Gold nanoparticles are receiving considerable attention due to their novel properties and the potential variety of their uses. Long gold nanorods with dimensions of approximately 20 × 400 nm exhibit strong light scattering and can be easily observed under dark-field microscopy. Here we describe the use of this light-scattering property to track micrometer scale strains in collagen gels and thick films, which result from cell traction forces applied by neonatal heart fibroblasts. The use of such collagen constructs to model cell behavior in the extracellular matrix is common, and describing local mechanical environments on such a small scale is necessary to understand the complex factors associated with the remodeling of the collagen network. Unlike other particles used for tracking purposes, gold nanorods do not photobleach, allowing their optical signal to be tracked for longer periods of time, and they can be easily synthesized and coated with various charged or neutral shells, potentially reducing the effect of their presence on the cell system or allowing selective placement. Techniques described here are ultimately applicable for investigations with a wide variety of cells and cell environments.