Hike the Little Missouri State Park

Even if hiking is just not your thing, or if you are an experienced and equipped backcountry 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:


Autum leaves are beginning to show their colors in mid-September at the Little Missouri State Park.

Autumn leaves are beginning to show their colors in mid-September at the Little Missouri State Park.

1. Rugged Terrain in good shape


The 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.    

Caring for the trails 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.”

At the end of August, a group of volunteer riders upgraded several sections of trails that park workers could not access even with their all-terrain vehicles.  Their help was important because the young, unstable terrain slumps and slides, making it a challenge to keep open for everyone to use. The Back Country Horsemen of North Dakota packed out and installed 30 trail signs along the trail system.

Hiking the Little Missouri State Park can be easy.

Many of the trails are easy to navigate and still give hikers a good view of fall colors.

Trails for hikers and horseback riders

A horse waits for its rider at the Little Missouri State Park.

A horse waits for its rider at the Little Missouri State Park.

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 are perched 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 difficulty

A blue sign post points visitors to the continuation of the trail.

Blue marked trails are intermediate in difficulty and are some of the most popular.

One of the most user-friendly tools visitors can use are the trails that are graded by difficulty levels 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.  The map is 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. Click here to see a short video of the view driving in to the park.

A lookout deck gives a good view of some of the region where you can hike.

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. 


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.

A trail through the trees invites hikers to start a venture exploring the ruggedness of the park.

A trail through the trees invites hikers to start a venture exploring the ruggedness of the park.

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!


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