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.

 

 

 

 

Golden Valley – the town that met the rail company halfway

Incredible marketing and entrepreneurship in 1900 started the happy little town of Golden Valley. Out of nothing, the town started and grew – and to this day Golden Valley gives you a reason to pull off Highway 200 between Hazen and Killdeer.

The disappearing tribute to North Dakota's indigenous people -- the Indian Head State Highway Sign. Just one or two remain along Highway 200 near Golden Valley.

The disappearing tribute to North Dakota’s indigenous people — the Indian Head State Highway Sign. Just one or two remain along Highway 200 near Golden Valley.

 

We like stopping there because it has a peaceful and protected feel to it. Nestled in a valley, noise, weather and outside traffic is minimal.  Plus, it has a couple of interesting shops for browsing and a great little place for food and libations.

snowy hilllside at Golden Valley North Dakota

Sunrise at Golden Valley, North Dakota

The town is a tribute to perseverance and entrepreneurship.

George V. Bratzel took lemons a corporation served him and turned them into proverbial lemonade.  He was a rail agent for the Northern Pacific Railroad in Hebron, North Dakota. The company shipped him to the far end of the state, to Beach.  Then, yanked him back to Hazen a couple of years later and fired him.  It turns out his supervisor at the railroad wanted his son to have a job, so Danielson was fired to make room for the son.

“Ha!” Bratzel said. “I’m just gonna make my own town!”

Northern Pacific told him, “Go right ahead, and we’ll build a rail line to your town.”

(I suspect NP didn’t think Bratzel would succeed – but he did.)

Bratzel searched for a location for his town; he traveled and surveyed the prairie north of Hebron, North Dakota. One late summer day, he spotted a valley about 40 miles north of his home. The colors of the valley were – you guessed it, golden.  And since the initials of his first and last name were GV, he named the town Golden Valley.

The First Golden Valley before it was moved next to the Northern Pacific Rail Line. (from the ND Historical Society collection.)

The First Golden Valley before it was moved next to the Northern Pacific Rail Line. (from the ND Historical Society collection.)

He called the Northern Pacific on its bluff, and it responded.  It built the line along the best route engineers could find.  It was about one-and-a-half miles from where George had set up his town. So again, turning those lemons into lemonade, he picked up the town and moved it to the railroad.

From NDSU library: paul-weiracuk (left) and james-opsahl (right) at the weiracuk homestead near golden valley-

From NDSU library: paul-weiracuk (left) and james-opsahl (right) at the weiracuk homestead near golden valley- Permission of the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU Libraries, Fargo, ND – www.ndsu.edu/grhc

He promoted the town heavily, even sponsoring a free dance for all the region’s ranchers and farmers.  Isolated across the rolling prairie, families, as well as single men, looked for any chance they could find to socialize. A community dance, in 1914 was a rare event. That’s why all the neighbors from across the rolling prairie and distant towns came to see what he had built — Golden Valley. Some even moved to the new town.

Golden Valley about 30 years after it was moved to be near the RR tracks.

Golden Valley about 30 years after it was moved to be near the RR tracks. Permission from the Germans from Russia Heritage Collection, NDSU Libraries, Fargo, ND – www.ndsu.edu/grhc

Once the town was set up along the tracks, farmers brought their grain to town where they could make more money than if they hauled it many miles down the road.  They were willing to work for it even without a grain elevator.  They loaded rail cars one shovel at a time, pitching their grain from their wagon into rail cars.golden-valley-grain-elevator-at-sunrise

Later, the grain elevator was built and the town became a commercial and transportation center.  One of the more successful businesses was an earth-moving company that did much of the work on the Garrison Diversion projects.

One of the success stories of the region is marked with an antique truc.

One of the success stories of the region is marked with an antique truck.

Now the town’s main draw is the Saddle Sore Saloon where festivities are hosted, even outdoor street dances and wedding parties.

The Saddle Sore Saloon in Golden Valley is the central gathering point. The Saloon’s Facebook Page includes this photo and other like it.

For example, on Valentine’s Day, the dining room serves Prime Rib with baked potato, salad bar, and a desert for $24.00.

 

From the Saddle Sore’s Facebook page, a summer evening collection of motorcycles and vintage cars.

 

 

 

 

 

Across the street from the Saddle Sore is a curio store, a flea market of antiques and collectibles.

Across the street from the Saddle Sore is a curio store, a flea market of antiques and collectibles.

golden-valley-gas-pumps-nov-2016-copyAround the corner, one of the most brilliant Gems in the United States – a Harley-Davidson museum, with a motorcycle from each year – all of them in running order and operational.  The museum is bright, clean, and more impressive than most small town museums of any sort.  Ya gotta know the guy, to see it. It’s his private collection, but he’s willing to open it to let you in.

The private collection of Harley-Davidson motorcyles is a worthy attraction to the community.

The private collection of Harley-Davidson motorcycles is a worthy attraction to the community.

That’s why motorcyclists who like to explore the 2-lane highways of the prairie can put this on their destination list.  Anyone who likes photographic road trips, any time of the year will be rewarded with a trip to Golden Valley.  They may give a tip of the hat to tribal elder, historian and businessman August Little Soldier who did much to provide industry to the Three Affiliated Tribes.

And give a tip of the hat to the famous roadside bronc of Wayne Herman world bareback rider who will greet you.

golden-valley-cowboy-sculp-nov-2016-copy-2

 

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.

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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.