F Little Missouri National Grassland Campgrounds Forest Camping Guide
U.S. National Forest Campground Guide

Little Missouri National Grassland

North Dakota

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Grassland Information

The Little Missouri National Grassland, one of four in the Dakota Prairie Grasslands, is found in western North Dakota and is comprised of 503,000 acres - see map below. The grassland is administered by the Dakota Prairie Grasslands office. There are eight developed campgrounds all of which meet the selection criteria.

The Little Missouri National Grassland (NG) is a place where people experience the rugged, unspoiled beauty of the Dakota Badlands. The land invites explorations. The sights and sounds stimulate the senses. It is a great place for inspiration and imagination. Recreation opportunities are more developed on the Little Missouri NG than in the other Dakota Prairie Grasslands making experiencing the Little Missouri NG easier. Activities such as camping, hiking, and horse back riding are a great way to discover the delights of this little grassland on the western edge of North Dakota.

Stretching the length of the Little Missouri NG is the Maah Daah Hey Trail from which many of the Grassland's recreation opportunities radiate. Going from the top to almost the bottom of the grassland, this 97-mile trail is a mountain biker and equestrian's delight. Hikers are, of course, welcomed. (FYI: Plans were in the works during our visit to expand the Maah Daah Hey an additional 40 miles south.)

The phrase "Maah Daah Hey" comes from the Native American language of the Mandan Hidatsa people and means "grandfather, long-lasting." The symbol for the trail is a turtle, which is branded on the trail's markers for the full length of the route. The turtle symbol was adopted from the Lakota Sioux people who see the turtle as patient, determined, steadfast, long-lived, and having fortitude. The name given and the symbol used for this trail is a nice nod to two cultures that used this area as their home for hundreds of years.

Although they aren't on the Maah Daah Hey trail, there are a number of developed campgrounds near the trails. On the southern banks of the Little Missouri River is CCC campground (named for the Civilian Conservation Corp camp once located across the river from campground's location), where the Maah Daah Hey trail begins. The CCC campground is also a good base camp for visiting the Theodore Roosevelt National Park's North Unit and explore the sights and attractions of Watford City and surrounding area.

Next, heading south are Bennett campground, Magpie Camp, Elkhorn Camp and Wannagan Camp. All welcome horses and their riders and are a short, maybe half mile or so, distance from the Maah Daah Hey trail. With drinking water, formal campsites, and often pleasant shade, these campgrounds offer a welcomed break from camping along the trail. Elkhorn Camp is also the closest campground to Theodore Roosevelt National Park's Elkhorn Ranch Site. The ruins found here are one of the two ranches established by Theodore Roosevelt about a hundred years ago.

The longest side trip off the Maah Daah Hey trail is the Buffalo Gap campground. This side trail bypasses the Theodore Roosevelt National Park's South Unit while the Maah Daah Hey passes through the Park. However, campers at nearby Buffalo Gap campground are not trail riders but people who are passing through on I-94. Located about halfway between Beach and Medora, ND, this campground, the most developed in the Little Missouri NG, is a great location for an overnight stay or as a base camp to explore the sights of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the attractions of Medora.

It might be hard to see the Little Missouri NG as anything other than what it is today. However, the area now designated as "grassland" was settled in the 1800s under a variety of "Homestead Acts" which opened the land to people, generally farmers, and helped to settle the west. A prolonged period of drought in the late 1920s into the 1930s caused some homesteads on sub-marginal farmland (a location receiving 15 or less inches of annual moisture) to literally dry up and blow away. During this time, Congress established the Land Utilization Program (LUP) which bought homesteads from bankrupt private owners and returned it to public land status. The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) helped to stabilize the eroding soil by re-seeding it and applying other conservation techniques. In the 1950s, the LUP holdings were assigned to the USDA Forest Service which was tasked with management of these sub-marginal lands. Over the years the Forest Service has established some twenty National Grasslands. "The designation of the area as National Grassland is not a description of the area as much as a statement of policy and effort to restore the area to a multiple of uses and benefits."

The Little Missouri NG has come a long way from the dry and ravaged land it was in the 1930s. Perhaps Sather Lake Recreation Area best illustrates the land's recovery from those bygone days. Along the western edge of the Little Missouri NG, slender Sather Lake winds through the gentle rolling hills, its precious water waiting until the local ranchers need it for their fields, provides a peaceful location for campers and a variety of birds, is surrounded by lush, green fields as far as the eye can see.

Take a chance, come and visit the Little Missouri NG. It may not be well known but holds many wonders to discover.

Map of Dakota Prairie Grasslands

SUPERVISOR ADDRESS 2000 Miriam Circle Bismarck, North Dakota 58501 701-989-7300 RANGER DISTRICT ADDRESSES McKenzie 1901 S. Main Street Watford City, North Dakota 58854 701-842-2393 Medora 99 23rd Ave W. Dickinson, North Dakota 58601 701-227-7800

Fred and Suzi Dow