This Weekend, Explore the Best Places in the Badlands
Don’t sit at home, take advantage of the weather to visit the best places in the Badlands. It costs less than you think, and the rewards will last longer than your bank account.
We surveyed readers to see what they say are the best places in the Badlands. The top 5 attractions are at this link: Click here to see the top 5.
This list rounds out the top 10 best places in the Badlands with two forts, a ranch and a camp.
History and Exercise Make These Some of the Best Places in the Badlands
Based on reader responses to attractions we’ve written about, visitors like fun, easy and historic healthy Badlands attractions.
It seems that people like to get out and stretch their legs while touching base with historic points of interest. Some of those include the old entrance to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and the 7th Cavalry’s unfortunate snow camp. Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch, and two forts on the Missouri River also provide historic healthy Badlands attractions.
#10 Two Forts: Fort Buford and Fort Union
Why: It is historically important because this is where Sitting Bull surrendered when he returned from Canada. Fort Bufford was established the year after the Civil War ended. It marks a strategic location for a nearly-forgotten fort, an outpost of “galvanized Union soldiers” (Confederate soldiers who were captured and then turned Union.) Buffalo soldiers also were dispatched here — and the reputation of the fort was what you might think: very harsh conditions.
Where: Just off of Highway 1804 about a half hour west of Williston. It sits on the confluence of two major rivers, the Yellowstone and the Missouri. West of Williston and Watford City.
Tip: Make it a 3-in-trip. Visit the Confluence Interpretive Center and the Fairview Lift Bridge.
Why: A privately owned commercial establishment founded to engage in business with the Northern Plains Tribes Assiniboine, Plains Cree, Blackfeet, Plains Chippewa, Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara.
Fort Union Trading Post not only was a commercial trade center, it was a destination for scientists and artists. It hosted well-known visitors during the fur trade period. George Catlin, Prince Maximilian of Wied, Karl Bodmer, and John James Audubon.
Where: Located on North Dakota 1804, the park is 25 miles southwest of Williston, ND, and 24 miles northeast of Sidney, MT.
Tip: Time your visit to be there during the annual Rendezvous. Our “Things to Do” calendar will show when special events are going on at Fort Union.
#9 Elkhorn Ranch
The northern of the two ranches owned by Theodore Roosevelt. The Maltese Cross Ranch was south of Medora. The Elkhorn Ranch was Roosevelt’s secluded, quiet ranch that he considered his “home ranch.” It includes a walking trail with sign boards. There are no restrooms, visitor center or staff.
The walking trail is well marked, and mowed in the summer. The ranch site itself has no buildings because when Roosevelt moved out, neighboring ranchers dismantled his buildings for the building material to use on their own ranches. That’s just the way things were back then.
Why: This was his healing place after his mother and wife died on the same day. Roosevelt sequestered himself here to regain his focus. He wrote, worked, hunted and rebuilt his character from the Badlands foundation. It’s what propelled him to be a president.
Where: I-94 Exit 10, Camels Hump Exit, then north about 30 miles. It’s all gravel with few markers. So, get a map from the National Park Visitor Center. The drive is as much a part of the experience as is the time at the ranch site.
Tip: Take with you Roosevelt’s book Ranch Life and Hunting Trail and then read the chapters written from the front porch of the ranch house. You can see exactly what he is writing about in his descriptions of the view from the front porch. You can sit on the foundation stones to be within four or 5 feet of where Roosevelt sat when he wrote from his front porch.
#8 Custer’s Snow Camp
If it were not for a May/June snow storm, the 7th Cavalry would have just camped here overnight and moved on to their fateful battle. We visited the site and wrote about how the nasty wet, cold 3-day snowstorm proved too much for the soldiers on their way to Little Big Horn.
Why: A road trip gets you into one of the best places in the Badlands. You can stay in your car and see much of it, or get out of your car to walk and hike the camp site. Climb the hill overlooking the site. Get a sense of the travels of the 7th Cavalry’s trek across the region. Bridges were built, then dismantled to get wagons across, firewood scavenged to heat freezing soldiers. Take water and food. Make a day of it. Plan a tailgate picnic. This is one of the best tours of the Badlands interior, south and looping back up to Sentinel Butte.
Where: Exit I-94 just west of Medora on West River Road, Exit 23, then head south onto Old Highway 10. Turn south at West River Road and follow the signs. ND Tourism map is useful.
Tip: Take water and food. Make a day of it. Tailgate picnic. This is one of the best tours of the Badlands interior, south and looping back up to Sentinel Butte.
#7 The Original Old Highway 85
Call it the Theodore Roosevelt Expressway, the Can Am Highway or Highway 85. It’s a major thoroughfare through the Badlands and connects I-94 with Watford City and Williston.
As we wrote here, we love to hike the original roadbed even in winter. It’s just west of the current highway and it means a lot to us because it represents authentic America — hard work, stamina, resourcefulness. The road leads to a river crossing that Bill Chaloner, (bounty hunter, lawman, entrepreneur) kept active during his ranching years.
Why: It’s a gentle hike from near Summit Campground, down the hill to the CCC Campground. Often you will see bighorn sheep on this trail. The roadbed carves into the hillside and rewards camera buffs at every turn. It gives a sense of what travel was like in the Badlands 75 years ago. At the bottom is where the Roosevelt Bridge once stood and before that the Chaloner ferry. They were replaced by the old Long X Bridge and now the new 4-lane Long X Bridge.
Where: Between the northern Summit Campground access road and the break in the hill, on the west side of Highway 85, Forest Service Road 842.
#6 East Entrance to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Why: The original entrance when Highway 10 was a main highway through North Dakota, connecting Bismarck to Miles City, MT. As early as 1947, the Red Trail or Highway 10 looped past what was then called the Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park.
It’s one of the easiest historic healthy Badlands attractions. Enjoy an easy one-mile hike, out and back, through a prairie dog town across a flat valley.
Where: At the far southeastern point on the scenic drive in the National Park South Unit, park at the trailhead parking lot and head east on the marked trail.
Tip: During hiking season, pick a peak nearby and climb it to get a birds-eye view of the entire region. Very peaceful. When there’s enough snow, you can cross-country ski or snowshoe to the old entrance. In the summer, dress for a climb to get the best views. We recommend boots such as these.
How Many of the Best Places in the Badlands have you visited.
Visitors who like historic healthy Badlands attractions love the top 5 attractions in the Badlands. Click here to read about the top 5 items such as the Cartwright Tunnel, Fairview Liftbridge, Snowden Liftbridge.
Take a virtual tour of the Best Places in the Badlands
Visit www.mykuhls.com to see galleries of images from the best places in the Badlands such as animals, rodeos and powwows. Get an idea of what Badlands attractions you will want to schedule.