Along the Oregon Trail: Scotts Bluff, Nebraska

After Chimney Rock, our trusty steed Herb towed our “covered wagon” along the Oregon Trail, west to Scotts Bluff. We pulled in to the Robidoux RV park, run by the city of Gering, Nebraska and located beautifully at the base of the bluff. That first evening, as we watched the sun set behind the beautiful Scotts Bluff National Monument, I realized how much I had missed mountain views as we crossed all those miles of plains.

Robideaux RV park

Robideaux RV park

There was plenty to do, learn, and explore in Scotts Bluff National Monument! We were so glad that we had several days to do it all!

Drive to the Summit

When we first arrived, it was late in the day and the park was closing soon. We stopped in to the visitor center to gather some information, then decided to drive up to the summit before they closed the road for the day. There were some nice views from the parking lot, but the views were even better from the short North and South Overlook trails, 0.5 and 0.4 miles respectively. We strolled these short paths and explored the summit of Scotts Bluff before heading back to our campground.

Summit Trail
View from the Top!

Mitchell Pass

The Oregon Trail (as well as the California and Mormon Trails) went through Mitchell Pass to avoid the most difficult terrain. The path from the visitor center toward Mitchell Pass has some great examples of different types and sizes of wagons that the pioneers would have had as they traveled. This was a very tangible way for the kids to be able to imagine trying to fit all of our belongings into a much smaller space than we have now. We were especially fascinated by the smallest wagons that held very little and were pulled by people rather than oxen or horses. These were most often used by Mormons heading to Utah to escape persecution, who lacked resources to have larger wagons or animals to pull them.

covered wagon
I promise we didn’t see the sign not to climb on the wagon until after we took this picture!


hand cart
Hard to imagine how little you could take with you and how hard it would be to push/pull this cart behind you across the country!

We then drove along the Oregon Trail through Mitchell Pass and stopped to read the various different markers observing the rich history of this area.

Scotts Bluff National Monument

Scotts Bluff National Monument
The riders of the Pony Express used Mitchell Pass as well!

Junior Rangers

Once again, the National Park Service delivers on its educational Junior Ranger program. There were different booklets for different age levels and we were once again impressed by the quality and diversity of activities, challenging them to learn from the history, ecology, geology, and biology of the area we were visiting. We like to use the Junior Ranger books as a guide to the best and most educational things to see and do in each park and we have never been disappointed.

At Scotts Bluff, they were in the process of renovating and rearranging the museum exhibits in the visitor center so we weren’t able to answer all the questions from that section, but I imagine that by now, the visitor center exhibits are new and improved. We’ll have to go back someday and see them!

Junior Ranger


Junior Ranger

Hike to the Top

Without a doubt my favorite day in Scotts Bluff was the day we decided to hike the Saddle Rock Trail from the visitor center to the summit (and back down again, of course!) This trail is 1.6 miles each way with an elevation climb of 435 feet. This was the day we truly experienced Scotts Bluff in all it’s majesty.

family hike

The trail led to the same summit that we had driven up to just a few days before. But something about putting one foot in front of the other, winding along the switchbacks of the trail put the mountain in perspective for us. We felt the intensity of the sun, then the shocking coolness of the shade as the bluff hid us in its shadow. We saw plant and animal life as it prepared for the coming winter, varying between the prairie and the badlands and the bluff itself. As we stood beside the immensity of the rock face of the bluff, taking it its geological formations and colors and strata, we felt small and insignificant in the best possible way. The bluff became a kind of fortress – a reminder that the hand that formed its grandeur is also forming me. I felt acquainted with the mountain, and it made me feel safe.

Nestled in the shade of the mountain, exploring her natural wonders.

family hike

The trail itself offered great views and small exciting details, such as a narrow foot tunnel and the baby rattlesnake we met at the mouth of the tunnel.

Saddle Trail
The foot tunnel was fun!


Watch out for rattlesnakes!

When we drove to the summit, we explored the views from Scotts Bluff. When we hiked the trail, we experienced Scotts Bluff.

Saddleback Trail

Scotts Bluff was an important landmark along the Oregon Trail and our study of the pioneers would have been incomplete without visiting there. We highly recommend it if you have the opportunity to go there, and it’s definitely worth spending a few days!

But soon we were off to our final and most highly-anticipated Oregon Trail location: The Guernsey Wagon Ruts in Wyoming!


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