Beyond the Beautiful Badlands of North Dakota –The Badlands Trio
I’ll admit I was surprised to find two siblings of the North Dakota Badlands, making a rugged set of triplets we call The Badlands Trio.
I thought the gnarly layered photogenic Badlands of North Dakota were all there was of the Badlands.
While the North Dakota Badlands may cover the greatest amount of land, the other pair are hugely impressive.
Of course there is the southern cousin, the Badlands National Park in South Dakota. It seems people know more about that one than the three up north.
Did you know about the triplets, the two similar siblings to the North Dakota Badlands? I didn’t.
All three of the Badlands Trio wear smooth variegated landscapes. Because they are geologically younger they can be much more of a challenge to explore.
Even after I knew about them, I did not experienced them until we made it a point to do so. That’s why we headed west. And it’s why we encourage you to do the same.
Makoshika at Glendive
A few years back, we decided the next time we’re in Glendive, Montana, we’ll check out the Makoshika State Park. How many times had we driven by the sign on the Interstate and not stopped? It’s only about an hour west of the North Dakota Badlands.
So we decided we weren’t going to skip it. Not this time. We headed directly to Glendive and the Makoshika State Park.
It seems that Glendive is like so many other small towns with a very impressive attraction. The challenge is getting visitors to stop and visit. Small towns everywhere share this dilemma. That is, how to convince travelers to take a break on their journey and enjoy local beauty. In Eastern Montana, that beauty is Makoshika State Park.
The town is an essential part of western history. It is an historic railroad, cattle town steeped in cowboy history. We knew that from our reading. What we didn’t know was the stunning beauty of the state park.
We were both astounded (flabbergasted?) when we drove to the southeast corner of Glendive and entered Makoshika State Park.
True to its Lakota name, it is “bad lands.”
On this particular visit, our mission was to photograph and document the excellent motorcycle riding available in eastern Montana. Sidney, Montana contracted us to photograph and write about motorcycle touring between Wolf Point and Fort Peck, south to Glendive. You can read that motorcycle touring story by clicking here.
A serendipitous discovery
The beauty of this member of the Badlands Trio, Makoshika State Park, was unexpected. From the first moment into the park, our attention was drawn up the road ahead, up the hill. It beckoned us to go farther up the road.
We noticed instantly that it is immaculately maintained. We also were impressed by the way the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks developed the attraction for both kids and adults. The park encourages children to do more than stand and look, but also to get into the landscape. That’s how they will see firsthand that history goes back much further than expected – dinosaurs!
Makoshika promotional literature says you can do these things:
- Archeological Sites
- Bird Watching
- Fire Rings
- Geological Formations
- Interpretive Center
- Picnic Shelter
- Picnic Tables
- Toilet, Pit/Vault
- Water Drinking
- Wildlife Viewing
That’s why we look forward to our next trip, setting up our tent in one of the 15 campsites in the park. Each one seems to offer a perfect combination of access and isolation. I can already feel the joy of unwinding at one of those spots next summer.
Headed West to Terry
Our exploration of the Badlands Trio, the northern U.S. Badlands, continued west on Interstate 94. It’s not as well promoted as some regions of Montana, but it proves that word of mouth makes a difference. When people told us how much they like the Terry Badlands, we aimed to find out how they compare to the North Dakota Badlands.
Many times, we headed to Miles City and passed Terry, Montana on I-94 without checking out the gateway to the Terry Badlands. It’s about a half-hour east of Miles City – which means you get a huge bundle of activities and attractions all within a short drive.
Terry is one of those “never die” towns. After losing a large part of its railroad business, the town focuses on two attractions: Evelyn Cameron’s photography and the Terry Badlands to the north.
Home of Evelyn Cameron
Cameron is unlike any other old west photographer who ever captured cowboy life. Born into a life of wealth, she moved to Montana with her bird scientist husband and set up ranching. Unlike the culture she grew up in, Cameron seemed to enjoy the hard dirt work required to build fence, shoot predators and till the dry earth. Even as a child in a privileged household, she was the one in her family of eight children who wanted to be outside. Their polo pony venture went belly-up and she turned to photography.
Her photographic talents were ahead of her time, both technically and aesthetically. The word about Cameron’s photos is:
“…captivating, expressive and technically perfect. Considering that photography was still in its infancy, and that she lived in one of the least accessible places in the United States, Evelyn’s vintage photographs of the old west take on an even greater attraction and fascination.”
Terry Badlands landscape
The Terry Badlands are a softer version of the North Dakota Badland. They’re not as steep and not as deep, but they beckon visitors to enter and wander. It’s the place to camp, hike, mountain bike, watch birds or stars. And if you’re blessed to have a horse to ride, this is the place to ride it.
Wind and water shaped these hills and valleys into geological bridges and arches that invite closer inspection.
Speaking of bridges, we found the experience is heightened by driving to the Calypso Trail. When you drive across the quarter-mile long 1-lane bridge over the Yellowstone, you psycholgoically become aware you are entering a new world. Click here to see what we mean, and see a video of crossing that old abandoned RR bridge.
What is particularly interesting to people who want to see how it used to be is the protection the area receives. One of the things that sets apart the Terry Badlands from its two nearly identical siblings is that it is designated a “Wilderness Study Area.” That means it has NOT been significantly changed by human activity, including farming or ranching. It’s doggone wild!
It is considered to be one of the crown jewels of the National Landscape of the American West.
That’s why it’s a good place for
- Wildlife Viewing
Unlike the North Dakota Badlands and Makoshika State Park, the Terry Badlands and the Calypso Trail are not motorcycle destinations; they are rough and preserved landscape. Click here to see more.
The Calypso Trail piques your imagination. You hearken back to its days as a bootlegger’s trail.
You can get a sliver of a taste of the Terry Badlands by heading northwest from Terry, Montana on the Big Sky Backcountry Byway. It is blacktop surface for a while – good for motorcycles — but then turns to gravel. Otherwise, it’s a car trip.
Or you can dive in more deeply on the sketchy Calypso Trail.
But you can only drive so far. Here’s what it is like crossing the Yellowstone River to the Calypso Trail Head.
Off the beaten path
This “tip sheet” includes the kind of information that instantly draws me in. If you want “off the beaten path,” then the Calypso Trail through the Badlands is exactly what you are looking for. http://www.montanamagazine.com/treasure-state-hidden-gem-the-terry-badlands/
↓Now here’s where we get personal. It’s our personal recommendations for visiting the Badlands Triplets. ↓
↓We call it a Triple Crown Tour.↓
The Badlands Trio Tour
You can’t do it in one day. So, plan on more than one trip – or make it a 3-day adventure.
Start at Dickinson
From the east, plan on spending the night in Dickinson. It’s about a half-hour from the Theodore Roosevelt National on I-94 and has accommodations for everyone.
Dickinson offers all levels of dining from tavern grilled burgers to white tablecloth imported chef specials.
The Dinosaur Museum, right next to the visitor center and the Interstate is a good place to get schooled on the dinosaurs whose steps you are about to follow.
Head to Theodore Roosevelt National Park # 1 of the Badlands Trio
The first Badlands Triplets you visit is the Theodore Roosevelt National Park south unit. It’s right on Interstate 94. (However, keep in mind, that if you want, you’re just an hour from a much younger and much more rugged badland region. The north unit is different from the south unit; some say it is also more intimate.)
Plan a full half-day photo safari at the south unit. That’s where you can view bison, wild horses, prairie dogs, deer, and elk. The north unit also has bison, big horn sheep, deer, and elk. Neither of the other pair of this Badlands Triplets in Montana boast of that kind of wildlife viewing.
Then to Glendive/Makoshika #2 of the Badlands Trio
Do not cross the border from ND to MT without stopping the Wibaux exit Visitor Center.
The “Visit Southeast Montana” guide book is smartly done.
Much of the text is so well-written it can be considered colorful literature.
(Some of the best written travel info we’ve ever read.)
Speaking of Dinosaur Museums, Glendive is proud of its museum. It is will change the way you look at the landscape.
To get to Glendive, take a 90-minute scenic drive west from Dickinson to Glendive. It’s the kind of drive that keeps your head on a swivel.
Take a frisbee – or a set.
Then get out of your car for some leg time on the frisbee golf course at Makoshika. Of course you don’t need a frisbee to get leg time. Just follow one of the trails to see where archeologists found skeletons of the some of the meanest dinosaurs ever.
Make it a day. The Park will occupy several hours, and so will the two museums in town.
When we stay in Glendive, we like to eat at the home-cooking family-meal restaurant called CC’s. Up the road is Penny’s Diner. And for one of the most awesome places we’ve ever enjoyed coffee and treats is a wonderful place we wrote about: The Bloom. It’s south of I-94, just off the business loop.
Off to Terry #3 of the Badlands Trio
Back on I-94 for a half-hour or so and you are at Terry, on the north side of the Interstate. For some reason, we have fallen in love with Terry. The people, terrain, history and other attractions keep bringing us back. That’s because there’s more to Terry than the Terry Badlands and Evelyn Cameron — especially if you are a history buff. Because of its location on the Powder and Yellowstone rivers, Terry has been part of the history of the American West, and the valley has huge significance to indigenous history, too.
Where ever we go, we like to browse local shops. Prairie Unique is one of the best anywhere in the Northern Plains. We often walk out with some of their local snacks and jewelry. Even more valuable is their knowledge of the entire quarter of Montana.
Need help? Got Questions? Prairie Unique has the answers.
If you forget to get supplies or refreshments in Glendive, that’s okay. For a little town, Terry is well equipped to supply you with everything from food and water, to clothing, gear or even phone charging cords.
The Kempton Hotel is an experience!
The Kepton Hotel is Montana’s oldest continously operated hotel.
When we first stepped in, everything slowed down. The fast hectic pace as a traveler remained outside on the front porch. The staff is downhome friendly. The décor and antiques announce that you are now in a time period from long ago.
You’re in old west history now, so do not expect the Marriot or Hyatt. Let your stay be more than a bed and shower. Let it be a visit to historic traveling by horse, buggy, or horseless carriage. The Kempton is clean and very hospitable. You probably will never find another opportunity to spend a night in such a place.
Leaving Terry and the Badlands Trio
Now which way are you headed? Of course, you can either go back to Glendive and Dickinson, or to Miles City. We prefer to go north to Fort Peck.
Fort Peck extends the Badlands Trio Tour
That’s where we came face to face with accommodations of the 1930’s. It was more than a geographic exploration; it was our own personal time machine. The Historic Fort Peck Hotel is on our bucket list for next time.
If you are ready for another step away from modern highways, and are prepared for gravel roads, you will never forget the drive south of Terry to Broadus.
It’s the kind of thing we like to do in our 4wd Pickup or Jeep. The scenery and culture are unforgettable.
Yep, we’ve had a strange year, this 2020, and so we have a pent-up demand to get out and get away. The Badlands Trio Tour is exactly the antidote to 2020 craziness.
We’re planning to help you with your 2021 visits to the Badlands by highlighting alternate lodging — places open for visit that you may not have thought of. We’ll also highlight small town eateries, family cafes and coffee shops.
We’ll introduce you to more backroads and more safe remote locations where you can socially-isolate and enjoy sites off the beaten path. The Badlands Trio is just one of the adventures. The Beach to Camp Crook backroads route is another popular adventure. Or follow an ancient trail, the same one that Custer followed on his fateful trip to Little Big Horn. Read about it here.
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In the meantime, this winter, we’re booking speaking engagements for your club or group. You’ll be the rock star when you bring us in to show your group tips and secrets to enjoy the Badlands.
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