Midwest USA, Trip Reports » Maah Daah Hey trail report

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In mid October we took the girls to Grandma’s and ourselves to North Dakota, bikepacking on the Maah Daah Hey trail. One of the nice things about the MDH is that, as far as bikepacking routes goes, it is fairly easy riding, the climbs being measured in hundreds of feet, not thousands. This means even out of shape people like myself can do it and have fun. The other cool feature is that it is pretty much entirely singletrack, and fun riding singletrack at that.

 

The great thing about modern lighweight backpacking gear and rackless carry systems is that it allows you to ride with everything you need for a multiday trip, but still be able to as if you were on a day trip. this was driven home to me as I was blasting down some very fast prairie singletrack, when a deep rut crossed the trail. I was able to bunnyhop it just fine. The same goes for slow speed climbing and rough highspeed descents, almost as good as regular.

We took a sleeper train out of Minneapolis on Thursday night and arrived in Williston, ND mid day on Friday. After getting our bikes together and our bikeclothes on we took a taxi out to the middle of the trail and started riding around 4 pm. We rode about 14 miles to Magpie Camp It felt great to be out on these empty, windswept plains, far away from everyday life. It started to get cold right away. Since the campground is located in a valley, you lose sun early and don’t get it back till it’s very high up. great in June, not so much in October. We bundled up, made camp and had dinner. At night the stars were beautiful in the clear sky, but someone had forgotten to turn the cows off, so they would occasionally moo in the distance.

 

 

 

On Saturday we rode about 23 miles to Elkhorn Ranch Camp. This involved crossing the Little Missouri River, wet feet but not much more. Due to the drought this year the river was very low. There is a miserable stretch of trail on this segment, where the cattle have pockmarked the trail when it was wet, which has now hardened into a washboard surface, absolutely horrible! However, like all the other days, there were also some sections of trail that had me hollering with joy as I flew down a sinewy line of smooth dirt at warp speed.

 

 

the only snake we saw was this tiny guy;

During the night we had a very brief rainstorm and then the temps dropped again, leaving everything covered in ice in the morning.

We rode about 28 miles, stopping to get water at Wanagan Camp.  Just before the campground the trail passes through a section of petrified forest. There was no sign marking it and some of the fossils looked so real I wasn’t sure they were petrified until I touched them.

We passed some cowboys at work:

 

After the campground we rode on onto the Buffalo Gap trail, a detour around the National Park’s south unit  Wilderness. We made a dry camp on a windy saddle in the middle of no-where, but with enormous views in all directions.

 

 

 

 

 

On Monday morning we got up early  and rode 8 easy miles to the Buffalo Gap Guest Ranch were we had a huge second breakfast and then got a ride back to Williston.

 

We saw some more mule deer, a white tail buck and some antelope:

One last look at the prairie before we left:

 

Since the train was delayed, we had some time to kill, so after packing up our bikes and changing into street clothes, we went to a movie in Williston. Once aboard the train we had SHOWERS and a wonderful dinner, then a deep sleep before breakfast in the dining car as we were rolling into Minnesota again.

Comments (7)

AslanNovember 30th, 2012 at 11:29 pm

Nice! Thanks for posting. Sounds like a great long weekender.

slimDecember 1st, 2012 at 3:52 am

It was. It could easily be made into a short week, since we only started about halfway and the trail continues another 45miles or so past Buffalo Gap camp.

slimJanuary 13th, 2013 at 11:45 am

Added complete gearlist under personal set-ups.

http://www.bikepacking.net/individual_setups/great-plains-in-fall/

HenryMarch 16th, 2014 at 9:26 am

Did you have trouble arranging for a taxi in Williston to take you and your gear to the trailhead? Can you share the name of the company/person you used?

Thanks,

SlimMarch 17th, 2014 at 1:12 pm

I just called a taxi company from the phone book. I did call before hand to check if they had minivans (so the bike would fit), and to check on the rate.
See the route page for info on the company, I don’t remember it.

jeff JApril 29th, 2014 at 8:51 am

sounds like a great trip. How long did each of the segments take you to ride?

SlimApril 29th, 2014 at 9:04 am

The segments are about 20 miles long, plus a bit of trail to get to the campground. I think about 4-5 hours? Obviously this depends on your riding speed, and the wind.

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