Great photographs here give a sample of the Little Missouri River.

With the move to build a new bridge across the Little Missouri River, let’s look at how it cuts through the Badlands.

Crossing the Great Divide

The Little Missouri River is the most unpredictable, uneven, untamed river in the region.

start of Little Missouri River through grassy banks

About a mile from Devils Tower, Wyoming, the Little Missouri River begins its flow northward.

Starting near Devils Tower in Wyoming, entering North Dakota at the far southwestern corner and heading north, the river is historic in many ways.

Theodore Roosevelt wrote about it. Before that, trail drivers moved cattle up from Texas and followed it. Today, it continues its own fickle and powerful course through the Badlands.

North of the Elkhorn Ranch, the Little Missouri River is usually a lazy, shallow stream

North of the Elkhorn Ranch, the Little Missouri River is usually a lazy, shallow stream

Much of the time, you can walk across it without getting your knees wet. In fact, hiking and mountain biking trails routinely cross the river.  This year has been challenging to know when and where to cross it. 

Obviously, as this video shows, you won’t walk across it at this time.

 

It can be Treacherous

Every spring, the Little Missouri River throws a temper tantrum and will not be ignored.  We caught it in the spring when ice was carried downstream on the flooded interstate thoroughfare. It had jumped the banks and piled up ice so thick we could get nowhere near the VVV Crossing.

ice chunks little missouri river

Looking southeast from the embankment above the VVV Crossing toward the VVV ranch.

We returned to the VVV Crossing two months later. Instead of ice on the Little Missouri River, we saw green, and lots of it.  The VVV ranch in the above photo is just barely visible in the left-center of the lower photo.

Sun light on the LIttle Missouri River at the VVV Crossing

Looking a bit northeast from the middle of the VVV Crossing

No Bridges

A bridge at Marmath is the first crossing of the Little Missouri River in North Dakota.  Further north, concrete crossings accommodate traffic sometimes.

There are no bridges to cross the Little Missouri River between Marmarth and Medora. That’s 100 miles between bridges.  That’s why there are low-water crossings such as the VVV Crossing next to the VVV Ranch in Slope County.  Most of the year, fall, winter and summer, the crossing is sufficient to carry farm traffic and emergency vehicles.  But when it’s impassable, it is fierce.

 

VVV crossing under water.

Under a massively powerful current and tons of ice chunks, the VVV Crossing is completely inaccessible.

Normal water levels at the VVV crossing

The river meanders north through the Badlands. On either side is West River Road and East River Road.  We think West River Road is the most scenic.

 

Medora

At Medora, just a short portion of old Highway 10 remains in town, crossing the river on the west side of town.

Medora, Old Highway 10, Little Missouri River bridge

North of Medora, Interstate 94 crosses the river.  There are no more bridges until you get north of Killdeer, North Dakota, where that video of high water (above) was shot.

Lost Bridge Little Missouri River in the Badlands

The Little Missouri River valley is low and wide north of Killdeer where the Lost Bridge crosses the river.

 Another bridge is under discussion to be built north of Medora, south of the Elkhorn Ranch connecting Bell Lake Road on the west with Short Road on the east.

Little Missouri River crossing map

Alternate K-1 is the proposed site of the new bridge, north of the National Park and south of Elkhorn Ranch

Considering there are only a couple thousand people in any one of the counties sliced by the river, whatever crossing is built will likely not get much more than occasional use.

Between bridges, it is possible to ford the river when it is low enough.  The bottom is solid, but the water can be swift enough to float a little car downstream. A 4wd pickup does the trick in this video:

Further north, the Little Missouri River is often photographed from the hills of the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Just downstream from this image is the Long X Bridge on Highway 85.  It’s about to be removed and a new four-lane bridge will replace it.

As plans move forward for a new bridge, we’ll keep you posted.  Just subscribe to this blog, and get the free newsletter to keep you up to date on the proposed bridge near Medora, and the replacement of the Long X Bridge by Watford City.

Road Trips

Driving in the Badlands is a visual experience. That’s why we recommend one of the best road trips in North Dakota is to follow East River Road north of Medora

East River Road along the Little Missouri River.

How can you get to the other side? This is East River Road, but where do you get across to West River Road?

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West River Road south of Medora.

west river road through the green river bottom of little missouri river

The Little Missouri River Bottom south of Medora, along West River Road, cuts through some of the lushest vegetation in the Badlands.

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If you are ready to drive through ranch country and get an overview of the river, we recommend Highway 16, the Marmarth to Beach Road. It’s the perfect gravel road trip.  You can drive for miles and see no one, just awesome scenery on the way to the VVV Crossing as you follow the Little Missouri River.

You can drive to the VVV Crossing. It didn’t make our list of 7 restful spots in the Badlands…but maybe next time.

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