Ten Great State Parks: Great Plains
Ten Great State Parks: Great Plains
What state park would you enjoy visiting the most?
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Crazy Horse Monument
Mushroom Rock State Park, Kansas. This tiny state park of 5 acres in the Smoky Hills preserves the eponymous shaped sandstone rock formed when the capstone resisted erosion relative to the rock strata below it. Kansas has other significant residual rock formations which are more spectacular but representative of the same geological process which shaped Mushroom Rock including Castle Rock, Monument Rocks, and Rock City all of which are not in state parks.
Lake Scott State Park, Kansas. Seemingly uninspiring from the name, a closer look at this park reveals two very interesting sites, one historic the other natural. The 1,020 acre state park contains a natural spring-fed lake, rare in Kansas, surrounded by canyons and bluffs. This oasis provides shelter for deer, bobcat, wild turkey, and even beaver. Historically, the park protects the remains of the only known Indian Pueblo in the state, known as El Cuartelejo, and the northernmost of its kind in the country. Taos Pueblo Indians, escaping the Spanish, built the settlement in either 1664 or 1696.
Chadron State Park, Nebraska. Close to Fort Robinson State Park, in Nebraska’s northwest quarter is Chadron State Park. Set within the Nebraska National Forest and in the Pine Ridge region, Chadron State Park was established in 1921 and is Nebraska’s oldest state park covering 974 acres. Camping and boating are popular activities as is hiking among the scenic pine clad bluffs.
Fort Robinson State Park, Nebraska. Set in the scenic Pine Ridge region of northwestern Nebraska this state park has both historical and geographical significance. Named after the army post which was established here in 1873, Fort Robinson was an important post in the battles between the U.S. Army and Lakota Sioux. It was here that Crazy Horse was killed in 1877. The ponderosa pine covered hills and ridges among the parks 2,500 acres harbor wild turkey, elk, mule deer, and bighorn sheep.
Smith Falls State Park, Nebraska. This fine cascade in the Sand Hills along the Niobrara River National Scenic River is the state’s tallest at 63 feet. The canyon into which it falls provides a cool oasis for aspen and birch trees which typically don’t grow this far south. The falls are easily accessible by footbridge and a path.
Fort Ransom State Park, North Dakota. Beautifully wooded and hilly Fort Ransom State Park was established in 1979 to preserve and celebrate the state’s pioneer heritage. The scenic backdrop is more than just a distraction from appreciating the historical significance of the early homesteaders as the 950 acre park is along one of North Dakota’s Scenic Byways and Backways and contains 15 miles of trails for hiking, biking, skiing, and horse-back riding. In addition to the two original homestead houses which date from the 1870s and 1880s the park also preserves the remains of the Mound Builders who inhabited this area as early as 8,000 year before present.
Little Missouri State Park, North Dakota. Set in the badlands in the western part of the state this 4,592 acre park is mostly accessible by foot or horseback with 47 miles of trails. There is camping and trailer hookups but the facilities are primitive and without amenities. Located near Theodore Roosevelt National Park, this is a wild and remote niche.
Bear Butte State Park, South Dakota. Known as Matho Paha in Lakota, Bear Butte is visible for miles and easily recognizable from I-90. This conical mountain, which rises in isolation near the Black Hills, reaches 4,426 feet at its highest and gains more than 1,000 feet above the plains formed from an igneous intrusion millions of years ago and sacred to Native Americans. Hiking trails led to the summit and the state park has a large herd of bison buffalo.
Custer State Park, South Dakota.Custer State Park is the meeting place of the prairie and Black Hills ecosystems and is one of the most beautiful state parks in the nation and also one of the largest at 71,000 acres. Elevations range from 3,000 to 6,023 feet at the top of Mount Coolidge. Beautiful prairie intermingles with ponderosa pine and aspen but one of the great assets of this park is the wildlife loop and the wildlife. Besides a large herd of bison, pronghorn, elk, and prairie dog are numerous. Nearby Wind Cave and Badlands National Park and Mount Rushmore make this park heavily visited in the summer. The impressive granite spires known as the Needles are not to miss and best viewed from hiking paths near Sylvan Lake where there is also a trailhead to Harney Peak, the state’s highest point.
Palisades State Park, South Dakota. Located in the southeast corner of South Dakota Palisades State Park, the state’s second smallest at 157 acres, is famous for its 50 foot tall quartzite rocks which tower above Split Rock Creek. The rock formations are 1.2 billion years old. The park is popular with canoers and kayakers who can view the rock formations from the water as well as rock climbers as the formations offer the best climbing opportunities in the state outside of the Black Hills. Camping and cabins are available at this park which is open year round. Similar geological features such as Devil’s Gulch are nearby and worth a visit.