If you're like many U.S. travelers, you've not been to North Dakota. It is the least visited state of the 50. Ironically, it also has the best economy.
My wife had been to all the contiguous 48 states except ND, so I wanted to take her there. We love outdoor activities and Mountain Biking and I had read about the MDH trail years ago. I also had read a history book about Theodore Roosevelt called "Mornings on Horseback." All this led to the town of Medora, which has to be the most touristy place in a not very tourist state. I say that in a good way, the town is cool with T. Roosevelt reenactors and decent restaurants, museums and the T. Roosevelt Nat. Park visitor center. Not over the top like Gatlinburg, Tennessee for example. We were going to go to the Medora Musical, but it rained the night we arrived and cancelled the outdoor show. Plus the very helpful Dakota Cyclery is in Medora, which is the expert on all things Maah Daah Hey trail. Anyone riding the trail should start at DC in Medora, they can help you with whatever MDH trail adventure you can imagine. One thing they told us is that the trail now leads well to the South of Medora. A lot of dated information says it runs ~100 miles mostly North of Medora. It actually leads about 95 miles North and about 50 miles South of Medora now. Most of the Southern miles have been built in the last 4 years or so.
We had two days to check out the trail just before 4th of July, 2014. I wanted to also visit T. Roosevelt's old Elkhorn Ranch site, so we drove West and North about 30 miles to mountain bike the trail. We started at the Elkhorn Campground which is maybe 2-3 miles from the Elkhorn Ranch site and right on the MDH trail. That campground is nice with hilly terrain and woods next to neatly mowed grass where you can set up a tent. In fact the National Grasslands people had been out mowing the trail where we were too. We started down the trail from there and quickly came to the Elkhorn Ranch unit of TR Natl. Park. We followed the rules of no mtn. biking and walked the 1/2 mile trail to the old ranch site--old bulidings gone long ago. It was very peaceful and a scenic spot. It would be cool if they would rebuild a replica ranch, but I'm sure there is no budget for that. Next we rode the trail Northbound until we reached the trail's Little Missouri River crossing. There is no bridge, you have to ford across if you want to reach the East side of the river. The folks at Dakota Cyclery and TRNP had all advised against fording as the Spring had been wet and water was high. The vegetation was lush though and the trail was not muddy around there anyway. The trail was grass in many spots but not hard to follow with the many 45 degree top posts with a turtle logo they set along the trail route. So we turned around when we got to the river. We rode back toward the campground and took a shortcut on the county road. A rancher came by in a pickup surprised to see anyone out there at all, so we chatted for a while. He had a nice place down in the river bottom. We discussed the oil boom and judging by his brand new pickup was probably helping him a little or a lot. There are some new oil wells as this are is on the Southwest side of the Bakken trend oil boom area. I didn't find them bothersome at all--the pads are usually located in depressions and surface equipment painted tan to blend in. They are driving North Dakota's extremely healthy economy and the fact is, participating in outdoor sports like mountain biking is completely dependent on availability of oil & gas for many aspects.
After talking to the rancher, we rode back to camp on the road to save time. A big tank truck also passed as that is how they get the oil out of the well tanks. Other than that it is very quiet and we spotted deer, pronghorn, bison, pheasant, and many other birds. We were the only ones we saw on the trail and in camp and enjoyed a beautiful and peaceful evening. Great place for solitude it appears.
The next day we rode a little ways South on the trail toward the Wannagan camp. Not very far though and we came back to the car. We packed up and drove back to Medora. We stopped back in to Dakota Cyclery, and hired them to shuttle us further South on the newer South portion of the trail. We ate lunch in town then rode their van down to Plumely Draw trailhead. Then we rode the trail all the way back to Bully Pulpit--about 16 miles of trail. The trail is more dirt than grass down here but the scenery was beautiful just the same. Somewhat "crowded" as we passed 4 other bikes on that stretch.
Overall, I loved the samples we got of the trail and would love to ride the entire thing some day. It is scenic country with a fun little town in the middle and a place that I would call undiscovered and extremely uncrowded. There is much variety in terrain, if you love to mountain bike you have got to find something to love out here--probably a lot of things to love.
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