You can see why this is a popular easy rugged trip: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

A bison sleeps at the entrance of the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

I love taking visitors, even young children to the North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP). It’s on the very south edge of McKenzie County, and is one of those features that makes McKenzie County a world class destination.  In classic North Dakota style, the TRNP under promises and over delivers.  You’ll be amazed when you put on your hiking shoes and explore the park.

It’s a rugged wilderness with a variety of trails through the park to suit all types of hikers. That’s why, when we visit the park, we don’t stay in the car, we get out of the car and in to nature.  When my three kids were in their energetic elementary and preschool days, they could be loose, free and safe to run, explore and challenge one another.

Sure, some people just drive through the park, a 14-mile Scenic Drive that leads from the entrance station to Oxbow Overlook, with turnouts and interpretive signs along the way. Drive-by tourists look for bison, park at the top loop and the lookout post, then drive away.

You can see the Little Missouri River from the far end of the park, near the Overlook Shelter

The park is there for you to experience, not merely view. So, along the 14-mile drive, you will pass a number of hiking trails. Some are self-guiding nature trails that have interpretive brochures to help you learn more about the park.

The Caprock Coulee nature trail is an easy jaunt with good photo opportunities. It does not have the rugged climbs and overlooks that the Achenbach trail has.

 

 

History

The idea for a park was evolutionary.  It started to be just an idea for a memorial to President Theodore Roosevelt in about 1919 shortly after he died.  Eventually, in addition to a connection with a president, the land was recognized for its diverse cultural and natural resources. On November 10, 1978, the area was given national park status when President Carter signed the bill that changed the memorial park to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

 

Here’s the history of the park

When Theodore Roosevelt came to Dakota Territory to hunt bison in 1885, he was a skinny, young, spectacled dude from New York. He could not have imagined how his adventure in this remote and unfamiliar place would forever alter the course of the nation. The rugged landscape and strenuous life that TR experienced here would help shape a conservation policy that we still benefit from today.  –from the the National Park System publication about TRNP

Our recommendation

The North Unit is eons younger than it’s twin in the southern part of the state, the South Unit near Medora. The North Unit is more rugged and challenging. It also has less tourist traffic since it is more remote than the South Unit. The South Unit is on Interstate 94 and easily attracts people to pull off the Interstate.

Our personal favorite is to hike all or part of the Achenbach Trial. It is 18 miles long and you can extend it in to a two-day hike. If you intend to camp in the backcountry must obtain a free backcountry permit prior to their trip. Permits are issued at the South Unit and North Unit visitor centers. The full trail provides steep climbs and descents and two river crossings await you on a trail that leads deep into the heart of the Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness. 

It’s tough to do in one day, so we recommend just taking the west end of the trail down the hill from the Oxbow overlook.  The map will shows where to get on and off. 

Family Tip

If you have children, try the Caprock Coulee or Cannonball Concretions for a couple hours.  If you keep it short, you won’t get as worn out, and the kids will look forward to returning.

See what we saw

Last fall, we hiked the west portion of the Achenbach. We parked our Jeep near the bottom of the hill, and hiked up over a ridge to the south to intersect with the trail. Once on the trail, we headed westerly.  It’s an upward grade, but we were fresh, so it was an easy hike up. 

We’d stop every so often to look over the hills, or look back to see how far we’d come. 

At one of the highest points on the Achenbach Trail, near the west terminus, a look back at where the trail started.

It doesn’t seem like much until you look back to see where you started.  There are attractive/amazing/impressive spots along the trail where we got and exercise climbing over, around or through rock formations.

The Oxbow Overlook is one of the most photographed buildings in the state.

How to get there

The North Unit is a 50-mile drive north from Interstate 94.  Or a 15 mile drive south of Watford City in McKenzie County.  It’s a good highway in to the park from either direction.  The highway in the park is well-maintained.  Motorcyclists often make it a day ride to and through the park.

The 14-mile loop in the park attracts motorcyclists and others who ride through the canyon floor up to the overlook at the end. The highway is below some of the higher points on the trail.

Stop in the visitor center when you pay the entrance fee to get maps. There are three easy trails, each shorter than one mile and can be hiked in less than a half hour.

 It’s right on Highway 85, a modern two-lane highway 50 miles north from Belfield and Interstate 94.  Or you can come down from the north, about 14 miles south of Watford City on Highway 85.

Can you recommend a hike in the North Unit?

What to read more?  Here’s a link to read more about the Achenbach Trail  

Here’s the link to get the Park Hiking Guide

Subscribe to get more vacation and exploration ideas from Western North Dakota.

Enter the word “McKenzie” in the subject line to get a free 22-page eGuide to places to go in McKenzie County.

 

 

 

 

Three happy, hardy, healthy ways to get into the Badlands — The Poco Rio Frio race

Snow tires on a bicycle? You bet.  It’s a “fat bike.”

fat bike rider on the Maah Daah Hey trail

Riding a fat bike, a trail rider in orange heads out for a two to 5 mile loop on the Maah Daah Hey Trail

If you put snow tires on a specially built bicycle you’ve got the way to travel through the Badlands. Your tourism opportunities just took a turn for better health.  South of Watford City at the CCC Campground just off of Highway 85, you’ll find an easily accessed and groomed trail for hiking, xc skiing, snowshoeing or fatbike riding.

Not just the tires, but the entire frame, sprockets, gears and axles of a fat bike are set up to help riders through the snow.

Not just the tires, but the entire frame, sprockets, gears and axles of a fat bike are set up to help riders through the snow.

Explore. Exercise. Get away from the crowds – unless of course, it is the Poco Rio Frio race.  Then you have an additional benefit of getting with like-minded people. Outdoorsy, healthy, happy.

Riders, hikers, snowshoers and cross country skiers could take a break around a camp fire, get a bite to eat before their next loop on the trail

Riders, hikers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers could take a break around a campfire, get a bite to eat before their next loop on the trail.

 

“I think the best part is getting with other out here, friends to share this experience with, “said organizer Nick Ybarra.

Ybarra promoted the event across the region. One week before he’d organized a snowshoe trek on the same track.  It packed down the snow that otherwise would be as much a four feet deep.  The afternoon work by Ybarra, his family and friends turned the trails in to perfectly groomed trails for riders, showshoers and cross country skiers.

A cross country skier navigates the Long X trail on a two to five mile loop.

A cross country skier navigates the Long X trail on a two to five-mile loop.

Here’s the story on the fun day of snowshoe packing the trail

So, when riders hit the trail, it was packed and ready for their fat bikes.  Riders from as far as Fargo, Hazen and Bismarck racked up miles on two loops through the upper Badlands, one 2.5 miles, the other 4.5 miles.

 

 

A rider starts out on the packed and solid Maah Daah Hey loop that will bring him back around on the Long X trail in the Poco Rio Frio race.

Sean Hatten on one of his many laps to his first place, 54-mile victory!

Around and around the loops they went. The longest ride of the day was 54 miles! Both with their unique challenges such as the portion over the creek that empties in to the Little Missouri River. It’s frozen now, and in the morning, it was glare ice. After snow fell mid-day it became a smooth track easy glide for a short section to break up the heart-racing, deep breathing of the hills riders pedaled up and coasted down.

Riders looped around on the head of the Maah Daah Hey trail. Or they followed the Long X trail, or both.  The goal was to make as many laps as possible in the allotted time.

The Poco Rio Frio race included 19 fatbike riders, 42 snowshoers and two cross country skiers. After each round, they marked their mileage at the relief tent.

The Poco Rio Frio race included 19 fatbike riders, 42 snowshoers, and two cross country skiers. After each round, they marked their mileage at the relief tent.

Click here to see a gallery of photos from the Poco Rio Frio Maah Daah Hey fun day

More than 40 people on showshoes explored the loops in the Badlands in the Poco Rio Frio race.

More than 40 people on snowshoes explored the loops in the Badlands in the Poco Rio Frio race.

The miles added up…30, 40, 50 miles or more logged at the relief station at the head of the trail.  Here’s where riders laughed, ate and powered up for their next set of loops.

A rugged heating system welcomed riders who needed to rest before their next loops

A rugged heating system welcomed riders who needed to rest before their next loops

Collin Kemmesat is the General Manager of fat bike dealer Epic Sports in Bismarck, and he was as pumped as anyone about the Frio race.

His knowledge and experience could help with any mechanical issues, but mostly he was there to rack up fat bike miles.

Collin has a passion for bikes. “Fat biking has not peaked,” he said.  “It’s popular all year around.  Winter riding is best when there’s not a lot of snow. “This winter’s near-record snow depth has curtailed some of the fat bike riding. That’s why the packed trail for the race was a great opportunity.  Kemmesat said trails along Harmon Lake north of Bismarck, and other trails in the capital city are getting more interest.

For the Ybarra family, outdoor adventures involves every one, starting early in life.

For the Ybarra family, outdoor adventures involve everyone, starting early in life. Check out his website http://www.experienceland.org

Ybarra has taken on the care and use of the Maah Daah Hey trail, organizing a half-dozen mountain bike rides a year on the trail.  His goal is to bring back the popularity of the trail as it was 10 or 15 years ago. The 130-mile trail that loosely follows the Little Missouri River to southern North Dakota will become increasingly more well-known in 2017 as Ybarra and his happy bike trail friends put out the word.

Click here to read more about events and opportunities on the Maah Daah Hey

What can we do to help you get started riding or hiking the Maah Daah hey?  Name it in the comment section below.

 

 

Snowshoe the Maah Daah Hey

 

A metal post marks the end of the 130-mile Maah Daah Hey trail south of Watford City, along the Little Missouri River at the CCC Campground.

A metal post marks the end of the 130-mile Maah Daah Hey trail south of Watford City, along the Little Missouri River at the CCC Campground. http://www.mykuhls.com/Landscapes/Beautiful-Bakken/i-jthmcjM/A

Nick Ybarra loves the North Dakota Badlands, he invents ways to share it with others: snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, winter camping, and his favorite –fat bike racing. “I’m addicted to the (Maah Daah Hey) trail.  I’m on it at least once a week,” Ybarra said.p1090364little-girl-in-sled-pulled-behind-snowshoes-sig-small

 

On this day, he’s enjoying the trail with a dozen others on snowshoes – and two dogs without snowshoes.

 

Using the Maah Daah Hey trail on snowshoes is a family affair — even those who have yet to try it on their own are introduced to the adventure.

boy-dog-man-on-snow-shoes-above-little-mo-sig-small

 

First-time snowshoer, Heidi Carns dressed for the weather and donned the snowshoes with her husband Rick. In warmer weather, the pair rides the trail on bikes. She said, “The beauty is unreal. Everyone should enjoy the Badlands.”

Nick Ybarra leads the way for a group of Sunday Afternoon snowshoe hikers.

Nick Ybarra leads the way for a group of Sunday Afternoon snowshoe hikers.

Once the group started out, Ybarra led the way, setting the pace for the short 2-mile loop on the Long X and Maah Daah Hey trails.  For some on the hike, once around was not enough, and they repeated the loop a couple of times.nick-leads-group-sig-small

That’s good for Ybarra because the snowshoeing is packing the trail for the next week’s fat bike race.  The packed snow will give the fat bikes a good surface to race around the course as many times as they can in a day. It’s called the Poco Rio Frio.

Nick Ybarra is committed to utilizing the MDH 100, Maah Daah Hey trail. The summer's Maah Daah Hey 100 is the preeminent mountain bike race of the year.

Nick Ybarra is committed to utilizing the MDH 100, Maah Daah Hey trail. The summer’s Maah Daah Hey 100 is the preeminent mountain bike race of the year. Learn more here: http://www.experienceland.org/

As advertised, the POCO RÍO FRÍO… FREE, FREE, FREE-OH! Fatbike. Snowshoe. Ski. Sunrise to sunset. 8am – 6pm. Beautiful 3.5 mile groomed single track loop made up of the Maah Daah Hey Trail, Long X Trail & a “POCO RÍO FRÍO” or “COLD LITTLE RIVER.” Do as many laps as you care to. Winner gets bragging rights. BYOE. (Bring Your Own Everything). REQUIRED: everyone must have their own gear, food, drinks, and warmth… start your vehicle, build an igloo, bring an ice-fishing house, bring firewood…. whatever it takes to keep yourself warm & safe is 100% up to you. HQ will have free unlimited water & keep track of your laps.  Story to come next week.

Or if you’re like me…not p1090373up to the challenge…it will be a good day for photos, or to just hike.  Anyone with good hiking boots who dresses warm can hike the region, you don’t need snowshoes.

Click here to see what hiking the region is like.

What would you need to try snowshoeing in the Badlands?  Want to rent snowshoes? You can.  I can steer you to the showshoe rental guy in Watford City.

See more in the Beautiful Bakken gallery. http://www.mykuhls.com/Landscapes/Beautiful-Bakken

Five reasons to use the Long X to break free of dreaded cabin fever

Explore the Badlands – hike, cross country ski or fat tire bike.

No, it’s not 75 degrees and sunny.

Yes, the air is fresh and the snow is deep, but that does not mean North Dakota tourism season over.   Here’s what we do.

We travel toward Watford City knowing we’d stop at the CCC Campground1.  That’s where adventurers see an unbelievably beautiful, pristine wilderness that few people ever see; and that’s the attraction right there, pristine wilderness that few people see.

There are several reasons The CCC Campground and the Long X trail are the best place to get a little winter outdoor time.

  1. It’s an easy travel distance and route
  2. It’s along the Little Missouri.
  3. The campground and parking area is well maintained.
  4. The trail is well-marked
  5. It’s an easy trail.
1. Easy travel distance.

Highway 85 from Belfield to Williston is a major federal highway, so we have good luck headed up that highway. Alternatively, we’ll head east across the state on Highway 200.

long x bridge spans the Little Missouri River

One of the few remaining through truss bridges in the state, The Long X Bridge marks the end of the Long X trail that begins in Texas. It spans the Little Missouri River which begins in Wyoming.

Up Highway 85, we always like to check out the historic Long X Bridge2 over the Little Missouri River. It’s south of Watford City, north of Grassy Butte.  The closer we get to the Long X bridge the more we perk up.  It’s an impressive landscape, colorful, striated, and beckoning.   That’s just a hint of what’s to come.

The entrance to the CCC Campground (CCC is Civilian Conservation Corps, a 100-year old government works program)  is at the very end of the bridge, just a few feet south.  We head west through a rancher’s rangeland pasture.  So, take it easy on those first couple of bends in the road. That’s where cattle are often milling about.

A herd of Charolais awaits drivers headed to the CCC campground and the Long X Trail. Just drive slowly through the herd an all will be well.

A herd of Charolais awaits drivers headed to the CCC campground and the Long X Trail. Just drive slowly through the herd and all will be well.

2. Along the Little Missouri River

At this section of the river through the Badlands, wildlife officials have stocked and increased the population of big horn sheep.  They’re not easy to see. The river you drive along started near Devils Tower in Wyoming. It snakes across Montana and North Dakota and empties in to the Missouri River about 65 miles east of the CCC Campground.

Mule deer are plentiful in the Little Missouri River valley.

Mule deer are plentiful in the Little Missouri River valley.

Most of the state's big horn sheep population thrives along the Long X Trail

Most of the state’s big horn sheep population thrives along the Long X Trail

The drive west is about a mile on a good gravel road, right along the Little Missouri River. At the Campground, we park on the west end at the literal start of the Maah Daah Hey trail and the Long X Trail.  On the south is the Little Missouri River. Beyond that, across the river is the north Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

The area is fairly undisturbed, since ranching blends in well with the environment.

That’s why it’s easy to see a sample of the wildest of North Dakota’s wildlife — deer and big horn sheep.

Winter-ready dogs love the chance to get out for some winter exercise

Winter-ready dogs love the chance to get out for some winter exercise

3. The area is well-maintained

There is plenty of room to park.  After we step out of the truck, we pull on our gloves and hoodies.  It’s cold at first, but once we get going, we warm up so that a lot of winter packing isn’t needed.  Here’s where people unload skis, bike or strap on their day pack.  Vehicles are safe, but we lock it anyway, and make sure we have the key secured in our inside coat pocket so we don’t lose it in the snow.

The parking lot and campground is well maintained for easy access.

The parking lot and campground is well maintained for easy access.

4. The trail is well-marked

If  you decide to hike this trail, you won’t get lost; just follow the tall posts with the angular cut top. Each post is marked with a turtle, the sign of the Maah Daah Hey3 trail. This portion is also the Long X trail, and the posts are marked with a Teddy Roosevelt brand.  At each post you can see the next post.

mary-hike-long-x-little-missouri-river-sunset

5. It’s an easy trail.

At first, the slopes rise gradually along the base of the hills.  People who hike or ski, can cut across valley floors between hills and ridges.  It cuts off quite a bit of distance on the trail since it switches back and forth to maintain a relatively easy grade for bikes. Hikers and skiers can cut straight across, at least until you come to a deep ravine.

The slope is easy to navigate even in the snow or on cross country skis.

The slope is easy to navigate even in the snow or on cross country skis.

_________________________________________________________________

Here’s the cautionary note:

Don’t go too far. It’s easy to start the jaunt feeling fresh and invigorated by the air, the scenery, the activity. So, it’s easy to think all that initial energy will last. For every step you take along the trail, you have to repeat that step going back.  Turn around or circle back early to save your energy for the return trip.  It’s easy to overextend yourself. ______________________________________________________________

We like these winter hikes because when we get done for the day we are exhilarated by the fresh air, the and exercise.  A hot meal at nearby Watford City is just 15 minutes away – and they know how to feed you there!


Oh yeah…the footnotes:

1In 1934, men from Civilian Conservation Corps companies 2771 and 2772 established camps adjacent to each other on the north bank of the Little Missouri River, not far from the old U.S. 85 bridge in the area that is now part of the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt Park.  The CCC Campground at the head of the trail is a third campsite they built. There are other sites in the Badlands built by the CCC. Company 2771 moved out after a year, but 2772 remained here until the fall of 1939 when it transferred to a site in the South Unit, and that’s why it’s called the CCC Campground.

2The trail name, “Maah Daah Hey”, comes from the Mandan Indians. In the Mandan language, one word or phrase can describe a picture, feeling, or situation. In this case, the phrase means “an area that has been or will be around for a long time.” The trail uses a turtle as the trail marker. The turtle was honored because of its firm determination, steadfastness, patience, long life, and fortitude. Here’s where to find more about the CCC Campground and the trail head to the Long X Trail and the Maah Daah Hey trail.

Click here to read more about the new extension to the Maah Daah Hey

https://www.fs.usda.gov/recarea/dpg/recreation/recarea/?recid=79454&actid=29

The Long X Trail represents stereotypical historical, ranch life, that of driving large herds of cattle across the country from Texas to North Dakota. This achievement was first accomplished in 1884, when, under the leadership of A. N. Jeffries, the manager of the company, a daring band of Texan cowboys piloted a monster herd of cattle from the Rio Grande to the Little Missouri. The herd was guided by means of a compass, and reached North Dakota in September, having left Texas early in the spring. This process was repeated each year until 1897, and in this way the grazing lands of McKenzie county were replenished by new cattle

Click here to read more about the Long X Trail 

                   and here is more, too.