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In-Depth Guide To The Kearney Archway

Hundreds of thousands of cars and trucks pass under the mammoth Great Platte River Road Archway Monument as the zip along Interstate 80 in central Nebraska. Inside, historical exhibits tell the story of the American West, and specifically, the story of the region of Nebraska where the Platte River flows through. If you’ve ever wondered what’s inside and why you should visit, keep reading.

The escalator leading to the entrance of the historical exhibits inside the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument (better known as the Kearney Archway)

Significance Of The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument

Located just a couple miles east of Kearney, Nebraska, the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument is the first (and only) museum to span over an interstate. That in itself is pretty fascinating, and one of the highlights of the museum ties the interstate into the experience. If you’ve been, you know what I’m talking about: There’s a radar gun perched at a window at the end of the Archway, and you can track how fast cars are traveling below. I was hoping to catch some sort of negligent driver, but alas, everyone was going well below the speed limit.

Growing up in Nebraska, you learn all about the American life covered in this monument: From prehistoric Nebraska to pioneer life and on past the transcontinental railroad and excitement of cars. But, as an adult, you start to forget about some of those details (unless you have a kid in fourth grade, and then it’s ALL IN on Nebraska history). 

An exhibit at the Kearney Archway highlighting frontier life in Nebraska

Sure, you can visit historic sites and museums around the Midwest that cover each exhibit in great detail (and often, with free admission). But, the draw of the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument is that learning about all these interesting periods of this (still pretty young) nation is done so in an immersive way. It’s not just visual and it’s not just an audio tour describing things. It’s occasionally hands-on and some rooms are a whole mood.

If you’re not from Nebraska, you probably haven’t heard of the Archway Monument’s rocky start. It was meant to be tourist attraction from the get-go, but tourist numbers fell short of expectations. It wasn’t until 2017 (17 years after it opened and after bankruptcy), that attraction finally turned a profit.

Pop culture trivia: The 2002 movie “About Schmidt” by Omaha-native Alexander Payne filmed a few on location at the Archway, with Jack Nicholson’s character, Warren Schmidt, taking the escalators up to view exhibits.

Display cases with artifacts of railroading history

Things To Do At The Monument: Exhibits & Attractions

The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument is a unique and interactive museum that celebrates the history of the Oregon Trail. It features a variety of exhibits and attractions, including interactive displays, educational activities, and more. Visitors can explore the history of the Oregon Trail through interactive displays, learn about the people who traveled it, and discover what life was like for those who made this journey. 

Exhibit include:

  • Pioneer life, the Oregon, California and Mormon Trails, and Fort Kearny
  • A buffalo stampede
  • The Pony Express
  • The California Gold Rush and a 49er campsite
  • The building of the transcontinental railroad, as well as stagecoaches
  • The Lincoln Highway and America’s love affair with the road trip
  • 1950s drive-in and a replica of a roadside diner (you’ll find the radar gun inside this diner!)
An old-fashioned diner exhibit inside the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument in Kearney, Nebraska

As you move through the Archway Monument, you’ll encounter stations with trivia or brief hands-on activities. Truthfully, some areas looked like they could have used some updating. The outside campus around the monument is worth exploring. There are nearby trails, public art, and a sod house to see.

Tips For Planning A Visit To The Archway Monument

The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument is open seven days a week year-round, except for major holidays. Hours are shorter on Sundays.

There is an admission fee to enter the historical exhibits, but everything on the first floor (like the gallery, gift shop, and all exterior trails and sculptures) are free to see. Kids ages 5 and under are admitted free.

Tip: You can purchase Archway admission tickets ahead of time.

A 1950s American drive-in exhibit inside the Kearney Archway

The good news is that the Archway Monument was built with crowds and tour groups in mind. There is plenty of free parking at the monument, including spots for larger vehicles like motorcoaches and RVs.

The Archway Monument is found at Exit 275 on Interstate 80. There are several Kearney hotels located within a mile to 5 miles of the attraction. One of Kearney’s newest hotels, the Crowne Plaza, has an indoor waterpark and a great restaurant called Fyre Grill.

Explore Nearby Attractions & Places of Interest 

Kearney is one of the larger cities in Nebraska, and has a lot of attractions near the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument. Here are a few stories that may interest you:

FAQ about the Kearney Archway Monument

An exhibit highlight the three trails that passed through Nebraska: Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Trail. Chimney Rock is painted on a wall in the background and the audio tour phone is in the foreground.

How long does it take to go through the Archway Monument?

Every visitor gets an audio tour and if you were to listen to every stop, it would take 2-3 hours to walk through the exhibits. A casual listener (listening to just a couple stops total) will take about an hour to go through the exhibits and read some of the signage or do some of the activities.
There are a few activities woven into exhibits, but it’s by no means like a hands-on children’s museum experience. Kids are going to be moving fairly quickly from exhibit to exhibit. 

Is the Archway Monument wheelchair accessible?

Yes, the Great Platte River Road Archway Monument is designed to be barrier-free and fully-accessible. 

When was the Archway Monument built?

The Great Platte River Road Archway Monument opened in 2000. Meant to be a tourist attraction, it took 17 years for it to turn a profit.

Who built and designed the Archway Monument?

The idea for building the Archway was first dreamed up by the 31st governor of Nebraska, Frank Morrison (1961-1967). The structure was designed by the Urban Design Group, based in Denver. 
According to the Architectural Foundation of Nebraska, the Urban Design Group “designed the structure of exposed weathered steel trusses to represent a covered bridge and to evoke the muscular, bold, and rustic feel of the frontier. The stainless steel exterior was specifically treated with electricity-charged acid to create the Nebraska sunset effect with red, orange, and yellow hues. The monument was constructed to the side of the interstate while two towers were built to either side of the highway; when complete, the structure was elevated, rolled across the road overnight, then moved into final position with hydraulic jacks over the next eight days.”

Is there a gift shop?

Yes, the gift shop is located on the first floor and you do not need to buy an admission ticket to visit the gift shop. The gift shop is not only a good place to buy Archway Monument and Kearney souvenirs, it’s also a good collection of Nebraska-made goods.

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