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Natural Areas of North Dakota

Little Missouri State Park

GIF--Location of Natural Area


Pamela J. Bergerson

Directions: From Killdeer, 16 miles north on Highway 22 and 3 miles east on marked gravel road.

On the solitary access road to Little Missouri State Park, the road cuts through a sprawling prairie and cropland with little indication of park grandeur. One may have second thoughts about traveling to this particular state park. Then comes a glimpse of the badlands. No matter how fleeting the first glimpse, visitors are immediately reassured that this state park has indescribable beauty.

JPG--Little Missouri and Riders

This primitive park is located in a rugged area of jagged outcrops and barren slopes formed thousands of years ago, when the course of the Little Missouri River was permanently directed eastward by glaciers. Once rerouted, the river boldly carved the soft sediments over which it flowed, resulting in a valley over 500 feet deep. Today, however, as visitors scan the landscape, the only waters discernible are in the Little Missouri River as it enters backwaters of Lake Sakakawea.

The intricate scenery is unparalleled in North Dakota. Little Missouri State Park encompasses 5,900 acres of land in the deepest, most distinctive segment of the Little Missouri River Valley. The physical beauty of the park is both inspiring and imposing, as buttes, ravines, plateaus, and crevices have blended to cast abstract landforms against the horizon.

These landforms are also significant for other reasons. They enhance its ecological diversity. The north-facing slopes receive little or no direct sunlight, which allows woodlands to thrive. This greenery provides a stark contrast against the stratified, columnar arrangements which dominate much of the landscape. The south-facing slopes support an entirely different community, one that seems more compatible with the ruggedness of the park. Plants that can withstand the continual punishment of the sun, such as sage, yucca, and cactus, flourish in these unsheltered areas.

The park is also home to a variety of wildlife. It is prime habitat for animals such as the mule deer, coyote, and bobcat; and birds including the prairie falcon, cedar waxwing, and golden and bald eagles. In addition, an occasional prairie rattlesnake may present itself.

The faces, shapes, and subtle hues of Little Missouri State Park change constantly depending on the time of day and the weather. It is a playground for hikers, photographers, and horseback riders. Preservation of its recreational assets equates with maintaining its natural features.

Background Information: The Badlands Primitive Parks brochure, as well as general information on Little Missouri State Park, may be obtained from the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department. Trail maps may be acquired by contacting the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department.

Facilities: Over 75 miles of hiking and horseback trails, horse rental concessions, guide service, horse corral, primitive camping, group picnic shelters, running water, pit toilets, fire rings. Access to much of the park's acreage is difficult unless on horseback.

Administration and Contact: Little Missouri State Park is administered by the N.D. Parks and Recreation Department. Further information can be obtained by writing: North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, 1424 W. Century Avenue, Suite 202, Bismarck, ND 58501.

PAMELA J. BERGERSON is recreation planner for the North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department in Bismarck, N.D.

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