It all started with an easy hike on a Sunday afternoon
We didn’t plan it this way, but looking back now, we can see that 2020 turned out to be the “year of the hike.” There were few other options. Events and activities were cancelled. Galleries and museums were closed.. The great outdoors invited even newcomers to hike –even just an easy hike.
It was easy to for a family or individuals to enjoy a healthy friendly afternoon in the Badlands. If you are thinking of hiking this year, we can help. Click here.
Try an easy hike
So, we did, one very cold winter day.
Hmmm??? just what is an easy hike?
National Park literature about the two units of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park list several easy hikes — and more difficult hikes, too.
For us, last weekend, I proposed this easy hike: start with the Old East Entrance Trail of TRNP; it’s rated as an easy hike. Then, if we wanted, we could find a more challenging terrain and get some elevation. Anyone can do that in the national park. Get off the trail, hike the interior.
We walked past the old stone building marking the Old East Entrance Trail. We’ve written a little about it here.
We paused a moment, right on the edge of the prairie dog town to plot our course. (Hint: If you go now, no one lets the dogs out; they are sleeping.)
In less time than it takes you to read this, we both pointed to the northeast and a high point to climb. We wanted to get up higher to view the region.
Peck Hill? Who knew?
What we didn’t know, until we returned home to view our hike, is that the high point we both picked was Peck Hill. It’s a flat plateau, a rising hunchback of the terrain – 2860 feet. It is the highest point in the national park – beating Buck Hill by 10 feet. It boasts an incredible view of the Badlands to the north. We know that now. We didn’t know that until we got to the top.
25 degrees — but it’s a dry cold
We crave the lung-cleaning, mind-clearing, and blood-flowing exercise outdoors. And that’s what happened on this unusual January hike. In north country, January is just not humane or decent – often keeping us well below zero for several days. So, anytime temperatures are above zero is good. Above freezing would be best. But, oh well, the craving desire to get fresh air was greater than our fear of 25 degree weather. After all, it’s a dry cold.
Days end comes early in western ND, about 4:30 mountain time. We parked and got on our feet about 2:00 — Old East Entrance Trail. This hike welcomes all visitors, no matter their age or condition. You can do it, even this winter.
Old 10, Old Red Highway
The East Entrance Trail is about 0.8 miles, a fun little walk. Remember, this is an easy hike. No need to work hard. Part of the hike is on the old roadbed. So, if you are observant you will notice signs of the roadbed. The first clue will be little chunks of blacktop scattered about. That’s a strange kind of rock to see in a remote rugged rocky area. You don’t expect to see urban rocks such as asphalt in the rural rocks of the Badlands.
This easy hike takes you right on top of what used to be a transcontinental highway — Highway 10, also known as the Red Trail, or the National Park Highway. It used to carry traffic from the Great Lakes to the West Coast – and it ran right by what is today known as the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (Back then, it was Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park.)
With the opening of the Interstate, traffic was re-routed to a more speedy route. That’s when the east entrance closed in 1965. Then, the “personality” of the park was upgraded. Click here to learn more: http://oldredoldten.com
From Fryberg west, through the Badlands, nearly all traces of the major highway are gone. We were not thinking about it when I spotted a small, 4-inch piece of asphalt. Then, another and another.
Go beyond the easy hike
The old 1960 road bed was a good place to transform our easy hike into something more challenging. That’s when we headed upward and onward. Mary took a game trail to the right side of a major cut and I took the left side.
The route she chose was better.
Next time we’ll try a different approach to the top of Peck Hill: a switchback up the hill.
On top the plateau, we walked past buffalo wallows, and elk scat.
We headed to the north rim – and that’s where we think you would like to go. We urge you to take your camera. If you have a good pair of binoculars take them, also.
Man! Even with a dry cold, it was very brutal on top of the plateau, and so we took a bit of time to pause and get a drink. That was almost too late. We forgot that at 20 degrees, water freezes. Ours almost froze. So, we drank “water slushies.”
Once our strenuous climbing exercise completed, the wind and cold tried to penetrate our layers of clothing. We needed to find a little shelter from the wind.
So, we crossed over the highest point of the flat prairie to a row of cedar trees (bushes actually) to break from the wind.
Mary put on her glove liners and then plunged her hands into warm mittens.
The sun was getting low. We headed back down the hill and ended up walking on more of the Red Trail. We passed a guard rail post, and a fallen power pole.
It was easy to imagine visiting the park in the 1950s, curving and snaking down the hills, around the knobs and above creek beds. We stayed on the roadbed to the East Entrance building, across the prairie dog town and to our Jeep just as the sun set.
By the time we exited the Park, turned right to hook up with the Interstate, it was dark.
After and easy hike, supper at Burly’s
Then, we recognized we were hungry for more than a snack bar. So we headed to Burly’s Roughrider Steakhouse in Belfield. Their burger selection is more than satisfying. We added sweet potato fries, and felt as peaceful, content and happy as we had been for days. Lungs, head and heart all working like they should, and we felt good — especially with a full belly.
Are you itchin’ to get outside and turn an easy hike into a rewarding view?
The Theodore Roosevelt National Park is open all winter.
If you want to stay warm and stay in your car, you may still get the chance to see a bit of wildlife such as bison.
If you’re up a bit of isolation, go up Peck Hill. But know this, it is a significant physical challenge to take Peck Hill. The good news is, if you want to see massive landscape unfolding below you, take Peck Hill.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What is the tallest point in the south unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park?
Peck Hill Elevation: 2860+ feet is on the southern edge of the park less than one mile from I-94. https://www.peakbagger.com/peak.aspx?pid=6187
What is the East Entrance Trail in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park?
The trail is marked as an easy trail and can almost be done in a wheel chair — with one tricky rut to cross. It’s less than a mile and leads to the East Entrance of the park which was closed in 1965. The stone work and the stone building built by the CCC still stand.
Is the Theodore Roosevelt National Park open in the winter?
Yes it is open. The entrance fee is collected at the visitor station. If there are no snow storms the scenic drive from East River Road is open past favorite stops such as Boicourt Trail, Buck Hill and the East Entrance.
Can you hike in North Dakota in the winter?
Some days, yes. But if the temperature is above zero, or above freezing and it is not windy, hiking is still possible. The key word to stay warm is “LAYERS.” You must layer up with at least undergarments, warm heavy thick shirt, a hooded sweatshirt and coat. Two layers of socks will help keep your feet warm. Mittens are better than gloves.