No matter how many times I hike the trail and back country of the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, there is one trail I keep coming back to, the Achenbach Trail. You’d like it because no matter your level of fitness, you’ll find an accessible section that matches your skill. The entire loop is nearly 20 miles (some measure it at 16, others at 18, and still more people add the Buckhorn Trail to make it a nearly 30-mile hike).
It is more than a day’s worth of hiking – but of course hikers who are more committed than I can set up overnight camp off the trail if they want to hike it in two days.
For those two-day hikers, steep climbs and descents provide a workout; two river crossings can be a challenge, but the rewards are unmatched vistas for sunsets and sunrises.
This spring on the birthday of the National Park System, entrance to the park was free. We took advantage of it and drove the entire length of the park evaluating where we wanted to park and how much time we had to hike.
Daylight gets incredibly long mid-summer so there is plenty of daylight even at 9 or 10 o’clock in the evening. On this day, we had until 8:30, so we picked a section that would get us out in to the overlooks above the Little Missouri, and then cut cross-country back to the Jeep.
This part of the trail, the “North Achenbach Trail” is only about 4 miles long. One section of it is easily accessible near the famous landmark Oxbow Overlook; here families with young children can get a taste of Badlands hiking.
Further out, the view is spectacular as the trail follows a ridge above the Little Missouri River. Most of the trail is single-track. Some of the more challenging hillsides have ancient log steps laid out, but they’ve been moved by nature’s erosive forces; often, we found we were better off just making our own trail up the side of a bluff.
An April or May hike on the Achenbach is perfect for temperatures. Mid-summer temps easily edge near 100 degrees, or more. The reflective surfaces make it even brighter and more uncomfortable. That’s why a spring hike is good, but it’s also less green. We recommend late May or early June. That’s when wildflowers and prairie roses are abundant and the sparse patches of grass are most green.
What time of year do you prefer to hike? Have you tried hiking on those 100 degree days? Have you tried a winter hike?
Follow our western North Dakota ideas for traveling and touring on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/beautifulbakken
The website for Beautiful Bakken is www.beautifulbakken.com
Some of the photos here on North Dakota 365 can be purchased at www.mykuhls.com