Two amazing geological adventures await you in Northwest Nebraska! For some, that is hard to believe, as they think of Nebraska as flat, corn-covered farmland. However, hidden among the western rolling hills of this vast state lies an exposed history of what was once abundant to that part of the continent.
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument is located near (but not too near) Harrison, Nebraska. This national monument has been a prime destination for geologists and paleontologists since the 1890’s, when incredible, fossilized spirals were discovered on a ranch in the region. These unique features (called daemonelix, but I won’t spoil the theories on how they were formed) can still be seen today from the Daemonelix Trail, one of two meandering hiking trails in the monument.
The visitor center is very informative and interactive. Our boys agreed the Junior Ranger badge here was one of the hardest they have earned, because there is so much to learn right in the visitor center itself, let alone out on the trails! The ranger that day was very personable and helpful, and great with our kids. The tourist traffic was light, especially for July, and we enjoyed the personal attention from the staff.
Toadstool Geological Park
Toadstool Geological Park is a US Forest Service facility close to the South Dakota border (northwest of Crawford, NE), located on a small, gravel highway. It is not recommended to attempt to get to this location after a period of long or hard rain, and we would agree. We did make it to the site while pulling our 17-foot RV, but would likely not do that again. The roads are rough. That said, there is also camping available at Toadstool, for a very small fee (day use is $3, camping is $5). The entire area is akin to a mini-badlands, and includes the unique rock formations that give the park its name, toadstools.
The most unique draw of this park are the fossilized footprints of birds and small rhino- and pig-like animals that can be found in the rock layers. We were able to spot a few tracks near the top of the trail as it goes over a butte, but the best are located off the beaten path deeper into the park along the stream bed. Return trip material, right there!
If you’re planning a trip to the Black Hills area and coming from the south, we recommend adding a long day to check out these two parks. One word of caution: there is very little available in the way of lodging within close proximity of either park. We encourage a stay-over in Fort Robinson, a very nice Nebraska state park with cabins, campgrounds, rental homes, and an indoor pool available for a small fee.