It’s kind of a scarred-up place.  

We like Magpie Valley because it’s pretty isolated and that’s why it’s free to be just what it is, wild and free. Antelope are at home here. We’ve seen mountain lion tracks, so I guess they know where to get wild and free food.

Right there, that’s one good reason to explore Magpie Valley.

There are more.

It’s a rugged place, unprotected, exposed, and a millennial old. And it is strategically placed halfway between the Ice Caves and Devil’s Pass. 


Fire scars

It’s open and exposed to wildfires that shape its future. Those are the scars on the west end of the valley.  

 Back a couple of years ago wildfires sizzled and burned western North Dakota.

That gave us the incentive to see what we could see. (Yeah I know. Gawkers, Looky-loos). About 50 miles away, a smoke cloud became a tractor beam to Magpie Valley..

The road was blocked. We backtracked a bit and found a high point away from the fire.

Easily we picked our seats, and watched firefighters douse small blazes. The Magpie Valley Campground didn’t burn.



Maah Daah Hey Trail through tall grass in Magpie Valley

The single track trail of Maah Daah Hey heads north toward the Ice Caves. The trail gets more rugged in the hills. Click the photo to see it in a Magpie Photo Gallery at

The other days we revisited Magpie. It was time to see regrowth — how well the valley was doing after that cooking session 6 years ago. Even though it was several years ago, dead charred trees are only a few yards away from a campsite.

Other than that, in areas where the fire didn’t reach it’s mostly new growth.  

So, now that it’s regrown, here are the top four things that attract people to Magpie.


4 Ways Magpie Valley is the Best

I don’t know if I should have told you about this lucky find – untapped. I’d hate to see it get too overrun.

It’s one of our Top 5 Places to see the Badlands in the Fall.

We adopted magpie valley for a lot of reasons. We’re tent campers, looking for isolation, remoteness, and so a semi-primitive campsite is good for us.

        1. Few Camp spots with RVs noisy air conditioners and generators at the Magpie Valley Campground. 

    • Campground is in the trees. 
    • Access to Maah Daah Hey trail.

          2.  Remote — Magpie Road gets little traffic

devils pass connects two hills in the Badlands sheer drop off of 185 feet.            3. Near unusual formations.

    • Devils Pass 3 miles south
    • Ice Caves to the north            

            4. Good for all levels of hikers.

    • Easy to hike valley floor
    • Challenging hills


Magpie Valley

Ya gotta picture Magpie Valley if you haven’t seen it. 

When you come down into the entire area on Magpie Road, you wind through remarkable badlands features, hills, valleys, bluffs, and one distinctive feature.

Castle Rock 

castle rock, wind erosion and water erosion shaped this formation

Just east of Magpie Campground is the unusual formation known as Castle Rock. It’s a fulfilling hike around the base for those who are curious.

Castle Rock. It’s a tall, eye-catching. unusual hill along the side of the road.

It looks like a castle. One of these days I’ll climb to the top.





At the bottom, Magpie Valley is ringed with steep walls on the north. To the south, more grassy tall hills.

This time, we figured we had enough daylight to head to the wall. 

Along the top, we came to an area of rolled concretions.

rolled concretions at magpie

Like giant logs, the broken rolled concretions lay along the floor of what was a ravine. The earth eroded underneath and these were land bridges until they collapsed.

They look like giant rock logs.

Typically, they formed land bridges when the ground below them washed out, and they were left perched above, spanning the gap.Then they boke and collapsed. 


Golden Hour

Time ran out, it was getting late. We stopped part way up the hill.

But that’s okay because the late afternoon changes the light in the valley.

It was the “golden hour,” and we like that.

It’s always our favorite time to shoot the Badlands.

Contrasts stand out, shadows are deep, and the valley turns a warmer color. 

On the way back, we hiked across the valley floor, across the dry creek bed, and through the shoulder-high grass to our campsite/picnic site.


The After-hike  Endorphin Moment

orange campfire in a dark setting

Then, back at the Magpie Valley Campground, it was time for an ice-cold “after hike” refreshment and snack.

We found one site where someone had left firewood to be burned.

So, we picked up where they left off and in minutes had a small fire to enjoy while we rehearsed our climb. We left when it got dark.

We adopted Magpie Valley for a lot of reasons. We’re tent campers, looking for isolation, remoteness, and so a semi-primitive campsite is good for us.

 If you go, weekends fill up fast. All 10 spots are likely to be taken. As soon as Saturday. 

It’s one of four remote treed campsites we like.  To the south a bit on yhe other side of the river is Elkhorn Campground., and about 80 miles south is Burning Coal Vein. Both are fairly treed and remote.

Campfires are allowed this year.  Sometimes they’re not to be used because of wildfire potential.  They’re good to use this year. So we did.

Directions to Magpie Valley Campground

  1. Head south on Highway 85 and go 5 Miles Past the Sweet Crude Truck Stop.
  2. Then west 15.5 miles on Magpie Road Forest Service Road 712 .
  3. Pass the Magpie Trail Head parking area less than one mile.

Campground is on the north side of the road, well marked by signs.

Ready to Road Trip?

Looking out the car window is an easy way to sample Badlands colors at these five places


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Frequently Asked Questions

Where can I camp in the North Dakota Badlands?

The National Park has campground in all three units, South, Elkhorn and North.  The most developed RV campgrounds are in the north and south units.

The two State Campgrounds that also accommodate RVs are at the lIttle Missouri State Park north of Killdeer, and at Sully Creek Campground south of Medora.

Also you can find semi-primitive campgrounds with vault toilets are scattered along the Badlands, including from the north, CCC Campground, Summit Campground, Beicegel Campground, Bennett Campground, Magpie Valley Campground, Coal Creek, Burning Coal Vein.  They are marked on the U.S. Forest Service map — an essential map to explore the Badlands.

Where can I find hotel accommodations in the Badlands?

Watford City, near the entrance of he North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park has 700 rooms, Rooms are also available at the tourist town of Medora at the South Unit, and the city of Dickinson to the east.

Where can I find photographs of the North Dakota Badlands?

Take a virtual tour of the Badlands with a large collection of images at