Day Hiking the Kansas Badlands
One of the newest state parks in Kansas is approximately 85 million years old! Or at least, that's when the Niobrara Chalk deposit is said to have formed from the ancient sediment at the bottom of what was once North America's massive inland sea.
Today, the cliffs of eroded chalk create the striking landscape of Little Jerusalem Badlands State Park. The 332-acre starkly beautiful park in western Kansas features about 220 acres of actual badlands.
It is well worth a visit. Especially if you enjoy day hiking, which is an enjoyable, low-impact exercise activity that benefits both body and soul. Two relatively short out-and-back paths beckon; both are easy on the feet and provide matchless scenic views.
The shortest, “Badlands Overlook Trail,” is just under a half-mile round trip. This hard-packed trail has a gentle slope, is well tended, and leads to a photo-friendly spot where you can take in a magnificent panoramic view. An easy walk for the whole family.
The more satisfying “Life on the Rocks Trail” is a little longer at about two and a half miles total. The path is compacted gravel and parents can access the majority of it with a stroller. The final leg of the trail (about a half-mile to the end) is a bit more rustic. Hiking shoes are great, but tennis shoes will do.
When we hiked the trails and took the interior tour in September of 2020, we captured some wonderful memories. Fossils are everywhere, along with colorful wildflowers and native grasses, stunning rock wrens, and the occasional lizard or rodent. You'll want to schedule your tour for early morning as the weather can be quite warm during the late spring through early fall.
Little Jerusalem (also called New Jerusalem at times) was said to have been so-named because from a distance the formations reminded frontier travelers of the walls of Old Jerusalem. It is now owned and maintained, along with the adjacent Smokey Valley Ranch, by The Nature Conservancy, which works in partnership with both private and governmental organizations to protect natural landscapes.
Visit the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks at ksoutdoors.com for more information about the park. You might also want to research if the on-site toilet is working as it has had some issues in the past. Bring a bottle of water, a small snack for afterward, and of course, as the saying goes, leave nothing but footprints, take nothing but pictures.