Summit Trail

Some of the easiest hikes in the early season follow low land or follow Badlands ridges. Both have their advantage but we believe the Badlands ridges are at the top of easy hikes. There’s plenty to watch out for when you venture out in the Badlands for a stroll or hike, or exploration. Here’s one idea we found that was very rewarding, comfortable and safe. Summit Trail is closed, but we hiked it as best we could, anyway.

Badlands ridges can be easy

Mid-spring, the buds are beginning. Following a summit or ridge can be an easy stroll over grassy hills. It’s how our “hike” began.


Follow the ridges

You already know the view from on top of a hill in the Badlands opens up a seemingly endless horizon.  So, why not follow that ridge, hill or summit? Keep unveiling those vast scenes of undulating Badlands hills.

Following a ridge such as Summit is easier than following an up and down trail across a Badlands valley and certainly much easier than striking out on the Maah Daah Hey trail.  That’s because, on a hilltop, you can keep a fairly consistent elevation.  Following a ridge, hill or summit will have some grades up and down, but mostly they’re level.

Badlands ridges summit trail and Long X trail

The Long X trail follows a tributary to the Little Missouri River valley and stays low. The closed Summit Trail follows the ridges and stays high.

Hike the green squares

With our handy Forst Service Map, we followed a ridge South of Watford City, south of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park north unit, staying on public ground. Those are the green squares on the map.  Underneath the white “L” in Long X Trail and the white arrow, notice the very close lines of elevation.  Tha’s an entire ridge to follow above the dotted line labeled “Long X trail.”  We chose the ridge at the top of the tight concentration of elevation lines near the closed Summit Trail that leads ultimately to the Maah Daah Hey down below.

Forest Service officials and rangers warn not to trust the summit trail. It’s closed because several years ago severe erosion washed away many places on the trail and it’s only gotten worse since it was closed.  However, that does NOT exclude you from exploring the flatlands above the valleys.  The views are spectacular…and we promise no one will shoot you if you go look!

Badlands ridges are increasingly spectacular

On our short exploration of a few hours, we took an easy walk around a hillside and through a grove of trees.  That’s where the wood ticks are waiting for you.  So, wear a cap to cover your hair and light-colored clothes to make the little buggers will show up on your shirt or pants before they make it to your skin.

As you hike across the top of Badlands ridges, check out the high spots. That’s how we plotted our course where the old Summit Trail used to be.  It’s where you can plot your course to stay on ridges that connect the hilltops.

Summit Trail

One of the rewarding views from Summit Trail

When you get to a high spot on Badlands ridges, take your time to absorb the scene.  Then, plan the next leg of your exploration.  Trace the lines of the ridge to the next hill. You may find an entire chain of hills connected with ridges or land bridges that will carry you far in to the interior.

Badlands ridges connect hilltops

We followed a ridgeline that ultimately came across a portion of the now-closed “Summit Trail.” That’s the post on the knob up ahead.

As always, three rules:

  • Carry more water than you think you will need.
  • Turn around and head back while you’re still strong.
  • Don’t stay out past dark.

On the way back, you’ll see things you may have walked past on the way out. You’ll see the valleys differently because the sun has shifted and different contours are apparent.

Badlands ridge hillside

Is that a face in the hillside where we just walked by an hour earlier?

Both the North Unit and South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park have well-marked trails that include ridgelines. At least one in the South Unit is all about the ridgeline. The Achenbach Trail in North Unit takes you across a ridge above the Little Missouri River. 

Wherever you chose to hike, it becomes a fun maze if you get to a high point and plot a course to another hill on what you assume to be connecting landbridges, ridges or summits.

So, don’t forget to wear light-colored clothes, take plenty of water and watch the clock.

And don’t forget to take your camera!

You can do a ridge hike at the Little Missouri State Park.

See ya on the ridge!

Let us know in the “comment” section about a ridge or other area you recommend to explore.

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