Where to Hike in the Fall

An enjoyable autumn hike with an easy climb got us here.

Yellow is the color of fall along the Little Missouri River at the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park

We love to take advantage of a spare moment with nothing scheduled – or at least nothing that can’t be re-scheduled.

Mary wanted to hike. Her whole self was aching for a hike.  And it’s fall. It’s a beautiful blue-sky day, and the colors are changing. Temps are good for a strenuous tramp up and over the hills and bluffs of the Badlands.

So, we head west on Highway 200 to Grassy Butte and Watford City. We’ve done this trip before, one or two-thousand times.  Badland’s hiking is kinda what brought us together more than a decade ago – and we’re still doing it.

We spend the miles discussing the remaining hours of the day, wind, clouds and energy levels. By now, we know that if we’re going to find fall colors (yellow is a color, right?) then we need to head to where the trees are – and that’s a rare element of the rocky 200 miles of the Badlands. 


I learned a new word, “riparian.”  So, I try it out on Mary.  “We’re gonna have to find a riparian area of the Little Missouri River.” I love blending new words into old conversations.

(“Riparian” is the transition land between a waterway and the nearby landscape.)

The best place to get a look down at riparian plains during an autumn hike is from the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

steps are helpful on an autumn hike

Steps are helpful to get above the scenic drive, and the lowlands.

It must be her warm personality because the closer we get to the Badlands, the more the clouds clear out to leave just a handful of white puffy cotton balls in the sky.

The bison are pretty much done with rut season, so they’ll be more peaceable.  The big horns haven’t been seen for a while.  The construction continues at the Caprock Coulee trailhead bathrooms and parking lot. The park ranger says it will be open in about 10 days.

The trail is open, it’s just the trailhead that is closed.

So, we park nearby and head upward above the Little Missouri River on the south loop of the Caprock Coulee trail. It’s a long climb but the reward on this fall hike is just over the top. Just as soon as we think we’re at the top, we round a curve and there’s a whole ‘nother set of steps upward.

At the top

It doesn’t take long before we find out we’re not the only ones who can read the times and the seasons. So, on this hike, instead of the zero to two people we usually see, at most, we share the trail with about a dozen others.

Through the trees, across the sink hole area, and across the top of the ridge.

autumn hike through the sink holes

The top of the Caprock Coulee trail is like a moonscape, but beware when you walk past the sink holes.

Autumn colors

Here we get to see the colors below us.

A concretion is a good place to sit, rest and absorb the riparian valley below.

Then we move on toward the Riverbend Overlook, but not quite that far. We get on the roadway and walk down the hill to our Jeep. 

We’re careful to stay to the far edge of the road.  Drivers on the scenic road are looking at the landscape and not necessarily at pedestrians.

Once at the bottom, our thighs tell us we had a bit of a walk up and down the terrain – and our endorphins are celebrating.

That’s why we do it.  How about you?  Where do you go for a warm autumn hike?


Here are a ideas for an easy hike on a colorful fall day

Don’t stop!  Autumn in the Rugged Badlands is perfect exploring.

Now is the time to catch fall colors in the Badlands.

Even Wildlife Know it’s Comfortable Exploring the Badlands in the Fall

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it cost to visit the Theodore Roosevelt National Park open?

The admission fee is $55.00 for an annual pass. The annual Senior Pass is $20  If you intend on visiting more than once in a year, you will save money.  The vehicle entrance fee is $30/visit.  $25/motorcycle. You can find more information here on the National Park Website.

Where is the Theodore Roosevelt National Park?

It is along the Little Missouri River in western North Dakota. Three units make up the entire park holdings. These are differences in the three units. The south unit just off of Interstate 94, the Elkhorn Ranch Unit 28 miles north of the Interstate and the north unit south of Watford City.

Where is a good place for an autumn hike in the Badlands?

Other than the Theodore Roosevelt National Park there are several hiking trails.  The National Forest Service map marks the trails (from north to south) Long X Trail,  Summit Trail, Bennett Creek Trail, and Burning Coal Vein trail.