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Courthouse Rock & Jail Rock appear as imposing as any courthouse we’ve ever built. Rising over an ancient plateau, these two historic landmarks tower more than 200 feet over the plain. Two centuries ago they guided early explorers, and later, Oregon Trail colonists, overland to the West.

Jail Rock in Nebraska

Jail Rock in Nebraska

Visible by colonists walking beside their wagons for several days, Courthouse Rock and Jail Rock were important landmarks on the emigrant trail that connected Missouri to Utah and California. Robert Stuart, an early fur trapper and trader, was one of the first to note the landmark as he crossed the Continental Divide and pioneered a trail through Wyoming and Nebraska.

This trail, following the North Platte and Platte rivers, eventually became known as the Oregon Trail. Rufus B. Sage later wrote in 1841 that you could see for forty miles from the top of the formation. He likened it to a castle or courthouse. Some travelers, though, referred to the pair of rocks as the Lonely Tower. The name no doubt reflected how they felt journeying through the hundreds of miles of prairie on their journey west.

Hiking Jail Rock

The Jail Rock hike starts out easily. A well trod path takes you from a paved staging area two miles south of Bridgeport, NE, on Highway 88, through the prairie. As you pass Courthouse Rock (photo at the top of the page), the climb is gradual.

Even if you don’t hike any higher, you’ll still get a beautiful view from this point. The formations are comprised of Brule clay and Gering sandstone, so make sure you have good hiking shoes. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself sliding down the path instead of going up as you start the steeper ascent up Jail Rock!

Climbing Jail Rock in Nebraska

Climbing Jail Rock in Nebraska

The trail on Jail Rock takes a winding turn, so you get a different view of Courthouse Rock. Here, it’s easy to see how some view the two rocks as part of a single formation, since it’s hard to tell where one stops and the other begins. You might not expect much vegetation, but you’d be wrong.

Winterfat, a native grassland shrub, abounds in the prairie grass. It particularly drew my interest as Agriculture Canada is taking steps to register the plant, so seed can be produced.

And if you’re thinking, like I did, that winterfat looks a lot like sage, that’s because it’s also called winter sage, white sage, feather sage and sweet sage. Winterfat thrives in extreme cold, drought, and well, all those same prairie conditions our hardy ancestors lived through. In addition, it’s high in protein, so has been called ice-cream forage that helps fatten up those cows.

The prairie grasses do dwindle out quickly though as you approach the steepest part of the climb into the rock. It took some scrambling to get to the final rocky plateau–and a few stains on the seat of my shorts–but the view was worth it.

Climbing higher on Jail Rock in Nebraska.

Climbing higher on Jail Rock in Nebraska.

And if you really like a challenge, you can always go a little higher as my friends are above!

Hike Jail Rock on the Historic Oregon Trail in Nebraska

The parking Area for Courthouse Rock and Jail Rock is two miles south of Bridgeport, NE, on Highway 88. You’ll need at least half an hour for the climb. Courthouse Rock & Jail Rock formation is just one great place to hike and explore in the Scottsbluff / Gering area of Northwest Nebraska. For more information, see:

Or, you may want to add on some stops in Nebraska when you’re visiting the Black Hills in South Dakota!



I hiked Jail Rock on a visit to Nebraska hosted by the Nebraska Tourism Commission. This part of the trip was with Gering Convention and Visitors Bureau and Scotts Bluff County Area Visitors Bureau. Many thanks to all of my hosts for an incredible week of adventures!

More Places to Visit in Nebraska

Check out the Tangled Tumbleweed “small bites” in Scottsbluff, Nebraska.

Visit The Tangled Tumbleweed in Scottsbluff, NE, to try some great “small bites” along with fine wines & craft beers, & check out their gift shop.

Best Places to Find Frontier & Old West Cowboy Adventures in Nebraska

5 of the best places in Nebraska to find frontier and old west cowboy attractions, from historic homesteads to cowboy and fur trade museums to boot hill!

Scotts Bluff National Monument: Historic Places on the Oregon Trail

Scotts Bluff National Monument is one of Nebraska’s historic places on the Oregon Trail–enjoy a day of hiking trails and exploring its living history.

Discover Carhenge Pop Culture Roadside Attraction in Nebraska

The free Carhenge pop culture roadside attraction in Nebraska is a replica of England’s Stonehenge built from same sized vintage cars painted grey.

Legacy of the Plains Museum – Westward Ho to Gering, Nebraska

The new, ultra-modern, Legacy of the Plains Museum in Gering, Nebraska, curates the importance of Western Nebraska to the development of the West.

Hiking the Oregon Trail to the top of Windlass Hill

Hiking the Oregon Trail to the top of Windlass Hill provides a panorama of the Nebraska Platte Valley along with wagon ruts made by settlers 175+ years ago.

Plan to Hike Toadstool Geologic Park in Nebraska

Toadstool Geologic Park has many fossils and rare geological formations. Here are some tips on what you’ll find on a hike and how to plan your hiking trip.

About the Photo: The photo above is of Courthouse Rock, taken from the top of Jail Rock, near Bridgeport, Nebraska, USA.


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Courthouse Rock & Jail Rock in Nebraska

Courthouse Rock & Jail Rock in Nebraska

Courthouse Rock & Jail Rock in Nebraska

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