North Dakota is a state that many overlook when it comes to hiking. Did you know that there are thousands of miles that are open to hikers in this legendary state? You can have your pick of easy to difficult trails, but, most importantly, you can choose the view that you desire. Many trails meander along lakes and several are out in the beautiful prairies that showcase the stunning skies of North Dakota.
The ruggedness of the Badlands are sure to entice you, as well as the quietness of flat, gravel trails that surround the quaint communities that many call home. Here are several hiking trails that you need to discover in North Dakota.
1. Maah Daah Hey Trail
Western North Dakota
This is my pick for the best hike in North Dakota. Check out TravelAwaits’ picks for the best hikes in all 50 states here. The Maah Daah Hey Trail, all 144 miles of it, is the granddaddy of all trails in the Midwest. This amazing trail system is composed of nine trail units for hikers of all abilities. Prairies, jagged peaks, valleys, and riverways make this one of the most memorable hikes you will ever experience. The trail begins 20 miles south of Watford City near Highway 85 and ends approximately 49 miles south of Medora.
With nine trail units, hikers can opt to hike portions of the trail throughout the route. As with any hike, you will want to carry plenty of water, as it’s not always plentiful throughout the Badlands of North Dakota. This trail is for the fittest hikers and offers an experience that you will want to brag about for years.
Wildlife is prevalent all along the trail. It’s not uncommon to see bighorn sheep, elk, antelope, wild turkeys, prairie dogs, golden eagles, and red-tailed hawks. Once you arrive in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you will see bison and wild horses, which all roam freely. June is a popular time of year to hike this trail as the weather is usually cooperative. Dress in layers and pack your binoculars, as the astounding beauty and wildlife on this trail is mesmerizing.
2. Turtle Mountain State Forest
Western Turtle Mountain Region
I was introduced to Turtle Mountain State Forest a few years ago and was pleasantly surprised. This area is home to a woodland that has several hiking trails that allow you to meander through the heavy forests of Bottineau County. Strawberry Lake is in the area and offers 18 miles of trails. It is stocked with rainbow trout, so before you head out on your Turtle Mountain State Forest hike, you will want to pack your fishing gear. The lakes in this region offer a nice break in your hiking and can even provide a meal or two. Most importantly, make sure you have a North Dakota fishing license purchased before you hit this trail.
This area of North Dakota is also home to the International Peace Garden, which offers hikers an opportunity to visit two countries at the same time. This is where you can stand in Canada and the United States at the same time. In the middle of summer, the flowers are at their peak and the colors are abundant in the gardens. The hiking trails in this area of North Dakota can keep you busy for many days, if you choose.
3. Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is located seven miles south of Mandan, North Dakota. This is the oldest North Dakota state park. It was established in 1907. There are several trails in this state park where you can test out your hiking boots. These trails offer fantastic views and are all relatively easy. Bob-Tailed Pass is a favorite of mine. It connects the Little Soldier and Bloody Knife Trail Loops. It is .88-miles long and it runs past the Post Cemetery.
There’s something about the cemetery in this state park that has stayed in my mind for years. This state park is not only full of history, but it’s also a great place to connect with nature. I hiked in this state park a few years ago and came upon a beautiful view of the river that reflected on the prairie. The wildflowers were colorful and reassured me that North Dakota had welcomed a new season.
4. Pipestem Creek Trail
Pipestem Creek Trail is a challenging unpaved eight-mile trail on the southeast side of the dam. There is no water available along the trail, so plan accordingly. Deer frequent the trail as do mountain bikers. Hikers need to be aware of their surroundings at all times as this trail can be busy. The trail consists of dirt, grass, and gravel. The wooded riverbank runs near the trail. If you are looking for a challenging hike in a setting close to town, this is your hiking trail. If you want a shorter hike, make the scenic three-mile hike around the perimeter. If you find you love the Jamestown area and the beauty in this area of North Dakota, there are several other hiking trails to experience nearby.
5. Little Missouri State Park
Western North Dakota
This state park is often referred to as a quiet oasis. Little Missouri State Park has over 45 miles of trails that are open to hikers. You should check with park staff before you begin any hike, as the weather and trail conditions change rapidly. Hikers take to the trails that follow streams that lead to stunning views in the Badlands of North Dakota. This state park is typically uncrowded, and once you are on the trail, it’s rare to meet up with many people. Plan your hikes between May and October, when the park is open.
6. Theodore Roosevelt National Park
I particularly love the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The hiking trails are great for the casual hiker and the serious nature enthusiast. There are several hiking trails within the park that are for the novice hiker and some for the experienced hiker, too. Most importantly, follow the signage as the bison roam freely. It’s not uncommon to hike around a corner and meet up with a bison. These animals are very large and it won’t take long for you to learn that they are in charge.
The wildflowers are stunning in the summer and they bring color to the Badlands. While hiking, look upward, but also look down. If you look closely, you will most likely see the footprints of an animal that hiked the same trail you are on.
Day hikes, as well as overnight experiences, are offered in the park. If you choose to stay overnight in the park, be sure to pick up your backcountry permit at the ranger station. The solitude of the North Unit will recharge your soul as you hike through this beautiful park.
7. Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The entrance to the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is found in the town of Medora. There are two self-guided nature trails that are fantastic for everyone. The Ridgeline Nature Trail and Coal Vein Trail are short and relatively easy. Wind Canyon Trail offers a tremendous view from above the Little Missouri River Valley. Each trail leads to magnificent views of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Here, you will quickly learn that the trails don’t have to go on forever for the views to be magnificent. The wild horses can be seen frequently and they are a beautiful sight within the park.
From the wildlife to the cliffs in the Badlands, the South Unit will not disappoint you. Hundreds of bison can be seen near the trails as you hike through the South Unit. Wear sturdy hiking shoes and dress in layers, as the weather can change rapidly along the trail.
North Dakota is a beautiful state in all directions. Most people don’t realize that the topography of North Dakota changes approximately every 100 miles as you cross the state. This makes for excellent outdoor hiking adventures. Anytime you plan a hike in North Dakota, you will want to be sure you look at an up-to-date-forecast before you hit the trail. Pack plenty of water, rain gear, and don’t forget your binoculars and your camera. Your experiences while hiking North Dakota are sure to lure you in. Once you are heading home off of the trail, you will more than likely be planning your next hike in this legendary state. Want to see more of North Dakota? Embark on our North Dakota road trip: Fargo to Medora, and hit your hiking spots along the way.
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