The Oregon Trail enters
Nebraska’s southern border with
just west of the small town of
Pioneers continued northwest from here to Rock Creek
Station and on to Fort Kearny where they connected
with the Platte
Great Platte River Road
stretches across the state and became the pioneers’ highway west.
The Platte River, sometimes described as “a mile
wide and an inch deep,” guided not only emigrants headed for Oregon, but
pioneers going to the California goldfields, Mormons heading for Utah, and
Pony Express riders who were carrying mail between St. Joseph, Missouri and
No other state, not even
Oregon, is more closely associated with
the Oregon Trail than is
Consider that many of the trail’s best-known
landmarks including Courthouse Rock, Jail Rock, Scotts Bluff, and Chimney
Rock are all within sight of the river. The trail through
Nebraska was generally considered the
easiest stretch of the 2,100-mile trip, at least until pioneers encountered
hills west of present-day North Platte.
The land was flat, water was readily available, and
food for livestock was generally plentiful near the river.
The terrain became more difficult once emigrants
passed west of the fork where the North and
South Platte meet.
Most pioneers continued for a distance along the
south bank of the South Platte
before crossing the river and heading north to navigate infamous California
A short distance north, the wagon trains encountered the
steep downhill grade of Windlass Hill leading to the fertile meadow at Ash
All these locations are accessible to
present-day adventurers who wish to follow the path blazed by emigrants who
settled the West. Interesting Oregon Trail locations in Nebraska (east to west) include:
1) Rock Creek Station - An important stop for Pony Express riders and
emigrants traveling the Oregon Trail is now part of a
Nebraska state historical
A visitor center with trail exhibits is beside an impressive
swale cut by pioneer wagons as they ascended a hill north of Rock Creek.
A reconstructed bridge, replica wagons, and
buildings are accessible by following a path to the bottom of the hill.
A pleasant state-operated campground is nearby.
View our video of Rock
(pronounced Carney) - A military post established in 1848 to protect
emigrants heading west to Oregon and
The fort was also a stop for Pony Express riders.
(spelled differently than the nearby town of
is part of a Nebraska
state historical park that includes an interpretive center, reconstructed
buildings, and replica Oregon Trail wagons.
View our video of Fort
3) California Hill - Perhaps the most impressive location along the entire
Hill represented the first major grade encountered by the emigrants on their
Crossing the South Platte west of the present-day
town of Ogallala,
the pioneers were required to navigate California Hill as they moved north
to the North Platte River.
The hill is a short distance north of U.S. Highway
30 alongside a rough gravel road, but the drive is certainly worth the
effort in order to walk along the impressive swale cut by wagons being
pulled up this 1 ½-mile long hill.
View our video of
4) Windlass Hill - North of California Hill,
Windlass Hill is a steep downgrade the wagon trains were required to
navigate in order to reach Ash Hollow and the North Platte.
Pioneers locked the wheels of their wagons to avoid
an out-of-control descent down the hillside.
A paved walking trail leads from a parking area to
the top of the hill where visitors gain an excellent view of the route of
the trail and the beautiful country the pioneers would find to the north.
5) Jail Rock and Courthouse Rock - Two famous
landmarks familiar to the pioneers are a short distance south of the
North Platte River
and easily visible to travelers driving along U.S. Highway 26.
A paved road in the small town of Bridgeport
leads south to the formations.
6) Chimney Rock - The most famous of the trail’s
landmarks has suffered erosion over the years and, as a result, is not quite
the majestic formation observed by the pioneers, but it is difficult not to
experience a thrill when it first comes into sight.
Highway 26 is on the south side of the river and
passes relatively close to Chimney Rock that is accessible by vehicle.
7) Scotts Bluff - Early wagon trains skirted the
imposing bluff by looping south through
Following the opening of Mitchell
Pass in 1850, wagons
moved single-file and cut deep ruts that remain visible to today’s visitors.
preserves the ruts and offers an excellent visitor center that interprets
the trail and the pass used by the pioneers.
A separate room contains numerous paintings of
William Henry Jackson.
Visitors can walk along the wagon ruts just west of
the visitor center.
Replica wagons are on the site.
A paved road leads to the top of the bluff where
outstanding views are available.
The Oregon Trail in Nebraska:
Following the Great Platte River Road