This late in the season, opportunities are limited for a last-minute hike in the North Dakota Badlands. You know that any day now, the snow will be flying and winter winds howling. So, while you still have a nice day or two, how about a last-minute hike?
Here are three trails that are easy to access and get you out and back quickly (and three tips to help you make it a good experience).
The trails are marked for the easiest and longest route. You can take shortcuts that will increase the challenge but decrease the time. You can also turn around before the end of the trail to decrease time spent hiking.
1. Burning Coal Vein/Juniper Spur
Find it 15 miles north and west of Amidon.
Length: About two miles, round trip hike. Allow 60 to 90 minutes.
The nearby campground has a vault toilet and picnic table shelters.
Just up the hill from the campground, a couple hundred yards is the parking lot for the Burning Coal Vein and Juniper Spur.
You can go north on the Maah Daah Hey, but for a last-minute hike, we recommend going south on Juniper Spur.
The trail is easily accessed, very visible and even includes steps on the steeper grades. It’s a super-easy hike, but you don’t have to stick to the trail if you want to increase the length or the challenge of your hike.
An interesting point to see: North Dakota’s version of Machu Picchu. A tall, sandy hill that stands apart from the rest of the landscape.
2. Bennett Creek
Find it 7 miles north of Grassy Butte on Highway 85 and 4 miles west.
Length: About 5 miles. Allow 4 hours
It’s a gorgeous drive to the Bennett Creek campground where the trail starts. Just before the final descent into the valley, you’ll be tempted to pull over and photograph the view, and the remaining road winding down in the valley. The trailhead is a favorite starting point for horseback riders and you’ll find corrals and watering holes for horses.
This is one of our favorite early-season/out-of-shape hikes, a good hike along the bottom of the Bennett Creek Valley.
You can start where the trail begins, or take shortcuts down and up ravines to shorten the distance. You’ll cross the creek at least once, but in the fall, there is little or no water in it. It’s easy to get across, stepping from rock to rock.
About a half-mile into the hike, the terrain gets very steep and rugged. If you stay on the valley floor you’ll have no problems. Go up if you want to challenge yourself to get an immense and unforgettable view. Follow deer trails that switchback on the face of the hill to get to a good viewing point.
3. Long X trail/Maah Daah Hey loop
Find it 15 miles south of Watford City on Highway 85, east 2 miles of gravel on the south side of the Little Missouri River.
Length: about 5 miles round trip hike. Allow 4 hours.
The CCC Campground marks the start of the trail. There, you’ll find ample parking, picnic tables, vault toilet and a well-marked trail entrance. This is the north end of the 140-mile long Maah Daah Hey trail.
Like the Bennett Creek trail, this trail follows a valley floor, the southern side of the Little Missouri River Valley. You’ll go up and down slight elevation changes. You can cut across the longer loops, across ravines to shorten the length from one point on the trail to the next.
Across the river, to the north is the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. From the Long X trail, you’ll get a view of the park that few people know about. In the park, it’s difficult to judge size and distance of bluffs, buttes, and hills. From the Long X trail, you can better see how rugged is the Park.
Last minute hiking tips:
- Know for certain the exact time of sunset. Starting out, calculate the time until sunset so you can be on the return leg of your hike when your time is half over. It gets dark fast, and cold too, if you are out past dark. Layer up. You can shed clothes if you get warm, or add clothes as the temperature falls close to sunset.
- Take water. It’s easy to think that since it’s not hot, you won’t need water. Yes, you do need water! Take snacks, too, so you can sit and enjoy the autumn air and colors while you re-hydrate.
- Be visible. It’s hunting season. The odds of you getting between a hunter and the hunted target are very slim. Just to be sure, you want to be seen. Wear blaze orange or safety green that you can buy at a sporting goods store, or an equipment/tool store that handles reflective clothing.
Here’s another quick hike idea, but only until Oct 31, The Little Missouri State Park.
What are other quick fall hikes that you like?
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