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Painted Canyon Trail

Intermediate
 4.3 (8)

An out-and-back trail that provides a variety of settings - rugged badlands, sagebrush flats, and rolling grasslands.


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Map Key

2.1

Miles

3.4

KM

Point to Point

2,779' 847 m

High

2,464' 751 m

Low

90' 28 m

Up

388' 118 m

Down

4%

Avg Grade (2°)

28%

Max Grade (15°)

Dogs No Dogs

Features Birding · Fall Colors · Spring · Views · Wildflowers · Wildlife

Family Friendly Spectacular views and an easy path keep the whole family entertained.

The visitor center is not open all year round; however, in the off season, hikers can take exit 32 and park near the entrance and pass through a walk-in gate to access the views and this trail, as well as the Painted Canyon Nature Trail.

Description

This trail starts at the Theodore Roosevelt National Painted Canyon Visitor Center parking lot. This is a small facility off exit 32 of Interstate 94. It is a dual visitor center and highway rest area. It is a popular place for travelers to take a quick break and look over the rim into Painted Canyon below.

At the east end of the parking lot, there is a trailhead sign with a map. It pays to examine the map and note how far the trail traverses along the rim before starting its descent (about 0.5 mile) because there are numerous well-traveled bison trails in the area that could easily divert a hiker.

From the trailhead, follow a gravel road east. It turns into a two-track dirt trail as you pass two fenced air-quality and weather monitoring stations, that also have a webcam. Continue east/southeast past the fenced septic lagoon for the rest area - at this point the two-track road turns into a hiking trail. There should be a marker ahead where the trail turns down off the rim; however, markers are difficult to maintain in the park because bison use them as scratching posts.

Shortly after starting the descent, there is a box for visitors to register. The descent continues from this point and levels out as it passes through some gullies create by intermittent streams. At about the halfway point, hikers pass through a sagebrush flats area. Then the trail dips into a deep gully and back up to rolling grasslands.

At the north end, it meets the Upper Paddock Creek Trail and one could continue northwest or southeast on that trail. If this is your turnaround point, the stretch back up the rim in the last mile is challenging, but the steepest part is relatively short, and it provides fantastic views of the badlands stretching to the north.

Flora & Fauna

Bison are frequently seen on this trail and in the visitor center area. Other flora and fauna include feral horses, Rocky Mountain Juniper, wildflowers, and garter snakes.

Contacts

Land Manager: NPS - Theodore Roosevelt

Shared By:

Karen Ryberg

Trail Ratings

  4.3 from 8 votes

#5

in South Unit

#7959

Overall
  4.3 from 8 votes
5 Star
50%
4 Star
25%
3 Star
25%
2 Star
0%
1 Star
0%
Trail Rankings

#5

in South Unit

#18

in North Dakota

#7,959

Overall
42 Views Last Month
3,112 Since Sep 9, 2015
Intermediate

0%
0%
88%
0%
13%
0%

Photos

A bison on lookout duty for his herd. Painted Canyon Trail near the junction with Upper Paddock Creek Trail.
Sep 30, 2019 near Medora, ND
The Painted Canyon Trail is worth checking out in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
May 24, 2017 near Medora, ND
Hop on the Painted Canyon Trail for fantastic views of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
May 24, 2017 near Medora, ND
Bison are frequently seen on this trail – give them a wide berth.
May 24, 2017 near Medora, ND
Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Apr 8, 2020 near Medora, ND
Painted Canyon, Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Apr 8, 2020 near Medora, ND

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Check-Ins

Jul 13, 2022
paul schilling
Jun 18, 2022
Shane Lacina
Oct 10, 2021
Austin Eschweiler
Mud was too slippery to enjoy the trail so we turned back. 1.5mi — 0h 46m
Jul 3, 2020
Caroline Ulczycki
Feb 8, 2020
Susan Schaefer
Aug 24, 2019
Martin B
Oct 18, 2018
Max M
The begging was steep, and rugged. There are small slot canyons that the trail meanders through. We spotted bison on the trail, and had to go around.
Oct 18, 2018
Jack M
On our way back, we had to go off-trail/bushwhacking to avoid a bison coming down the trail 4mi — 2h 14m