1. Go When It’s Green

hills extend into valley

From the scenic drive at the north unit, several hills extend into the Little Missouri River Valley. These ridges are a good easy place to get into the park interior.

Now’s the time hike the National Park

After a couple of exceptionally dry years, the Badlands are lookin’ pretty good this time of year. That makes it an exceptionally beautiful time to hike the National Park interior. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is very green this year. It’s very photogenic.

Explore — You don’t have to stick to the trails and roads in the National Park.  So, if you want you can get off the beaten path, and get into the park interior.

That’s what we did.  And boy is it green!

scenic drive north unit



2. Get an Overview

Take a drive

Take your time — We first drove the scenic road in the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park at Watford City. That gave us a general idea of ground conditions. 


We looked over some options for a hike that fit our physical condition and our curiosity.



Since we knew it hadn’t rained for several days we counted on the ground to be firm and dry. Our hiking boots would do a good job of climbing.

Remember to go when it’s fairly dry. Badlands mud is a mud of a different slippery.



3. Pick a Spot

Hilltops or ridges are best

badlands ridges green hills north unit

North and east of the Oxbow Overlook is a deep valley with many cuts that lead to the Little Missouri River. They lend themselves to hike the national park interior.

Park on the pavement, not on the grass — We picked one long ridge between two deep cuts. It’s on the south side of the scenic road So we parked on the paved shoulder, and hiked over the grassland prairie to the ridgeline that jutted toward the river.

We picked a long finger of a ridge that reached far into the Little Missouri River valley.  The stroll through the grasslands was easy — just a couple of slopes.

Then we picked a trail out on a ridge and followed it out.

After seeing more options, we followed a shelf to a second ridge that went even farther into the interior, the valley below.

I hoped to see a flock of bighorn sheep. This is about where we have photographed them.

But, Ah-ha!
Other wildlife was available.


4. Watch for Snakesbull snake on brown rock

On rocks on warm days

Watch where you step — We stopped to identify a long bull snake sunning itself on the ridge.  It was camera shy and moved out of range. But Mary visited with it for a while.


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After that little wildlife diversion, we hiked out farther on the ridge to the end. I spotted a couple of elk down below in the trees. They only appeared momentarily, too shy for the camera.  This must be a good hangout for elk. I’ve seen them here in this valley more than any where else in the north unit.

We picked our way across the ridge to the rock point at the end of the ridge, or “hogback.” The wind went down, and the sun was warm. What better place to sit and soak in the green valley?  



4. Look for Wildlife

longhorn steers and sandbar at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Longhorn Cattle

History alive — Later, we spotted the longhorn cattle across the river from the campground. It’s been several weeks since we last saw them.  They are a significant part of western North Dakota history. We wrote about it here, a short history of longhorns in the park.


So, we parked again on a wide spot in the roadway. The hike was easy through the green grass.

mary green grass

We reached an overlook where we could watch them on the sandbar across from us. This time of year, be on the watch for wood ticks. Walking through trees, brush or even just the grass could invite a tick or two to hop on and catch ride.



Finally — Bison

By now you’ve heard of the people getting tossed about by bison in Yellowstone.. Don’t do that here.

Keep at lest 5 car lengths between you and a bison — about 75 feet.

shggy bison in green grass at Theodore Roosevelt National Park


Enjoy — The National Park is there for you to enjoy, so enjoy the whole thing. Hike the National Park interior.  Let the other folks just drive through without getting out of their vehicle.


Where can I stay in the Badlands?

In the north unit, people like to stay in Watford City, a small town with big city attractions. Several very nice hotels and restaurants.  In the south unit Medora is a tourist town ready for you to visit, or you can head over to Dickinson for a big selection of lodging.

Where is the North Dakota Badlands scenic drive?

Any gravel road in the Badlands will prove to be scenic, but the best ones are the ones in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  The south unit is going thorough some engineering work on the road that slide down the hill.  The north unit has some gravel patches but is generally open to drive from one end to the other.

Where are the North Dakota Badlands?

The North Dakota Badlands run nearly the entire border to border, south to north on the western edge of the state, just this side of the state line.  They’re about 50 miles across and 150 miles long from Marmarth, Medora, and north to near Mandaree.

Where can I find pictures of the North Dakota Badlands.

An entire photo portfolio of the Badlands is available at Mykuhls.com. Here’s the link:

6 reasons to buy a Beautiful Badlands cap.