Take a drive along the Little Missouri River in the Badlands. Any time of the year it will yield some of the best views of the Badlands. Good hiking, good mountain biking, good camping.
Now, as trees turn colors its a treat to see good native color.
1. The Yellow Gravel Road
Be prepared for a long scenic drive on gravel roads that weave through the North Dakota Badlands. You’ll be rewarded, even if you will want to wash your vehicle when you return to civilization.
Drive the Little Missouri River lowlands. They are lined with Cottonwood, Aspen, and Ash trees. They all turn yellow in the fall. You’ll see some variety with the evergreens, sage and other plants.
We’ve found the best place to see the region is from some of the lookout points on the gravel road that runs north and south, west of the historic Elkhorn Ranch, Theodore Roosevelt’s cowboy home.
The Yellow Gravel Road options are available from several places. Best bet is to turn west from Highway 85 and head into the heart of the North Dakota Badlands to find new sights you’ve missed.
Take a look at this video to see the inspiring and stunning vista from one of the high points over the Little Missouri River.
Magpie is a sure thing
Other options include Upper Magpie or Lower Magpie roads you can access between Fairfield and Grassy Butte on Highway 85. Lower Magpie road is best and gives you the option of exploring the gravel roads of Blacktail Road or Goat Pass road. Drive to the Magpie Campground where you can get on the Maah Daah Hey trail to immerse yourself in the fall colors.
2. South Unit
Head to Medora. On the west side of town, enter the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. You’ll pay a fee to get in if you don’t have an annual pass. Drive the loop through the park and you’ll go high and low, through the trees, or above the trees
On the low side along the Little Missouri River, you’re in the midst of the trees. Go up to Scoria Point or the leading edges of Paddock or Jones Creek trails and you’ll get a large vista.
3. North Unit
That fee you paid to get in the South Unit at Medora, is the same at the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
The landscape is a bit more rugged. Bison are easier to see. If it’s color, you’re looking for, the Achenbach trail holds the best opportunity for seeing autumn Badlands colors.
There are short sections for a hike of a couple of hours. Many people make it simple and drive up to the Overlook then walk back toward the east to see the views from the Achenbach Trail.
4. Yellowstone Missouri Confluence
The woodlands are thick at the point where the Missouri River and the Yellowstone River meet on the North Dakota-Montana border.
About halfway between Williston ND and Sidney MT, not far from Fairview is the Missouri Yellowstone Confluence Center. It’s right next to Fort Buford and not far from Fort Union Trading Post. Colors are more varied here, reds intermingling with the yellows. You’ll also get a good chance to see waterfowl congregating on their annual trip south.
5. Little Missouri State Park
The most rugged region of the state is also the youngest North Dakota Badlands region. Drive north of Killdeer on Highway 22. Before you drop down into the valley, turn in to the Little Missouri State Park. This is where your drive along the Little Missouri River ends. The river empties into the Missouri River here.
It provides intense “in your face” landscape and vegetation. This year, there’s been a bit more rain in the region, so drought stress has not pushed the trees to maturity as in the south. The beauty hiking in this state park is the trails are marked according to difficulty. Even the easiest of trails is a good way to immerse yourself in the fall colors.
Oh, there’s one more place we recommend to get this view.
That’s the view looking south from Devils Pass.
What places in the North Dakota Badlands do you recommend we check out while it’s still autumn? Where do your friends recommend?
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