It’s been almost five years since I posted the “Top Ten Places to See on the Great Plains Trail,” and while some things are going to remain the same, a lot has changed as far as routing and highlights are concerned. When I posted that first list, the Great Plains Trail project was in its infancy, and now we are big kindergarteners! I don’t want to carry this analogy too far, but let’s just say I don’t think we’re quite ready for the prom.
Anyway, here is the new, improved, revised, refreshed, expanded, updated, and upgraded edition of the Top Ten Places to See on the Great Plains Trail complete with the latest information from the the field. From North to South, here we go! Drumroll please . . .
American Prairie Reserve – Wow! What a concept and what a place to see the Great Plains in a mostly unchanged way. Combine the APR lands with the enormous Charles M. Russell Wildlife Refuge and you can really start your SOBO trip with a bang. Honorable Mention: Grasslands National Park, Canada
Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Again. Wow! The more I visit North Dakota the more I love it. With the Maah Daah Hey Trail, the recreation opportunities in the western part of the state continue to improve and expand. This should be a pretty enjoyable part of the GPT. Honorable Mention: White Butte – High Point of North Dakota
The Black Hills of South Dakota – It’s funny. When people say something like, “Aren’t the Great Plains just kind of flat and boring,” I say, “What about the Black Hills?” They say, “But that’s not the Great Plains because the Great Plains are flat and boring.” The truth is that the Black Hills are right smack in the middle of the Great Plains, so they, as well as a lot of other mountainous features, are definitely part of the Great Plains. But I have to say, it’s really hard to change someone’s preconceived ideas. Anyway, the Black Hills are full of adventure, and history. The Great Plains Trail will follow the Mickelson Trail and/or the Centennial Trail from north to south through this unique and amazing area. Honorable Mentions: Wind Cave National Park, Bear Butte State Park, and Harney Peak – High Point of South Dakota
Oglala National Grassland – No place that I’ve been to on my rambles has captured me more than the open grasslands of northwest Nebraska. It’s a really special place with a feel all its own. Toadstool Geologic Park and the open lands to the north represent some of the best Great Plains scenery out there. Honorable Mention: Fort Robinson State Park
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument – Just to the south of Fort Rob is another one of my favorite spots. Even though it’s a small national monument, it more than makes up for with superior scenery and outstanding paleontologic and human history. Despite its size, this is one of the best national monuments in the country. Honorable Mention: Scotts Bluff National Monument
Pawnee National Grassland – In spite of the fracking, this is still a great place, and all the more reason to add it to this list. Because of unchecked oil and gas development, the landscape is being degraded mostly by people who don’t live there. Locals have pride in where they live, and have a stake in taking care of the land. Transient oil patch workers do not. Go visit this area and speak up for it before it gets any worse. Honorable Mention: Panorama Point – High Point of Nebraska
Comanche National Grassland – Where can you see actual dinosaur tracks? Not too many places, that’s for sure, but at the bottom of the outstanding Purgatoire River Canyon, there are some impressive brontosaurus and allosaurus tracks. Crazy. Honorable Mention: Black Mesa – High Point of Oklahoma
Capulin Volcano National Monument – Here’s another example of mountains on the Great Plains. Most of northeastern New Mexico is a topographic tangle of buttes, mesas, and dormant volcanoes. One of the highest (8,182 ft) is Capulin Volcano, which is the centerpiece of its namesake national monument. The GPT will skirt the base of the mountain, but it’s an easy spur trail to the top for some impressive views. Honorable Mention: Kiowa National Grassland
Lincoln National Forest – Near the end of the trail (if headed south), you come to the edge of the impressive Chihauhauan Desert. This southernmost stretch is not technically part of the Great Plains, but who cares? Is every step of the CDT really on the Continental Divide? I think not. Anyway, it’s an under- appreciated area with stunning topography and scenery. Honorable Mention: Brantley Lake State Park, New Mexico
Guadalupe Mountains National Park – This place is exactly why I want to include something that is not strictly in the Great Plains – what a dramatic start or finish to a GPT thru hike! It’s the High Point of Texas (The GPT’s 5th such distinction), a national park, and gorgeous everywhere you turn. Honorable Mention: Carlsbad Caverns National Park
Whew! There you have it – The Top Ten Places (which turned out to be a lot more than just ten) to See on the Great Plains Trail!