Discover Roads Less Traveled

They say it’s all about the journey, and in Northwest Nebraska that’s certainly true. Known for our wide-open spaces, Northwest Nebraska allows you to move beyond touristy destinations and embrace a slower pace of life. As you seek out many of our destination attractions, enjoy the open spaces, the backcountry roads and the lack of traffic jams – unless they’re the four-legged kind. If you’re looking for a unique journey, give our Roads Less Traveled trips a try. Explore each of the road trips below and set out to create your own journey. For detailed driving directions, click on the title of a specific road trip to access our Google Maps driving routes, complete with notes of interest and photos. The road trips are a great way to spend the day, but also offer spots for hiking, fishing, hunting, camping, picnicking and more if you want to explore a little longer. 

This is Northwest Nebraska and there’s No Better Direction. 

Road Trips

Pine Buttes and Grasslands Road Trip 

NOTE: Sowbelly Road, featured in this trip, is minimum maintenance and receives no snow removal.  Road closed signs go up in the fall and stay well into spring when the last drifts finally melt, which is far later than on the surrounding plains. Please plan accordingly.

Discover Northwest Nebraska’s Pine Buttes and Grasslands Road Trip begins south of Crawford, Nebraska, near Fort Robinson State Park and takes adventurers west near Harrison, Nebraska, which at 4,876 feet above sea level is the state’s highest town. From there the trip heads north through one of the most picturesque and wild portions of the Pine Ridge and circles around back east through the expansive Oglala National Grassland and the unforgettable Toadstool Geological Park before returning to Crawford. 

This trip is about 95 miles in length. Check out our “Useful Tips” tab for things to keep in mind before you head out. 

The beauty of this road trip is its adaptability. Though it can be driven in one day, several stops include enough opportunity for activities and camping that adventurers may want to break it up into multiple days. You can take advantage of camping opportunities at Gilbert-Baker Recreation Area or Toadstool Geological Park, or you may want to explore lodging and dining in Crawford or a cabin or RV site at Fort Robinson. You can also reverse the trip with the possibility of staying overnight in Harrison or stargazing at Gilbert-Baker then returning to explore Fort Robinson the next morning.  

The lengthy road trip provides opportunities for sightseeing, birding, photography, fishing, hunting, camping, stargazing, and ample places to hike.  

You’ll begin the trip (if you so choose) south of Crawford and just east of Fort Robinson State Park on Highway 20. Head west, driving through Fort Robinson, one of Nebraska’s most significant places with regard to the history of the American West. Originally a temporary camp guarding the Red Cloud Agency from 1874-1877, the fort served the U.S. Military in multiple roles until it ceased to be a military post in 1947. Just some of the fort’s prominent history includes its role during the Indian Wars, its stationing of African American “Buffalo Soldiers” in the early 1900s and its serving as a German POW camp during World War II.  

Travelers can easily make a day, or even a weekend of exploring the Fort and the nearby site of the Red Cloud Agency, but two stops essential to those just making a quick stop at the fort for this road trip include the site of Crazy Horse’s death and a monument to the Cheyenne Outbreak in 1879, two major historical events which took place at the fort. 

To visit the site of Crazy Horse’s death, navigate using the Google map attached to the tour or stop at the fort’s large, brick, administration building northwest of the highway and ask for directions to the nearby site. Just over 1.5 miles after leaving the fort will be a pull-off area that features the Cheyenne Outbreak State Historical Marker. A monument honoring the Cheyenne Outbreak can be seen not far west from the state historical marker. 

Moving on, you’ll travel about 17 miles west along Highway 20 and turn north on Pants Butte Road about 3.5 miles east of Harrison. Continue traveling north among the pine-laden buttes of the Pine Ridge until you reach Sowbelly Road to the west. Though you’ll be heading back south, this route takes you through Sowbelly Canyon, which, legend has it, gets its name from a confrontation between a band of Cheyenne led by Chief Running Deer and U.S. soldiers from nearby Fort Robinson.  

Running Deer’s group had been wintering in the canyon. Tipped off about their location, the soldiers, who intended to round up the band, rode out, so confident that they didn’t send a scout ahead or mask their approach. Aware of the approaching troops, the Cheyenne spread out through the canyon and ambushed the soldiers. The surviving troops found themselves in a narrow portion of the canyon with tall cliffs lining the sides of the ravine where a creek ran. The Cheyenne were easily able to trap the soldiers there for days until eventually their Captain devised a plan that led to their escape. While trapped in the canyon, the soldiers had only pork belly to eat, thus the name Sowbelly Canyon.  

Midway through the canyon you’ll come across G.H. Coffee Park which was donated to the town of Harrison in 1976 by Guy and Ila Coffee, members of the Coffee family, prominent pioneers of Northwest Nebraska. By this time in the trip, you may be in the mood for the chance to stretch your legs a bit and grab a bite to eat. The park features multiple shelters with charcoal grills which are convenient for a pit-stop, but adventurers will want to keep in mind that Gilbert-Baker Recreation Area, the next stop on the road trip, is an equally great area that makes up for its lack of established cooking sites with a bevy of activities like hiking and fishing. Because Gilbert-Baker is a Wildlife Management Area, open fires are not allowed, so lunch (or dinner if you’re traveling the route in reverse) will need to be packed in or cooked on a portable stove.  

You’ll leave Coffee Park heading southwest through the remainder of the canyon. Follow Sowbelly Road until it intersects with Monroe Canyon Road where you’ll head north until you reach Gilbert-Baker Recreation Area.  The campground is a bird watcher’s paradise and the creek flowing through is one of few in the state where trout reproduce naturally.  

Gilbert-Baker Wildlife Management Area encompasses 2,537 acres and is home to elk, turkey, deer and other wildlife. Hiking opportunities abound, so don’t hesitate to prolong your trip in order to take full advantage of the area. Just be sure to bring your camera along.  

Drive north just a bit further along Monroe Canyon Road and you’ll find a road heading east that will take you to a Gilbert-Baker pond which is stocked with trout seasonally. The pond is also home to bass and bluegill.  

Once you’re ready to move on, continue driving north on Monroe Canyon Road on your way to a trio of monuments that mark the region’s frontier history. Keep right as the road turns to gravel (a feature of all the roads from here on out), you’ll now be following Edgemont Rd and nearing Oglala National Grassland.  

The grassland includes 94,000 acres of mostly mixed-grass prairie with the occasional badlands. Pronghorns, swift foxes, and coyotes are some of the wildlife you might see while traveling through. According to the U.S. Forest Service, birders can expect to find grassland birds like lark buntings, Brewer’s blackbirds, sand-pipers and chestnut-collard longspurs.  

Continue northeast on Edgemont Road until you reach Montrose Road. Head east on Montrose Road until you reach a T-intersection with Pants Butte Rd. Turn north and follow the road east (Pants Butte has merged with Montrose Road, leaving you still on Montrose despite the intersection). A sure sign you’re on the right path will be the sight of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, founded in 1887, and its cemetery sitting atop a nearby hill to the east which features the gravestone of Soloman Borky, who carved the church’s alter, which still remains. Continue until you reach the church and Montrose.  

It’s not known who gave the first mass in the church’s history, but it is likely the priest was from South Dakota’s Holy Rosary Mission on the Pine Ridge reservation. The church’s first marriage was May 13, 1889, between Michael J. Ruffing and Katherine Wunder. Early gravesites were marked with wooden crosses and descendants of the church’s early families continue to be buried there. The church was officially closed in 1973. 

Montrose is a now defunct village located not far from where the Powder River Trail and the Cheyenne & Black Hills Stage Road intersected north of present-day Lusk, Wyoming. Settlement in the town began in 1887 or 1888 near the site of Indian Crossing on Hat Creek about a quarter of a mile from the Montrose Church 

Plan to spend some time stretching your legs in the area. You can start by touring the cemetery, but be sure to leave yourself time to make the short hike north to a pair of monuments honoring the events of the Battle of Warbonnet Creek, where the U.S. 5th Cavalry turned away what was rumored to be 800 Cheyenne who were attempting to link up with Sitting Bull in the weeks following his victory against Custer. 

The battlefield monument sits on a hill that would later house a civilian built fort that served to protect Montrose during tensions that arose during the Ghost Dance War. Closer to the road, just across Warbonnet Creek, head east from the trail to the battlefield monument and you’ll find another monument honoring the encounter that led to the only casualty of the battle.  

At this site, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody, who was serving as a scout with the 5th Cavalry, killed and scalped the Cheyenne Yellow Hair as he and a group of warriors were attempting to cut off a pair of couriers trying to reach the main 5th Cavalry forces nearby. Cody claimed the scalp as “the first scalp for Custer,” and later featured it in his wild west shows. Though the battle featured just one casualty, it was considered a rare victory for the U.S. during fighting the fighting in 1876.  

(For a more complete telling of the battle visit: https://www.historynet.com/buffalo-bills-skirmish-at-warbonnet-creek.htm) 

From Montrose, head east, transitioning from Montrose Road to Hat Creek Road (be sure to head east and not south). Enjoy the sights of the Oglala National Grassland as you travel Hat Creek Road for several miles until it intersects with Toadstool Road less than a mile from the South Dakota border. Head southeast on Toadstool Road for another lengthy leg of the road trip through the grassland. 

As you approach Toadstool Geological Park from the north, reference your map and take advantage of a small parking area that will offer a glimpse of Sugar Loaf Butte to the southeast. Peeking over the hills, Sugar Loaf Butte juts above its surroundings, which made it an excellent landmark for west-bound travelers of Nebraska’s frontier. The base of the butte is Pierre Shale and the peak is from the Brule Formation. The butte contains fossils from 45 million to 26 million years old. A quick hike up the hill to the southwest offers unobstructed views of the surrounding area.  

From the parking area, continue heading south along Toadstool Road, following signage that will lead you to Toadstool Geological Park. 

Here you’ll find one of the most fascinating landscapes of Northwest Nebraska, known for its strange geological formations and fossil deposits. Many of the rocks preserve fossils and footprints of extinct species like tortoises, rhinos, saber-toothed cats, early three-toed horses, camels, and lizards. Toadstool is another area of the road trip where adventurers could spend an entire day hiking any or all its multiple trails and visiting the nearby Hudson-Meng Education and Research Center. Camping is also possible. There is no water at the campground so be sure you still have plenty left if you plan to hike before moving on.  

Just up the road is the Hudson-Meng Education and Research Center, the site of an ancient bison kill that contains the remains of up to 600 bison that are 10,000 years old. Local ranchers Bill Hudson and Albert Meng discovered the site in 1954 and it was later excavated in the 1970s. It was considered the largest Alberta Culture bison kill site ever discovered. The visitors center can be reached by car or by a lengthy hike from Toadstool Park. Once there, visitors can tour the site, a process which can take up to 45 minutes (currently the center is closed due to COVID-19, but hiking and outdoor interpretive signs are still available).  

Once you’ve visited Toadstool and Hudson-Meng, head out southeast on Toadstool Road for the final leg of the road trip. Follow the road until it intersects with Highway 71. Head south on the highway toward Crawford, where you may want to take advantage of lodging and dining there or continue back to Fort Robinson for lodging opportunities there. You can also head east along Highway 20 to reach Chadron, another opportunity for lodging, dining, and continued adventures.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monuments Road Trip

NOTE: Sowbelly Road, featured in this trip, is minimum maintenance and receives no snow removal.  Road closed signs go up in the fall and stay well into spring when the last drifts finally melt, which is far later than on the surrounding plains. Please plan accordingly.

Discover Northwest Nebraska’s Monument Road Trip will take you through a variety of landscapes as you explore the extreme northwest of Nebraska. Rich in history and beauty, this tour provides opportunities for sightseeing, birding, hiking, fishing and photography along a loop that, driven with only short stops, takes about two-and-a-half hours to complete.   

This trip is about 50 miles in length. Check out our “Useful Tips” tab for things to keep in mind before you head out. 

Drive north on Monroe Canyon Road to the first stop on the tour, the Gilbert-Baker Recreation Area at the bottom of Monroe Canyon. The campground is a bird watcher’s paradise and the creek flowing through is one of few in the state where trout reproduce naturally.  

Gilbert-Baker Wildlife Management Area encompasses 2,537 acres and is home to elk, turkey, deer and other wildlife. Hiking opportunities abound, so don’t hesitate to prolong your trip in order to take full advantage of the area. Just be sure to bring your camera along. Drive north just a bit further along Monroe Canyon Road and you’ll find a road heading east that will take you to a Gilbert-Baker pond which is stocked with trout seasonally. The pond is also home to bass and bluegill.  

Once you’re ready to move on, continue driving north on Monroe Canyon Road on your way to a trio of monuments that mark the region’s frontier history. Keep right as the road turns to gravel (a feature of all the roads from here on out), you’ll now be following Edgemont Rd and nearing Oglala National Grassland.  

The grassland includes 94,000 acres of mostly mixed-grass prairie with the occasional badlands. Pronghorns, swift foxes, and coyotes are some of the wildlife you might see while traveling through. According to the U.S. Forest Service, birders can expect to find grassland birds like lark buntings, Brewer’s blackbirds, sand-pipers and chestnut-collard longspurs.  

Continue northeast on Edgemont Road until you reach Montrose Road. Head east on Montrose Road until you reach a T-intersection with Pants Butte Rd. Turn north, and follow the road east (Pants Butte has merged with Montrose Road, leaving you still on Montrose despite the intersection). A sure sign you’re on the right path will be the sight of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, founded in 1887 and its cemetery sitting atop a nearby hill. Continue until you reach the church and Montrose.  

Montrose is a now defunct village located not far from where the Powder River Trail and the Cheyenne & Black Hills Stage Road intersected north of present day Lusk, Wyoming.  

Plan to spend some time stretching your legs in the area. You can start by touring the cemetery, but be sure to leave yourself time to make the short hike north to a pair of monuments honoring the events of the Battle of Warbonnet Creek, where the U.S. 5th Cavalry turned away what was rumored to be 800 Cheyenne who were attempting to link up with Sitting Bull in the weeks following his victory against Custer.  

The battlefield monument sits on a hill that would later house a civilian built fort that served to protect Montrose during tensions that arose during the Ghost Dance War. Closer to the road, just across Warbonnet Creek, head east from the trail to the battlefield monument and you’ll find another monument honoring the encounter that led to the only casualty of the battle.  

At this site, William “Buffalo Bill” Cody killed and scalped the Cheyenne Yellow Hair as he and a group of warriors were attempting to cut off a pair of couriers attempting to reach the main 5th Cavalry forces. Cody claimed the scalp as “the first scalp for Custer,” and later featured it in his wild west shows. Though the battle featured just one casualty, it was considered a rare victory for the U.S. during fighting the fighting in 1876.  

(For a more complete telling of the battle visit: https://www.historynet.com/buffalo-bills-skirmish-at-warbonnet-creek.htm) 

When you’re satisfied to move on, backtrack west on Montrose Road to the T-intersection with Pants Butte Road. This time, continue south along Pants Butte Road, heading out of the grasslands and back toward the pine-filled buttes of the Pine Ridge and Sowbelly Canyon. Turn east once you’ve reached Sowbelly Road and head west into the canyon that gets its name.  

Legend has it, Sowbelly Canyon gets its name from a confrontation between a band of Cheyenne led by Chief Running Deer and U.S. soldiers from nearby Fort Robinson. Running Deer’s group had been wintering in the canyon. Tipped off about their location, the soldiers, who intended to round up the band, rode out, so confident that they didn’t send a scout ahead or mask their approach. Aware of the approaching troops, the Cheyenne spread out through the canyon and ambushed the soldiers. The surviving troops found themselves in a narrow portion of the canyon with tall cliffs lining the sides of the ravine where a creek ran. The Cheyenne were easily able to trap the soldiers there for days until eventually their Captain devised a plan that led to their escape. While trapped in the canyon, the soldiers had only pork belly to eat, thereby coining the name of Sowbelly Canyon.  

Midway through the canyon you’ll come across C.H. Coffee Park which was donated to the town of Harrison in 1976 by Guy and Ila Coffee. The park features multiple shelters with charcoal grills and is a great place to stop and have a bite to eat or just relax before completing your road trip. Complete your tour by continuing to follow Sowbelly Road west where it intersects with Monroe Canyon Road where the road trip began just north of Harrison. Be sure to check out the other sections of Discover Northwest Nebraska’s webpage for information regarding restaurants, attractions and lodging within Harrison.  

 

Smiley Canyon Road Trip

Discover Northwest Nebraska’s Smiley Canyon  is one of our shortest trips, but takes adventurers on a scenic drive through the historic area just west of Fort Robinson. The trip starts outside of Crawford, Nebraska, near Fort Robinson State Park.

In Smiley Canyon you’ll find opportunities for hiking as well as excellent areas for photography and wildlife viewing (you’ll find a herd of bison while traveling through Smiley Canyon.) This trip is 16 miles long. Be sure to check out our “Useful Tips” page for important information before heading out on your adventure.

You’ll begin the trip south of Crawford and just east of Fort Robinson State Park on Highway 20. Head west, driving through Fort Robinson, one of Nebraska’s most significant places with regard to the history of the American West. Originally a temporary camp guarding the Red Cloud Agency from 1874-1877, the fort served the U.S. Military in multiple roles until it ceased to be a military post in 1947. Just some of the fort’s prominent history includes its role during the Indian Wars, its stationing of African American “Buffalo Soldiers” in the early 1900s and its serving as a German POW camp during World War II.  

Travelers can easily make a day, or even a weekend of exploring the Fort and the nearby site of the Red Cloud Agency, but one essential stop along this road trip is the site of Crazy Horse’s death. To visit the site, navigate using the google map attached to the tour or stop at the fort’s large, brick, administration building west of the highway and ask for directions to the nearby site.  

Just as you leave the fort to the west via Highway 20, you’ll immediately take a right turn onto the Smiley Canyon Scenic Drive. This one-way road will take you on a quick trip amid the Cheyenne Buttes, but before you reach the ridges, keep an eye out for a herd of bison that call the area home. Once into the buttes you’ll have the opportunity to stop and read a state historical marker honoring the 1879 Cheyenne Outbreak.  

In 1878, a year after being taken from their traditional home to a reservation in what is now Oklahoma, the Northern Cheyenne tribe decided to leave the poor conditions of their reservation and, without permission, return to their native lands in the north. Over 350 Cheyennes took part in the breakout under the leadership of Dull Knife and Little Wolf. When they reached Nebraska the group split into two along the lines of its leaders. Little Wolf’s group sought to join Sitting Bull across the border in Canada, Dull Knife wanted to seek out Red Cloud at the Red Cloud Agency near Fort Robinson. What Dull Knife didn’t know was that Red Cloud and his people had been moved into Dakota Territory.  
 
His party of 149 men, women and children were intercepted south of what is now Chadron and were taken to Fort Robinson on October 24, 1878. The group stayed at the fort through the end of the year as their requests to join Red Cloud were denied and they were eventually, in December, held prisoner in the fort’s barracks.  

Under orders to pressure the Cheyenne to return to their reservation in modern-day Oklahoma, the commanding officer of the fort, who had previously asked his superiors for permission to let the Cheyenne stay, ceased giving the group firewood and food. On January 9, 1879, the Cheyenne executed their plan to break out from their confines, using weapons they had stored earlier to attack the guards. The group exited the fort under fire, some barefoot and ill-equipped for the trek through the snow. They followed the White River southwest before cutting to the north and climbing over the buttes to the south of the marker’s location in order to evade their pursuers. As they continued to flee, the Cheyenne had sporadic engagements with the army in the area.  
 
According to History Nebraska, 26 Cheyenne warriors were killed the night of the breakout and about 80 women and children were recaptured. The remaining group was able to move northwest and evaded capture until January 22. Some managed to escape, including Dull Knife and some of his family, and make their way to Red Cloud. 64 Cheyenne and 11 soldiers were killed during the breakout.  

To continue on, follow the road west through the remainder of the scenic drive. For those wanting to explore the Smiley Canyon area, two trailheads offer hiking. The Cheyenne Butte trail is a 2.4-mile hike with its trailhead in the area of the state historical marker. The Smiley Canyon Loop Trail is a difficult hike at 8.75-miles. Its trailhead is further west along the Smiley Canyon Scenic Drive. 

Heading west, you’ll eventually come to an intersection with Highway 20. Head east back toward Crawford. In about 3.5 miles on your return trip to Fort Robinson, you’ll notice a monument to the outbreak on land owned by Dull Knife College. Though the entrance is gated, visitors are free to pass through the gate to visit the monument. Please remember to close the gate after you’ve passed through both entering and leaving. A Nebraska State Historical Marker a bit farther east also commemorates the outbreak. 

Smiley Canyon to Deadman Road Trip 

Discover Northwest Nebraska’s Smiley Canyon to Deadman Road Trip starts outside of Crawford, Nebraska, near Fort Robinson State Park, takes adventurers through Smiley Canyon and then explores the White River Valley and the Pine Ridge southwest of the fort.  

Unlike some of our other road trips, this tour doesn’t have many stops, but what it lacks in attractions it makes up for in its display of the natural beauty of one of the Pine Ridge’s more attractive, and less traveled areas. Early in the trip, you’ll find opportunities for hiking within Smiley Canyon and the entire tour offers excellent opportunities for photography and wildlife viewing (you’ll find a herd of bison while traveling through Smiley Canyon.) Anglers may want to bring a rod along – there’s plenty of opportunity to fish the White River along the way. Railroad enthusiasts will enjoy traveling beside what remains of the old Cowboy Line as it snakes alongside the river through the valley.  

This trip is about 50 miles long. Be sure to check out our “Useful Tips” page for important information before heading out on your adventure.

This road trip is true to the nature of our theme of Roads Less Traveled. Most of the trip is over dirt road and not all roads on the route have signage to help travelers along the way. We’ll do our best here to provide you adequate directions along the route, but adventurers may want to make sure they have their maps and a compass handy. We strongly recommend you print out our Google Maps route map and these directions as, depending on your provider, you may not always have cell service along the tour.  

You’ll begin the trip south of Crawford and just east of Fort Robinson State Park on Highway 20. Head west, driving through Fort Robinson, one of Nebraska’s most significant places with regard to the history of the American West. Originally a temporary camp guarding the Red Cloud Agency from 1874-1877, the fort served the U.S. Military in multiple roles until it ceased to be a military post in 1947. Just some of the fort’s prominent history includes its role during the Indian Wars, its stationing of African American “Buffalo Soldiers” in the early 1900s and its serving as a German POW camp during World War II.  

Travelers can easily make a day, or even a weekend of exploring the Fort and the nearby site of the Red Cloud Agency, but one essential stop along this road trip is the site of Crazy Horse’s death. To visit the site, navigate using the Google map attached to the tour or stop at the fort’s large, brick, administration building west of the highway and ask for directions to the nearby site.  

Just as you leave the fort to the west via Highway 20, you’ll immediately take a right turn onto the Smiley Canyon Scenic Drive. This one-way road will take you on a quick trip amid the Cheyenne Buttes, but before you reach the ridges, keep an eye out for a herd of bison that call the area home. Once into the buttes you’ll have the opportunity to stop and read a state historical marker honoring the 1879 Cheyenne Outbreak.  

In 1878, a year after being taken from their traditional home to a reservation in what is now Oklahoma, the Northern Cheyenne tribe decided to leave the poor conditions of their reservation and, without permission, return to their native lands in the north. Over 350 Cheyennes took part in the breakout under the leadership of Dull Knife and Little Wolf. When they reached Nebraska the group split into two along the lines of its leaders. Little Wolf’s group sought to join Sitting Bull across the border in Canada, Dull Knife wanted to seek out Red Cloud at the Red Cloud Agency near Fort Robinson. What Dull Knife didn’t know was that Red Cloud and his people had been moved into Dakota Territory.  
 
His party of 149 men, women and children were intercepted south of what is now Chadron and were taken to Fort Robinson on October 24, 1878. The group stayed at the fort through the end of the year as their requests to join Red Cloud were denied and they were eventually, in December, held prisoner in the fort’s barracks.  

Under orders to pressure the Cheyenne to return to their reservation in modern-day Oklahoma, the commanding officer of the fort, who had previously asked his superiors for permission to let the Cheyenne stay, ceased giving the group firewood and food. On January 9, 1879, the Cheyenne executed their plan to break out from their confines, using weapons they had stored earlier to attack the guards. The group exited the fort under fire, some barefoot and ill-equipped for the trek through the snow. They followed the White River southwest before cutting to the north and climbing over the buttes to the south of the marker’s location in order to evade their pursuers. As they continued to flee, the Cheyenne had sporadic engagements with the army in the area.  
 
According to History Nebraska, 26 Cheyenne warriors were killed the night of the breakout and about 80 women and children were recaptured. The remaining group was able to move northwest and evaded capture until January 22. Some managed to escape, including Dull Knife and some of his family, and make their way to Red Cloud. 64 Cheyenne and 11 soldiers were killed during the breakout.  

For those wanting to explore the area, two trailheads offer hiking. The Cheyenne Butte trail is a 2.4-mile hike with its trailhead in the area of the state historical marker. The Smiley Canyon Loop Trail is a difficult hike at 8.75-miles. Its trailhead is further west along the Smiley Canyon Scenic Drive. 

To get back to your adventure, continue west from the historical marker, enjoying the views from the canyon. At the end of the Scenic Drive, you’ll come to an intersection with Highway 20. Head east back toward the fort on Highway 20 just under 2.5 miles and turn south on White River Road. We suggest resetting your trip odometer or keeping track of how far you’ve travelled from this turn in order to help you navigate through the next section of the trip. 

Follow the road as it heads south and then west along the White River. Look for signs indicating which areas along the river are available to be fished. These areas are on private land, but landowners have agreed to allow anglers by walk-in only. Respect the private land while you’re on it and make sure you have your fishing license. To be extra respectful, ask landowners for permission to fish before heading to the river.  
 
The first settlements in Sioux County were in this valley along the river. After all, the settlers were protected by nearby Fort Robinson, and they also had the benefit of the Sidney to Deadwood Trail that ran through the area supplying the fort and eventually carrying those heading to the Black Hills in pursuit of gold For around three years it rivaled the Oregon Trail in terms of capacity because traffic flowed both ways over it.  

“Up it swarmed the gold seekers, men and women from every walk of life, the jerkline teams of horses and mules, and slow drags of Ox freight.  

Down it came disillusioned miners, empty freight wagons, passenger and mail stages, and the Treasure Coach with its galloping four and shotgun guard,” according to Sioux County History: First 100 Years. 

The area was also settled by fort soldiers who took homesteads along the river, including Henry Kreman who came in 1881 and whose family still resides in the area. About five miles from your turn south on White River Road, the road will dip into a small valley which was referred to as “Glen” by settlers. The local post office was eventually moved here and a general store was built when the area began to grow due to the railroad coming through the area.  

At its peak, Glen was a bustling community and the site of many outgoing shipments of cattle, potatoes and grain. When the Kinkaid Act was passed, which promised more land to new settlers than previous agreements, some began to leave the area to collect their 640 acres elsewhere. As automobiles began to make the nearby larger towns more accessible the stores in Glen began to close and the passenger train stopped running along the Cowboy Line. The depot and station became obsolete and were sold. The stockyard and sidings were removed and what remains of the now defunct community can be seen in remodeled buildings as you pass through the small, secluded valley where Glen once stood.  

Next along your trip, things get a little tricky. You’ll head west along White River Road until you reach Corkscrew Road, the next leg of your trip. What makes this portion tricky is that Corkscrew Road does not have a road sign. From where you turned south on Highway 20, it’s about eight miles to the turn south on Corkscrew Road. Here’s a couple more tips for finding the proper turn: 

As you travel along White River Road, the White River will be to your north. Half a mile west of Corkscrew Road, White River Road crosses the river. If you’ve encountered this crossing, you’ve gone too far and missed your turn to Corkscrew Road. Simply turn around, and, heading east, Corkscrew Road will be the second right (south) turn.  

-Reference an east-facing home on the southwestern corner of the intersection with White River Road and Corkscrew Road. Between Corkscrew Road and the river crossing half a mile further along White River Road, is another chance to turn south that is incorrect. The easiest way to discover you’ve taken this wrong route is that the terrain will quickly become technical. If you’ve found yourself on this road, turn around and head back to the intersection with White River Road. Once at the road, head back east about 3,000 feet, where you’ll find the turn south onto Corkscrew Road.  

Adventurers willing to undertake the extra navigation to be sure they’ve found Corkscrew Road will be rewarded with an eight-mile drive as the road winds and climbs through a beautiful section of the Pine Ridge. The final three miles of the road breaks free from the pines and offers views of the prairie that are in stark contrast to those along most of the route. Continue south for those three miles until you reach West Belmont Road, where you’ll turn to the east. Enjoy the view along this dirt road for about eight miles, at which point you’ll reach an intersection with Diehl Road. From the intersection south, the north-south road is Diehl Road. From the intersection north, the road continues as West Belmont Road. Keep left and head north, continuing on West Belmont.  

Continue for about 2.25 miles until you reach Deadman Road, another unmarked road along the tour, after West Belmont begins heading to the northeast for a short stint.  At first site, Deadman Road can appear to be a private driveway due to the site of a nearby house to the north. You’ll turn north on Deadman Road, where you’ll once again be rewarded for your diligence in navigating. This road will take you back through Pine Ridge and offers more stunning views.  

The drive down Deadman Creek takes you past the first ranch in the area established in 1878 by Edgar Beecher Bronson, the nephew of famous abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher. Bronson was a cattleman, former New York Tribune Reporter, and in his later years an author. He tells of his Nebraska ranching experience in his book “Reminiscences of a Ranchman,” published in 1908. Bronson ran cattle from 1877 to 1882, first for a year in Wyoming, and then along the Niobrara and White Rivers. 

The sheer bluffs that are found about halfway through Deadman Road are not found anywhere else in the area. Deadman Creek, which can be seen throughout the drive, was so named because Native Americans in the area avoided it as many at a camp along the creek died as a result of smallpox. At one time, a famous fur trader’s trail from Fort Laramie ran down the creek to the White River.  

As you near the end of your journey, you’ll emerge from the pines and be treated to a fantastic view of the buttes north of Crawford. Stop alongside the road for a great photo-op. Continue north on Deadman Road until you reach a “T”-intersection with Four-Mile Road. Head east from here until you reach Highway 71, close to four miles from your turn. Once on the highway you can head north towards Crawford or Chadron for further adventures or a place to grab a nice meal or hunker down for the night.  

 

White River Valley Road Trip 

Discover Northwest Nebraska’s White River Valley Road Trip starts outside of Crawford, Nebraska, near Fort Robinson State Park, and takes adventurers through one of the earliest settled areas of Sioux County.  

This tour doesn’t have many stops, but what it lacks in attractions it makes up for in its display of the natural beauty of one of the Pine Ridge’s more attractive, and less traveled areas. The tour offers excellent opportunities for photography and wildlife viewing including antelope, turkey and any of the many bird and raptor species that call Northwest Nebraska home. Anglers may want to bring a rod along – there’s plenty of opportunity to fish the White River along the way. Railroad enthusiasts will enjoy traveling beside what remains of the famous Cowboy Line, originally built by the Fremont, Elkhorn and Missouri Valley Railroad in the late 1880s, as it snakes alongside the river through the valley. The tour takes explorers near the sites of two Northwest Nebraska ghost towns, Glen and Andrews.  

This trip is 40 miles long. Be sure to check out our “Useful Tips” page for important information before heading out on your adventure.  

You’ll begin the trip south of Crawford and just east of Fort Robinson State Park on Highway 20. Head west, driving through Fort Robinson, one of Nebraska’s most significant places with regard to the history of the American West. Originally a temporary camp guarding the Red Cloud Agency from 1874-1877, the fort served the U.S. Military in multiple roles until it ceased to be a military post in 1947. Just some of the fort’s prominent history includes its role during the Indian Wars, its stationing of African American “Buffalo Soldiers” in the early 1900s and its serving as a German POW camp during World War II.  

Travelers can easily make a day, or even a weekend of exploring the Fort and the nearby site of the Red Cloud Agency, but one essential stop along this road trip is the site of Crazy Horse’s death. To visit the site, navigate using the google map attached to the tour or stop at the fort’s large, brick, administration building west of the highway and ask for directions to the nearby site.  

Leaving Fort Robinson west along Highway 20, travel about 1.75 miles and you’ll find a Nebraska State Historical Marker honoring the Cheyenne Outbreak of 1879. Three-quarters-of-a-mile further you’ll find a monument to the outbreak on land owned by Dull Knife College. Though the entrance is gated, visitors are free to pass through the gate to visit the monument. Please remember to close the gate after you’ve passed through both entering and leaving.  

In 1878, a year after being taken from their traditional home to a reservation in what is now Oklahoma, the Northern Cheyenne tribe decided to leave the poor conditions of their reservation and, without permission, return to their native lands in the north. Over 350 Cheyennes took part in the breakout under the leadership of Dull Knife and Little Wolf. When they reached Nebraska the group split into two along the lines of its leaders. Little Wolf’s group sought to join Sitting Bull across the border in Canada, Dull Knife wanted to seek out Red Cloud at the Red Cloud Agency near Fort Robinson. What Dull Knife didn’t know was that Red Cloud and his people had been moved into Dakota Territory.  
 
His party of 149 men, women and children were intercepted south of what is now Chadron and were taken to Fort Robinson on October 24, 1878. The group stayed at the fort through the end of the year as their requests to join Red Cloud were denied and they were eventually, in December, held prisoner in the fort’s barracks.  

Under orders to pressure the Cheyenne to return to their reservation in modern-day Oklahoma, the commanding officer of the fort, who had previously asked his superiors for permission to let the Cheyenne stay, ceased giving the group firewood and food. On January 9, 1879, the Cheyenne executed their plan to break out from their confines, using weapons they had stored earlier to attack the guards. The group exited the fort under fire, some barefoot and ill-equipped for the trek through the snow. They followed the White River southwest before cutting to the north and climbing over the buttes to the south of the marker’s location in order to evade their pursuers. As they continued to flee, the Cheyenne had sporadic engagements with the army in the area.  
 
According to History Nebraska, 26 Cheyenne warriors were killed the night of the breakout and about 80 women and children were recaptured. The remaining group was able to move northwest and evaded capture until January 22. Some managed to escape, including Dull Knife and some of his family, and make their way to Red Cloud. 64 Cheyenne and 11 soldiers were killed during the breakout.  

After visiting the monument, head west on Highway 20 about 1.25 miles and turn south on White River Road. Follow the road as it heads south and then west along the White River. You’ll travel along this road for about 13 miles through the rest of the trip. Look for signs indicating which areas along the river are available to be fished. These areas are on private land, but landowners have agreed to allow anglers by walk-in only. Respect the private land while you’re on it and make sure you have your fishing license. To be extra respectful, ask landowners for permission to fish before heading to the river.  
 
The first settlements in Sioux County were in this valley along the river. After all, the settlers were protected by nearby Fort Robinson, and they also had the benefit of the Sidney to Deadwood Trail that ran through the area supplying the fort and eventually carrying those heading to the Black Hills in pursuit of gold For around three years it rivaled the Oregon Trail in terms of capacity because traffic flowed both ways over it.  

“Up it swarmed the gold seekers, men and women from every walk of life, the jerkline teams of horses and mules, and slow drags of Ox freight.  

Down it came disillusioned miners, empty freight wagons, passenger and mail stages, and the Treasure Coach with its galloping four and shotgun guard,” according to Sioux County History: First 100 Years. 

The area was also settled by fort soldiers who took homesteads along the river, including Henry Kreman who came in 1881 and whose family still resides in the area. About five miles from your turn south on White River Road, the road will dip into a small valley which was referred to as “Glen” by settlers. The local post office was eventually moved here and a general store was built when the area began to grow due to the railroad coming through the area.  

At its peak, Glen was a bustling community and the site of many outgoing shipments of cattle, potatoes and grain. When the Kinkaid Act was passed, which promised more land to new settlers than previous agreements, some began to leave the area to collect their 640 acres elsewhere. As automobiles began to make the nearby larger towns more accessible the stores in Glen began to close and the passenger train stopped running along the Cowboy Line. The depot and station became obsolete and were sold. The stockyard and sidings were removed and what remains of the now defunct community can be seen in remodeled buildings as you pass through the small, secluded, valley where Glen once stood.  

Continue traveling west along White River Road, enjoying the valley and keeping a keen eye out for turkey. About 13 miles from when you turned onto White River Road, the road turns north and forks. Keep north onto what is now Andrews Road. In the area west of this fork is the site of the former town of Andrews, originally named Hunter, which was located near the headwaters of the White River which supplied natural springs to residents and the railroad. When it was Hunter, the town was home to a trading post on the Cheyenne to Fort Robinson stage road which traveled through the area. It wasn’t until a post office was established in 1903 that the name was changed to Andrews since Nebraska already had a town named Hunter.  

Hunter, or Andrews, became an important railroad town along the Cowboy Line when the F.E.&M.R.R built a water tower and coal chute in the town to resupply the steam locomotives traveling the line. In 1885 a depot was added, and a passenger train and two sidings completed Andrews’ nature as a railroad town. Employees and workers of the railroad made up a large part of the town’s residents. Eventually the town would grow to have a café, rooming house, blacksmith, bowery, schoolhouse and a local band. It earned a reputation for shipping the most cattle from any point west of Valentine, Nebraska.  

In 1919, a flood caused extensive damage to the railroad and the town. Mrs. S.D. Bassett, a Baptist Missionary from New York, and a resident of Andrews drowned in the flood.  

An excerpt on Andrews from Sioux County History: First 100 Years reads: “In the depression years there were many hoboes riding the trains looking for work or a handout. Horse traders traveled through in the summer months, they hobbled their horses to let them graze along the river. Sometimes a band of gypsies traveling through would stop, music and singing could be heard from their evening campfires.” 

The transition from steam to diesel locomotives and the construction of Highway 20 to the north led to a downturn for Andrews in the 1940s. The post office was closed in 1951 and its pool closed in 1959. Nothing recognizable remains of the town. 

Continue traveling north on Andrews Road until you reach Highway 20. From here, turning west will lead you to more adventures in Harrison, or turn east to head back toward Crawford or Chadron. Visit the lodging, dining and activities sections of our website for information about where to sleep, eat and play in the area.  

 

Crow Butte – Ponderosa Road Trip 

Discover Northwest Nebraska’s Crow Butte – Ponderosa Road Trip explores the Ponderosa Wildlife Management Area and offers adventurers the chance to admire a prominent Native American landmark and other great sites. This trip is 28 miles long. Be sure to check out our “Useful Tips” tab for helpful information before you begin your journey.   

Activities available along the way include photography, camping, hiking, birding, hunting, wildlife viewing and more. Those who plan to leave the comfort of their vehicles and explore the WMA on foot will want to be sure they are well equipped. Water availability is sparse along the hiking trails and the terrain can be technical. Ponderosa WMA is also a popular hunting location and hikers may want to wear hunter orange while exploring. Those wanting to stay and hunt the area should be sure they have the proper licenses and are following all applicable laws.   
 
The 4,000acre WMA offers the possibility of viewing multiple species of wildlife. Bighorn sheep, elk, coyote, mountain lions, porcupine, skunks, deer and wild turkey can be found in the area. In the skies, many bird species call the area home including Eagles and hawks soaring above the cliffs.  

You’ll begin your trip east of Crawford, Nebraska, on Highway 71. Turn east on West Ash Creek Road which you’ll follow for about half of this adventure. As you drive, you’ll see Crow Butte to the southeast and about 2.5 miles from your turn onto West Ash you’ll come to a parking area for the Ponderosa WMA. From there you can get a great look at Crow Butte to the south.  

One of the most well-known buttes in the Pine Ridge, Crow Butte, got its name from an 1849 battle between Crow and Brule warriors. Several differing stories are told of the battle, but at its most simple, a group of Crow warriors arrived in the region from Montana with a plan to steal horses from the rival Brule. Instead, they found a herd belonging to a trader named James Bordeaux. The Crow took Bordeaux’s herd and burned his trading post, leading the Bordeaux family to seek safety with Brule Chief Grabbing Bear. 

The Brule took after the Crow whose exit was slowed by having to manage the herd. To combat the problem, the Crow split up, leaving a group of warriors to provide a rearguard action for the rest of the group. The action worked, delaying the Brule enough that the group with the herd was able to make it to safety. But the rearguard was forced to abandon their horses at the base of what is now Crow Butte and climb to safety at the top. From their high ground the Crow were able to hold off the Brule. In response, the Brule settled in and camped at the base where they were taunted by the Crow above them through the night.  

A tactical error left the south face of the butte unguarded – the Brule believed it to be too steep to provide a route to safety. After three days of waiting out the “trapped” Crow at the top of the Butte, the Brule climbed to the top, they could no longer hear any of the Crow. At the top they found rope made of rawhide that had allowed the Crow to escape down the sheer face of the butte to the south. The body of just one Crow remained atop the butte, the only casualty of the encounter. 

When you’re ready to move on, head east again on West Ash Creek Road which will continue east for about another 2.5 miles before it begins to head south into the pines. Before you get into the valley, you’ll encounter the Wanda Highway monument. This is another point of interest along the route that has multiple origin stories. The more accurate story details that while grading Ash Creek Road in 1923, the remains of a Native American woman were uncovered. Nearby residents built a coffin and reburied the remains along the road. The burial ceremony included erecting a gravestone on the site. This original gravestone toppled due to erosion and the “Wanda Highway” marker that now exists was moved to the east side of the road in 1959. The grave remains to the west.  

Continue from the “Wanda Highway” marker along West Ash Creek Road to the south. In just over two miles you’ll reach the West Ash Picnic Area, a great area along the trip to sit for a while in the shade of the valley and maybe grab a bite to eat from the supplies you’ve brought along. The site is also a popular place to camp in the area due to its seclusion and proximity to West Ash Creek which flows to the southwest of the picnic area. A quarter mile south of the picnic area along the road is the West Ash Trailhead which makes up a portion of the Pine Ridge Trail. Heading east, the trail goes 5.7 miles to the East Ash Trailhead, it’s closest notable stop, and extends beyond to Roberts Campground at about 16 miles and finally to Coffee Mill Trailhead at about the 20-mile mark.  

After some rest, or a hike, continue driving south through the canyon, enjoying the scenic drive until the road intersects with Table Road to the southeast, just over three miles from the picnic area. From here, turn right, or southwest on Table Road. In about two miles, look to the southwest to a pine-covered mound jutting from the prairie. This is Squaw Mound, the highest point on the Pine Ridge escarpment. Continuing west, keep right on table road at its intersection with Squaw Mound Road. Table Road has now turned to Squaw Creek Road as it turns to head northwest. 

Enjoy the sights of the Pine Ridge and keep an eye out for wildlife and areas throughout the rest of the drive where you can park and take advantage of what Ponderosa WMA has to offer. Look for a herd of bison in the area, but don’t get too close. To begin the last leg of your trip, continue northwest on Squaw Creek Road until you exit the pines and enter back into the plains as the road heads direct west. In this area, keep your eye out for a unique site. What appears to be several barrels littered throughout the fields are actually part of the Crow Butte Uranium Mine. Continue past the mine to the intersection with Highway 71. Head north to reach Crawford or continue on to Chadron. At either destination you’ll find great opportunities for dining and lodging. For details on where to stay and what to eat, check out those areas on our website.   

Whitney Lake Road Trip

Discover Northwest Nebraska’s Whitney Lake Tour takes adventurers to Northwest Nebraska destination that’s not just an area with significant Native American history, but a favorite for anglers looking to spend a day at the lake. This trip is about 34 miles long from its origin just west of Chadron. Be sure to check out our “Useful Tips” for helpful information before you begin your journey.

The tour includes stops at The Council Tree, where the U.S. government met with the Lakota to discuss the sale of the Black Hills in 1875, the site where Crazy Horse and his followers camped following his surrender at Camp Robinson in 1877, and Whitney Lake, a favorite fishing destination in the area that’s great for anglers, bird watchers, photographers, and afternoon picnickers. While Whitney Lake has plenty of shore to be accessed, you may want to bring along your boat, canoe or kayak – just note that if you plan to bring the latter, you’ll share the lake with motorized watercraft.  

Begin your trip heading west out of Chadron on Highway 20, dubbed Crazy Horse Memorial Highway in honor of the Lakota War Chief. Follow the highway past the turn for Whitney, about 20 miles until you reach Mansfield Rd. Head north from there about 1.75 miles until it intersects with Old Highway 20. Go East on Old Highway 20 for just under 1.5 miles to arrive at a monument honoring the site of The Council Tree, or Treaty Tree, as it is sometimes called. Further east on the road you’ll find a Nebraska State Historical Marker honoring the same site. 

In September of 1875, just south of this monument, the Allison Commission met with Native Americans to discuss the potential sale of the Black Hills. An influx of whites looking to strike it rich from gold in the Black Hills threatened war. The Black Hills, among the most sacred of Native American lands, had been rightfully and legally allotted to the Sioux through the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868, which the gold seekers violated 

In 1875, Oglala Chief Red Cloud and Brule Chief Spotted Tail made a journey to meet with President Ulysses S. Grant in Washington D.C. but would not speak for their people regarding the fate of the Black Hills. Thus, Senator William Boyd Allison, of Iowa, was chosen to lead a commission to visit with the tribes near Red Cloud Agency and secure the sale.  

The conference hosted around 20,000 Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapahoe, in this area. There was little agreement among the Native Americans regarding the sale of their land and the negotiations were contentious. Leaders like Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse refused to attend. Senator Allison’s first suggestion was that the U.S. government lease the land until such time that all the gold was removed from the hills, a proposal that was immediately rejected by the Native Americans, but both Spotted Tail and Red Cloud were amicable to selling the land in part due to their belief that they would lose it to the whites eventually – an accurate assumption.  

Indian Agents at the meeting suggested a fair price for the land could be as much as $50 million, which added to the governments difficulty in negotiating the sale. Red Cloud countered the government offer to lease the land by asking that his people be taken care of for seven generations following the sale. Eventually the commissioners made a final offer – they’d lease the land for $400,000 per year or purchase it for $6 million. The offer was refused, and the council adjourned.  

In the wake of the failed purchase attempt, President Grant determined the U.S. military would no longer attempt to stop the unlawful trespass of whites into the Black Hills. This decision, and another that required the Northern bands to be relocated to the agencies, put the government and Natives back onto the path of war. About nine months later, Custer would be defeated and killed in battle near the Little Bighorn River by Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse, and their followers. Despite the victory, the Natives eventually lost the Black Hills. The U.S. Supreme Court would rule in the late 70s and 80s that the land was taken illegally from the Sioux.  

When you’re ready to move on from the monument, travel about a quarter-of-a-mile east on Old Highway 20 and turn North on Whitney Lake Road. Traveling north you’ll cross the White River, an important body of water that provides a foundation for much of the region’s early history. About a mile-and-a-half farther you’ll cross Little Cottonwood Creek, but before you do, you may want to stop briefly to admire your surroundings. You won’t find a sign marking it, but this area between the river and the creek is where Crazy Horse and his 1,100 followers made their camp after surrendering at Camp Robinson on May 6, 1877. 

Crazy Horse was a revered Lakota leader and an accomplished warrior who had spent several years prior to surrendering living as traditionally as was still possible in the north. But Crazy Horse was no stranger to what would become the panhandle of Nebraska. His family was known to camp in Beaver Valley north of modern-day Hay Springs, Nebraska, and the warrior is famously reported to have taken his first vision quest atop what is now known as Scotts Bluff. His band did business with area traders for weapons and goods, and once it was established, visited Red Cloud Agency near Camp Robinson for rations and supplies. 

Crazy Horse would spend his last days in this area before fleeing to Spotted Tail Agency in Beaver Valley when word got out that he was to be detained at Camp Robinson. At Spotted Tail, Crazy Horse was convinced to go peacefully to Camp Robinson to speak to its commander. Once at Camp Robinson, instead of being led to the commander’s office, Crazy Horse was escorted to the guardhouse. Upon realizing the building he had entered was a jail, Crazy Horse attempted to break loose from his escort. He drew a knife and struggled with Oglala Little Big Man, a warrior who had fought alongside Crazy Horse in the past. The scuffle made its way outside of the guardhouse, Crazy Horse cut Little Big Man’s wrist and broke away, but with many fellow natives and soldiers looking on, a white soldier plunged his bayonet into the side of the great warrior. Crazy Horse died that night in the nearby Camp Robinson adjutant’s office.  

The area of Crazy Horse’s camp is now on private property but can be admired by the roadside. 

Leaving this area to the north you’ll approach the western end of Whitney Lake, a man-made reservoir intended to help provide irrigation in the area. In addition to providing great fishing, the area around the lake provides a fantastic habitat for many area bird species. Owls, Golden and Bald Eagles and other raptors also call the area home. Deer and antelope are often seen in the surrounding fields. Under the milky water, caused by a silty bottom, you’ll find largemouth bass, black and white crappie, walleye, bluegill, white bass, yellow perch, northern pike and channel catfish. In the summer, the lake is a popular boating area and in the winter is a great ice-fishing destination. An ice-fishing tournament is held on the lake annually.  
 
It’s a great place to stop and grab a snackstretch your legs along your tour, or stay a while and fish. A dock and parking area can be found on the northeastern side of the lake. Once you’ve reached the north side and are heading west along Whitney Lake Road, head south on Bergfield Road to reach North Shore Drive which will take you east along the lake to a parking area and dock. If timed right, Whitney Lake is a great place to photograph, or sit and enjoy, the sunset. Once you’re satisfied with your time at the lake, continue heading east on North Shore Drive as it takes you away from the lake and into the town of Whitney. The village of Whitney, which lies along the route of a former stage trail from Valentine to Fort Robinson, was first named Earth Lodge in 1884, was renamed Dawes City in 1885, and eventually found its current name in 1886, honoring railroad official Peter Whitney. It officially became a village in 1888. Road P25 going south will take you out of Whitney. About 1,000 feet after turning south, head southwest on Old Highway 20 as it hooks to the southwest and becomes Whitney Spur Road. Take this road south until you reach Highway 20, completing your tour.  

From here you can head back to Chadron for more adventures. This route can also be taken in reverse if it’s the adventurer’s preference. Be sure to check out the rest of our webpage for dining, lodging and other activities in the nearby towns of Chadron and Crawford.  

Bordeaux Creek to Deadhorse Creek Road Trip 

Discover Northwest Nebraska’s Bordeaux Creek to Deadhorse Creek road trip takes adventurers on a lengthy adventure that explores some of the region’s most prominent locations from the legendary fur trade to the days of homesteaders settling Northwest Nebraska.  

This trip is 57 miles and offers opportunities for sightseeing, photography, birding, wildlife viewing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping and fishing. Two museums are featured along the route.  

Begin your trip heading west out of Chadron on Highway 20 for about three miles until you reach one of the region’s premier tourist destinations: the Museum of the Fur Trade and Bordeaux Trading Post. The museum was founded by Charles E. Hanson, Jr., and houses over 6,000 artifacts of the fur trade. Among the exhibits are the oldest known point blanket (made in 1775) and a large collection of firearms including some owned by Kit Carson and Tecumseh. While at the museum, be sure to make your way outside to the south and the site of James Bordeaux’s trading post, established in 1837 for the American Fur Company, which still stands on the property 

The White River and the creeks throughout the region, which lay along the route of the Fort Pierre to Fort Laramie trade route, played an important role in the fur trade of Northwest Nebraska and the larger region. Joseph Bissonette, Henry Chatillion, Louis Chartran and Hubert Rouleau were well-known traders and mountain men who frequented the area, but perhaps none were as well-known as Bordeaux for his prowess in the local business. Some came to refer to the area as “Bordeaux’s District.” 

The selling of Fort Laramie and Fort Pierre to the military and the changing nature of the relationship between whites and Native Americans in the region took their toll on the trade business and in 1872 Bordeaux and his eldest son gave up the post.  

Famously, Bordeaux’s trade business nearly met its fate during its first winter in 1849 when it was raided by a Crow war party that looted and attempted to set fire to the post. The Crow absconded with as many as eighty horses and mules belonging to Bordeaux, but were pursued by a group of Brule who camped in nearby Beaver Creek (in modern-day Sheridan County). The Crow broke off a contingent of warriors meant to stall the Brule pursuit and the two groups of Natives had an altercation at a butte just east of modern-day Crawford. The butte is still known as Crow Butte and is featured in another Roads Less Travelled adventure. Though there was just one casualty of the battle, the altercation impacted the fur trade in the region when it discouraged company officials from building a large trading post along the White River to replace Fort Laramie and serve the Sioux.  

Bordeaux Creek, which the next leg of your journey will follow, bears his name although records exist, including maps made by Bordeaux himself in the late 1850s, and by James Bridger in the 1860s, that refer to the creek as “Frederick’s Fork” or “F. Laboue River” after Frederick Laboue, another American Fur Trade Company man who may have had a hand in the trade near what is now Bordeaux Creek and in the establishing of the trading post itself.  

When you’ve enjoyed all the museum has to offer, from the parking lot, look to the northwest. About a half-mile in that direction, across the highway is the former site of Chadron’s P.B. Nelson Saloon, post office and stage station that stood in 1878. Not much further northwest along Bordeaux Creek was also the site of a cabin and trade post belonging to Joseph Bissonette from 1872 to 1877.  

Exit the museum parking lot headed west and travel about half-a-mile before turning south on Bordeaux Road, which you’ll follow for some time as it tracks through the Pine Ridge alongside Bordeaux Creek. In later years, the Bordeaux area would play a large part in the settling of the area by homesteaders. A group of 20 individuals, led by Levi G. Sweat made up the “Sweat Colony” who took claims in the Bordeaux area sight unseen and traveled to the region in 1884 by wagon after departing their train in Valentine, Nebraska. Among the colony’s ranks were E.E. Egan, who would establish the first newspaper in the area, and Clay Grantham who will feature later in this adventure. “The sturdy integrity of the men of the Sweat Colony was a potent factor in shaping the affairs of the fast-settling country…and the pictures in the campfire dreams came true in the years of the Dawes County history,” wrote Egan.  

About two miles from turning south on the road, look to the west to see the area along the creek where Brule Chief Spotted Tail and his people made camp from 1870 to 1872. Spotted tail was a prominent Chief in the region for many years and was a factor in much of the Native American history to take place in and around Northwest Nebraska in the mid-to-late 1800s.  

Continue your trip south along Bordeaux Road, keeping a keen eye on your odometer. About seven miles from your turn onto Bordeaux Road you’ll see a small Forest Service road sign indicating Forest Service Road 723. Turn west on Road 723 and into the pine trees. Follow the road until you reach a favorite destination for Northwest Nebraska locals. You’ll immediately know why this area is referred to as “The Cliffs.” Here you’ll find a great area to camp or just stretch your legs and have a quick meal along the way. If you do plan to spend time in tharea, be sure to take advantage of the great hiking trails nearby. You can find their routes in the Northwest Nebraska Recreational Trails Guide found on our website under the “discover” tab.  

Once you’ve enjoyed “The Cliffs” backtrack east on Road 723 and head south again along Bordeaux Road. In about four miles Bordeaux Road will hook west and turn into Table Road. Enjoy the drive along this road that follows the upper table of the pine ridge on the southernmost portion of Nebraska National Forest. In a little over six miles from when you began to head west, Table Road will intersect with Highway 385. From here, turn south and drive for another mile until you again reach Table Road heading west. You may want to reset your trip odometer at this point to help you find your next turn.  

In about 4.5 miles turn north on Deadhorse Road, which won’t be marked with a road sign. The next leg of your journey will take you down the road which follows the path of Deadhorse Creek. This region would play an important role in the settling of the Chadron area, just as Bordeaux Creek didIn addition to settling on Bordeaux Creek, some members of the Sweat Colony, including Clay Grantham, pushed out to the west and selected a swath of land along Deadhorse Creek to settle. In the years to come, the homesteaders of Deadhorse Creek built a thriving community that still exists to this day and includes relatives of the founding settlers. For the next 14 miles you’ll travel the road next to Deadhorse Creek which one modern-day resident of the community and ancestor of Clay Grantham describes as “the thing that runs and connects us all together.”  

Well before you reach the roads end, about 3.5 miles from where you turned onto Deadhorse, you’ll reach another trailhead that offers the chance to hike or bike in the Pine Ridge. The Coffee Mill Trailhead includes parts of the longer Pine Ridge Trail and is a 5.2-mile hike that accommodates hikers, bikers and horse riding. It’s listed in the trail guide (available on our website) as a moderate to difficult hike and offers access to the Canyon Loop Trail which is another moderate to difficult trail of an additional 5.4 miles.  

To continue your adventure, head back north on Deadhorse Road. In about six miles look east to see a small portion of badlands like those found at Toadstool Geological Park north of Crawford. Continue north until Deadhorse intersects with Highway 20. Turn east from this point, heading back toward Chadron. In about a mile, turn north at a junction with Highway 385 north. 

In about 1.75 miles, before you reach the railroad tracks, the area of O’Linn, the town that would become Chadron, can be seen about a half-mile from the road. Mrs. Fannie O’Linn lived in the area and had established a post office on her homestead of which she was postmaster. A newly arrived newspaper man by the name of E.E. Egan established the Sioux County Journal, what would later become The Chadron Record, which operates to this day. Egan was determined not to publish his paper in O’Linn and had used a byline of “Chadron, Nebraska” taking the name of a post office that had existed in the past but that had been discontinued (you’ll have the opportunity to see the site of this post later in your journey.) 

O’Linn resisted Egan’s efforts to call the town Chadron, but incoming settlers followed Egan’s lead in using “Chadron” as its name. In 1885, the railroad began to approach O’Linn/Chadron and planned for a townsite near the White River. But negotiations with Mrs. O’Linn soured when the railroad refused to use the name “O’Linn.” Soon, a stranger purchased a ranch in the area of Bordeaux Creek and sold it to the railroad as a townsite that was to be called Bordeaux. Egan, insisting on the name of Chadron, pled his case to the railroad and swayed them with his arguments. The town was then called Chadron and Aug. 1, 1885, the settlers of the old town quite literally moved O’Linn, buildings and all, to the location of Chadron practically overnight.  

Egan wrote of the move: “Moving outfits were in demand at fancy prices, because everybody wanted to do it now. Every available vehicle was pressed into service and buildings were raised on wagons to be hauled for temporary shelter to the new town. One who has never witnessed the moving of a whole town, buildings and all, can hardly conceive the picturesque appearance of such an event. The road over prairie and hill was a continuous procession of houses, stocks of merchandise, household goods and people. Many of the merchants left their goods on the shelves, moving the store complete, and Ben Loewenthal completed the picture by keeping his store open for business and actually selling goods from his establishment while it was being trundled over the prairie.” 

The move earned Chadron the nickname “The Magical City.” 

For the last leg of your journey, head back south on Highway 385 and turn east on Highway 20. After entering Chadron, turn south on Highway 385 and travel about two miles until you reach Country Club Road. In about half a mile you’ll reach the Dawes County Historical Museum. The museum houses an impressive collection of pioneer and early-Nebraska antiques, including blacksmith tools, farm machinery, vintage quilts and more. Among the nostalgic room displays are replicas of a general store, a hospital room and a railroad room. Guests can explore the log house, barn, 1890s schoolhouse, pioneer church, and Chicago & North Western Railroad caboose on the museum grounds.  

From the museum parking lot, or north lawn, look northwest, referencing a tall hill. At this location, about a half-mile from the museum, is the site where Red Cloud’s camp was captured by troops under General Ranald S. Mackenzie on Oct. 23, 1876. The area is also the location where Dull Knife’s Cheyenne skirmished with and finally surrendered to the U.S. Army in 1878 during their exodus, now known as the Cheyenne Outbreak, to escape their reservation and return to their homeland in Powder River country. The site was also home to Half Diamond E Ranch, established in 1879 which included the post office called Chadron that Egan took as inspiration for his bylines. Just north of the hill runs the military trail from Fort Robinson to Camp Sheridan. On September 5, 1877, Lakota War Chief Crazy Horse made his last ride along this trail.  

When you’ve toured the museum, head back to Highway 20 and head south to the final points of interest on this adventure. Along the portion of road over the next few miles, the highway passes through the area where Quick Bear’s Brule camp was captured by the famous Pawnee Scouts on the same day the U.S. Army captured Red Cloud. About 3.5 miles after rejoining Highway 20 from the museum, you’ll reach a pullout along the highway that features the Chadron Creek Trading Post Nebraska State Historical Marker.  

Just southeast of the ponds that now mark the area was the site of Chartran’s Trading Post, built in 1841 and managed by Louis Chartran from 1842 to 1845. The nearby creek, now named Chadron Creek, was originally known as “Chartran’s Creek” and famously a mispronunciation and misspelling of Chartran led to the name of “Chadron.” Adventurers can continue about another half-mile and turn east on City Dam Road to spend some time at the Chadron Municipal Ponds.  

In addition to being a great place to fish, the site of the reservoirs was once the site of the cabin of famous trapper Hubert Rouleau who spent several years at the site following his career as a trapper. Rouleau is described by Francis Parkman who met the man during his adventures among the trappers in the mid-1840s as follows: “Rouleau had a broad ruddy face, marked with as few traces of thought or of care as a child’s. His figure was remarkably square and strong, but the first joints of both his feet were frozen off and his horse had lately thrown and trampled upon him, by which he had been severely injured in the chest. But nothing could check his inveterate propensity for laughter and gayety. He went all day rolling about the camp on his stumps of feet, talking and singing and frolicking with the Indian women as they were engaged at their work.”  

Rouleau was known to work alongside others including a trapper called Saraphin. Parkman paints a picture of the two as a pair who took great satisfaction from the dangers of their profession. Rouleau began his fur trade career in Canada and gave up beaver trapping in 1847 but stayed in the region until his death in 1890 near Pine Ridge.  

With your adventure at a close, backtrack north on Highway 20 toward Chadron. Be sure to check out our website for information on where you can eat, play, and stay in town.  

Bordeaux to Spotted Tail Road Trip 

Discover Northwest Nebraska’s Bordeaux to Spotted Tail road trip takes adventurers on a lengthy adventure that explores some of the region’s most prominent locations from the legendary fur trade to the days of homesteaders settling Northwest Nebraska. This trip is specifically aimed at those who like to take their vehicles over technical terrain. It’s recommended you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle for this trip, although a less-technical alternate route is offered. In the case of bad weather or heavy rains, Spotted Tail Road may not be passable.  

This trip is a little over 20 miles and offers opportunities for sightseeing, photography, birding, wildlife viewing, hiking, biking, horseback riding, camping and fishing. Two museums are featured along the route.  

Begin your trip heading west out of Chadron on Highway 20 for about three miles until you reach one of the region’s premier tourist destinations: the Museum of the Fur Trade and Bordeaux Trading Post. The museum was founded by Charles E. Hanson, Jr., and houses over 6,000 artifacts of the fur trade. Among the exhibits are the oldest known point blanket (made in 1775) and a large collection of firearms including some owned by Kit Carson and Tecumseh. While at the museum, be sure to make your way outside to the south and the site of James Bordeaux’s trading post, established in 1837 for the American Fur Company, which still stands on the property.  

The White River and the creeks throughout the region, which lay along the route of the Fort Pierre to Fort Laramie trade route, played an important role in the fur trade of Northwest Nebraska and the larger region. Joseph Bissonette, Henry Chatillion, Louis Chartran and Hubert Rouleau were well-known traders and mountain men who frequented the area, but perhaps none were as well-known as Bordeaux for his prowess in the local business. Some came to refer to the area as “Bordeaux’s District.” 

The selling of Fort Laramie and Fort Pierre to the military and the changing nature of the relationship between whites and Native Americans in the region took their toll on the trade business and in 1872 Bordeaux and his eldest son gave up the post.  

Famously, Bordeaux’s trade business nearly met its fate during its first winter in 1849 when it was raided by a Crow war party that looted and attempted to set fire to the post. The Crow absconded with as many as eighty horses and mules belonging to Bordeaux, but were pursued by a group of Brule who camped in nearby Beaver Creek (in modern-day Sheridan County). The Crow broke off a contingent of warriors meant to stall the Brule pursuit and the two groups of Natives had an altercation at a butte just east of modern-day Crawford. The butte is still known as Crow Butte and is featured in another Roads Less Traveled adventure. Though there was just one casualty of the battle, the altercation impacted the fur trade in the region when it discouraged company officials from building a large trading post along the White River to replace Fort Laramie and serve the Sioux.  

Bordeaux Creek, which the next leg of your journey will follow, bears his name although records exist, including maps made by Bordeaux himself in the late 1850s, and by James Bridger in the 1860s, that refer to the creek as “Frederick’s Fork” or “F. Laboue River” after Frederick Laboue, another American Fur Trade Company man who may have had a hand in the trade near what is now Bordeaux Creek and in the establishing of the trading post itself.  

When you’ve enjoyed all the museum has to offer, from the parking lot, look to the northwest. About a half-mile in that direction, across the highway is the former site of Chadron’s P.B. Nelson Saloon, post office and stage station that stood in 1878. Not much further northwest along Bordeaux Creek was also the site of a cabin and trade post belonging to Joseph Bissonette from 1872 to 1877.  

Exit the museum parking lot headed west and travel about half-a-mile before turning south on Bordeaux Road, which you’ll follow for some time as it tracks through the Pine Ridge alongside Bordeaux Creek. In later years, the Bordeaux area would play a large part in the settling of the area by homesteaders. A group of 20 individuals, led by Levi G. Sweat made up the “Sweat Colony” who took claims in the Bordeaux area sight unseen and traveled to the region in 1884 by wagon after departing their train in Valentine, Nebraska. Among the colony’s ranks were E.E. Egan, who would establish the first newspaper in the area, and Clay Grantham who will feature later in this adventure. “The sturdy integrity of the men of the Sweat Colony was a potent factor in shaping the affairs of the fast-settling country…and the pictures in the campfire dreams came true in the years of the Dawes County history,” wrote Egan.  

About two miles from turning south on the road, look to the west to see the area along the creek where Brule Chief Spotted Tail and his people made camp from 1870 to 1872. Spotted Tail was a prominent Chief in the region for many years and was a factor in much of the Native American history to take place in and around Northwest Nebraska in the mid-to-late 1800s.  

Continue your trip south along Bordeaux Road, keeping a keen eye on your odometer. About seven miles from your turn onto Bordeaux Road you’ll see a small Forest Service road sign indicating Forest Service Road 723. Turn west on Road 723 and into the pine trees. Follow the road until you reach a favorite destination for Northwest Nebraska locals. You’ll immediately know why this area is referred to as “The Cliffs.” Here you’ll find a great area to camp or just stretch your legs and have a quick meal along the way. If you do plan to spend time in the area, be sure to take advantage of the great hiking trails nearby. You can find their routes in the Northwest Nebraska Recreational Trails Guide found on our website under the “Discover” tab.  

The next leg of your trip takes you over forest service roads, so be sure to check that your navigation tools are working before continuing. You may also want to reset your trip odometer to help you along the way. Head out from The Cliffs to the west following Forest Service Road 723, in about 1.5 miles you’ll reach a junction with Spotted Tail Road. Turning north here will take you on a spirited ride through the Pine Ridge that necessitates four-wheel-drive. You won’t be rock-climbing, but you will be traversing some technical terrain. 

(If you’re not confident in your off-road abilities, follow this alternate route: at the junction with Spotted Tail Road continue west on Road 723 another half-mile until you reach an intersection with King Canyon Road. Turn north on this road and follow it for the next handful of miles until you come to another t-intersection. At this point, head west to Highway 385. Skip forward in this write-up for the continuation of your trip from there.) 

Follow Spotted Tail Road through the Pine Ridge, about six miles, until you reach Highway 385, enjoying opportunities for wildlife viewing and photography along the way. Turn south on Highway 385 a little over half-a-mile until you reach a pullout that features the Nebraska State Historical Marker for the Chadron Creek Trading Post.  

Just southeast of the ponds that now mark the area was the site of Chartran’s Trading Post, built in 1841 and managed by Louis Chartran from 1842 to 1845. The nearby creek, now named Chadron Creek, was originally known as “Chartran’s Creek” and famously a mispronunciation and misspelling of Chartran led to the name of “Chadron.” Adventurers can continue about another half-mile and turn east on City Dam Road to spend some time at the Chadron Municipal Ponds.  

In addition to being a great place to fish, the site of the reservoirs was once the site of the cabin of famous trapper Hubert Rouleau who spent several years at the site following his career as a trapper. Rouleau is described by Francis Parkman who met the man during his adventures among the trappers in the mid-1840s as follows: “Rouleau had a broad ruddy face, marked with as few traces of thought or of care as a child’s. His figure was remarkably square and strong, but the first joints of both his feet were frozen off and his horse had lately thrown and trampled upon him, by which he had been severely injured in the chest. But nothing could check his inveterate propensity for laughter and gayety. He went all day rolling about the camp on his stumps of feet, talking and singing and frolicking with the Indian women as they were engaged at their work.”  

Rouleau was known to work alongside others including a trapper called Saraphin. Parkman paints a picture of the two as a pair who took great satisfaction from the dangers of their profession. Rouleau began his fur trade career in Canada and gave up beaver trapping in 1847 but stayed in the region until his death in 1890 near Pine Ridge.  

To continue to the last points of interest on your adventure, head back north on Highway 385. Along the portion of road over the next few miles, the highway passes through the area where Quick Bear’s Brule camp was captured by the famous Pawnee Scouts on the same day the U.S. Army captured Red Cloud. In just under four miles, turn west on Country Club Road and follow it to the Dawes County Historical Museum.  

The museum houses an impressive collection of pioneer and early-Nebraska antiques, including blacksmith tools, farm machinery, vintage quilts and more. Among the nostalgic room displays are replicas of a general store, a hospital room and a railroad room. Guests can explore the log house, barn, 1890s schoolhouse, pioneer church, and Chicago & North Western Railroad caboose on the museum grounds.  

From the museum parking lot, or north lawn, look northwest, referencing a tall hill. At this location, about a half-mile from the museum, is the site where Red Cloud’s camp was captured by troops under General Ranald S. Mackenzie on Oct. 23, 1876. The area is also the location where Dull Knife’s Cheyenne skirmished with and finally surrendered to the U.S. Army in 1878 during their exodus, now known as the Cheyenne Outbreak, to escape their reservation and return to their homeland in Powder River country. The site was also home to Half Diamond E Ranch, established in 1879 which included the post office called Chadron that Egan took as inspiration for his bylines. Just north of the hill runs the military trail from Fort Robinson to Camp Sheridan. On September 5, 1877, Lakota War Chief Crazy Horse made his last ride along this trail.  

From the museum, head north on Highway 385 back to Chadron. Be sure to check out our website for additional adventures and locations to grab a bite to eat or spend the night in Chadron.  Check out the “Useful Tips” page for more information to help you plan your journey. 

 

Things to keep in mind: 

Our road trips take you through some of Nebraska’s most beautiful areas, but even though you’ll see plenty of ranch land, many of these areas remain as wild as they were during the frontier expansion. Keep these things in mind during your trip:  

-Road conditions vary. Much of your road trip will be across unpaved roads which can become difficult to pass after heavy rains. Four-wheel-drive is recommended, but not absolutely necessary if the weather has been dry.  

-Be sure to check the area weather forecast before embarking on your trip.  

-Depending on your provider, you may lose cell signal during certain legs of the road trip. Consider printing out this road trip and accompanying map, and bring along a compass, particularly if you plan on hiking. 

Though the views are excellent from your vehicle, we suggest you stop at points of interest to enjoy the other activities they offer. If you do, be respectful toward private property that may be along the route, and also respect nature. Please don’t litter or damage our natural areas. If you plan to fish or hunt, please be sure to have the proper licenses.  

It’s possible you’ll have the chance to see several members of the region’s wildlife from elk to bald eagles. Keep in mind the area is also home to rattlesnakes and mountain lionsThese animals tend to avoid confrontation, but can be dangerous if encountered. Visit these sites for tips on staying safe in their environment:  

https://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/wallowa-whitman/learning/safety-ethics/?cid=stelprdb5228184 

http://outdoornebraska.gov/mountainlions/ 

-Bring plenty of water, particularly if you plan to hike. Opportunities to refill water bottles may be few and far between during our road trips. We suggest you bring along more water than you’d think you need.  

-Bring appropriate gear. During our road trips you’ll have the opportunity to go birding, hike, fish, hunt, camp, take part in photography and more. Be sure to bring along gear appropriate to what you plan to take part in along the way. Make sure to pack navigation tools, proper clothing, illumination, first aid supplies appropriate snacks, and… 

-Bring sunscreen! Don’t forget this essential piece of personal protection.

-Looking for a spot to grab a bite to eat, check out our local dining opportunities here.

-Looking for a place to stop for the night, check out our local lodging opportunities here