Hike the Rugged Little Missouri State Park
Even if hiking is just not your thing, or if you are an experienced and equipped back country hiker, now is the time to enjoy the most rugged region of the state — The Little Missouri State Park – there’s no place like it in North Dakota.
Whether you are looking for an easy Sunday stroll or a more rugged hike, here are 3 reasons why you should try this:
Autumn leaves are beginning to show their colors in mid-September at the Little Missouri State Park.
1. Rugged Terrain in good shape
This region of state-owned land and leased land is the most rugged in the state. It is so young it is still shape-shifting:
- hillsides slide to reveal new cliffs and ridges,
- trees and shrubs grow where there were none before;
- trails are rerouted.
Trail upkeep is a full-time job, and right now, the trails are in better shape than they’ve been all year.
2. Season end is near
Camping space is available and the weather is perfect to explore the primitive area just 17 miles north of Killdeer on Highway 22. Quiet isolated tent spots are popular. Pull-through RV spots are easy to navigate. You’ve got just a few weeks to explore the area before it closes for the winter on October 31.
3. Upgraded trail markers
“We’ve got top-quality trails with good markers. These trails get you right into the heart of the Badlands,” said Jessie Hanson, the North Dakota Parks and Rec Field Manager for the Little Missouri State Park. “Now that Labor Day has passed, it’s a good time to picnic, camp, and hike or ride horses here.”
Volunteers often upgrade sections of trails that park workers could not access even with their all-terrain vehicles. Their help is important because the young, unstable terrain slumps and slides, making it a challenge to keep open for everyone to use. Back Country Horsemen of North Dakota packed out and installed 30 trail signs along the trail system.
Trails for hikers and horseback riders
The Little Missouri State Park is some of the most rugged, picturesque terrain in North Dakota. Most of this primitive park is accessible only on foot or horseback. The 47 miles of trails provide opportunities geared to all levels of hikers and horseback riders. Horse corrals are available for groups who bring in their own horses; artesian wells are located within the park for watering horses.
Visitors enter a landscaped plain of corrals, shelters, restrooms and picnic areas. The shelters sit along the edge of the valley and give groups an up close look at the last miles of the Little Missouri River before it flows into the Missouri River. In a day of hiking or horseback riding, you could spot mule deer, coyote, fox, bobcat, mountain lion or golden eagle.
Trails graded for rugged difficulty
One of the most user-friendly tools visitors can use are the trails that are marked and graded by difficulty levels. They are much like some downhill ski runs are marked for different degrees of experience. That means no matter your endurance or physical fitness, you’ll find trails in the park for all levels of users. Their difficulty is easily recognized with green, blue and black markers on maps and on the trail signs to indicate the level of difficulty from easiest to most difficult. Maps are online, on the Park’s Facebook page and at the Park headquarters.
- Green trails: Easy, broad trails with less slope.
- Blue trails: More difficult, steep slopes, longer and go deeper into the park and nearby leased land.
- Black trails: Most difficult, steepest slopes, following tall ridges and deep hillsides, more difficult terrain that elsewhere in Badlands
Drive in and get started
Here’s how to drive into the park’s opportunities. Drive back on the gravel road that leads east from Highway 22. You’ll drive along the rim of a deep valley.
Go ahead and pull over to take a few stunning photographs. The road will turn south to bring you to the entrance and parking for the park. Pay the $7.00 daily vehicle fee, take a short little walk to the north to once again view the valley from the rim. A lookout deck gives you a stunning view of the ruggedness.
Using the maps, find a trail that suits your level. Note the length of the trail, its distance and suggested a time. Don’t get caught starting too late, and having to fumble your way back in the dark. Hanson said hiking some of the regions can be more difficult than you might expect in the region; every summer explorers find themselves unable to figure out their way back to civilization and need to be rescued.
Not to distract you or anything, but just as you can camp at the Little Missouri State Park, you can also camp at other campgrounds in the Badlands. We did it. You can too!
So, to avoid rescue, time your exploration to get in and out before sunset, stick to the trails, take plenty of water, and plan to return.
On your next trip, you can expand your exploration for an even greater experience in the most rugged part of North Dakota. Autumn hiking in the North Dakota Badlands gets your blood pumping, and your calories burning.
We’d love to share your tips about hiking the Little Missouri River State Park. Got ideas to share?
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Tip: start your visit early enough that you can return before it gets dark and cold. We recommend about 11 a.m. By 4 p.m., the day has heated up to its full potential.
Tip: Bring water. You’d rather have brought too much than not enough. Trust us on this one!
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is the Little Missouri State Park?
It is 17 miles north of Killdeer on Highway 22, on the south side of the Little Missouri River. Follow the signs from the highway, just before it descends down in the valley.
Can you hike in the Little Missouri State Park?
Yes. It is a challenging and rewarding hike for those who are in shape for something more than a walk around the local shopping mall. Wear your hiking boots and take plenty of water.
Where can I stay overnight at the Little Missouri State Park?
You can “motel it” 17 miles south in Killdeer at one of the motels in town or just south of town. Or you can rent a cabin from the Badlands Cabins which is separate from the State Park, but is part of the area. You can also pull a camper to one of the camper spots. Or you can set up a tent.
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