The canyon carved by Big Cottonwood Creek has produced some spectacular formations in the soft rock of the area. The creek is dry most of the time, so the bed is used for the Bison Trail, which runs about 3 miles from the parking area in Toadstool Geologic Park, through the upper reaches of the creek bed all the way to the Hudson-Meng area. Well past the midpoint of the trail, it crosses the divide between the White River and Cheyenne River watersheds, and drops into the upper reaches of Whitehead Creek. This is not very noticeable since it is so near the uppermost reaches of either stream bed and the terrain has evolved from deeper canyon to simple badlands. At the end of the trail, hikers have the option to scramble up the sides and hike a short distance over to the Hudson-Meng Bonebed, choose a jaunt over to Roundtop Peak, skirting Cedar Canyon, or head back to the trailhead.
Because of the badlands-type of terrain in this area, it remained relatively unscathed from the major forest fires that took out so many trees on nearby Roundtop Peak, Wright Peak, and Pine Butte.
To get to the trailhead at Toadstool Geologic Park, you can travel north from Crawford, Nebraska on Highway 71 just over 4 miles to Toadstool Road, then follow the road for about 14 mile to the park entrance road. Toadstool Road is all rough gravel road, and is difficult to travel on in rainy weather. Couple that with poor trail conditions when it is wet, and hiking the canyon in wet weather is not advisable.
When you arrive at the parking area of Toadstool Park, you will find an old sod house, some parking spots, and some camping spots. There are also two vault toilets there. Trail maps are posted, and some handout maps are often available.
There should be no red tape, so long as you just pay your user fee, which is small. Removing fossils from the park is illegal, so keep that in mind while hiking. All campground regulations are posted. Trails are off-limits overnight.
There is no water at the Toadstool Park Campground, due to a shallow, mineral-laden aquifer. So, if you prefer a campground with more conveniences, here are some links to more camping resources in the region:
There are some hazards for hiking the canyon, but none so serious that caution and planning should not circumvent. Hiking the canyon in warm weather can rapidly dehydrate a hiker, so pack plenty of water. Rattlesnakes are occasionally seen, especially in early morning and in evening hours. If you get off in brushy or grassy areas, bear in mind the abundance of ticks in the area, from March through August. Crossing the tracks into Toadstool Park, requires one to be aware of the frequent trains passing through the area, often every 7 minutes. And, as previously mentioned, rain messes with the roads and trails. If you go out on the trail anyway, be prepared for slippery footing, and in some short stretches, sand and mud with the consistency of quicksand.
"This is blood for blood and by the gallon. These are the old days, the bad days, the all-or-nothing days. They're back! There's no choice left. And I'm ready for war."
--Marv, Sin City