National Park Road Trip 2010: The Great Platte River Road

Following the Oregon National Historic Trail takes you along the North Platte River in western Nebraska. Local campgrounds make for great basecamps, and the river is always there for cooling off. Photos by David and Kay Scott.

Editor's note: As David and Kay Scott continue westward on their 2010 National Park Road Trip, they're finding more and more days involve following the Oregon National Historic Trail. But that's not all a bad thing, either.

Greetings from North Platte, Nebraska, at the fork of the North Platte and South Platte rivers. Monday night we camped in Cody Park, a very nice municipal park on the north side of North Platte, Nebraska. The park is quite large with a zoo, tennis courts, a swimming pool, several softball fields, and a railroad museum.

Through the evening we heard firecrackers, rockets, and other assorted fireworks from all directions. We read in the local paper that fireworks can be shot off in town each day beginning at noon. These demonstrations of patriotism end at 10 p.m. each evening in order to allow residents time to sleep.

On Monday we departed the Fort Kearny campground at mid-morning and followed the Great Platte River Road. Emigrants following the Oregon-California Trail used the south bank of the river, while those following the Mormon Trail (also called the Council Bluffs Road) traveled along the north bank of the river.

The main highways, I-80 and U.S. 30, follow the river on the north side along the Mormon Trail. The south bank is much more difficult to follow because of the need to zigzag along small gravel roads. We first tried the south bank route and lost our way in a cloud of dust. Crossing a bridge over the Platte we followed U.S. 30 into the town of North Platte.

Emigrants departing from Council Bluffs, St. Joe, Independence, and various other locations along the Missouri came together just east of Fort Kearny. They then followed the Platte west to the fork of the North and South Platte. Most following the Oregon-California Trail continued along the South Platte and turned north to the west of the present town of Ogallala. There they encountered the infamous California Hill, a steep grade where deep ruts remain visible. Others continued along the river into northeastern Colorado before turning north to meet the North Platte near the present town of Bridgeport.

For a little more expansive look at the North Platte, check out this video.

Our path now takes us along the Oregon-California Trail parallel to the South Platte to view California Hill. Then north to U.S. 26 to drive along the North Platte to the town of Scotts Bluff. We'll catch up with you from there.