One of the advantages the Great Plains Trail has over, say, high mountain trails is the times of the year that it makes sense to be there. Winter and spring are difficult times to hike in the mountains. Fall can come early with snow and cold. High summer is probably the best time to be in the high country, but it doesn’t last long and you’ll have to deal with thunderstorms and crowds.
Out on the plains, nearly the reverse is true. Fall, spring, and even winter can be quite enjoyable, but high summer can be just plain hot. Here’s how it breaks down:
Winter: Of course it can be cold, and even very cold. Temperatures well below zero, and beastly blizzards are no stranger to the plains, but it’s not always like that. In fact, depending on how far north or south you are, mild temperatures and dry sunny skies tend to be the rule on the Great Plains in winter. Remember, it’s essentially a desert, so sunshine is common and tends to melt away what little snow manages to accumulate. Final Analysis: Go for it. Pick your days and stick to shorter hikes, but winter shouldn’t stop you from hitting the trail.
Spring: Like anywhere in the world, the Great Plains has its most unpredictable weather in the spring. Someone once said, “We don’t have Spring, we have war between summer and winter.” Take that to mean it could do anything, and it could change fast. Wind is ubiquitous. Final Analysis: Keep an eye on weather reports as well as the sky. Bring all kinds of clothes for cold or warm or wet. Then have fun.
Summer: The key to summer is the time of day. Mornings and evenings can still be cool on the plains due to its elevation, but midday is typically hot, even very hot. Thunderstorms are commonplace anywhere on the plains, which can cool things off nicely, but are scary to be caught in. Final Analysis: Take short morning trips and look for wildlife, or enjoy a photogenic sky after a thunderstorm passes. Avoid midday.
Fall: Fall is a wonderful season anywhere, and the Great Plains are no exception. While it lacks for the stunning colors of more forested areas, it makes up for it with excellent weather, and the golden hues of drying grasses. It’s typically dry with pleasantly warm days and equally pleasant cool nights. Final Analysis: The best time to go for longer, multiday trips. You could even consider thru hiking from North to South (more on this later).
So if you’re looking to do some hiking, biking, or horse riding, and you’re weathered out of the mountains, just head for the plains!