22 Oct Hitting the Trails: Hiking at Toadstool Geologic Park
One of the most unexpected spots we have visited in the past couple of years has to be Toadstool Geologic Park.
Would you believe these scenes are located in Nebraska?! I have to say we never expected to find landscapes like this in a state that we normally associate with cornfields and plains. There is much more to Nebraska than fields, and we were surprised time and time again during our road trip throughout the state.
To reach the park, we drove along a bumpy gravel road for what seemed to be an eternity—in reality, it was only around 25 miles. Regardless, it felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, and we absolutely loved the peace and quiet. Throughout our entire visit we only saw a couple of other people. I have heard it can get quite busy at the park, but we lucked out and had the place to ourselves during our weekday visit.
Toadstool Geologic Park got its name from the crazy rock formations that you can find throughout the park, many of which look like giant mushrooms. People often refer to the park as the “badlands of Nebraska”, and I can certainly see why!
This day and age, the landscape at Toadstool Geologic Park looks pretty barren, but around 30 million years ago the land was home to a wide range of wildlife. It’s said that giant tortoises, pigs, miniature horses, rhinoceroses, and early camels once roamed this land. Today, the only remaining evidence of these animals are the tracks imprinted in the rocks and bits of bone fragments and fossils.
The rocks were formed by wind and a river that used to run through the land. Over time, the elements sculpted the rocks. By following the trails through the park, you can explore the unusual rock formations, and if you look closely, you can see some of the tracks made by the wildlife many years ago. Just be sure to not disturb any of the fossils, bones or tracks you may find—they have great scientific value and are still used in research and studies to this day.
Hiking is the best way to explore the park, and you can find a one-mile interpretative loop trail that leads you through a wide range of landscapes. The beginning of this trail is accessible for most anyone, but around halfway into the hike, you will have to do a bit of climbing up and down and around rocks and inclines. It’s not a difficult hike, but the trail doesn’t stay flat throughout. Be sure to grab a printout at the trailhead before heading out on your hike—it is full of interesting information and will help put the sights you are seeing into context.
Another trail in the park is the Bison Trail, which is a three-mile hike. This trail connects to the Hudson-Meng Education and Research Center and it will take you even farther into the vast nature that surrounds you.
Toadstool Geologic Park is open 24 hours per day, all year long. If you’d like to spend the night in the area, you are in luck. You won’t find any hotels close by, but there is a campsite (that costs only $5 per night!) located within the park’s boundaries. There are six campsites available and each comes with a picnic table, fire rings, and grills. There are two toilets at the campground, but no drinking water, so be sure to bring your own. We didn’t actually camp in the park as we didn’t have our camping gear with us, but I bet the stars would be amazing out there on a clear night!
We absolutely loved hiking at Toadstool Geologic Park. It was one of those places that the farther we walked, the more amazed we became. The landscape was so unexpected for this region, and perhaps because of that it quickly became one of our favorite hikes to date. The peace and quiet we found throughout the park mixed with the otherworldly landscapes and fascinating history, makes this spot one that is not to be missed.
Have you been to Toadstool Geologic Park?