While North Dakota might immediately conjure up images of brutal whiteouts and bitter cold, summers here are perfectly comfortable. With average temperatures in the upper 70s, the Maah Daah Hey Trail (140-miles west of Bismarck, the state capital) consistently provides a powerfully enjoyable experience. “It was here,” Teddy Roosevelt said, in 1903, “that the romance of my life began.”
Located adjacent to the National Park named in Roosevelt’s honor, the 140-mile long Maah Daah Hey Trail, or MDH is one of the lengthiest stretches of continuous trail in America. Hailed as an IMBA epic, the MDH unfolds on 95% singletrack, 25% of it set at a maximum grade of 14-degrees, but with a takeaway of 8700-ft total descent. From the northern unit to the ultra charming, cowboy-poet town of Medora (pop. 112), we spend five days riding what’s commonly called the most physically stunning stretch of The Northern Plains, peaking out at 2703-ft.
The Maah Daah Hey translates into an “area that will be around for a long time.” So isolated and rarely visited are the Dakota Badlands that they seem more like rich African savannah than western North Dakota. From rolling prairie to endless red-baked buttes, the MDH crisscrosses the least commercial unit in the National Park Service. Accordingly, no national park outside Alaska is better suited to pure, backcountry trekking and wildlife encounters.
In this, the Serengeti of the Great Plains, a day on the trail might bring you face to face with bison, elk, bighorn sheep, wild horses, pronghorn antelope, coyote, and wild turkey. Here, even the animals have heritage: the mustang herds that roam the Park are pure descendants from those of Sioux Indian chief Sitting Bull.
Besides big horizon and mega fauna, if not a restorative quality to the land Roosevelt discovered, our Badlands tour offers top-caliber riding. Crossing a variety of terrain, fjords of small streams plus the Little Missouri River, on grasslands that give way to big Cottonwood trees turned golden, the MDH affords as much five star eye candy as challenges for even the most experienced riders.
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