This suggested walk, found in the South Unit, isn’t out of the way, especially if you are camping in Cottonwood Campground. The walk is off the beaten path in that there are no actual trails or tourist directions for this outing. To experience some of the varied vegetation, and different environments within the park, take a stroll from the campground down to the Little Missouri River. There are various paths that lead you from campsites to the river, but they all dead end once you reach the riverbank. Here you will see how the river has changed the environment from a dry and arid, to one with greenery along the banks. Walk down the river as far as you are able, or would like, then turn, walking toward the highway. Before you reach the highway, turn and walk though the grasslands back to the campground road. Along the river I sometimes see fisherman. Last time I stopped and talked to a couple of men fishing along the river, and they told me they were fishing for catfish. Watch for buffalo, especially in the grassland sections. The round, dusty warn places that you may spot, are places where buffalo have rolled.
I did not expect to find such a lovely meadow in these "badlands". I thought it would all be dusty rock and treachurous terrain. Not so, there were many pleasant grassy meadows with wildflowers and a nice mix of pine and deciduous trees.
The reddish/orange rock layer is called scoria. The red rock is formed by the underground burning of coal. The heat generated from these fires bakes the overlying sedimental rock and the rock turns into a hard red brick-like material.
Bentonite deposits are found throughout the North Unit. They are easily recognized by their blue-gray coloring. In this photo, the tongue of rock in the bottom half of the photo is bentonite. Bentonite has industrial uses because it is a substance that swells to three or four times its volume when wet.
The park roads wind you in and out and up and down amongst these great espanses of craggy badlands. Then all of a sudden with no warning you turn a corner and wham--nothingness stretches in front of you as far as the eye can see. Startling.
The Elkhorn Ranch is where Theodore Roosevelt owned a ranch in the late 1880s. The site of the ranch, which is part of the Park, is located between the two major Units, somewhat closer to the South than the North Unit. A rough trail, called the Maah Daah Hey Trail, links the two Units and the ranch site (there are no buildings there today).
Most people who journey to Elkhorn Ranch do so by horse: the trail is only for more rugged vehicles, and there can be problems fording some water obstacles. Visitors should check with a ranger about the conditions first.
Get an instant answer from local experts and frequent travelers