to appreciate.

Written by Paul Steele

Paul is the founder and Editor of the site. An avid hiker and trekker. Travel, adventure and photography are passions that he combines to make his articles here. Likes to see the positive in everything.


Leave a Reply
  1. Beautiful pics and love the story behind the name. You never bore me and always keep me coming back for more. Have a wonderful day Paul.

  2. Very cool! I always think of Nebraska as being flat and forget that the landscape changes in the west. Would love to follow the Oregon Trail one day!

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