NewsLocal NewsTravels in the Heartland


Travels in the Heartland: Survey the panhandle in Scottsbluff

Posted at 12:00 PM, Sep 04, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-04 13:00:00-04

It's said you can see forever from atop Scotts Bluff National Monument. While it may not be accurate, Scotts Bluff does offer panoramic views that stretch for miles. No wonder it was one of the classic mile markers for Indigenous Peoples and Euro-American westward expansion.

Western Nebraska is home to impressive natural attractions, including Chimney Rock, and spending a long weekend in the Scottsbluff area takes you along historic migration trails while offering a view of the state you won't see from Interstate 80.

We've spent a week in the area each of the past couple of years and find something new to explore each time. We added it to our annual bucket list.

Here are our recommendations for a fun visit to the Scottsbluff, Gering and Mitchell area.

Scotts Bluff National Monument

Looking out over the North Platte Valley from atop Scotts Bluff National Monument. Photo by Tim Trudell

Used as a marker along the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails, Scotts Bluff is one of the tallest bluffs in the panhandle. Scotts Bluff National Monument offers an impressive view of the North Platte River Valley. You can even see Chimney Rock, about 30 miles in the distance. Drive to the top of the monument along a short but curvy road or enjoy a walk from the visitor's center.

Once at the top, explore two compact paths, each with beautiful wildflowers, plants such as cactus and a variety of trees. The views differ on each path, with one featuring bluffs and forests of the Pine Ridge. The second provides a look at the urban layout, as well as more Plains.

Legacy of the Plains Museum

4 (2).jpg
A view of the vintage farm equipment at Legacy of the Plains Museum in Gering. Photo by Tim Trudell

Legacy of the Plains Museum isn't your typical history attraction. Well-laid out, the museum explores the stories of western Nebraska, from Indigenous Peoples to the sugar beet industry. Featuring a lot of interactive exhibits, Legacy of the Plains Museum rivals any museum you'll find in a larger metropolitan area.

Exploring the cowboy and horse exhibits, it was interesting to see the types of saddles used to ride horses and their functions. The museum even has a colorful plastic saddle on display.

My heart was filled when, during a stop at the Indigenous Peoples exhibit, I heard a familiar voice. It was that of my brother, John, who passed from this world in 2016. He was a spoken word artist, poet and actor, and the museum uses one of his narrations.

Lake Minatare State Recreation

Area Home to one of Nebraska's "lighthouses," Lake Minatare State Recreation Area is an irrigation source for the valley as well as the panhandle's premier outdoor sports outlet. With boating, water skiing, kayaking, fishing and swimming available, Lake Minatare also offers beautiful scenery.

The Plains Lighthouse was built during the Great Depression as part of a public works project. Made entirely of stone, the lighthouse actually serves as a shelter and observation tower.

Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area

Hiking miles of trails along tall evergreen trees over rugged terrain with panoramic views of the Platte Valley, Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area attracts outdoor enthusiasts. Along with a nature center, interpretative programs and a shooting complex, Wildcat Hills is perfect for a day adventure or a camping experience.

Midwest Theater

1 (1).jpg
Inside the auditorium at the Midwest Theater in Scottsbluff. Photo by Tim Trudell

During its early days, the neon lights of the Midwest Theater's banner shone so brightly at night that it could be seen for hundreds of miles. Today, with an old-fashioned moniker, it may not light up the panhandle night sky, but the 700-seat Midwest Theater continues to show first-run movies and live events. With a classic decor, you'll want to purchase a bag of popcorn and grab a soda as you enjoy a bit of nostalgia while watching a modern movie at the nearly 80-year-old theater.

Riverside Discovery Center

As the panhandle's zoo, the Riverside Discovery Center is home to brown bears, lions and primates, as well as Highland cattle and bison. With a variety of water fowl, including swans, the zoo also features reptiles and exotic birds.

Featuring an array of family-focused attractions, children of all ages enjoy the animal barn, with plenty of animals to pet, including goats and alpacas. Check out the play area resembling a dinosaur dig site.

Chimney Rock National Historic Site

Chimney Rock National Historic Site provides visitors an opportunity to get close to the natural attraction along a gravel walking path. Photo by Tim Trudell

About a 30-minute drive from Scottsbluff, Chimney Rock National Historic Site may be Nebraska's most-recognizable natural attraction. Long used by Indigenous Peoples and Euro-Americans as a geographic marker, Chimney Rock is easily seen around the panhandle, despite its chimney’s erosion over the years.

With a gravel-covered walking trail taking you to within about a quarter mile of the monument, the two-mile loop brings you as close to Chimney Rock as possible since westward expansion. With wildflowers and cactus lining the path, the area is one of the most-scenic in Nebraska.

The visitors center includes a museum highlighting Chimney Rock's history and its influence over the centuries.

Courthouse and Jail Rocks

11 (1).JPG
Courthouse and Jail Rocks are two of the four major geographic attractions in the Scottsbluff area. Photo by Tim Trudell

When you're in Scottsbluff, everything is basically a hop, skip and jump away, so while Courthouse and Jail Rocks are about a 45-minute drive, they’re a must-visit. The duo are located next to each other a couple of miles outside Bridgeport and make up the remainder of the four spots used as 19th century GPS for travelers.

Enjoy a walk on the short trails to each monument or just soak in their beauty from the parking lot. You won't need to spend a lot of time here, and it's a short drive from Chimney Rock to Courthouse and Jail Rocks.

Harvest Festival

Hosted on the grounds of the Legacy of the Plains Museum, vintage farm equipment are on display during the annual Harvest Festival, which occurs the third weekend of September (Sept. 15-16, 2023).

The two-day event includes a parade of classic farm machinery, wagon rides and demonstrations harvesting crops. Visitors can grab a bucket and head to the potato field to dig up their own tators for home. The museum includes music and other exhibits. You can also enjoy a tour of the outdoor living history museum featuring cabins and out buildings.

Old West Balloon Fest

Balloons from around the country pepper western Nebraska’s sky. Photo by Tim Trudell

For almost a decade, about 30 balloon pilots gather on the grounds of the Old Mitchell Airport to spend a weekend flying around the panhandle. A four-day event each August, the Old West Balloon Fest features a kids balloon camp and a night glow to open the celebration. Following Saturday's morning ascension, the festival concludes with an evening balloon glow, including live music and plenty of food and beverages.


Scottsbluff is home to an impressive culinary scene. From breakfast to dinner, you'll enjoy a variety of options.

The Mixing Bowl

3 (1).jpg
Breakfast at The Mixing Bowl in Gering. Photo by Tim Trudell

Located in downtown Gering, enjoy unique breakfast choices alongside a hot cup of coffee at The Mixing Bowl. From biscuits and country gravy to a breakfast sandwich, the local eatery is a popular dining spot. I enjoy a good breakfast burrito, and The Mixing Bowl delivers, with the classic burrito stuffed with egg, hash browns, cheddar cheese and your choice of protein with green or red chili. My favorite is the Ranchero Burrito, packed with chorizo, egg, hash brown, avocado, bell pepper and pepper jack cheese, smothered in green chili.

The Mixing Bowl also offers a lunch menu featuring sandwiches, burgers and salads. With plenty of coffee options, grab a cup inside or at the drive-thru.

Tangled Tumbleweed

Offering a tapas-style (small shareables) menu, you'll want to order a few dishes to enjoy with an excellent wine and craft beer selection. With a rotating menu, you'll find seasonal favorites, such as Ahi tuna, jalapeño artichoke dip, braised beef ribs and fresh corn and crab risotto. Dine inside or enjoy a patio experience, Tangled Tumbleweed is a culinary star in Scottsbluff.

Flyover Brewing Company

2 (1).jpg
Bacon-wrapped dates Flyover Brewing. Photo by Tim Trudell

Whether you're visiting for one of its craft brews or outstanding menu, Flyover Brewing in downtown Scottsbluff features plenty of ales, hops, wheat and sours from which to choose.

With flatbread pizza headlining the menu, grab a couple of appetizers, such as bruschetta or wings, before indulging in a classic wood-fired pie, including sweet chili pepperoni, chicken artichoke and spicy chicken.


With authentic Mexican dishes, Rosita's is one of the top eateries in Scottsbluff. From its famous panchos - puffy chips topped with beans, avocado, melted cheese and fresh jalapeño - to entrees such as a smothered burrito, fresh tacos in puffy shells and chimichangas, you'll feel like you've traveled south of the border.


When planning a visit to Scottsbluff, you'll have a variety of options to lay your head. From hotels, airbnb and camping sites, you'll enjoy your choice.

As we traverse the state, it's easy to see why people think of Nebraska as "The Good Life." From the urban attractions in eastern Nebraska to the panhandle, the Heartland truly is for everyone. Safe travels.

Download our apps today for all of our latest coverage.

Get the latest news and weather delivered straight to your inbox.