2020 turned out to be a year of outdoor activity, and hiking. So, we’ve written a lot about the trails in the Badlands for healthy recreation. Conversely, very few events drew people to the Badlands in 2020. These three popular trails drew the most interest in our survey of readers interested in visiting the Badlands.
Magpie is a valley, trail, and campground smack dab in the middle between the rolling beauty of the south Badlands and the deep cuts of the north Badlands.
Why: Magpie attracts people for at least four reasons. Even if you are not up for a hike on a popular trail such as the Maah Daah Hey, or the Magpie Connection, the drive is worth it.
- Magpie road gets you there. Grasslands turn into Badlands. Along the way, striking formations such as Castle Rock catch sunlight and shadows.
- Magpie Creek feeds the Little Missouri River. Following the creek is a fascinating trek through the valley.
- In the valley is the wooded Magpie Campground.
- From there you can hike to Maah Daah Hey trail (click here), the Ice Caves (click here) to the north, and Devils Pass (click here) to the south.
Where: About 2 miles north of Fairfield turn west for 15 miles.
Tip: For less than a tank of gas, take a tour. Just east of Magpie Valley, turn south on Goat Pass road or Black Tail road for an impressive drive along the ridges and hills in this region of the Badlands – rougher than the south unit, and tamer than Little Missouri State Park.
After: We like to eat at the Four Corners Café at Fairfield — when we get there early enough. The carrot cake is the best.
You’ll feel a rush of endorphins when you finish this trail — smiling inside and out. The reward of Summit Trail is the stunning views, fresh air, clear-headed relief and the heart-pumping exercise you’ll get. It’s not the popular trail it once was — because “officially” it is closed.
The trail was officially closed in 2012 because the trail followed a hillside that continues to erode and slide. So, it can be a bit tricky, and very challenging.
Why: Summit follows a ridgeline overlooking the Little Missouri River and the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. You make up your route as you go, sometimes connecting with the old trail, making your trail. You can make it as easy or as hard as you want and get massive views of the Badlands from every hilltop.
Where: On the west edge of Highway 85, south of the Long X Bridge and the Little Missouri River Valley
Tip: Summit Campground is the trailhead. The campground includes a picnic shelter and vault toilets.
This is one of the most popular trails in the North Dakota Badlands. Rangers in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park south unit encourage people to watch the sun set from Boicourt Trail and Boicourt Overlook.
The first part of the trail is handicap accessible. It includes concrete pavement wheelchair turnarounds, and benches. The spring colors of the Badlands are amazing when you see them from Boicourt.
Why: About a mile and a half east of the trailhead is where the namesake ranch once stood that gave the trail its name. To the south and west is a lowland area that rangers sometimes call “the donut.” It is lowland ringed by hills, including the Boicourt Trail. If you are ready for a bit more of a challenge than the marked popular trail, go beyond the first drop, cross the pass below and back up the other side.
Where: The trailhead is a few hundred yards south of Boicourt Overlook. To get there, follow the National Park south unit scenic road east of the East River Road intersection. It’s about 20 miles from the visitor center and about 4 miles from the end of the scenic road.
Tip: Along the way, you can visit popular overlooks such as Wind Canyon. You will likely pass by or through small herds of bison, and in the evening, mule deer and elk can be seen on the ridges above the road.
At the bottom of the hill before reaching Boicourt notice the smoke coming up from the ground. A controlled burn in the park ignited a coal bed that will likely smolder for years to come.
After: When we leave the south unit, we like to eat where the locals say is the best place in the region to eat. About 10 miles east of the National Park is the popular family restaurant, Burly’s on Main Street in Belfield.
Our series of popular trails and other attractions in the North Dakota Badlands will be included in an upcoming book listing the top attractions in western ND.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Where are the North Dakota Badlands?
The North Dakota Badlands run the north-south length of the western edge of North Dakota. They start near Highway 12 at Marmarth and follow the Little Missouri River north to near Mandaree and the Little Missouri State Park.
How do I find popular trails to hike in the Badlands?
Go to the U.S. Forest Service map, the North Dakota Tourism Department, or follow Beautiful Badlands ND where we post many of the most popular trails in the Badlands.
Where can I find photographs of the North Dakota Badlands?
More than 500 images of the North Dakota Badlands can be found at this website: https://www.mykuhls.com/Beautiful/Beautifulbadlandsnd/. The images are available for purchase.
The site also includes other galleries of animals of the Badlands, events in the Badlands and other images.