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 Gala National Grasslands you will find dog-friendly
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. You can hike with your dog on a marked, mile-long
interpretive loop that 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
For extended canine 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.
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-
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