Stop at the visitor center for a quick lesson on area geology and a 12-minute video about the park history before setting out on this 2.9-mile lollipop loop. The wide, paved path dips toward the Niobrara River’s wetland floodplain before beginning a steady 150-foot climb to the base of an ancient watering hole—the reason for the abundant 19-million year old fossils found here. The trail levels at the saddle between University and Carnegie hills and winds between them, stopping first at an exposed cross-section of rock showing ancient muddy footprints.
Rounding the south side of Carnegie Hill, signs explain the history of the excavation site which has supplied many Miocene-era museum collections. A shelter at the top of the ridge offers an excellent view of the river valley and the path you’ll re-trace heading downhill toward the trailhead.
Rattlesnakes live near the trail and sometimes sun themselves on its warm surface. Don’t let pets or small children wander ahead and watch your step, even on the trail. Also, be prepared for fast-changing weather and harsh exposure to the sun; the only shade on this hour-long route is at the two trailside shelters.
-Mapped by Kristy Holland