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Touring Historic Trails in the Western Panhandle

The Cornhusker State’s western region is known as the former stomping ground of many trailblazers. The Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, and Pony Express all coursed through Nebraska’s panhandle, and were met with iconic trail markers like Courthouse Rock, Chimney Rock, and Scotts Bluff. But it’s not all human history in west Nebraska!

Courthouse & Jail Rocks

From the end of the Nebraska Pioneer Crossing Tour, pick up this tour in Sidney. From Sidney, head north along the Gold Rush Byway – or Route 385 – until you reach Bridgeport and Scenic Route 92 following the North Platte River.

Courthouse & Jail Rocks – two rock formations listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places and the Nebraska Natural Areas Register – are set in just a few miles south of Bridgeport.

The area covers over 900 acres, and were found along the Oregon, Mormon, and Sidney-Deadwood trails, plus the Pony Express Trail. From here, head back up State Route 88 back to Bridgeport and Scenic Route 92.

Chimney Rock National Historic Site

Chimney Rock National Historic Site is just 15 miles northwest of Bridgeport. Operated and maintained by the Nebraska State Historical Society and affiliated with the National Park Service, Chimney Rock was a major marker along the California Trail and the famed Oregon Trail.

Reaching 300 feet, this National Historic Site is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and served by the Chimney Rock Visitor Center – also housing the Landmark Store at Chimney Rock.

Scotts Bluff National Monument

Continue northwest along Scenic Route 92 to Scotts Bluff, just 25 miles away.

Another landmark set on the Oregon Trail and Mormon Trail, Scotts Bluff is owned and operated by the National Park Service. The 3,000-acre national monument consists of five separate bluffs: Crown Rock, Dome Rock, Eagle Rock, Saddle Rock, and Sentinel Rock – plus the 800-foot Scotts Bluff.

Western Nebraska road trippers can peruse the Oregon Trail Museum & Visitor Center, or try the park’s many trails like Saddle Rock Trail, North Overlook Trail, the South Overlook Trail, and the Oregon Trail Pathway.

Visitors may also continue driving up the Summit Road, or try the Summit Shuttle.

Agate Fossil Beds National Monument

For a little natural history, head north from Scotts Bluff on State Route 29 to Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Harrison – set 75 miles southwest of Chadron. This monument operated by the National Park Service is marked by Carnegie Hill and University Hill.

Intersected inconspicuously by the Niobrara River, this 12,000-acre site is also found on the National Register of Historic Places. Head into the Visitor Center & Museum for the James H. Cook Collection, a short film in the Hitchcock Theater, and a ton of fossils on display. Outside you can trek the 2.7-mile Fossil Hills Trail, or the one-mile Daemonelix Trail.