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Theodore Roosevelt National Park Hiking Trails

South Unit

Traveling west on I-94, your first sighting of the park is the Painted Canyon Overlook about seven miles east of Medora. Here on the upper fring of the badlands is a breathtaking panorama of the broken landscape in its muted but colorful hues. East of Painted Canyon are wild horses, the descendants of former domestic ranching stock. At the overlook, a visitor center, restrooms, picnic shelters, tables and water are available generally April through October.

This is an ideal "first destination" for travelers from the east doing a road trip to the west. After mile upon mile of farms and flatlands, the stop at Painted Canyon will simply leave you speechless.

In addition to Painted Canyon, the South Unit features a 36-mile scenic loop road and the following popular hiking trails:

  • Ridgeline Trail -- This self-guiding loop trail gives you information about the badlands scenery and ecology and about the role of fire, wind and water in this area. Length: 0.6 mile.
  • Coal Vein Trail -- From 1951 until early 1977 a fire burned here in a coal seam. The intense heat baked the adjacent clay and sand, greatly altering the appearance of the terrain and disturbing vegetation. Length: 0.8 mile.
  • Buck Hill -- A short walk leads to this hill, which has an elevation of 2,855 feet. Note that only shrubs and other small plants grow on the dry, hot, south-facing slopes. Trees grow on the wetter, cooler north-facing hillsides.
  • Wind Canyon Trail -- A short trail up the ridge leads to an overlook of both a graceful bend in the Little Missouri River and also the wind-sculpted sands of the canyon. A short way beyond the river the wilderness area begins.
  • Jones Creek Trail -- This trail that leads through the heart of the badlands reaches the road at two points. It may be hiked from either end. Length: 3.7 miles.

Maah Daah Hey

Maah Daah Hey is the big 96 mile long trail that connects the North and South Units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Please click here for the National Park Service official page.

Here's another site with some nice photos of Maah Daah Hey, on GreatSportingLinks.com please click here.

And finally, last but certainly not least, and as always one of the most detailed and informative sources, here's John William Uhler's webpage on the Maah Daah Hey Trail.

North Unit

A little less like the badlands, a little more wild west. Don't be surprised if John Wayne rides by.

  • Little Mo Trail -- This self-guiding nature trail, which begins at the Juniper Campground, goes through river woodlands and badlands. Length: 1.1 miles. A shorter trail, 0.7 mile, is wheelchair accessible.
  • Achenbach Trail -- Also beginning at Juniper Campground, this trail climbs from river bottomland up through the Achenbach Hills, drops to the river again, climbs to Oxbow Overlook along the way by a spur trail, and returns north of the river to the campground. Inquire about the condition of the river crossings before departing. Length: 16 miles.
  • Caprock Coulee Trail -- About 1.5 miles west of Juniper Campground is the start of a self-guiding trail through badlands coulees, dry water gulches and breaks - interruptions in the grassy plains. Length: 1.6 miles roundtrip.
  • Upper Caprock Coulee Trail -- This is a continuation loop from the self-guiding portion of the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail bringing you back to the trailhead. Length: 3.3 miles. As loop with the nature trail: 4.1 miles.
  • Buckhorn Trail -- This loop trail can be reached from the Caprock Coulee Nature Trailhead. You come to a prairie dog town about one mile from its beginning. Of the five varieties, only the blacktailed prairie dog lives within the park. Remember that prairie dogs are wild animals. They can inflict severe bites and they often carry disease. Do not feed them or get too close. Length: 11 miles.
  • Sperati Point -- The trail from Oxbow Overlook, which is a portion of the Achenbach Trail, leads to the narrowest gateway in the badlands. The flow of the Little Missouri River once continued north from this point, ultimately draining into Hudson Bay. Blocked during the Ice Age, the river had to find a new course and finally broke through the gap between this point and the Achenbach Hills on the other side. The Little Missouri now drains into the Gulf of Mexico via the Missouri-Mississippi system. Near this point it leaves its old bed and follows its newer channel. Length: 1.5 miles roundtrip.

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