The Wildcat Hills are actually a long series of sandstone bluffs, canyons, and small peaks extending roughly 60 miles in far-western Nebraska, from the Scotts Bluff area and eastward through Banner and Morrill counties. A visit to these hills will surely dispel any stereotypes of Nebraska being flat. These hills are absolutely magnificent in their natural beauty, and offer some rather challenging day-hiking, too. Mountain biking is also a popular past-time in these hills. Photo opportunities abound, especially near sunrise and sunset.
I chose to include this hike as it reaches the highest point(s) of Morrill County. Although not the highest points of the range, this particular hike does offer one the chance at a "highpoint" and a representative hike within the range. Most of this range is surrounded by private land so access into the hills is not easy. Fortunately, the landowners here do allow public access; their contact information is below.
Start at the community of McGrew on highway NE-92 about 30 miles east of Scotts Bluff and 35 miles south of Alliance (the two nearest big cities; nearby Bayard is smaller but has most services). Turn south onto Scotts Bluff County Road 34. CR-34 turns west briefly then south again. Travel about 5 miles, passing into Banner County (where Scotts Bluff CR-34 becomes Banner CR-67). Turn left onto Banner CR-42 and drive 1/2 mile to the Flying Bee Beefmaster Ranch on the right.
The Flying Bee owners, the Kinnamans, own 4,000 acres of land that goes up into the hills just to the south. They allow hiking, camping and horses (b.y.o., with papers) along a network of old roads and trails. The usual rate is $12/person per day (2012 price)). I did not get the overnight costs nor costs for bringing your horse.
Important: The Kinnamans do not own the land on which the Morrill county highpoints sit. This belongs to a woman who lives in Alliance. The Kinnamans can give you her number; she seemed very friendly and gave me permission to enter her land once on top the ridge.
If you don't want to bother with the Morrill highpoints, you can easily remain on the Flying Bee property and gain an excellent experience while there.
Definitely have the "South Bayard" and "McGrew" USGS 1:24 quad maps with you, especially if you plan to seek the Morrill highpoints. Pay attention to landmarks and weather.
You are on private property while in the hills, but you can get clearance from the landowners (see above).
While you are in this area, you might want to also consider another private land hike option. Just across County Road 34 to the west, is Sheep Mountain. This mountain is on the Werner Ranch. The Kinnamans advise that permission can be obtained sometimes to hike/climb Sheep Mountain.
Always shut gates behind you and don't litter, smoke or harass the cattle. Just be a good guest!
Winter is harsh in the Nebraska panhandle. Summer is very hot. Spring has monumental thunderstorms that often spawn twisters. I went in May and did okay. Early fall might be your best chance. For area weather, click on the link below:
North Platte Valley - Scottsbluff Area Weather
Camping is allowed at a tiny plot of land near the final gate into the hills. Again, the Kinnamans will give you the necessary info and cost.
There are nearby campgrounds and lodging in Scotts Bluff and Bridgeport. Scatter camping may be tricky due to the prevalence of private land in this region. To view camping and lodging opportunities in the area, check out these links below:
Scottsbluff - Gering Chamber of Commerce
Bridgeport State Recreation Area
Flying Bee Ranch
6755 Road 42
Bayard, NE 69334
Be sure to check out the YouTube video on the Flying Bee Ranch:
Flying Bee Ranch on YouTube