This trail will leave you in awe with unbelievable views, wildlife, and ruggedness. The river crossings add to the appeal and miles of trail allow you to explore all that the park has to offer. The south side of the Little Missouri is rarely visited and you are almost guaranteed to have it to yourself. The badlands rock formations are really amazing.
Other than difficult navigation and heat, the vegetation is sharp and can cut legs up badly. Leg protection is a must.
The trails are difficult to follow, so keep your eyes peeled for the trail signs which are often obstructed by sage brush. A map with the trail would be very useful. Make sure you download the current North Dakota data before heading out if you plan to use the Hiking Project mobile app
Take water purification and filtration to supplement your water supply. The bison can, and most likely, will be in your way. Give them a wide berth. Wet trails can be very slippery when the bentonite clay gets wet.
The starting and ending points are optional and you may start at one of four main spots: The campground/ranger station, the Cannonball Concretions parking lot, the Caprock Coulee
trailhead or the end of the scenic drive. For convenience sake, starting at the campground/ranger station seems to make the most sense. Also, hiking in either direction is possible, but again, finishing shortly after the final river crossing by the campground seems to make the most sense.
From the campground, head north along the road and meet up with the Buckhorn Trail
at the Cannonball Concretions parking lot. Sign in at the trail register and follow the trail up and down several ravines before heading south and following some orange flagging tape to assist in trail location. Climb back out of the valley bottom and head towards a trail marker near a butte. Take a left-hand turn and follow the trail to the junction with the Caprock Coulee Trail
Take a left across the parking lot to access the Caprock Coulee Trail
until reaching the junction with the Achenbach Trail
itself. This will be a left turn at a marked junction with a steep, switchbacked downhill.
From here, you hike along the valley bottom and follow the river with spectacular views of the badlands formations and stands of cottonwood trees. The trail can be hard to follow because the markers are shorter than the sagebrush, so keep and eye out and try to stay on the trail and not the game trails. Enjoy the views of the badlands. Eventually, you come to the oxbow bend in the Little Missouri and the trail heads uphill to the parking lot at the at end of the Scenic Drive.
The trail then heads west along the edge of the plateau heading out to Sperati Point. The trail breaks left from the one heading out to Sperati Point and goes downhill winding through the badlands towards the river valley below. Again, the trail is difficult to follow as you make your way to the river.
Cross the river and head south until the trail is found on the far side. This is the most difficult trail finding section and may or may not be marked well. The trail climbs out of the valley and reaches the plateau again. The Achenbach Spring will be to the left and will be marked on the trail. This spring may or may not have water, inquire with the park rangers. Continue following the trail through hard to read sections. The trail climbs up and down many small valleys before finally descending to the Little Missouri.
The trail heads to the east on the south side of the river and into the willows which make seeing through to the campground difficult. Once near the river, you should be able to make out the trail on the far side and can cross the river and head through the campground on the road back to the start.
Bison, deer, coyote, birds, wildflowers, cottonwoods, aspen, willow, prairie.