Located in Northwestern corner of Nebraska, we discovered an incredible natural wonder by accident while we were staying at Fort Robinson State Park. As we were out on our motorcycle riding adventure, we noticed a small brown sign reading Toadstool Geological Park. Being the inquisitive explorers that we are, we decided to return in the following days to see what this unique natural feature was in the Oglala National Grassland.
We learned that in the late 1800’s, the first visitors discovered what replicates the well-known Badlands of South Dakota. Only these badlands were smaller but still had the same geological compound makeup as the larger Badlands National Park. As the nomads explored the many sandstone mushroom-shaped hoodoos, they called the sandstone slabs resting on their clay pillars, toadstools. Thus, later naming it Toadstool which then, became protected and managed by the federal government.
Today, along with the Oglala National Grassland, Toadstool Geological Park is under management and protection of the USDA Forest Service’s Toadstool Geological Park.
For Robinson State Park – Crawford, Nebraska
CAMPGROUND REVIEW: Fort Robinson State Park
For more information on where we explored Northwest Nebraska that also includes Toadstool Geological Park, check out our YouTube video:
Our own discovery
That brown landmark sign intrigued us. The evening before, once we finished our motorcycle ride, we opened up our laptop to research it. Instantly, we decided this is a cool place worth exploring and adding that pin dot on our RV travels corkboard map
That warm, early August day in 2015, we headed out of Fort Robinson State Park Campground
in Crawford, Nebraska. We drove Route 20 North for about 20 miles and turned left onto, what seemed to be the longest dirt road that eventually led us to Toadstool Geological Park. Once we entered the Oglala National Grassland, the view was absolutely breathtaking.
It’s sand barren hills and rock-strewn gullies disguise the abundant life it once supported. We felt like we landed on the moon. Its called the Nebraska Badlands because it’s geological structures resemble the Badlands National Park up in South Dakota.
Never, in a million years, did think something like this exists in the flat grassland Corn Husker country. There’s no corn rows here!
How are Toadstools created?
They are created by forces of the wind and water that eroded the soft clay faster than the hard sandstone rock that capped it. Erosion eventually collapsed the giant toadstools while new ones are formed.
Over time, rushing water has cut away the underside of this cliff. When the bank is undercut enough, the weight of the overhead mass breaks off in large chunks, crashing into the streambed and diverting the stream flows. These badlands erode away at an average of an inch per year.
Turn the clock back 30 million years and we’d be seeing miniature horses, humpless camels, giant tortoises, pigs and even rhinos roaming these barren lands. Scientist have pieced clues together to capture what life was like in this ancient river valley millions of years ago. Over time, river water invited habitants to live here.
The water current carried volcanic debris that, layer upon later, formed rocks we see today. Over time, water and wind sculpted the rock into badlands. These geological processes preserved, and erosion exposed the record of North America’s early Great Plains animals.
During our few-hour hike, we were visited by a bunch of small amphibious toads (there were small rock pools from a previous rain), a rabbit, very few birds and remnants of dead small rodents. What killed them? I’m sure what lurks inside the crevices and holes was waiting for us to leave so they could snatch it up for their mid-day snack.
Exploring and hiking…
We followed the trail markers along the mile-long loop trail to unravel the park’s mysteries. The first quarter mile of the trail is easily accessible. Beyond that, the trail winds along stream beds, through gullies and over sandstone rock. Toadstools and trackways awaited our every turn and climb.
It’s a good thing we both were prepared on this hot summer day for such adventure; wearing good treaded shoes, at least a little physically fit, healthy trail snacks and plenty of water.
We found the walking surfaces to be very sandy and silty; reason for wearing footwear with decent treads. We had to do a bit of climbing to stay on the trails. Just as an FYI, the hiking here at Toadstool Geological Park is not suitable for young children or elderly, as one wrong step could seriously end badly. And there is no EMS nearby.
There were several small cliffs that offered us fantastic views and photo opportunities. We touched, we smelled and we got to experience such great hidden treasure.
A small primitive camping area was situated at the entrance which would be great for the lone camper or small boondocking RV. The small park has two individual compost toilet shacks maintained by the National Forest and Grasslands District. There was also an informational kiosk that told the geological history of the formations.
There was also a replica of a sod house which gave an idea of what human habitats looked like back then. We went in and noticed it was 10-15 degrees cooler.
In 1984 the Forest Service constructed a sod house near the site of a sod house built in 1929. The new soddie provides a look into the past when the homesteaders on the grasslands used the only abundant material available. The original sod house was lived in briefly before being abandoned and signs of the original structure no longer exist.
Because this park is ‘out of the way’, we were lucky to have such wonderous place all to ourselves. Seriously, it’s so far out that you can only see a tiny part from the main road. If it weren’t for the small brown landmark signs, no one would know it was there.
It was a great short day of hiking and exploring. It was our first encounter of what badlands looked like and what they were comprised of. This is the kind of place we most enjoy; no noise and less people.
And guess what? We loved it so much, we returned five years later but this time, we even camped at Toadstool Geological Park! (Watch our video above!)
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