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Scottsbluff, NE: Fossil Hills

Roam Nebraska’s Niobrara River valley, just like the rhino-sized Menoceras did 20 million years ago. This wheelchair-accessible 2.9-miler climbs to one of the world’s most important bonebed excavation sites.

Rating

Stop at the visitor center for a quick lesson on area geology and a 12-minute video about the park history before setting out on this 2.9-mile lollipop loop. The wide, paved path dips toward the Niobrara River’s wetland floodplain before beginning a steady 150-foot climb to the base of an ancient watering hole—the reason for the abundant 19-million year old fossils found here. The trail levels at the saddle between University and Carnegie hills and winds between them, stopping first at an exposed cross-section of rock showing ancient muddy footprints.
Rounding the south side of Carnegie Hill, signs explain the history of the excavation site which has supplied many Miocene-era museum collections. A shelter at the top of the ridge offers an excellent view of the river valley and the path you’ll re-trace heading downhill toward the trailhead.
Rattlesnakes live near the trail and sometimes sun themselves on its warm surface. Don’t let pets or small children wander ahead and watch your step, even on the trail. Also, be prepared for fast-changing weather and harsh exposure to the sun; the only shade on this hour-long route is at the two trailside shelters.
-Mapped by Kristy Holland

To Trailhead

From Scottsbluff, drive 9 miles west on US 26 to Mitchell and turn left on NE 29. Drive 34 miles north and turn right onto River Rd. at the entrance to the national monument. The trailhead parking area and visitor center are 3 miles ahead on the right.

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