OverviewUpdate, February 2010: The condition of Courthouse Rock's standard route has deteriorated significantly in recent years, increasing the difficulty. See the route description page for details.
Though not one of Nebraska's highest points, Courthouse Rock is one of the most prominent summits in the state, rising 400 feet above the North Platte River Valley. Together with its neighbor, Jail Rock, Courthouse Rock is among the most famous sites along the historic Oregon Trail. For many Oregon Trail emigrants in the middle of the 19th century, Courthouse and Jail Rocks were the first impressive natural landmarks they had ever seen. As a result, this butte is mentioned hundreds of times in the diaries of emigrants--and many of them chose to paint or draw it and, of course, to climb it as well. According to legend, an emigrant accused of murdering another member of his group was given an impromptu "trial" and subsequent execution on the summit, hence its name.
For today's hikers and climbers, the butte is a worthwhile trip, offering expansive views of the surrounding region.
The Wildcat Range, in which Courthouse and Jail Rocks are located, also includes Chimney Rock (visible from Courthouse's summit) and Scotts Bluff. Courthouse and Jail Rocks are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Courthouse Rock is located five miles south of Bridgeport, Nebraska in Morrill County.
From Interstate 80: Take exit #59 (Highway 385) at Sidney and follow Hwy. 385 north for 43 miles to Bridgeport. In Bridgeport, turn south onto Highway 88. After five miles, turn at a well-signed gravel road (the sign reads "Courthouse and Jail Rocks") and follow the gravel and dirt road for about a mile to the parking lot at the base of the buttes.
From the east: An alternate route for westbound Interstate travelers is to take exit #126 (Highway 26) at Ogallala and follow Highway 26 for about 100 miles to Bridgeport. This route traces the Oregon, California, Mormon, and Pony Express Trails. At Bridgeport, follow the directions given above.
From the northwest (Scottsbluff): Take Highway 26 to Bridgeport and follow the directions given above.
There are no visitor services (restrooms, etc.) at Courthouse Rock, and there is no fee--just a parking lot. The area is open year-round from sunrise to sunset.
When To Climb
Courthouse Rock can be climbed at any time of the year in dry weather. Some of the accompanying photographs were taken in December. The soft clay and sandstone of the butte can be slippery even when it's dry, so climbing in rainy or snowy conditions is not recommended.
The nearest noncommercial camping is located at Bridgeport State Recreation Area, just outside of the town of Bridgeport. State park and camping fees are required.