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Follow the Great Platte River Road

Follow historic overland trails along Nebraska’s Great Platte River Road

The Great Platte River Road was the greatest migration route for Americans who yearned to conquer the West. Follow their road from Grand Island to Scottsbluff through Kearney (KAR-nee), North Platte (PLAT), and Ogallala (OH-guh-la-la).  An estimated 350,000 overland trail travelers took the route from 1841 through 1866, following the Oregon Trail or the Mormon Pioneer Trail. When you follow their footsteps, you’ll marvel at their fortitude and determination.

In the 1860s, the Transcontinental Railroad followed the same route as far as North Platte, then followed the South Platte and Lodgepole Creek into Cheyenne, Wyo. Imagine gangs of sweating track layers wrestling ties and rails into place, then pounding home spikes to keep them there.

America’s first coast-to-coast autoroute, the Lincoln Highway, and Interstate 80 followed the railroad’s path.

Navigate to itineraries in (from east to west) Grand Island, Kearney, North Platte, Ogallala, and Scottsbluff.

Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer overland trail
Start your Grand Island visit at Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer, Grand Island.

Day 1: Begin your overland trails tour in Grand Island

Turn back time at Stuhr Museum’s Railroad Town

Veterinary Infirmary, part of Stuhr's Railroad Town
Dr. Phillipson’s Veterinary Infirmary is one of many Railroad Town structures.

Visit Grand Island’s Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer for your introduction to the Great Platte River Road. The main museum building’s exhibits are interesting and informative, but the museum’s real gem is its 1890s Railroad Town. In Railroad Town, period buildings are carefully positioned around a railroad line and interpreters take you back into time. Visit the tinsmith and buy your state’s cookie cutter. Read the town newspaper, printed on-site. Enjoy a snack at the Silver Dollar Cafe.

Railroad Town is open May 1 to Labor Day. The Prairie Earth Lodge and Road Ranche Log Cabin are open during summer weekends.

Ride that train at Stolley Park

Stuhr Museum displays a steam train. You can climb on it, but, sadly, you can’t ride it. However, Stolley Park has that experience covered. The park offers numerous activities, but who can resist riding a miniature railroad? Not us. Check the schedule (PDF) before making plans.

Lincoln Highway Marker
Lincoln Highway sign

Find an original Lincoln Highway section in Grand Island

The only unchanged section of the Lincoln Highway is 4 miles from Stolley Park, next to Kensinger’s Service & Supply. Kensinger’s is a 1937 gas station which is still in business.

To encourage the highway’s construction, communities built “seedling-mile roads“. These were mile-long paved roads that would “seed” a paved road across the United States. The roads were only 16 feet wide, compared with the current 24-foot width. Grand Island built the country’s second seedling mile in 1915. It’s the only seedling mile still in its original form. A marker tells the story. Look for the Lincoln Highway marker painted on a utility pole.

Eisenhower’s Lincoln Highway experience planted seeds for the Interstate System

In 1919, the U.S. Army sent a Transcontinental Motor Convoy across the country along the Lincoln Highway. Future President Dwight Eisenhower, then a Lieutenant Colonel, was in the convoy. The convoy paraded (PDF) through Grand Island on July 31, 1919. Conditions had been tolerable. But trouble magnified (PDF) after Kearney. Eisenhower’s convoy experiences directly influenced his desire to build the Interstate System during his Presidency.

Enjoy a movie at The Grand Theater, a 1937 movie palace

In the evening, watch a movie at the Grand Theater. A recent million-dollar restoration brought back the Art Deco details, including its neon marquee. Call ahead to arrange a tour of the museum of Grand Island show houses in the theater’s basement.

For a different kind of theater experience, head to Kinkaider Brewing in a century-old former theater. When you try Kinkaider’s Poutine (POO-teen) on the Ritz, an appetizer, you won’t need anything else to eat. Save room for their beer, like their Bourbon-Barrel-Aged Snow Beast or Hiram’s Bones Imperial Root Beer Stout.

Where to eat in Downtown Grand Island

Hammerhead at Wave Pizza Co.
A hammerhead shark is playing disc golf in Wave Pizza Co.’s ceiling.

For an authentic Lincoln Highway experience, you must try The Shady Bend Cafe. The cafe is an original Lincoln Highway restaurant and camping cabin site. Try their chili-cheese omelet.

Coney Island Lunch Room is another Lincoln Highway-era experience. Try the Grilled Kayem Hot Dog with the Works. They top the dog with their signature chili. Eat their half-sour pickles and baked beans.

If the “Theme from Hawai’i Five-O” resounds in your mind when you see Wave Pizza Co., you are over 50. And you have arrived at the right place. After all, the giant shark sticking out of the front is hard to miss. Try the Great Barrier Reef Roasted Garlic Mushrooms. We love the Cajun-style Wedge Pizza.

Where to stay in Grand Island

  • Hotel: Best Western Plus is GI’s number-one ranked hotel. We’ve stayed there many times. The staff is personable and helpful and the hotel is immaculate.
  • Campground: The Mormons overwintered on Grand Island in 1847. (Eventually, the island disappeared when the Platte’s north channel was dammed.) RVers can follow in their footsteps at Mormon Island State Recreation Area.

Things to know about Mormon Island

  • A camping permit is required.
  • No-wake boating is allowed.
  • The park offers swimming beaches and shower houses.
  • Download the park’s map (PDF).
  • The park is very popular. Make reservations well in advance.
  • Mormon Island is on the eastern edge of the annual sandhill crane migration. The birds begin to arrive in mid-February with numbers peaking in mid-March. Even when the cranes have left, other wildlife is often present, attracted by the river.
flocks of cranes along the overland trails
Sandhill cranes flock to the Great Platte River Road for their annual mating rituals, even in the snow.

Millions of sandhill cranes annually provide joy to thousands

While birds are not limited to trekking overland trails, the Great Platte River Road is a huge migration destination for them. The sandhill cranes conduct their mating rituals along the Platte River in the late winter and early spring. Their mating rituals spawn another ritual: Birders packing the roadsides to watch. But organizations and local governments offer safer alternatives.

Guided crane watching locations

The Crane Trust: Use The Crane Trust‘s blind in the Platte River during crane season. The trust is worth visiting even when the cranes are not present. Enjoy their art gallery and butterfly garden, walk their trails, climb their 35-foot observation tower, and view their bison herd. If you can’t visit during crane season, check out their River Cam.

Rowe Crane Sanctuary: Rowe Crane Sanctuary near Gibbon also offers crane tours. They have a Crane Cam that enables you to closely view the iconic birds.

Free crane-watching locations

Central Platte Natural Resources District offers several free crane viewing sites.

Navigate to itineraries: Grand Island | Kearney | North Platte | Ogallala | Scottsbluff.

Day 2: In Kearney, explore more overland trails attractions

The Archway

The Archway celebrates all the overland trails that have traversed the Great Platte River Road. At Kearney’s signature attraction, you’ll see how the Platte River Valley changed with every transportation revolution. Your journey will follow fur traders, pioneers, railroaders, road engineers, and early road trippers. While you’re in the building, hang out at the Kozy Kabins and enjoy a drive-in movie. At the Interstate 80 Roadside Cafe, make sure to clock the traffic passing below. Find out which driver deserves a speeding ticket.

While visiting The Archway, stretch your legs on their outdoor trails and visit the sod house.

Classic Car Collection

What sweet ride would make your Platte River Road journey complete? Find your dream at the Classic Car Collection. Admire 215 classic cars, plus browse their automotive library, and pick up a snack in their diner.

Buffalo County Historical Society Trails & Rails Museum

Located on the Mormon Pioneer Trail Route, Trails & Rails and its village tells the story of the Platte River Road in Buffalo County. The Mormon handcart in the livery barn is one of the museum’s most evocative artifacts. Successful Mormon emigrants pulled and pushed their possessions 1,300 miles from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Salt Lake City in these handcarts. The endurance involved boggles the mind.

Cottonmill Park

In the evening, take a break from the road at Cottonmill Park on Kearney’s western edge. Bring your fishing pole and your Frisbee. No-wake boating is allowed. In the summer, visit the Rotary Nature Barn and Cottonmill Marina.

Beer flights at Thunderhead Brewing
Trying beer flights at Thunderhead Brewing in Kearney.

Where to eat in Kearney

Pizza and beer are one of the restaurant world’s great combinations. Thunderhead Brewing offers both. Beyond pizza, try one of their calzones, baked in their stone oven. We enjoy the Cornstalker Dark Wheat and the Prairie Peach Wheat. You’ll want to bring some home.

Cunningham’s Journal on the Bricks was established in 1890 and it’s still going strong. Try the half-pound Buffalo Bill Burger, topped with Cunningham’s sauce and bleu cheese; or the Chuck and Cluck, a burger and chicken wings. You will have leftovers to eat for breakfast. Make sure to take a selfie with the giant gorilla upstairs.

Where to stay in Kearney

Navigate to itineraries: Grand Island | Kearney | North Platte | Ogallala | Scottsbluff.

Day 3: Head to Railroad Heaven in North Platte

A stop in Gothenburg will break up today’s trip.

Pony Express station at Gothenburg along the overland trails
The Pony Express station in Gothenburg’s Ehmen Park is one of two in the city. (Ammodramus/Wikimedia Commons)

Visit the Pony Express Station and the World’s Largest Plow in Gothenburg

For 18 months in 1860-61, the Pony Express delivered mail from Missouri to California one rider at a time along the overland trails route. The job description, requiring “expert riders willing to risk death daily”, would have discouraged all but the most adventurous. Twice a week, the riders crossed 2,000 miles in relays, cutting delivery time to about 10 days.

Only 50 of the Pony Express stations are still extant and Gothenburg has two of them. The easiest one to reach is in Ehmen Park.

Stop by the Sod House Museum’s grounds and snap a selfie with the World’s Largest Plow and the bison constructed from 4.5 miles of barbed wire. The museum closed in 2019, but its new owner intends to reopen it.

Fort McPherson was established to protect overland trail emigrants.
Four Medal-of-Honor winners rest at Fort McPherson National Cemetery. (Ammodramus)

Honor service members at Fort McPherson National Cemetery, guardian of the overland trails

Shortly before you reach North Platte, stretch your legs at Fort McPherson National Cemetery, four miles south of Interstate 80’s Maxwell Exit 190. The original fort was built in 1863 to protect overland trail travelers. In 1873, the Army established the cemetery to house the remains of soldiers who had died at remote posts. The Oregon Trail is said to have originally crossed the cemetery grounds.

The fort closed in 1880, but the cemetery remains. Notable burials include 63 Buffalo Soldiers of the Ninth and 10th Cavalry and four Medal of Honor winners. A white monument honors the enlisted men who died in 1854’s Grattan Fight in Wyoming.

(Learn the story of another Medal of Honor winner whose award was delayed for decades due to discrimination.)


Repair roundhouse at Bailey Yard along the overland trails
Vast amounts of track feed into Bailey Yard’s roundtables in North Platte.

Enjoy North Platte, the home of Union Pacific Railroad and Buffalo Bill

The Golden Spike Tower grounds
The Golden Spike Tower contains two overlooks and a gift shop. A replica depot also stands on the grounds.

Golden Spike Tower and Visitors Center

If you are even remotely interested in railroads, Golden Spike Tower and Visitors Center is your place. The tower overlooks Union Pacific’s Bailey Yard, the world’s largest railroad classification yard. Imagine the world’s most amazing model-train layout, then magnify it into a full-size operation. That’s what you’ll experience. The eighth floor is glassed in and offers a 360-degree view of Bailey Yard. Retired railroad employees explain the action. If you want pictures of the action, go down one floor. The seventh floor’s open-air observation deck allows photos and videos without distracting glare from the eighth floor’s glass.

Get a taste of Bailey Yard ahead of time with the Bailey Yard Webcam.

Fort Cody Trading Post

Fort Cody Trading Post is one of the first things I-80 travelers see in North Platte. If the giant Buffalo Bill sign doesn’t draw your attention, the stockade will grab it. This store is delightfully kitschy and a must-stop. It’s the store you begged your parents to visit when you were a kid. It’s full of souvenirs and Americana. Every half hour, the store runs their Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in Miniature Animated Diorama. You’ll love it.

Before you go, take a picture with the two-headed calf. Is it real? Does it matter?

Buffalo Bill's Scouts Rest Ranch
Locals referred to William “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s home as “The Mansion on the Prairie”. (Smallbones/Wikimedia Commons)

Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park

William “Buffalo Bill” Cody was one of the West’s greatest icons. See a large array of Cody memorabilia at Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park. In the 1880s, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show toured North America and Europe, attracting vast crowds. Because of his success, Cody had plenty of money to make his ranch into the finest possible domain. He named his home Scouts Rest Ranch. The locals called his house “The Mansion on the Prairie”. The house displays many of his fine furnishings.

Buffalo Bill State Recreation Area

Buffalo Bill State Recreation Area is next to Scouts Rest Ranch along the North Platte River. It offers hiking, fishing, and picnicking, but the river is its greatest attraction. Rent inner tubes or stock tanks and float down the river in style in your own overland trail experience. Kayaks and canoes are also available. Permits are required.

Please wear heavy-duty mosquito repellent, high-SPF waterproof sunscreen, and sunglasses. Bring bottled water; don’t drink the river water.

Lincoln County Historical Museum and the North Platte Canteen

On Dec. 25, 1941, three weeks after America entered World War II, one of the great railroad stories began. On that first wartime Christmas, some young women boarded a troop train in North Platte. They presented the soldiers with snacks and small gifts and the North Platte Canteen was born. For the rest of the war, volunteers fed thousands of service members on troop trains for free. People from 125 Nebraska communities volunteered to help. The canteen stopped serving in April 1946 after 6,000 service members had signed the guestbook. Learn more about the canteen and other stories at Lincoln County Historical Museum.

Where to eat in North Platte

Flight at Pal's Brewing Company in North Platte
Enjoy a flight of beer at Pal’s Brewing Company.

Continue the canteen theme at the Canteen Bar & Grille. Try the bleu cheese-stuffed ribeye or the root beer brown sugar-glazed pork chops. Finish with the chocolate Grand Teton. Be prepared for leftovers.

Pal’s Brewing Company is a beer oasis. Try the baked cheese curds and the Farmette Pizza. The Java Nilla beer is incredible. Play cornhole on the patio, where leashed dogs are welcome. The brewery also offers 45-minute tours.

Tempura Japanese Restaurant makes great food. I enjoyed the steak udon soup and the sushi and sashimi for one. My husband can’t wrap his mind around eating sushi, so he ate the Mongolian beef. The green tea ice cream is not to be missed.

Where to stay in North Platte

  • Hotel: Have a vintage adventure at Husker Inn. The inn is a throwback to the days of rolling up to a motor inn after a long day on the road. Enjoy the beautiful courtyard while you sit outside on the lawn chairs they provide. Nebraskans are friendly folks, and you’ll enjoy chatting.
  • Campground: Holiday RV Park & Campground is North Platte’s largest. Once you get settled in, take a nice long dip in the park’s pool.

Crane watchers are welcome near Hershey

North River Wildlife Management Area west of Hershey also offers crane watching. Find North River at the intersection of W. North River and N. Hershey Roads, or use the coordinates 41°11’56.9″N, 101°00’06.4″W.

Union Pacific Railroad train along the overland trails in Sutherland
Look nearly straight down at oncoming trains at Railroad Park in Sutherland.

Head to Sutherland, a trainspotter’s paradise

You’ve watched trains being assembled at Bailey Yard. Now watch them thunder down the track along the railroad’s overland trail in Sutherland. Find the perfect overlook at Union Pacific Railroad Park, right alongside Highway 30.

Pro tip: Take the best pictures shortly after sunrise and/or shortly before sunset. You won’t wait long for a train. Bring your tripod. For the best results, place your lens through the hurricane-mesh fence.

In Sutherland, you’ll observe several Lincoln Highway-era gas stations along Highway 30.

View overland trails ruts at the eastbound Sutherland rest area

O’Fallons Bluff crowded overland trail wagons, forcing them into a narrow swath near the South Platte River. Unable to spread out, the wagons carved deep ruts below the bluffs. Find the ruts at the I-80 eastbound rest area near Sutherland.

Polar bear and seal in Ole's Big Game Steakhouse, Paxton
Meet the doorkeeper. (Nick Taylor/Flickr)

Talk to the animals at Ole’s in Paxton

Ole’s Big Game Steakhouse & Lounge is a must stop. “Big game” means trophy animals. Restaurant founder Ole Herstedt traveled the world and brought back an incredible collection of animals. The restaurant’s showstopper greets you when you walk in. A giant polar bear is standing on an ice floe with his freshly-killed seal underneath his bottom paws.

Once you get over the polar shock, order a buffalo steak or the pulled pork dinner. Adventurous folks can enjoy Rocky Mountain oysters, the oysters without pearls. While you’re waiting, wander through the restaurant and say hello to the animals.

Remember, you are now in Mountain Time.

Navigate to itineraries: Grand Island | Kearney | North Platte | Ogallala | Scottsbluff.

Let's go kite surfing at Lake Mac
Kite surfing is one of the many aquatic activities at Lake McConaughy. (Vicki Watkins/Wikimedia Commons)

Days 4-5: Say hello to cowtown Ogallala and Nebraska’s largest reservoir

From 1875 to 1885, the Great Western Cattle Trail met the Union Pacific at Ogallala, making Ogallala into Nebraska’s Cowboy Capital. Called “the Gomorrah (Sin City) of the Trail”, Ogallala’s Front Street was full of shootouts and those who died were buried with their boots on at Boot Hill.

Meet the Wild West at Front Street Steakhouse & Crystal Palace Saloon

Relive those days at Front Street Steakhouse and Crystal Palace Saloon, an Old West town replica. Enjoy their free museum and the Crystal Palace Revue. Drink a sarsaparilla soda at the saloon, cowboy.

Cowboys died with their boots on and were buried at Boot Hill

At least 48 people were buried at Boot Hill. Of those 48, 14 to 17 died violently. In the 1960s, the community researched cemetery records and repaired the grounds. Enjoy the “Trail Boss” sculpture.

Relive the meaning of a “service station” at Spruce Street Station

"Full Service" is waving at passers-by at Spruce Street Station on the Lincoln Highway
Fill up your tank with a dose of gas station nostalgia at Spruce Street Station. (David Wilson/Flickr)

For Lincoln Highway nostalgia, stop by the Spruce Street Station Visitor Center. Constructed in 1922, it is one of about 20 Standard Oil stations remaining from the Lincoln Highway era. “Full Service“, a sculpture of a friendly mechanic, is a throwback to when filling up meant the attendant pumped the gas, checked the oil, and washed the windshield. During the summer, pick up tourist information.

Stride the route of Ogallala’s three major overland trails at Tri-Trails Park south of Ogallala

The Oregon Trail, Pony Express, and Great Western Cattle Trail crossed within Tri-Trails Park‘s grounds. Markers tell their stories. The two cattle trail markers are confusing. One refers to the cattle trail as “Going up the Texas Chisholm Trail”.  The concrete post that marks the Great Western Cattle Trail has the correct trail name.

Where to eat in Ogallala

With everything made from scratch, Urban Farmer Kitchen + Cocktails is a must-visit.  Try their Papaw’s Hot Beef, walleye, or the 1867 burger, named for the year Nebraska became a state.

Kick back and enjoy a taste of Mexico at Margarita’s. Try the burrito Colorado and the steak Jalisco. Get a Bartender’s Special and drink three margaritas, one green, one white, and one red. The mushroom salsa: mmm, hmm.

June sunset at Lake Mac along the overland trails
The sunset blazes an orange path across Lake McConaughy on a quiet evening in early June.

Head north to Nebraska’s biggest lake, Lake McConaughy

Beach babies and motorized watersport lovers will adore 30,000-acre Lake McConaughy, a/k/a Lake Mac. If you’re more into trout fishing, canoeing, or kayaking, visit Lake Mac’s little sister, Lake Ogallala. Plan to spend at least a day enjoying the lakes.

Eagles fly over Lake Ogallala
Enjoy great eagle-watching opportunities along Lake Ogallala during the winter.

Winter brings birds to Lake Ogallala

A duck catches a fish on Lake Ogallala.
Lake Ogallala attracts more than just eagles and other raptors. Waterfowl make their home around the lake’s partially open water.

Because of the dam’s overflow, many birds overwinter at Lake Ogallala. Watch them at Central Nebraska Public Power’s viewing building provided with telescopes. (Map PDF)

Pro tips: Try shooting outside as well. Track the bird’s flight while taking pictures. If you shoot from inside, bring a polarizer filter and hold your camera as close to the glass as possible without touching it. This will diminish glass reflections.

Things to know about the lakes

  • Save money: Fill up with gas and buy your provisions in Ogallala.
  • Start your visit at the lakes’ visitor center. There, you can buy permits, get maps, learn about water and Kingsley Dam’s construction, and pick up souvenirs.
  • Cell phone service at the lake and to the west can be spotty.
  • Please stay out of any staked areas. The stakes are set to protect nesting birds.
  • All dogs must be leashed.
  • If you intend to camp at the lakes, make reservations early, particularly for summer weekends.
  • Always wear sunscreen and mosquito repellent. Lake Mac’s white sand is highly reflective.
  • Make all the wakes you want at Lake Mac, except in designated areas, but none at Lake Ogallala.
  • Lake Mac has six concessionaires, but Lake Ogallala has none.

Where to stay in Ogallala

Enjoy cabins, RV and tent sites at Eagle Canyon Hideaway on Lake McConaughy’s south side. (Use the park’s directions.)

Chimney Rock was an overland trail icon.
More Oregon Trail diaries mentioned Chimney Rock than any other trail location. (Mike Tigas/Wikimedia Commons)

Day 6: Follow the historic overland trails toward Scottsbluff

For the pioneers, the trip up the North Platte Valley was an introduction to the often-rugged overland trail they would follow through the Rockies.

Watch for Lemoyne’s remnants

Progress often comes at a cost. In this case, the lake cost a town. Kingsley Dam and Lake Mac buried Lemoyne under 53 feet of water. In times of severe drought, original Lemoyne reappears.

Ash Hollow presented a steep challenge to the overland trail emigrants.
Ash Hollow and Windlass Hill presented a major challenge to Oregon Trail emigrants. (Chris Light/Wikimedia Commons)

Ash Hollow State Historical Park preserves a huge obstacle along the overland trails

Ash Hollow stands near the lake’s northwest end (park map PDF). A visitor center stands near Ash Hollow Cave. Get a small taste of what the pioneers faced by walking up the paved trail. While in the park, visit Rachel Pattison’s grave. She was one of many pioneers who lost their lives on the long trip to Oregon, California, or Utah.

Courthouse and Jail House Rocks, the first monumental rock formations along the overland trails

Your next stop, at Courthouse and Jail House Rocks, is about an hour from Ash Hollow. The wagon trains could have taken up to a week. The rocks rise 240 feet above Pumpkin Creek. Courthouse Rock is the larger of the two. They were the first of many monumental rock formations that the emigrants would encounter on their trip.

The remains of Courthouse Pony Express Station rest at the northwest corner. A Dismal River Culture archaeological site rests at the southwest corner. Do not attempt to climb the rocks.

Chimney Rock, the icon of the overland trails

Chimney Rock is the great icon of Nebraska’s Panhandle. It stands more than 400 feet above the North Platte Valley and its spire is 125 feet high. Do not attempt to climb the rock. At the visitors’ center, try packing an overland trail wagon. It’s harder than you think.

Grab a bite at The Twisted Spur

If hunger is grabbing you, grab a bacon cheeseburger, cowboy-up burger, or grilled cheese at The Twisted Spur in Bayard.

Navigate to itineraries: Grand Island | Kearney | North Platte | Ogallala | Scottsbluff.

Scotts Bluff, the beginning of the Rockies along the Overland Trails
Scotts Bluff is only the most obvious of the broken country near Scottsbluff and Gering. (Pirndom/

Day 7: Your overland trails experience ends in Scottsbluff and Gering

The twin cities of Scottsbluff and Gering (GEAR-ing) are your final stops on Nebraska’s Great Platte River Road. The trip along the overland trail from Chimney Rock takes about half an hour.

Scotts Bluff National Monument dominates the skyline

Scotts Bluff National Monument dominates the skyline, just like it dominated this section of the overland trail. The formation is also trapper Hiram Scott’s monument. Trappers found his remains in the spring of 1828. Various explanations about his demise have arisen, but no one knows the truth.

Visit the park’s beautiful Oregon Trail Museum and Visitors Center. The park’s most interesting trails are the Saddle Rock Trail and the Oregon Trail Pathway.

Saddle Rock Trail

Hike or ride the shuttle to the summit on Saddle Rock Trail. The paved trail has a 435-foot altitude gain. You’ll see Scott’s Spring on the trail’s first, and most level, third. Two-thirds of the way up, it passes through a pedestrian tunnel that was built in 1933. After the tunnel, look for the white layer of rock. This layer blew in from volcanos in Nevada’s Great Basin. Watch for Saddle Rock as well. Shuttle rides are subject to staff availability.

At Scotts Bluff, emigrants had completed one-third of the overland trail route.
When emigrants passed Scotts Bluff, they had completed the easiest third of the Oregon Trail. Follow the Oregon Trail Pathway from the wagon. (Podruznik/Wikimedia Commons)

Oregon Trail Pathway

From the covered wagons in the visitors center parking lot, take the Oregon Trail Pathway. When the pavement runs out, you are within the overland trails’ Mitchell Pass. Wagons cut the deep swale in the pass.

Robidoux Pass

Before Mitchell Pass was discovered, overland trails wagons went through Robidoux Pass. The Robidoux brothers set up a trading post near the pass in the late 1840s. The pass was disused after 1851. A post replica stands a mile south of Gering. Self-guided tours are available.

Fort Mitchell

Fort Mitchell protected the overland trails and telegraph lines from 1864-1867. Markers denote the fort’s site, along with Pony Express and Oregon Trail routes.

Legacy of the Plains Museum

Learn more about the overland trails at the Legacy of the Plains Museum. A walking path leads from the monument to the museum. Play with the telegraph and milk a cow. Take a trail ride from the museum grounds toward Scotts Bluff.

Where to eat in Scottsbluff/Gering

Who can resist a tapas bar named The Tangled Tumbleweed? You must try the Tumbleweed Bread, the Harvest Ravioli, and the Slider Skillets.

Flyover Brewing is the Panhandle’s first craft brewery. Try the Korean bomber wings and the steakhouse pizza; the [NE]Braska Pale Ale and the Rehaul (Rye).

You must try the German pastries at The Mixing Bowl Cafe. They serve entrees, too, like the Pineapple Express Burger. Wash everything down with their frozen mixers, like Monument Mocha and Pecanese. Big plus: They use locally sourced ingredients whenever possible.

Where to stay in Scottsbluff/Gering

  • Bed & breakfast: Stay in a 100-year-old barn at Barn Anew Bed & Breakfast, on the Oregon Trail in Mitchell. For the more adventurous, they offer stays in a sheepherder’s wagon, the shepherd’s version of an RV. Start your day on the Sunrise Balcony with a sunrise over Scotts Bluff. Follow the inn’s directions to reach them.
  • Campground: Riverside Campground, Scottsbluff, offers barbecue grills, a bathhouse, children’s playground, disc golf course, fishing ponds, and arboretum. It’s open from May to September.

Things to know about following the overland trails and the Great Platte River Road

Drive fast on Interstate 80 or experience more overland trails on Highway 30

Interstate 80 is the fastest way to travel from Grand Island to Ogallala, but Highway 30 is more fun. From Ogallala to Scottsbluff, drive US Highway 26 up the North Platte Valley, with a short jog onto Nebraska Highway 92 from Chimney Rock to Minatare. Allow a full week for this trip.

Be aware of the time change

Eastern and Central Nebraska observe Central Time, but Western Nebraska observes Mountain Time. You will cross the timeline between Sutherland and Paxton.

Make reservations early

Grand Island hosts the Nebraska State Fair annually in late August and early September. Sandhill crane migration season begins in mid-February and runs until mid-April. If you intend to visit during either of these times, book well in advance. During the state fair, rooms will be scarce from Grand Island to at least Kearney. During crane season, rooms may be scarce, especially on weekends, from Grand Island to Ogallala. Lake McConaughy attracts droves of people, and rooms in Ogallala can be hard to find on any weekend from April to October.

Eat at Runza
Whatza Runza? It’s a Nebraska thing and you must eat one.

Eat at Runza at least once along the overland trails route

Every sizeable city along the route will have a Runza Restaurant. You must visit at least one of them. Runzas are handheld oblong meat-and-cabbage pies and they are as Nebraskan as a taste can get. For another distinctly Nebraska food, order the chili with cinnamon rolls.

Buy necessary state permits

If you intend to hunt, fish, or visit a state park, you must obtain permits. Out-of-state boaters must purchase a temporary aquatic invasive species stamp.

Overland trail cautions

Always treat the attractions with respect. Always wear mosquito repellent, sunscreen, and sunglasses while doing outdoor activities. Do not approach wildlife. Always watch for rattlesnakes, but particularly west of Ogallala.

Enjoy another road trip to South Dakota’s Black Hills

If you have another week to enjoy the West, drive a little over three hours northwest to Rapid City and explore the Black Hills.

Learn more and share

Travel more Great American Road Trips. Learn more about destinations in the Midwest and specifically in Nebraska. Find more national parks and Presidential sites.

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