Ponca State Park, NE 8 miles (Moderate)
If you think Nebraska is totally flat, you haven’t been to Lookout Hill. With a vista over a sprawling oak forest and verdant Missouri River valley, and across Ponca’s high bluffs and prairie ridgetops, it’s hard to call this terrain horizontal. Hike a loop on the park’s Whitetail Trail to explore stands of black oak, basswood, and walnut, and wildflower meadows bursting with Canada violet, blue phlox, and white cicely in spring. Look for flashy scarlet tanagers, indigo buntings, and orioles along the way.
Season Spring for flowers and songbirds, fall for foliage and migrating waterfowl
Sylvan Runkel State Preserve, IA 12 miles (Moderate)
The planet looks wrinkled here, in a zone of peak-and-saddle hills and tall- and mixed-grass prairie. To explore this surprising sanctuary, start in the Loess Hills Wildlife Management Area (at the 205th Street trailhead, near Onawa), and hike round-trip (go north) on the preserve’s only trail, on a ridgeline above oak and hickory forests. Continue through the preserve, where in spring you’ll see wildflowers like prairie moonwort and pasqueflower; in fall you’ll walk through head-high bunchgrass.
Info (712) 423-2426
Sheyenne National Grasslands, ND 9 miles (Moderate)
Pristine tall-grass prairies offer a unique peek into America’s scenic past. This North Dakota gem offers that, plus a well-maintained section of the North Country Trail. As you hike through the towering grasses, look for the rare regal fritillary butterfly and threatened Western prairie fringed orchid. Start at Sheyenne’s eastern trailhead (near Lisbon), and follow the rolling path west to the Iron Spring Creek oasis–a perfect lunch stop with flowing water and shade from cottonwoods. Turn back here. Season May-October Info northcountrytrail.org