For your 2021 Calendar — 4 more of the top Healthy Badland Attractions

2020 Badlands Attraction Goals Carry Over to 2021 

There are places in the Badlands where you will have all the isolation you want.  Like a fellow from Wisconsin told me on New Years Day, “The Maah Daah Hey?  Isn’t that the long trail where you don’t see anyone and you can camp along the trail?”  I guess it’s the reputation of the Badlands — good for quiet, exercise, sunshine, fresh air and isolation.  That makes the Badlands attractions bountiful — all over the region.

Last summer we found that people turned to some of the more popular places in the North Dakota Badlands for healthy adventures and exercise.  I’ll bet they do it again in 2021.  Like the guy said, ” It’s a long trail where you don’t see anyone.”

You might see some people at these Badlands attractions — or you might not.  Maybe we’ll see you there.


14. Snowden Liftbridge

How often can you find a mammoth engineering feat, a haunted river, an abandoned ghost town, and a 200-year-old trading post all within 3 or 4 miles of each other?

Early summer's wild flowers on the south side of Snowden Bridge.

The Snowden Bridge which spans the Missouri River, just west of the North Dakota border, is still in use for train traffic. At one time it supported vehicular traffic as well. To learn more about the Snowden Bridge, click this link:

The Snowden Lift Bridge, also called the Nohly Lift Bridge (depending on whether you tag the bridge with the town that was on the south end or north end), surprises visitors. In the midst of sugar beet farming and river explorations, a massive steel bridge with towering segments spans the Missouri River.  It rises above the visible landscape from all directions.

Why: The Snowden Liftbridge is a functioning railroad bridge – though the lift section is no longer used.  You can drive under it, and walk around the south end to take photographs. Steamboats traveled the Missouri River upstream as far as Fort Benton, Montana.  To get their tall stacks under the bridge, a lift section was built. The Snowden Bridge is unusual because the section to be lifted varied, according to where the river channel flowed. 

Where: The Snowden Liftbridge is in Montana, but to get there, drive on the North Dakota side of the border.

It’s about an hour west of Watford City. Starting at Fairview, Montana, drive about 15 minutes north. 

From Highway 200 between Fairview MT and Cartwright, ND, head north on County Road 147, about 10 miles.  The bridge is to the west of County Road 147 on a gravel road, about 1 mile.

How the trading post must have looked to trappers and tribes from across the river — minus the wheat fields.


Abundant neighboring attractions

Tip: Get out of your car and walk a little.  Follow the banks of the Missouri River to imagine what it was like when a lynch mob beat the bushes looking for a murderer.

Don’t miss the drive over to the Fort Union Trading Post, Across the road to the north is the old site of Mondak where the lynching happened. It’s across the road from the Fort Union Trading Post – and here is where you can wander and enjoy the crook in the Missouri River.  If you are up for some exercise, follow the riverbank for a short hike.


13. Road Trip Beach to Marmarth to Camp Crook to Belle Fourche

Explore from your car, winter or summer

Our exploration of Old Highway 16, once a major road connecting Marmarth and Beach in far western North Dakota revealed many enthralling scenic vistas. When we stopped near Pretty Butte for a hike and a picnic, we discovered this small area which seemed so distinctive against the prairie grasslands. Other worldly? Perhaps! Join us in our Highway 16 adventures here: Purchase this photo here:

Near Pretty Butte we discovered this small area, distinctive against the prairie grasslands. Other worldly? Perhaps! Read about Highway 16 adventures here:
Purchase this photo here:

We love road trips, especially when we pack coffee and snacks — and plenty of water. Then, we head off on a backroad such as this one to Belle Fourche

South Dakota was a distinct landmark for cattle drives as they progressed from Texas to Montana and the Dakotas in the late nineteenth century.

Capitol Rock, west of Camp Crook, South Dakota was a distinct landmark for cattle drives.

We get to see first hand how rugged the Northern Plains are. It got our attention a year or two ago, and we keep going back. That’s why we drove it and wrote about it — more than once.  Fascinating!

One of the most impressive points on this route is a huge landmark that almost no one knows about. Yet, 100 years ago, it guided cattle drives through the region. Click here to read about Capitol Rock, just across the state line in Montana, a couple miles west of Camp Crook. 

Old Highway 16 passes through idyllic prairies.

Why: The entire length of this road used to be called Highway 16. That highway designation now lasts only as far as Golva, but the road continues as gravel.  The terrain is varied. Sometimes, flat prairie and sometimes rugged badlands. It was a popular thoroughfare, connecting historic abandoned towns such as Alpha and Thelan.

Where: Starting just east of Beach, ND, turn south to Golva.  You can stop in Golva for refreshments and continue on south on Marmarth Road. Highway 12 is the stop sign. Head into Marmarth if you want, or continue south on Camp Crook Road. The rolling flatland is interrupted by bluffs, buttes, hills, archaeological and historical sites past Marmarth to Camp Crook and beyond.

Marmarth Pasttime ad


Tip: Spend some time in Marmarth. Eat at the Past Time restaurant – one of the most unusual eateries in the state. White tablecloth, top-notch food, friendly personable staff.

12. Four Bears Bridge

As long as you are road-tripping, head north to the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, home of the MHA nation. There, you will find a 100-year history of a split Indian Reservation, first-served by ferry, then an old narrow bridge. Now, an international award-winning context-sensitive bridge connects two portions of the reservation and the western part of North Dakota. It is the resurrected Four Bears Bridge, and you can learn more about it here.

four bears bridge

The beautiful Four Bears Bridge west of New Town.

Why:  The connection between Elbowoods and Twin Buttes on Highway 8 carried travelers from the Canadian border to the Black Hills. Then, the government flooded the valley, so the old bridge was moved to New Town. 

From the North Dakota State Historical Society, the first Four Bears Bridge built near the now flooded town of Elbowoods.

The first bridge stood at it’s relocated location for 50 years – squeezing traffic into two 10-foot driving lanes.

Trucks west of New Town had to take turns. A lot of mirror swapping happened when trucks met.

Today, two 12-foot driving lanes, a 10-foot shoulder and a walkway are much safer. The bridge design won multiple awards.

Where: Highway 23, west of New Town. Getting to the bridge is a sightseer’s joy.  The road from any direction leads thorough history and beauty. 

Tip: Wander the walkway on the west end at the plaza. It winds down under the bridge.


11. Ice Caves

For years, not many people knew about the ice caves. It’s long been one of our top hiking destinations. Now, others hike there, too — and it’s good for families! It’s really not much of a hike if you park at the Ice Caves trailhead — about a quarter mile. When people started looking for healthy out door activities in 2020, they found one or more of our stories about the Ice Caves. So, that’s part of the reason the caves are more popular.

ice cave attraction

On the north side of the Ice Caves are, towering bluffs provide stunning views of the Badlands.

Why:  It’s a short little jaunt from the parking lot across moderate hills and down into the gorge where the ice caves are found. There were more caves until a slide closed the entrance to one. But the one that remains is chilly even on the hottest day of the summer. When water runs into the cave, it can freeze on the floor – thus “ice caves.”

Where: It’s one of the most backroad scenic drives in the region. If it’s wet and muddy, it can be impassable, so choose well.

Take County Road 50 west from Grassy Butte.  At about 6.5 miles turn south on Forest Service Road 809 about 3 miles to Scairt Woman Road, then 4 miles. The road becomes Forest Service Road 713. That’s where you go south 1 mile. The trailhead is 1/2 mile west of Forest Service Road 713.

Ice Caves Trailhead Road Sign, Scairt Woman Road in Western North Dakota

Tip: The Ice Caves is on the Maah Daah Hey trail. So, if you are up for a 3-mile hike or mountain bike ride, (six miles round trip) across rugged landscape and cattle trails, start at Magpie Campground.

But Wait! There’s more!

Last week we wrote about 5 top Badlands attractions. Add to that, this week, four more.  But you know there are more than 9 locations in the Badlands for your enjoyment. That’s why we are preparing another set of top attractions in the North Dakota Badlands.  We’ll run them past you so you can get a good idea of things to add to your 2021 calendar. All we need to send you a note of the attractions is where to send the note — your email address. 

Take a virtual tour of the North Dakota Badlands attractions by clicking through our gallery of images.  See something you like? It’s for sale!

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