U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Oglala National Grassland


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Grassland Information

Oglala National Grassland (NG), located in the northwest corner of Nebraska, is 94,480 acres. It is administered by the Nebraska National Forest supervisor's office, Rocky Mountain Region. There is one developed campground.

The Oglala National Grassland, with its varied recreational opportunities, is often overlooked. With not only the Black Hills National Forest, but Thunder Basin and Buffalo Gap national grasslands, the Badlands National Park, and some state parks within a day's drive from the grassland, it is understandable why it hasn't been discovered yet. It is a patchwork of federal, state, and private land, and composed of rolling prairie, woodland draws, and dramatic rugged badlands. It offers a range of recreational opportunities from hiking to bird watching, developed and dispersed camping to scenic drives, hunting to photography, and more.

The Oglala NG might be best known for its geologic formation called Toadstool Park and the Hudson-Meng Buffalo Kill Site. The Hudson-Meng Buffalo Kill Site is an area where prehistoric people trapped, killed, and butchered bison. After years of excavating and study, archaeologists have concluded what sets this site apart from others is the butchering was done in an assembly-line fashion. Interestingly, no skulls have been found at the site. One special feature of the Hudson-Meng Buffalo Kill Site is visitors can view the continuing excavation in a climate controlled enclosure. This facility is open during the Summer season and there is a fee. Call the Pine Ridge Ranger District office for more information.

Another feature of this area is Ponderosa pine forests and dense stands of deciduous trees along the draws. These areas provide excellent habitat for wildlife viewing and photography. However, these opportunities aren't limited to just forests. More than 100 species of animals and 150 of birds make this grassland there home, making the Oglala rich in wildlife. Nature has adapted many of the animals to life on the Oglala. Each animal has the right coloration and behavior patterns to survive in one or more of the habitats found there. Some of the "watchable" wildlife include Prairie dogs, mule and whitetail deer, pronghorn, Prairie vole, snakes, coyotes, badgers, jackrabbits, gophers, lizards, porcupines, Red fox and, of course, scores of birds. Simply put, wildlife and bird-watching are great in the Oglala and a photographer will have fun capturing this grassland's various personalities.

A word of caution, although Prairie dogs are cute and fun to watch, they can carry various illnesses dangerous to both humans and pets. Maintain a safe distance from these cute critters and NEVER touch one whether alive or dead. It is suggested, if you walk through a Prairie dog colony, spray a quality DEET product on your clothes and shoes as a repellant to ticks and fleas; fleas are the primary vector for plague bacteria.

Sandwiched between the cool shade of the Ponderosa pine forests and the shimmering heat of rolling prairie is a strip of badland now dubbed "Toadstool Park." Called "terres mauvais" by the early French fur traders, Oglala NG's badlands are a series of small canyons carved out ancient sandstone, clay, and volcanic ash deposits. While the scenery is amazing, more amazing are the "toadstool" formations found in the area. These "toadstools" are formed by wind and water carving through the layers of soft sandstone to form a pedestal on which the harder clay cap balances. Amazing. Toadstool Park campground, described below, is also the trailhead into the Park.

The "Time Travel through Toadstool Geologic Park" hike is an absolute must for anyone interested in geology and paleontology. Fossils and trackways (footprints) of long extinct animals, that call this area home some 24 to 36 millions years ago, can be found on this hike. Remember, the fossils and other artifacts found in Toadstool Park or elsewhere in the Oglala NG are fragile and irreplaceable. They represent precious nonrenewable bits of history. Any discoveries you make, please photograph, note its location and report your finding to the Forest Service. DO NOT touch or take. Unfortunately, the Time Travel trail is wheelchair-friendly for only the first quarter and the rest of the trail is susceptible to erosion by wind and water. Be careful. Good hiking foot ware and trekking poles are advised.

The Oglala NG was settled in the 1800s under a variety of "Homestead Acts," which opened the land to people, generally farmers, and helped to settle the west. A prolonged period of drought in the late 1920s into the 1930s caused some homesteads on sub-marginal farmland (a location receiving 15 or fewer inches of annual moisture) to literally dry up. During this time, Congress established the Land Utilization Program (LUP) which bought homesteads from bankrupt private owners and returned it to public land status. In the 1950s, the LUP holdings were assigned to the USDA Forest Service who was tasked with management of these sub-marginal lands. Over the years the Forest Service has established some twenty National Grasslands, including Oglala, from sub-marginal lands. "The designation of the area as National Grassland is not a description of the area as much as a statement of policy and effort to restore the area to a multiple of uses and benefits."

The Oglala allows dispersed camping along designated routes, check the Motor Vehicle Use Map available at the District office for those routes. It also has one small-developed campground next to Toadstool Park. Views from each campsite in this campground are of the endless prairie to the east and the rugged beauty of the Park to the west. A replicate sodhouse, using "bricks" made from the grassland's sod, has been built at the south end of the campground and provides a living history lesson to visitors. The quality of stargazing from any of the campsites is 180 degrees of glorious views. The one detractor is the sound of a train passing by on a track about a mile north but even the sound of the lonesome whistle seems appropriate.

Samples of the Oglala NG's more modern history are the still active Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in the ghost town of Montrose, the Warbonnet Creek Skirmish Site, Fort Robinson State Park, and the commercial enterprise, High Plains Homestead. On the way to the Hudson-Meng Bison Kill Site, the High Plains Homestead is a collection of buildings that represent a 1880's cow town. There is also a "Bunkhouse," a caf and lots of character to enjoy.

The Oglala NG doesn't have a lot of developed recreational opportunities and only the one developed campground. The authors suggested a few dispersed campsites but most areas of the grassland are open to camping. What this grassland does have is lots of space, few crowds, an endless horizons, and recreation possibilities limited only by your imagination.

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 125 North Main Street Chadron, Nebraska 69337 308-432-0300 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESS Pine Ridge 125 North Main Street Chadron, Nebraska 69337 308-432-0300

Fred and Suzi Dow