America's badlands received their ominous name when early settlers found it impossible to safely roll a wagon through the cracked lunar landscape in the Upper Midwest. Our most famous badlands are preserved in national parks in the Dakotas - and off limits to canine hikers.
To give your dog a chance to explore these unique lands of sculpted rock, head south from the Dakotas to the lesser-known badlands of the Nebraska panhandle. Here in the Oglala National Grasslands you will find Toadstool Geologic Park where the relentless tag-team of water and wind have carved fanciful rock formations into the stark hills.
The "toadstools" form when underlying soft clay stone erodes faster than the hard sandstone that caps it. A marked, mile-long interpretive loop leads you on an educational adventure through these badlands. Your dog is welcome on the hard rock trail but you can also explore off the path for close-up looks in the gullies at fossil bone fragments that lace the rocks and 30-million year-old footprints preserved in the stone.
There are some rocks to be scaled along the route but this ramble under banded cliffs of clay and ash is suitable for any level of canine hiker. There is only sporadic shade and seasonal streams in this ancient riverbed so bring plenty of water for your dog, especially in the summer months. Take a break at the end of the hike in the small fenced yard of the reproduced sod house beside the parking lot. For extended hikes, Toadstool Park connects to the world-renowned Hudson-Meng Bison Boneyard via a three-mile trail. This archeological site seeks to unravel the mystery of how over 600 bison died nearly 10,000 years ago in an area about the size of a football stadium. Human predation is the leading suspect.
NEARBY ATTRACTION TO ENJOY WITH THE DOG:
Fort Robinson State Park (3 miles west of Crawford on Route 20)
Fort Robinson is where famed Lakota Sioux Chief Crazy Horse surrendered a year after destroying George Custer's Seventh Cavalry at the Little Bighorn and where he was subsequently murdered by a constable. Today the state park stretches across 22,000 acres of splendid Pine Ridge countryside. Among the 60 miles of trails are choices for canine hikes through open prairie with buffalo herds or pine-dotted hillsides or along sculpted buttes.
DIRECTIONS TO TOADSTOOL GEOLOGIC PARK:
Toadstool Geologic Park is located 19 miles NW of Crawford, Nebraska on US Forest Route 904 off State highway 2/71. The trail begins at the back of the six-unit campground.