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Ten Great State Parks: Great Plains

Updated on May 2, 2014
Mushroom Rock State Park, Kansas.
Mushroom Rock State Park, Kansas. | Source
Fort Robinson State Park, Nebraska.
Fort Robinson State Park, Nebraska. | Source
Pueblo ruins at Scott State Park, Kansas.
Pueblo ruins at Scott State Park, Kansas. | Source

Ten Great State Parks: Great Plains

What state park would you enjoy visiting the most?

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Smith Falls, Nebraska.
Smith Falls, Nebraska. | Source
Bear Butte, South Dakota.
Bear Butte, South Dakota. | Source
Custer State Park, South Dakota.
Custer State Park, South Dakota. | Source
Palisades State Park, South Dakota.
Palisades State Park, South Dakota. | Source

Crazy Horse Monument

Spot where Crazy Horse was killed, Fort Robinson State Park, Nebraska.
Spot where Crazy Horse was killed, Fort Robinson State Park, Nebraska. | Source

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.

Ten Great State Parks: Great Plains

show route and directions
A markerScott State Park, Kansas -
Scott State Park, 520 West Scott Lake Drive, Scott City, KS 67871, USA
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B markerMushroom Rock State Park, Kansas -
Mushroom Rock State Park, Ave K, Carneiro, KS 67425, USA
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C markerChadron State Park, Nebraska -
Chadron State Park, Nebraska National Forest, Chadron, NE 69337, USA
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D markerFort Robinson State Park, Nebraska -
Fort Robinson State Park, Harrison, NE 69346, USA
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E markerSmith Falls State Park, Nebraska -
Smith Falls State Park, Wood Lake, NE 69221, USA
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F markerFort Ransom State Park, North Dakota -
Fort Ransom State Park, Fort Ransom, ND 58033, USA
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G markerLittle Missouri State Park, North Dakota -
Little Missouri State Park, Dunn Center, ND 58626, USA
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H markerBear Butte State Park, South Dakota -
Bear Butte State Park, N Highway 79, Sturgis, SD 57785, USA
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I markerCuster State Park, South Dakota -
Custer State Park, 13329 US Highway 16A, East Custer, SD 57730, USA
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J markerPalisades State Park, South Dakota -
Palisades State Park, 25495 485th Avenue, Garretson, SD 57030, USA
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    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      My pleasure. Keep at it and promote it when you can. That helps me out in the long run.

    • jvhirniak profile image

      jvhirniak 2 years ago

      Thanks, Kristen! Not one of my 'bestsellers' so I do appreciate when people visit, let alone comment.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 2 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great hub about the ten great state parks in the Great Plains area. Very nicely done. Voted up!

    • jvhirniak profile image

      jvhirniak 3 years ago

      Jason - SD has some nice parks. No reason not to include some of them! Thanks for reading.

    • Jason Mcnutt profile image

      Jason McNutt 3 years ago from Box Elder, South Dakota

      I always appreciate a top ten list that includes South Dakota.