Now’s the time

The Achenbach Trail fits your physical endurance any time of the year – but it’s easiest in the spring. Temperatures are cool and shade is abundant. You can choose your difficulty of trail.

Achenbach trail through the trees

One of the well-treed plateaus on the Achenbach trail gives hikers a chance to rest before the next altitude change.


No matter how many times we hike the trails and backcountry of the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, there is one trail we keep coming back to, the Achenbach Trail.  You’d like it because no matter your level of fitness, you’ll find an accessible section that matches your skill.  The entire loop is nearly 20 miles (some measure it at 16, others at 18, and still more people add the Buckhorn Trail to make it a nearly 30-mile hike).  You can choose the section to hike to match your time, your endurance and your spirit of adventure.

It’s thought that once upon a time, the Little Missouri River flowed to the Hudson Bay. Glaciers changed that, and now the river cuts through one of the most narrow passageways in the region on it’s way to the Missouri River about 50 miles from here.

We’ve never done the 30-miles, but hikers who are more committed than we are can set up overnight camp off the trail if they want to hike it in two days. For those two-day hikers, steep climbs and descents provide a workout; two river crossings can be a challenge, but the rewards are unmatched vistas for sunsets and sunrises.


Bring more water than you think you will need.  You wil get very thirsty and there are no springs for  you to rely on.

To make your visit to the Achenbach even better, go during one of the “free days.”  We took advantage of it during National Park Week and drove the entire length of the park evaluating where we wanted to park and how much time we had to hike.

Late afternoon and evenings are good


Achenbach trail bluebird

A bluebird rests in a treetop below the trail. The most common wildlife are hawks or sometimes eagles. Bison are far more numerous than people in the park.

Daylight gets incredibly long mid-summer so there is plenty of daylight even at 9 or 10 o’clock in the evening during June.  That’s one of the best times to hike.  Mosquitoes can be a problem, so be prepared.  The reward is good light and cool temps.

On our last hike on the Achenbach, we had until 8:30, so we picked a section that would get us out into the overlooks above the Little Missouri River, and then cut cross-country back to where we had parked the Jeep.


Rattlesnakes are plentiful when it’s hot.  Don’t walk lightly. If they sense you’re coming by the vibrations of your steps, they’ll slither out of the way before you get to them.


This part of the trail, the “North Achenbach Trail” is only about 4 miles long.  One section of it is easily accessible near the famous landmark Oxbow Overlook; here families with young children can get a taste of Badlands hiking.



Take your camera, be prepared to photograph sweeping landscape scenes.


Further out, the view is spectacular as the trail follows a ridge above the Little Missouri River. Most of the trail is single-track. Some of the more challenging hillsides have ancient log steps laid out, but they’ve been moved by nature’s erosive forces; often, we found we were better off just making our own trail up the side of a bluff.

Achenbach trail rocks

Go ahead and make your own way down if you find the marked trail is inaccessible because of erosion.



Wear good boots. Several rocky narrow passages give you a chance to pick your way through the pass — provided  you have hiking boots with good traction.

A May or June hike on the Achenbach is perfect for temperatures. Mid-summer temps easily edge near 100 degrees or more.  The reflective surfaces make it even brighter and more uncomfortable. That’s why a spring hike is good.  That’s when wildflowers and prairie roses are abundant and the sparse patches of grass are mostly green.

But wait! There’s more!

What time of year do you prefer to hike?  Have you tried hiking on those 100 degree days? Have you tried a winter hike?

Here’s another good hiking opportunity.  The Little Missouri State Park has marked trails to suit every hiker’s ability.

You can stay “on top of things” on the Summit Trail.

Or if you’d rather stay cool in the trees, picnic, fish, watch birds or take a nap, here’s an idea: Lake Ilo Wildlife Refuge.

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Coming up in the next few weeks:

  1. a history of Fort Buford,
  2. a visit to a traditional powwow and
  3. a step back in time at a rendezvous.

Some of the photos here can be purchased at