The Wildcat Hills are an escarpment between the North Platte River and Pumpkin Creek in the western Nebraska Panhandle. Located in Banner, Morrill, and Scotts Bluff counties, the high tableland between the streams has been eroded by wind and water into a region of forested buttes, ridges and canyons that rise 150 to 300 m (500 to 1000 ft.) above the surrounding landscape.
The plant and animal life in the Wildcat Hills is atypical for Nebraska; the ecology resembles that of the Laramie Mountains, 60 miles to the west. The dominant tree in the region is the ponderosa pine. Bighorn sheep, pronghorn, elk, mule deer, and wild turkeys live in and around the hills.
Cougars (mountain lion), which had been eradicated from the region around 1900, returned to the area in the early 1990s. The Wildcat Hills (along with the Pine Ridge), are the only areas in Nebraska with a permanent population.
The deer and big horn sheep population has increased dramatically . The big horn sheep were transported here a few years ago. Rattlesnakes are common in the area, but the chance of a bite is rare if the right precautions are taken.
The Emigrant Trail passed through the northern Wildcat Hills at Roubadeau Pass and after 1851, at Mitchell Pass; the rock formations were frequently mentioned in emigrant journals and letters. The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission acquired land for the Wildcat Hills State Recreation Area in stages between 1929 and 1980; the Wildcat Hills Nature Center, featuring a half-mile boardwalk trail, opened in 1995. Today, the Wildcat Hills are a popular hiking and wildlife viewing destination.