Established in 1997, Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Nebraska protects the excavation sites and fossil remains of some of the world’s oldest mammals. The site covers over 3,000 acres of land and has several excavation sites, a visitor center, exhibits, and walking trails.
About Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
The site is known as one of the best location of early Miocene fossils. These include an incredible assortment of mammalian species such as early horse ancestors (Miohippus, Merychippus and Parahippus), a two horned rhinosaurus, a giraffe like camelid, several antelopes, and a large pig.
In the early 1900s, paleontologists discovered a treasure trove of these fossils in the area. It was the first time full examples of these mammals were discovered and so many in one location in the hills of Nebraska.
The site is amazing in that so many fossils were found and still are found in the site. There are still some active excavations in the hills of Nebraska and so much has been learned by the excavation.
Another worthwhile exhibit to see on the site is the James Cook Gallery which houses many impressive local Lakota artifacts as well. James Cook became close friends with Red Cloud and the greater Lakota people during his life. Many of what can be seen in the galleries were gifts given to the Cook family.
Things to Do
This one mile hike is definitely one of the best hikes you can do in the park. Actually if you only have time for one hike, I recommend this one. This allows you to get up close to several spiral corkscrew fossil of the Paleocastor, which was an ancient land beaver in the area. It’s also the only hike you can actually see fossils.
Fossils Hill Hike
This 2.8 mile hike takes you through the hills to various historic dig sites. It’s an interpretive trail where you’ll get to learn about the various digs at the sites, what they found, and the history of the area. It’s a beautiful hike, however one thing that’s disappointing is that you’ll not really get to see anything in terms of fossils. You’ll see from a distance the excavation sites only. It’s a nice hike, however not worth it if you are short on time.
Ranger Led Programs
There are various ranger led programs, hikes, and talks on the park. One of the most popular is also the nightsky viewing that happens at various times in the summer and fall. They do publish some of these on their facebook page. Since the park is closed in the evening, these events are the only times you’ll be allowed to enter or stay on the grounds after sunset.
Visitor Center Exhibits
Regardless on what else you do at Agate Fossil Beds NM, you should take the time to visit the visitor center and the fossils on display. This is the only place you’ll get to see most of these fossils within the park. Obviously if you come too late you’ll have to miss this, but be sure to prioritize it as its the vast majority of what to see at the park.
The National Monument is open from dawn to dusk daily. So you’ll need to leave the area once the sun is down. There are though certain night activities that do occur which you’ll have to check with the visitor center for more information on dates.
Address: 301 River Road Harrison, NE 69346
Hours: 9:00 am – 5:00 pm daily (May 15 – Sept 30); 8:00am – 4:00 pm (Oct 1 – May 14)
There is a visitor center for Agate Fossil Beds National Monument and worth the first stop on the visit. Many of the exhibits for the park can be seen here and most things on the hikes you won’t really close close to any of the fossils. Although the Daemonelix Trail will allow you to see some of the corkscrew fossils.
The visitor center has most of what you’ll see in terms of fossils in the park. There’s also a worthwhile 12 minute movie in the theater area, which gives you a sense of the land and the types of fossils found here. Be sure to also check out the Lakota artifacts in the park visitor center as well.
Free. There are no fees associated with accessing this park.
There is a National Park Passport Stamp for Agate Fossil Beds National Monument Located in the Visitor Center Above
Website: Official NPS Site
Where to Stay
There is no camping at Agate Fossil Beds NM. Actually, there is no access to the site after dark unless you are there for one of the night programs. There are a few RV sites and campgrounds in the areas north and south of Agate. Although I have yet to explore those myself.
Your best bet for hotels in my opinion would be south in Scottsbluff, NE. It is the largest town in the area and there are a lot of options for hotels. There’s a handful 25miles north in Harrison if you are going in that direction instead.
Hampton Inn & Suites Scottsbluff
Great option for those looking for a clean hotel, particularly part of the Hilton brand. It’s not very centrally located and you’ll need a car. But the service, rooms, etc. are good.
Fairfield Inn & Suites – Scottsbluff
This has been my choice for when I tend to travel through Scottsbluff. Good rooms, clean, and has EV chargers out front as well. I’m more of a Marriott person though so I tend to lean this way when I’m traveling and staying in chain hotels.
Agate Fossil Beds is located in Northwestern Nebraska off Nebraska Route 29.
The National Monument is located about 27 miles north of Scotsbluffs, NE and about 25 miles south of Harrison, NE.
There’s not much in terms of things around Agate Fossil Beds, the nearest towns and fuel are about 25 miles north or south of the site.
It’s pretty rural here so I recommend staying in Scottsbluff, NE if you are looking for an area to stay in. You can also be sure to visit Scottsbluff National Monument if you go there as well.
The closest Airport to Agate Fossil Beds NM is in Scottsbluff, NE. Western Nebraska Regional Airport (BFF) does see service from United Airlines, so there is a major carrier that does visit the airport. However, flights are definitely limited. If you want more options you’ll need to fly into Cheyenne Wyoming, or Fort Collins Colorado, although both are a lot further away.
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