Know Nebraska: Chimney Rock

If you are roadtripping anywhere in western Nebraska, a detour and a stop at Chimney Rock is a must. There is no more iconic symbol of Nebraska (I rank it even higher than Memorial Stadium and the Sower on top of the capitol!). For hundreds of thousands of pioneers on their way was on all of the important westward migration trails, Chimney Rock represented an important milestone on their journey and they mentioned it most of all in their journals.

To see it is easy – take Highway 26 east from Scottsbluff or west from Bridgeport. The Visitor Center is south a mile or so on a gravel road that is well marked (of course, with Chimney Rock itself looming above you, you’ll know you’re in the area!).

The Visitor Center itself contains a wealth of information on the westward migrations, and the journal mentions of Chimney Rock, as well as a nice gift shop. There is a film as well that expands on the story.

This is one of the historical sites in Nebraska that is operated by the Nebraska State Historical Society. Other sites are managed by the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and the National Parks Service. The difference in the levels of funding of the different organizations is very apparent, as is the relative emphasis they put on historical preservation and presentation in comparison to their overall missions.
What is disappointing, is that there is no access to Chimney Rock itself. You can continue on the gravel road south, then take it west for about a quarter of a mile to the historic cemetery, but can go no farther. The land surrounding the Rock is all privately owned. It is very frustrating to see an historical marker at the base of the Rock and not be able to hike up to it to read it.

If you look closely, there is an historical marker in the center of the photo. This picture was taken from the Pioneer Cemetery.

Hopefully someday soon, the means and opportunity will become available for the Historical Society to purchase the land to enhance the experience of this landmark.

Halfway between the Visitor Center and Highway 26, you’ll find the Chimney Rock Pioneer Crossing. They operate a campground and store, and I highly recommend their made-to-order waffle cones!

All in all, with no hiking available, the stop to see Chimney Rock, even with a detour to the Pioneer Cemetery only takes about an hour of your time.


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