Find the road. It’s on the map
It wasn’t too long ago that people actually drove from one side to the other — but we wouldn’t. In narrow cars or buggies, they crossed the pass. Drive it now? Nope. Maybe the Devil drives across. He’s not afraid to go straight down. It is called Devil’s Pass. One misstep and you go straight down.
From the west, the road to the amazing stretch of trail is a two-track trail that goes up a hill. That’s easy enough.
But then you have to make a choice. Go or stop.
Take a short hike
Ahead, the trail wound through the trees, but that was the last of the civilized two-track trail.
What follows is gated, and marked. On both ends, a sign tells people just where they are about to go — Devil’s Pass. We imagined it was so named because it’s very narrow, barely 8 or 10 feet in some places, so that if your horse missteps, you misstep, your bicycle locks up, or the surface is greasy, you go straight down.
Enjoy the view
In the “olden” days, the route across the gorge saved ranchers hours of saddle or buggy time. The buggy would have to straddle the crown of the path, though in some places it’s wider, perhaps 20 feet wide. No buggies go across it these days. No antique cars travel these back roads. Today, it’s a photo opportunity for Maah Daah Hey riders and hikers.
Along the way are remnants of “safety features.” Logs laying on the ground are supported by what may have once been guard rail posts. Venture closer, look down and you can spot the fallen remnants of these erosion-control attempts, or guard rails
Not many people venture to the edge
The bentonite clay in the North Dakota Badlands is known to be an oily slippery surface when it rains. That’s why it’s best to follow the trail across Devil’s Pass when it’s dry.
The series of photos here gives you an idea of what you can experience if you cross Devil’s Pass. About halfway, the trail has a crook in it. At it’s narrowest point, it’s about 8 feet wide. Anywhere on the trail, the edges of the walking surface slope toward the dropoff.
At its narrow point, the drop off becomes the steepest and deepest. People we know say they do not like the narrow, 8-foot wide stumbling path– they’re afraid of heights.
It is not a gentle descent. There are no ledges to break your fall. You go straight down. The Devil (or gravity) has you in his grips. He’s taking you to the bottom.
Imagine jumping off the top of a 10-story building. That’s what it would be like. If you fall, your first contact with earth would be 80 to 100 feet down, then you would bounce your way further down another 50 feet to 80 feet or more. Look carefully at the photo to see if you can see how small a person is compared to the depth of the drop off from the pass.
My mother would freak if she was there with us as we were children. You know how kids are, running, playing, venturing across the sloped edges to the drop-off. Yep, she’d have a heart attack right there.
Coming down the wider mid-section to the lower narrow section looks like this video:
Ready to learn more?
Here’s more about Devil’s Pass.
It is one of three distinct features in the North Dakota Badlands on the Maah Daah Hey trail. Not far from here are the China Wall and the Ice Caves. Many people ride mountain bikes to or past each of the landmarks, but for us, we like to hike and photograph along the way. It’s one of the many features that make the North Dakota Badlands beautiful and exciting.
At the bottom of the many gorges in the North Dakota Badlands is the Little Missouri River. We’ll show you how to get across the river — one way or another. That can be quite exciting, but as our video of crossing the river will show, a steady hand is all it takes this time of year.
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In time for Halloween, we’ve got a doozy of a story about what life was like here 100 years ago. Crazy!
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Want to sample a bit of the North Dakota Badlands? If we know your criteria for a visit (time, distance, activity) we can recommend a travel plan. Road trips are always an option any time of the year.
The North Dakota Commerce Department, Tourism Division has plenty of ideas for you to sample in the Badlands.
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I have yet to traverse this path…its on my list for next fall. Not sure if I’m even brave enough on foot!
Understood. Even for those of us who don’t mind heights (I used to be a high steel ironworker), it is very impressive. Wouldn’t want to get in a hurry if it were wet and slippery.