Exploring western North Dakota outside the comfort of your vehicle is possible for nearly everyone. You can pick a comfort level on the Maah Daah Hey Trail and enjoy the region that matches your physicality. Portions of the trail are wide, easy and flat through the grasslands.
Other portions are challenging. The Deuce is a bit of both. It’s not even a year old yet, but it’s getting a fair amount of attention.
It starts south of Medora near the Custer Trail and is about 40 miles long, and extension to the south of the original 100 miles to the north. Its real name is Maah Daah Hey II, the second reach of the world-famous cross-country trail. It snakes across hills and valleys until it reaches near Amidon and the Burning Coal Vein. At the south end, the trail, as we explored it last winter is fairly easy. Like the 100 miles to the north, the trail is great for hiking, biking and horseback riding. With a series of camp grounds on the route, a multi-day hike, bike or horseback ride will now take a person 140 miles from near Amidon in the southwest to near Watford City in the northwest. Previously it was about 100 miles from Medora north to near Watford City. Easter Sunday, we looked for an early-season hike to celebrate Resurrection Sunday in God’s creation.
Out of curiosity we first took a bit of a detour before heading out on the Deuce. We drove toward the Little Missouri River, following map markers to check the Custer Trail. If the Forest Service map is correct we drove a quarter-mile or so on the actual trail, then got out and walked where Custer and the 7th Cavalry crossed the Little Missouri River. On the other side, we could identify the pass on the west side of the river where the 7th Cavalry undoubtedly marched to Little Big Horn. Then we doubled back to catch a good start place on The Deuce, parked the truck, packed our day-packs and camera gear and started out on an easy grassy stretch—for a while. Along the way we saw several signs that spring is here, that there is new life after a long cold winter. Like some people celebrate the first robins, ranchers and prairie folk celebrate the first crocuses of spring.
We used the Forest Service map of the National Grasslands, checked the topography of the region and found a place where narrow lines on the map indicated steep terrain. At first it didn’t seem accurate because the start was so easy and flat. Then the valley opened up to some of the greatest hiking in the southern part of the Maah Daah Hey. (Generally speaking the southern sections of the Badlands are smoother, less rugged, and “older” than the northern end.)
We didn’t go too far, just a couple miles, but in that space we came to the kind of terrain we were looking for. The narrow, hill-hugging trail wrapped around a butte, along a ridge and over a crest to give us a view of miles of The Badlands, the Bakken region of North Dakota.
Our Easter Sunday ham (sandwich) dinner and communion were in a sheltered area high on the ridge and out of the wind.
From there we could look back to the pass where we had been earlier that afternoon, where the Custer and the 7th Cavalry crossed the Little Missouri and headed west through a pass.
We could look the other direction and saw a reminder that it is not 1876; a Burlington Northern train pulled its way from Fryburg to Medora before heading west to Montana.
It’s our intention to go back to The Deuce to follow it closer to the Burning Coal Veins. It’s a worthy addition to the Maah Daah Hey trail. What would it take for you to explore The Deuce? Get more tips to visiting the North Dakota Badlands. Follow me here on Facebook at Beautiful Bakken https://www.facebook.com/beautifulbakken Or check out the website featuring western North Dakota and Badlands http://www.beautifulbakken.com