North Dakota’s China Wall

The oldest China Wall isn’t in China. It’s in North Dakota. The geological formation was formed many eons ago, long before the more well-known China Wall in China was built.

gravel road and cattle guard down the hill to the North Dakota Badlands

The road to the China Wall, Bennett Creek Trail and the Maah Daah Hey trail drops down in to the North Dakota Badlands not far from the Little Missouri River.

Bennett Creek Trail sign marks the route toward the Little Missouri River

Bennett Creek Trails is one of the best trails to hike any time of the year in the North Dakota Badlands.

Two routes to the China Wall

That’s right if you want to see the original China Wall, take a drive west. Get off the blacktop, turn west on Highway 85, north of Grassy Butte toward Bennet Creek.  Drive 4 miles of gravel through the National Grasslands, and then down in to the Badlands. 



But wait!  There’s more! Striking out toward the China Wall from the Bennett Creek Campground is a good healthy hike.  There’s a better way.

Instead of turning south to the Campground, turn north, follow Forest Service Road #823 as it curves west toward the Maah Daah Hey.  Then, down in to the Badlands.

Prairie dogs have eaten all the greenery in this pasture so that cattle have nothing left to eat.

There is no more grazing here for the rancher’s cattle to return to. The prairie dogs have scalped the ground like a lawn mower set too low. It will take years for any grass to return, if it ever does.


You’ll know you’re close when you come down the hill, around the curve on the bottom of the valley and come to the Prairie Dog Town. Read more about Prairie Dogs by clicking here.

We weren’t 100% sure how to get to the China Wall. It had been 15 years since I had last been there and never from the shortcut, always from Bennett Creek.

The Maah Daah Hey trail and the China Wall

We knew the key to getting on the right track is to get on the Maah Daah Hey where it crosses the gravel road we had just crossed. After a couple of trials and errors, trying to match up the Forest Service Map with the topography, we got on track. Click here to read more about the Maah Daah Hey trail.

The Bennett Creek Trail starts on the valley floor and goes up the North Dakota Badlands toward China Wall.

The trail up from Bennett Creek valley is a gentle upward hike, easy to climb any time of year.


Across the valley floor, up a hill, through the trees, and around the bend we came to the sheer face of the long sharp ridge called China Wall.  It’s 100 yards or longer, forming a sharp line at the ridge. One side is sheer, the other side is scalable. 

The China Wall North Dakota's Badlands -- a long ridge easier to climb from the west slope.

The west slope of the China Wall is a challenging climb made possible with good hiking boots that have grippy traction.

mountain lion tracks made in the soft soil, now hardened.

A pair of mountain lion tracks, one large, one smaller from several weeks ago when the slope was soft.


We found mountain lion tracks, one set large, one set smaller. They had gone up the scalable side, leaving their prints in the soft mud.  Now the surface was hard and their prints cast in the side of the hill.

The sharp ridgeline of the China Wall North Dakota's Badlands

From the mesa above the China Wall, it’s sharp ridgeline is evident. The Maah Daah Hey trail runs along the side of the opposite hill.

The best view is from the top

At the top of the hill, is a mesa, a flat plateau with steep sides.

Looking up at the top of the mesa above the China Wall

Barely visible above, the mesa above the China Wall drops off sharply most of the way around the perimeter.

 A quick look for mountain lion scat or meal leftovers, and we found none.  But now we know if we want to site a mountain lion, where we can go, hide out and wait for one to appear.

Here is video proof that from up above, the view is one you’ll always remember.  

YouTube player

As always, the trip down took much less time than the hike up the hill. We drank our water to rehydrate because even when it’s not summertime heat, it’s still important to stay fluid, even if your mind thinks you’re not thirsty.

The rolling hills of the North Dakota Badlands.

From the mesa above the China Wall, looking to the northwest, the North Dakota Badlands seem endless. The white dot on the right side near the center is the parked pickup truck where we started.

Your Turn

Next time we’ll head to the China Wall from Bennett Creek.  Have you hiked Bennett Creek Trail?  What are landmarks you recommend?   We’re always looking for points of interest we’ve not yet explored, so what do you suggest?

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Oh, and don’t forget to check out the most comprehensive calendar of events in Western North Dakota.  It’s on the Things to Do page.  You’ll love it!