Location: Medora, ND
Management: Maah Daah Hey Trail Association
Trail Surface: Deep Sand, Hard-Packed Dirt
Environment: Sparse grassland, rocky outcroppings, bluffs, !river water crossing
Degree of Difficulty: Moderate (very little elevation change, but difficult trail surface)
Cell Phone Reception: Good
Parking: 5 – 6 spaces, no charge, usually vacancies
Dog Rules: Dogs on Leash
Trail Markers: Turtle symbol on a vertical post. Notch on post indicates trail. Next marker visible from current marker.
I wish I had had this trail guide before attempting this segment of Maah Daah Hey Trail! There were definitely things I hadn’t expected, like a water crossing for example. And very deep sand trails. However, it was still a great hiking experience, and I would definitely go back!
The trailhead for this particular segment is in Sully Creek State Park, which made quietly relieved. There were plenty of people nearby, plus pit-style toilets, fresh water from a hand pump, and ample parking.
I met an enthusiastic, friendly woman when I arrived. She was horse camping at the state park and was thrilled to meet my dogs. She was also kind enough to snap the picture of me and my dogs at the trailhead, shown above. Always fun to share Border Collie cuteness! This brings me to the first big point about this trail: horses. Horses everywhere. Sully Creek State Park is primarily a horse camp, and it was close to full when I visited. This segment of the Maah Daah Hey Trail is all about horses. Thus, the trail itself is very deep, well-traversed sand. It was a slog, that’s for sure! If your dogs tend to bark at horses, you’d better keep them close and as quiet as you can because you have to skirt the campground pretty closely to get going to the trail. There is a water crossing right at the outset of the trail going across Little Missouri River. Now, if you’re on horseback, that’s no problem!! The horses don’t mind getting their legs wet, and you can stay nice and dry up in the saddle. On foot with 2 dogs? Less fun.
Crossing the Water
I decided to keep my hiking boots on in case there were sharp rocks I couldn’t see in the muddy water. Obviously, my boots, socks, and feet got soaked. The water only came up ankle high and the current wasn’t too bad. Of course, both dogs LOVED it and wanted to stay longer in the cool water, splashing and frolicking. We made it to the other side quickly, but part of me wanted to wait for the next riders to pass by and hitch a ride across!
Up the Trail
After crossing the river, the trail winds up the opposite bank and you quickly come to the deep sand trail. This is compounded nicely by your soaked boots which attract the sand in a thick layer. If you’re looking for a good leg workout, this is it!! The next half mile is sand trail under shady trees with a nice view of the river and the surrounding bluffs. We encountered a dozen or more horses and riders in small groups as we went along. Both of my dogs are comfortable with horses, but we still moved to the side of the trail to let them pass by. Again, it’s always a good idea to talk to the approaching riders to alleviate any potential skittishness with the horses. A person standing still with 2 dogs, not moving not making noise, is very suspicious to a flighty horse! Talking helps them know you are a non-threatening human. In addition, the riders appreciate not having to navigate around you and both parties can easily continue on their way.
Getting to the Good Stuff
After slogging through the deep sand for less than a mile, we broke away from the river and ventured into the open lands. Here, the trail is much easier and consists of hard-packed dirt. The views are simply stunning. With not a soul around, you can stop and soak up the sweeping scenes of towering rock formations and multi-colored striations. There was a nice open grassland where we stopped for water and a snack. This is where I captured the iconic picture on the homepage. I could have stayed there for hours! Instead, this is where we chose to turn around and head back. The dogs were hot, and we had more hours to drive that day on our Roadtrip to Montana.
The return trip was easy, and we encountered a sad family of humans attempting to ride mountain bikes through the clinging sand. They eventually abandoned the bikes and continued on foot. I would be curious to go back and take the trail further; I imagine it continues as a dirt trail and would be much easier the further you go. As it was, we went back across the river on foot and made it back to our car. Round trip, we were out about an hour. Despite being a horse trail, there were virtually no bugs. It was a very warm day, but the breeze was a nice distraction from the heat. The dogs were, in a word, filthy. I toweled them off and loaded them back into the car. The nearby water pump was very handy for me to rinse the sand off of my poor boots and my bare feet. Thankfully, I had flip flops to use when I climbed back into the car to continue on our expedition.
The views are worth the trek, but I would find a different way to do the water crossing. It looked like someone had created a stepping stone path further downstream; I might try that. If I didn’t need my boots the next day, letting them dry out would have been just fine. However, having wet boots and no way to dry them was a hindrance to my exploration on the trip. I’m glad that I brought my daypack with plenty of water. Overall, this trail was tough on me and my dogs, and we tired quickly. It was still a good experience, but I would investigate other hiking trails near Medora or go further north on the Maah Daah Hey Trail. There is another trailhead near I-94, and you can get detailed trail segment, trailhead, and campsite information on the MDH main website.
How To Get There
Pictures From the Trail