Backpacker Magazine Scottsbluff, NE: Saddle Rock Trail 

The crumbling caprock and sheer sandstone faces of Scotts Bluff frightened Oregon Trail-era emigrants, but they're the draw on this challenging, 3.8-mile out-and-back that climbs 500 feet up the towering massif.

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Author: Backpacker Magazine
Date: 29 Apr 2009 2:54:11 PM
Activity: Hiking
State: Nebraska (NE)
Distance: 3.8 mi  (Change units)
Survey Elevation: Total Gain: 1479 ft
Total Loss: 1479 ft
Net Change: 0 ft
Difficulty: 5 / 10
USGS Topo Map: Scottsbluff South
Tags: Favorite Dayhike, Gering, Nebraska, Scotts Bluff National Monument, Scottsbluff
Rating:   1 rating(s) Rate it

A challenging hike in some of western Nebraska's most interesting terrain, this 3.8-mile out-and back begins at the Scotts Bluff National Monument visitor center. The paved path winds uphill almost immediately after leaving the trailhead, crossing an open prairie and climbing sweeping switchbacks on the side of the bluff. Below the spires of Saddle Rock, the trail passes through a 100-foot tunnel and then rounds the saddle itself as it continues to climb. Near mile 1.5, the trail levels and winds around the top of the bluff toward two overlooks. If lightning isn't a danger, spend some time resting and wandering the trails at the top before descending the same trail toward the visitor center and museum.

Note: Although this mapped 4-mile route is recommended, it's possible to drive to a parking area near the summit and still hit the overlook highlights without strenuous walking.

-Mapped by Kristy Holland

TO TRAILHEAD: From US 26 north of Scottsbluff, turn south onto NE 71 (Avenue I) and drive 4.1 miles to NE 92 (Old Oregon Trail). Turn right on NE 92 and drive 1.8 miles to the visitor center on the right.

Position Format: Datum:

Saddle Rock Trail

Distance: 3.82 mi Points: 336
Total Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Active Time: none Speed: 0.0 mph Pace: 0:00 / mi
Saddle Rock Trail

Points of Interest


Location: 41.828442, -103.707311
Follow the Saddle Rock Trail from the east end of the visitor center. Restrooms and a water fountain on this side of the building are the only ones on the trail.


Location: 41.831896, -103.700080
About half a mile from the trailhead, the pavement dips into a wash known as Scotts Spring. There are several legends about how this spring and massif came to be named for fur company clerk Hiram Scott in the late 1820s.


Location: 41.835339, -103.698205
A sheer rock face abuts the trail near mile 0.8. Up ahead, a huge switchback leads uphill toward the entrance to a tunnel.


Location: 41.835415, -103.696231
The tunnel through this sandstone fin beneath Saddle Rock is about 100 feet long. Watch for snakes in the tunnel's shady passage, a cool retreat from the scorching sun.


Location: 41.835821, -103.696389
Several steep switchbacks top out at the craggy edge of Saddle Rock. Don't venture off the main trail, the crumbling stone can be dangerous to hikers on top of the crumbling rock, and on the trail just below.


Location: 41.836708, -103.698208
You'll encounter a short set of steps before the final few switchbacks to the summit. Up ahead, signs point downhill hikers toward the museum.


Location: 41.837743, -103.698476
At mile 1.5, near the top of the bluff, the trail splits. Bear right toward the North Overlook, a narrow rock peninsula overlooking the nearby town of Scottsbluff.


Location: 41.839114, -103.699093
Prevailing winds whip up the canyon on the left and make this spot a windy one. Turn around at the bluff's northernmost point and backtrack past here, bearing right toward the parking lot and the South Overlook Trail.


Location: 41.836636, -103.700193
Follow this short trail from the parking lot to the South Overlook. Views from the end of the 200-yard add-on are worth the few extra minutes of easy walking.

Trail Views

Location: 41.836029, -103.697516
Looking south, you'll see the path you just climbed snaking up the opposite side of the bluff. © Kristy Holland

Visitor Center

Location: 41.828666, -103.707569
Stop by the museum and visitor center before heading out on this hike. Or better yet, complete the hike before it gets too hot and check out the museum before heading home. © Kristy Holland

Trail Sign

Location: 41.828434, -103.707161
One of the only signs along the route, but the path is paved and easy to follow for its entire length. © Kristy Holland

Five Rocks

Location: 41.830108, -103.704982
Looking south from the trail, you'll notice Dome Rock (left) and Crown Rock (right), two of the area's five prominent landmarks. © Kristy Holland


Location: 41.832735, -103.698245
Just below the bluff's South Overlook on your left, you'll catch this distant view of Saddle Rock and an up-close of the bluff's eastern face. © Kristy Holland


Location: 41.835341, -103.698162
The trail cuts into the steep slope of Scotts Bluff as it climbs. © Kristy Holland


Location: 41.835407, -103.696191
Looking east before the tunnel is the small community of Gering. © Kristy Holland


Location: 41.835385, -103.696126
The trail passes through a 100-foot tunnel under Saddle Rock. © Kristy Holland


Location: 41.835469, -103.696006
Looking south from inside the tunnel. © Kristy Holland


Location: 41.835463, -103.695982
When the sandstone is saturated it is extremely soft and many hikers have literally pulled handfuls of stone from the walls of the tunnel. Don't do further damage to the rock. © Kristy Holland

Saddle Rock

Location: 41.835825, -103.696357
© Kristy Holland

Steep Drops

Location: 41.836316, -103.697500
The sheer cliffs of the bluff drop sharply between the upper and lower sections of trail. Watch your step, there's no handrail out here. © Kristy Holland


Location: 41.836550, -103.698074
Pale lime deposits called concretions jut out of the hillside below the summit. These harder rocks add stability and structure to the soft sandstone. © Kristy Holland


Location: 41.838019, -103.698723
This display on the bluff-top illustrates the visible erosion occurring atop the capstone. The USGS survey marker on the summit was set flush with the stone surface in 1933. © Kristy Holland


Location: 41.838798, -103.699100
This bench faces north toward the town of Scottsbluff. © Kristy Holland

Laramie Peak

Location: 41.839871, -103.699023
This arrow points northeast toward Laramie Peak: more than 100 miles away, but visible on a clear day. © Kristy Holland


Location: 41.839843, -103.699015
Looking west into a windy canyon near the North Overlook. © Kristy Holland

South Overlook

Location: 41.836632, -103.700144
A sign in the parking lot points the way down the short path to the South Overlook. © Kristy Holland


Location: 41.834849, -103.699640
The park road, five rocks, and the trail through Mitchell Pass are all visible from the South Overlook. © Kristy Holland


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