Highway 22, the Killdeer Mountain Four Bears Scenic Byway
Over the years, I’ve sampled North Dakota’s scenery and its easy scenic drives — from Pembina to Valley City.
I think this is the best for several reasons. And though I’ve traveled it many times, I often see new things, and frankly, I’ve got a photo library that is pretty big from this route. So, I hope you find camera-worthy images, too.
So, now that it’s warming up, I’m ready to bundle up for an easy road trip, a Sunday Drive – or any-day drive on Highway 22, the Killdeer Mountain Four Bears Scenic Byway.
In just a couple of hours you can travel the entire distance, then turn around and catch those attractions you missed. You can eat a bison burger in Killdeer, or Ukrainian dishes in Fairfield. Then, you can drive through the deepest parts of the Badlands. Along the way, sample Bohemian, Ukrainian, and Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara culture.
Start this easy scenic drive in Dickinson
I’ve gone both ways, from New Town, down Highway 22 into South Dakota and the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally. And I’ve gone north, which is the direction I prefer. It’s like a story or movie because it keeps getting more interesting the farther up the highway.
For a carefree Sunday drive I like to fuel up the car and grab a bite to eat on the way out of town. Dickinson is famous for eateries such as the Brickhouse and the Wurst Shop. There are many ma and pa “non-franchise” restaurants in town. I can’t pick a favorite because there are several distinct flavors where ever I stop. (The Brickhouse Grille is closed on Sundays and Mondays.)
Now that I think about it, a story on Dickinson’s unique eateries might be a good idea. What do you think?
But if it’s road food, well, Highway 22 headed north out of Dickinson leads past many drive throughs of fast food joints.
So after grabbing something to eat and water to take along, I don’t go far, just north of town, to the first stop. I wrote about this part of the drive including the county seat of Manning, here.
New Hradec is historic – especially for the history of how Bohemians settled here. New Hradec is the only documented community of Bohemians in the United States who came here from Crimea between 1861 and 1887.
The Catholic Church building here displays unique architecture. And next to it, the grotto at the Catholic Church is a respected stop.
Cowboy culture at Killdeer
I gotta admit I’m partial to Killdeer. It’s about as authentic of a North Dakota Cowboy town as you can get.
Killdeer is the largest town between Dickinson and New Town. Often I’ll stop at the grocery store, or hardware store on my way to the State Park. (That’s down below.)
You won’t find fast food franchises here. Instead top shelf local restaurants here are legendary. So, you can find at least three great places to eat. You can learn more about The Pipe by clicking here.
Or, if you want, on a hot summer day, there’s a cozy city park for a picnic or a nap. I’ve done both at the shady park.
North Dakota boasts many exciting rodeos, but my personal preference is the “down home” rodeo anchored to Killdeer.
The annual Killdeer Mountain Roundup Rodeo is as authentic as you can get. Click here to learn more. One hallmark of this rodeo is the ground seating. It’s always been in a bowl or valley that allows seating on the ground looking down into the action. That’s how it started at Oakdale, as you can see in this historic photograph here.
Its history plants it firmly in Dunn County – first Oakdale, then Killdeer, and now just west of town off of Highway 200. You’ll find it under the mammoth U.S. flag on the hill. When the flag was first introduced it took several men to carry it into the arena for the ceremony. Click here to see.
The easy road trip around the Killdeer Mountains
North of Killdeer, yes, they are geologically considered “mountains.”
(Definition: “A mountain is an elevated portion of the Earth’s crust, generally with steep sides that show significant exposed bedrock,” )
The long running battles between Sioux warriors that began in Iowa and Southern Minnesota, then ended at Little Big Horn includes the Killdeer Mountain Battle of 1864.
To get to the terrain of the region, turn off Highway 22 and drive on well-marked roads. The roads through the Killdeer Mountains wrap around a wildlife management area.
The wildlife management area is good for deer, hawks, and coyotes. Also, the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield will add to your understanding of the conflicts between the U.S. Government and the Lakota Sioux tribe.
An amazing cave or “medicine hole” once marked the centuries of history and the very unusual formation of the Killdeer Mountains. That is, until the landowner took a bulldozer to the landmark. It’s gone forever now.
The first year I was in North Dakota as a TV reporter, my videographer and I tagged along with a game biologist on a rattlesnake hunt. We got 61 rattlesnakes in a couple of hours.
The mid-section of this easy scenic drive is one of the most visually interesting as we wrote about here. I like to take people to the extreme landscape of the most rugged region of the state. Even my dad was willing to ride a horse on a trail ride in this challenging region. It blows away the myth that all of North Dakota is a flat prairie.
Here, the Little Missouri River flows into the Missouri River through some of the deepest cuts in this part of the U.S. The river starts at Devils Tower in Wyoming, cuts through the corners of Montana and South Dakota before heading north to this spot.
The park is open for hiking on different levels. Just follow the markers.
The trails require constant maintenance because this part of the Badlands is very young and still changing with erosive forces.
Wildlife here includes mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, porcupines, hawks, buzzards, and of course, the very prolific rattlesnake.
Lost Bridge, the lowest point on this easy scenic drive
Just north, down the hill from the Park is the famous lost bridge, (replaced in 1994). North Dakota’s transportation upgrade was interrupted by the war. A bridge built near the current crossing was lost, left standing until the road was built and became Highway 22.
The river crossing is your entrance into the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, home of the Mandan, Hidatsa, Arikara tribes. You can read more about this section of the scenic highway by clicking here.
The Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara are one of the handfuls of Native American communities that remain in their original homeland. The formed a 3-nation “confederacy” in order to protect themselves and stay in place. More on that story is here.
As solid and firm as the landscape, these people withstood the wars and battles that date well before European explorers and the Corps of Discovery who came through here.
Oh, that hill to the northeast of the bridge? That’s rattlesnake hill.
The lady who facilitated my adoption into the Mandan Tribe and three of the clans was raised here. She passed on to me the stories of Rattlesnake Hill and the surrounding area. Lydia’s stories of traditional gardening and family life sounded like something from the 1800s, but were real life in the 1960s on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.
Four Bears Peninsula
This is where I spent a lot of time when I lived on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. At the time, there was a mammoth frisbee golf course that crossed bays and inlets. My sons joined me for competitions that lasted nearly an entire afternoon on the course.
Now, it serves as a camping area and fishing access.
However, the jewel of the peninsula is the powwow grounds. South of the Four Bears Casino is a large peninsula where dancers gather in August for the annual Little Shell Powwow, That’s one of the largest in the state, and very authentic with barely a hint of commercialism. Tourists are warmly welcomed.
West of the Casino is the Earth Lodge Village. Click here to read more.
Wander along the walkways to see the style of ancient homes built to protect families from weather and warring opponents.
The Four Bears Bridge connects the two sides of the Reservation.
It’s a world-class, award-winning bridge, and is marked with a plaza on the west side with stories of how it came to be. So, this is where I like to get out and wander under the bridge on the paved walkway. In addition to being part of an easy scenic drive, this stop makes it an easy stroll.
Some of the images, including those in bronze are mine. I shot them when I was a photographer for the ND DOT as part of the record of the Four Bears Bridge history.
So, now what?
Now if you’ve done this easy scenic drive, you’ve spent more than two hours on the road. It’s time to go home..
Retrace your steps and get a new collection of visual images of this impressive landscape. Back in Dickinson, you can eat, sleep and unwind.
Or from the Four Bears Peninsula, you can head east across the Four Bears Bridge to New Town. Since the tribe developed its oil reserves, it invested millions of dollars in community upgrades. You’ll find modern hotels, grocery stores, gas stations, hardware stores, and other stores where you can take a break, or spend the night.
- From New Town, Minot is 75 miles away.
- Highway 23 east to Highway 83 to Bismarck is 153 miles.
- Williston is 70 miles up Highway 1804, a very pretty drive.
Help us out
Is there a particular spot or location on this drive that you can recommend? Is there another scenic drive through the Badlands? Let us know in the comments below.
Frequently Asked Questions
Does North Dakota have Badlands?
Yes. The western edge of the state from the southern border to the northern part of the state, about 150 miles, and spreading about 40 miles across. The region has been called Hell with the fires put out.
Where can you drive through the Badlands?
There are several well-maintained gravel roads through the Badlands, but beware. If it’s muddy or snowy the roads are treacherous. On the far western edge is Highway 16. Along the Little Missouri River are East River Road and West River Road. The major federal highway crossing the National Grasslands east of the Badlands in Highway 85. North from Dickinson, Highway 22 crosses the National Grasslands and enters the northern section of the Badlands.
Where can I find pictures of the Badlands?
One of the most extensive collections of modern Badlands images from the last 20 years is at www.mykuhls.com.
Many of the photos in this story are linked to the page in www.mykuhls.com that displays the Badlands.