The map is finally here!!!! I know what you’re thinking – what took you so long?! Never mind that. It’s here! I’ve posted it to the website, and here is a copy of that page with the link to the map below. Please let me know in the comments section what you think, and what issues there may be with it. (ps I know about the gap near Santa Rosa, NM and I’m working to fix it).
Welcome to the Great Plains Trail Map! (Follow the link below to see the map).
This map represents the best routing to date for the entire length of the trail. That said, the route and the map will likely remain “works in progress” for quite some time to come. As the trail continues to grow and develop, there will be places where new routes will replace old ones. These new routes may serve to shorten distances, increase scenic value, reduce road travel, or create more trail.
If you’re planning a trip to the Great Plains Trail, whether for shorter section hikes, or especially for a longer thru hike, here are some things you’ll need to consider:
The Route: The Great Plains Trail is in most places, not an actual trail like most hikers are familiar with. It follows some sections of actual trail, but for a lot of reasons, must connect those sections with roads. Great care has been taken to use lightly traveled back roads as opposed to major highways. In some cases, larger highways are used because they are the only reasonable option in that area.
There are also some splits and spurs to be aware of. The GPT splits to follow either the Centennial Trail or the Mickelson Trail in the Black Hills of South Dakota. There are “connectors” to these two trails near the southern and northern ends. The GPT also splits at Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site. The best current route is to go through North Dakota as opposed to Montana due to the availability of towns and other amenities in North Dakota as opposed to the longer stretches between towns in Montana. It is the future goal of the GPT to connect to American Prairie Reserve in Montana, but for now, the route should be considered to be in North Dakota.
There are several spur trails on the GPT, all of them connect to state high points: Oklahoma, Nebraska, South Dakota, and North Dakota. It should be noted that no foot or bike traffic is allowed in going to the Nebraska High Point because it’s on private land, and there is a bison herd nearby.
Usage: The GPT is open to hikers and bikers and horses except where bikes are not allowed such as wilderness areas and national parks.
Hazards: The list of things to watch out for is long. Some of the things to be aware of include, but are not limited to:
Wildlife (large): Bears, bison, elk, deer, pronghorn, coyotes, and more can be found at various points along the trail.
Wildlife (small): Snakes, spiders, ticks, and other insects are present across the length of the trail. Some species, such as the rattlesnake, can be dangerous.
Animals (domesticated): Cattle in open range can pose a significant hazard and care should be taken when walking through a herd of cows. In particular, bulls can be unpredictable and possibly aggressive. Dogs are present along many of the road sections and are unpredictable and possibly aggressive. Care should be exercised.
Plants: Some species of plants along the trail could cause allergic reactions.
Weather: Great Plains weather is well known to be highly changeable, and can turn deadly. Be sure to keep track of weather forecasts as much as possible.
Vehicles: Great care should be exercised on the road sections of the GPT where vehicles may be present.
Sun: Extreme exposure to sun is possible on the Great Plains Trail and proper clothing and sunscreen should be worn to protect yourself.
Water: There is very little potable water along the entire route of the GPT. The Great Plains is an arid place in general, and there are few (if any) natural sources of drinkable water. Water must be obtained in towns or in other developed areas.
Distances: Due to the difficulty of carrying water, the sometimes large distances between towns, and the lack of public lands in some areas, it is imperative that anyone planning a longer stretch of the GPT have some sort of vehicle support. (see below)
Vehicle Support: As noted above, there are a number of areas where vehicle support is strongly recommended for anyone planning a thru hike or a long section hike. These are areas where the distance between places one can legally spend the night are too far for someone to cover on foot in one day. With a few exceptions, this is the case on most of the southern half of the GPT. Vehicle support will be needed regularly in this region. The northern half generally requires less vehicle support, but it is still strongly recommended in some areas such as southern Nebraska, and northern South Dakota. Have a solid plan in place if you’re going to be traveling in these areas.
Here’s the link to the map! Enjoy and let us know what you think.
Map of the Great Plains Trail