Photos and Answers to Real Questions

The Badlands really are a mystery, even to people who live here.  That’s why spooky myths, and actual weird history stories abound.  And so people ask questions.

 The region is often talked about, especially by people who are planning to visit — many of them from just a few hundred miles away….and so they ask a lot of questions. 

These are things we’ve been asked in the last couple years. Is your question here?


What are the Badlands/What are the Grasslands?

grasslands badlands trees valleys

About 10 miles south of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park north unit, grasslands run right up to the edge of the badlands valleys.

Regions. They are geologic and topographic terms for different types of land. Click here: John Bluemle is the best source for technical differences.

For visual differences, travel Highways 85 between Belfield and Watford City, or Highway 23 from Dickinson to New Town.

  Much of the route is grasslands — slow rolling landscape covered in pasture, hay fields or crop fields.  Both highways break from grassland pastures to Badlands rocky hills and you can easily distinguish the difference.


Are the Badlands open?


It’s easy to confuse the North Dakota Badlands with the South Dakota National Park. Sometimes, people equate the North Dakota Badlands with the tourist town of Medora. “Yeah I’ve seen the Badlands, I went to Medora.” The good news is this: the North Dakota Badlands are open even when it’s not tourist season, even when Medora’s streets are empty, even when the South Dakota Park may (rarely) close.

Cattle roam freely and have the right of way as we drive west on Square Butte Road in western North Dakota. The color of the yellow clover was brilliant on this sunny June day.

Cattle roam freely and have the right of way as we drive west on Square Butte Road in western North Dakota. The color of the yellow clover was brilliant on this sunny June day.

The North Dakota Badlands is a geologic region about 150 miles long following the Little Missouri River south to north, about 30-40 miles across. On either side, the nation’s largest National Grassland frames the Badlands. The Little Missouri National Grasslands is one-million acres, and the Badlands cut a swath through the National Grasslands.

Hundreds of ranch families continue the way of life their families pioneered 150 years ago.  They don’t close.






Where can I drive through the Badlands?

ridges are tops for hikes forest service map

Green squares are public access and the Forest Service Map shows valley trails such as “Long X” and the ridgeline trails such as the closed “Summit Trail.”


You need maps — or at least I do. When I first started exploring the Badlands, I had no idea what was beyond where I stood.  I didn’t even know how to get to that “beyond.” Then I discovered the U.S. Forest Service maps. The world opened up for me! As you might expect, because of the broken terrain, there is no consistent east/west-north/south blocks of travel like in flatland farm country, or in a city laid out in squares.  Roads are where they can be built without sliding away. Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service maps detail many of the roads. Do not trust Google Maps.  Usually Google maps are pretty good, but it only takes one misdirection and you end up driving over a cliff.

Green Pastures

With a Forest Service map as our guide, we follow West River Road along the Little Missouri River north.

So, for a pleasant drive, we’ve found two routes that run north and south of Interstate 94: East River Road and West River Road. There are other good roads, but if you start with these two, you will get a good road trip through the Badlands.

Once you get into the Badland, every drive is a scenic drive. You likely will have the road to yourself — or may share with cattle or horses. Other than oil field traffic in the northern end, there is little traffic. It always gets a reaction from people riding with us when we have to slow down and weave our way through a herd of cattle. Cattle have the right of way.

And of course, mud and snow are great obstacles to travel in the Badlands.  So, don’t get stuck.

And at night, there are no street lights — which is a complaint we’ve heard from people; the roads are dark.


What is a good North Dakota Badlands map? 

It depends.

What is your use?  We like to use paper maps, especially the National Forest Service maps. You can buy them at either TR National Park visitor center or at the Forest Service offices in Watford City, Dickinson or Bismarck. We recently started using the highly detailed National Geographic maps  of the North Dakota Badlands. We got ours from On line, we’ve been using the apps called Dyrt, and All Trail. They record hikes so you can brag about your adventure when you return.  If you’re a patient online user, and know your way around a search, each county has road maps of their respective areas, including the Badlands counties of McKenzie, Dunn, Golden Valley, Billings, and Slope counties.


Are there bugs and snakes in the Badlands?


I was surprised to find out people shy away from the Badlands because they don’t like bugs. It’s called “nature.” Bugs and snakes are part of nature.  That’s not a bad thing.  A balanced environment allows nature to take care of itself. When you hike out in to the Badlands you’re hiking in their territory. But its actually a very wise question.  People want to be prepared, and that’s good.

So, beginning in April through October, you’ll want to make certain you use insect repellent. Ticks can be more than a nuisance. They can make you sick.


I stopped on the trail and the bull snake stopped, too. We took a few photos. He moved on. We moved on.

Snake are at home in rocks — and there are plenty in the Badlands. Your first defense is a heavy step. Yeah, I know it’s a cliché, “They’re more afraid of you than you are of them.” I haven’t found a fear-o-meter that can measure who is more freaked out — me or the snake. 



But, intuitively, I know snakes don’t want any human encounters. So, when they feel you walking their way, they slither away. 

Sometimes in cool weather, they can be a bit sluggish, slow to escape. On hot days, in rocky terrain, look before you step.

A small rattlesnake gets curious about our Jeep as it is photographed by a passenger. Coal Creek Campground, East River Road south of Medora, North Dakota.

A small rattlesnake gets curious about our Jeep as it is photographed by a passenger. Coal Creek Campground, East River Road south of Medora, North Dakota.


Where is the best place to see the North Dakota Badlands?

It depends

Just like life, you get the best views when you’re on top of things and not down in the valleys. So, in general,  to see miles and miles of open badland country,  we pick a hill top such as Peck Hill, Boicourt Overlook, Achenbach Trail or any other highpoint in the Badlands.

Peck Hill view

Looking north from the top of Peck Hill

A road trip will give you good places to see the Badlands. Take the time to compare the differences that eons of erosion made on the Badlands. Down south, they are soft and rolling.  Up north at Little Missouri State Park they are as rugged as any terrain in the U.S.


Where are the Badlands hiking trails?

Maah Daah Hey.

The Maah Daah Hey trail is world famous. Even the North Dakota State Highway Map shows the Maah Daah Hey (MDH) trail. U.S Forest Service maps show very detailed features of the MDH.  The 140 mile long, single track trail is one of the top single track mountain bike trails in the world.  It’s also a perfect trail for horses or hikers. Even families access the MDH.

how to photograph the beautiful badlands Bennett Creek Trail marker

The markers make it easy to go out and back where you will discover what is just over that next hill.

We like to use a variety of trail heads that reach the MDH; they are along Highway 85 as far south as Amidon and as far north as Watford City. We often take the trailhead to the MDH and hike it as far as we have time for — then hike it back. 

If we have a U.S. Forest Service Map, we’ve found the trails often lead to public access ground so you can venture off the trail, scale a hill and get that good view to take home. Here’s our recommendations for those trailheads that hook up to the MDH: Ice Caves Trail, Long X Trail or Bennett Creek Trail.

It’s how we found the original road bed for what became today’s Highway 85, the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway. That story is here.



Where can I see pictures of the Badlands?mykuhls advertisement ad riverbend overlook  

Can’t make it to the Badlands right now? Take a virtual tour.  Or, sample the images to get hyped about your next visit. Click here to see the photographs.

Images collected for more than 20 years, are displayed on the website  A few of the galleries included are: 

  • animals of the badlands,
  • bison,
  • horses,
  • cattle drive,
  • badlands interior,
  • Dunn County,
  • SW North Dakota,
  • Maah Daah Hey, and
  • events.

The website is popular with thousands of visitors from all over the world who may never get to visit the Badlands. National publications have shopped through the images to use in their magazines. The images are for viewing or for sale — even as post cards or coffee cups and mousepads.

Your Question?

We love questions — any of them, all of them. Got a question? Leave it in the comment box and we’ll get the answer to you. If we don’t have the answer, we’ll find it for you.

Coming Up:

Food! People ask the question, “Where to eat?” We continue sharing chapters from our upcoming book about attractions in the Badlands, this time focusing on the top five places to eat in the Badlands, according to readers.  
You’ll be the first to read the next chapter if you tell us where to send the story.  Just add your email to the “subscription box” at the top to get a notice in your inbox when it is published.

Share your love of the Badlands

One of a kind embroidered caps will tell people about your love of the badlands. Check our “shop” page.

It’s beautiful out here!