Car trip fun

Two mountain bikers head south on the far north end of the trail

The cool weather of the fall provides the perfect temperature to pedal the trail, especially on the north end.

Face it. Car trips can be just what you need.

Sometimes you just aren’t up for a grueling Maah Daah Hey adventure.

And an easy hike on one of these Badlands Trails isn’t an option.

The start of the Caprock Coulee nature trail is an easy jaunt with good photo opportunities. It does not have the rugged climbs and overlooks that the later part trail has.

Here’s a way to get out while staying safe and comfortable, yet still explore the Badlands. 

Social-distancing seems to be the topic that interests people who want to get out and get away.  You can do that in the Badlands.  We came up with 10 ways to social distance with your family in the Badlands.

In this story we look at how a car trip could be just the way to social distance for a pleasant day trip, or car trip.



1. Highway 22 Scenic Drive


Probably the prettiest and longest scenic highway in North Dakota is Highway 22 from Dickinson to New Town. At it’s midpoint Highway 22 goes down in to a valley, and from then on, it’s up and down through the Badlands.

Highway 22 Dickinson, Killdeer, New Town

Follow the sign boards on the Highway 22 Scenic Highway to learn about this region of the U.S.

It passes through a Bohemian community, Ukrainian community and ends up in a Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara community.


In Dickinson


Start the Highway 22 road trip on the south, head north to end up in New Town. 

A walk through the NDSU Extension Gardens in Dickinson in June is a walk through the roses.

Roses are a seasonal attraction to draw visitors to the NDSU Extension Gardens in Dickinson, North Dakota

Along the way you can visit the Dickinson gardens, museum, coffee shops.





Killdeer, North Dakota boasts great coffee and good food!

Turn north off of Highway 200 as it intersects Highway 22 in western North Dakota and you’ll come across darned good coffee shops and eateries .

Stop at the city park on the north side of town for a socially distanced picnic.

Or take a side trip off of Highway 22 to go around the Killdeer Mountains. And if you choose to get out of the car,

Back Roads of Killdeer Mountain, North Dakota

Those who travel only on paved roads miss out on some of the most beautiful vistas! Blessed is the rancher who has this view from his kitchen window! Dunn County, North Dakota .

explore a bit of the Wildlife Management Area.



In New Town

At the top of Highways 22, turn east on Highway 23.  You can then explore the historic 4 Bears Bridge Plaza, or the 4 Bears Peninsula south of the 4 Bears Casino.

four bears bridge and medicine wheel


scenic highway 22 earth lodg

The earth lodges are the last cultural stop on the Scenic Highway 22 road trip that began in Dickinson.

  The 4 Bears Peninsula offers several sheltered spots to get out of your car, enjoy the fresh air and beautiful scenery.


At this point, here on the 4 Bears Peninsula, you are about halfway up from the dammed Missouri River on the man made Lake Sakakawea that extends to nearly Williston.






2. East Custer Trail

There are two sections to the Custer Trail Auto Tour. Below, we’ll tell you about the west loop as part of a larger car trip. The East Loop has more stops and points of interest.

Click on the map to get a larger view.

The east loop of the Custer trail is an easy gravel road. In fact, it passes right through the “Easy Camp” that more than one U.S. Army expedition used on their trek across the region. 

grasslands badlands gravel road

Headed down the hill past the Easy Camp.

Start in Fryburg at Exit 36. Be prepared; gas up in Belfield because there are no services in Fryburg, just an empty school and a few homes. 

Follow the signs to wind in a westerly direction, ending up at the Little Missouri River where Custer and the 7th Cavalry cross the formidable valley.

Click here to see what you’ll see.

3. West River Road

hills around Custer snow camp


Start at Exit 23 (23 miles inside North Dakota’s western edge). Go north or south on this road for visual stimulation on what is actually a main connecting road through the Badlands. 

Go south on West River Road

sharp edges on badlands hill west river road

Formations along West River road, south of I-94 are quite impressive.

Old Red Trail

Sentinel butte highway 10 the route families took on car trips before the Interstate

Old Highway 10 west of Medora — through the windshield

Come down off the Interstate and drive the blacktop highway parallel to the Interstate.

This is a section of old Highway 10, or the Old Red Trail that was the transcontinental highway that I-94 replaced.  You can follow this historic route all the way west to Beach along the same trail followed by the railroad, cattle drives, tribal hunting parties and even ol’ Four Eyes himself, Theodore Roosevelt.

Custer Trail West Loop

The best eample of a car trip gravel road is on the Custer Trail

Or, turn south on the marked West River Road. Watch for signs to connect with the wild and rugged Custer Trail as it loops around Square Butte and Sentinel Butte.

This western leg of the Custer Trail is part of the auto tour, specially designed for you to drive and to learn of the trail from roadside signs.They provide a history lesson en route.


Go north on West River Road

walking up to large petrified stump of an old sequoia forest. car trip past the petrified forest

One of the petrified stumps on what was a swamp, eons ago.

West River Road, north, to Petrified Forest and Elkhorn Ranch


This route, north on West River Road, follows the western boundary of the Theodore Roosevelt Park, or more exactly, the Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness Area. It’s how you get to the Petrified Forest trail.  You won’t see any of the petrified forest from your car. So, if you want to take an easy hike, strike out to one of the two marked petrified forests.

Follow the map you can get from the Visitor Center at the entrance to the south unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park,and it will show you the way to the Elkhorn Ranch.  Along the way you’ll probably slow down and wind your way through Angus cattle herds. They roam freely on the open range.


4. Highway 16, Old Highway 16, Marmarth Road


This is our favorite gravel road trip route.  Starting at Beach and ending up in Marmarth — or if you are up for it, end up in Belle Fourche, South Dakota.

Highway 16 oficially stops at Golva, but unofficially,Old Highway 16, now a gravel road, reaches Marmarth.



Buzzy Cafe anchors the north of the business district on Central Avenue, Beach, North Dakota. car trip

Business is brisk in this thriving small town. Buzzy Cafe, at the far end of the block, has been an anchor there for many years.

Staring in Beach, fuel up and food up. Just east of the eastern edge of town, turn south on Highway 16.  This grasslands highway heads to Golva, and then turns in to gravel.  This is the fun part. There are switchbacks, hills, and plenty of deer and antelope along the way.  Maybe even a rattlesnake or two on the road.



A car trip through Marmarth goes past outstanding buildings

Once Marmarth was the busiest metropolitan in the region with an airport and large rail yard.

This section of the road ends on the western edge of the incredible (near-) ghost town of Marmarth


The Pastime bar and restaurant is so unusual it’s been written up in national magazines. 


It’s a white table-cloth restaurant that welcomes cowboys and adventurers fresh off the trail — dust and all.

Pastime Club Fine Dining, Marmarth, North Dakota. A True Culinary HIdden Gem on your car trip

Pastime Club Fine Dining, Marmarth, North Dakota. A True Culinary Hidden Gem!


Marmarth is on Highway 12 and from here you can drive west to Baker, Montana, or east to Bowman, North Dakota.  If you continue south across Highway 12, you’ll drive gravel to Camp Crook, South Dakota.  That has been our most recent explorations.




It is a delight to follow the Camp Crook road. 

a gravel road car trip goes past Capitol Rock

Capitol Rock, a few miles west of Camp Crook SD is just barely over the state line in Wyoming

That’s how to get to Capitol Rock, a national landmark.  But that’s another story.




So, subscribe to this blog to learn about Capitol Rock, the sheep country of western South Dakota, and the “back way” in to Belle Fourche, South Dakota. It could be your next car trip!

Follow us on Facebook to stay in tune with western North Dakota events, activities, scenery and surprises.

Share this story with someone you know who is ready to take a car trip through a fairly isolated region of the U.S. 





Frequently Asked Questions

  • Where can I find a map that shows me these roads for a car trip? Our two favorite maps are the large red-covered Gazetteer topographical maps available at Barnes and Nobles and some truck stops.  Or buy a U.S. Forest Service map from the visitor center at the Theodore Roosevelt National park.  Don’t trust Google maps on your smart phone
  • Is there cell phone service in the Badlands?  No. Well, not consistently. It’s best to prepare to have no service — and then be rewarded with a few hot spots near the National Park, Dickinson, Belfield, Killdeer and New Town.
  • Are the Native Americans friendly on the Fort Berthold Reservation? Very.  They are known for their hospitality for more than 200 years.  New Town is becoming a well-equipped town since the oil boom had brought a greater economy to the community.


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