10 Best Mountain Biking Trails in North Dakota

North Dakota, located in the Midwestern part of the United States of America, is the 19th largest state in the country and one of the least populated. The state is surrounded on the south by South Dakota, the west by Montana, the east by Minnesota, and north by the Manitoba and Saskatchewan provinces of Canada. With its peak at 3,506 feet, the state offers a diverse range of landscapes. The Great Plains make up a significant portion of the north, the east has the Red River Valley, the central region is home to the Missouri Plateau, and the Badlands host the highest point in the state, White Butte. A large percentage of the state’s land is used for farming, and the impressive Theodore Roosevelt National Park occupies a 70,000 expanse of the Badlands.

Nicknamed the Roughrider state, there are many opportunities to explore these different terrains on a mountain bike. The scenery in North Dakota is simply breathtaking and diverse. The state should be on the to-do list of any mountain biker. With so many trails in North Dakota, the rider is spoilt for choice. To help narrow it down, we’ll take a look at the best ten trails in the state.

1. The Maah Daah Hey Trail 

The Maah Daah Hey Trail - Leslie Kehmeier - MTB Project
© Leslie Kehmeier – MTB Project

Medora, a small town in North Dakota, is the capital of mountain biking in North Dakota, and rightly so, as it hosts the Maah Daah Hey Trail, shortened as the MDH. The MDH is to North Dakota, what Moab is to Utah. 

Very popular among locals and visitors, the trail is rated as an Epic by the International Mountain Biking Association, making it heavily trafficked throughout the year. Over 100 miles of trails here are used by mountain bikes, hikers, and horseback riders. The trail links the northern and southern sections of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and since the park prohibits mountain biking, riders would have to take alternate routes to complete the course. Eight different sections make up the course, and each segment has a different terrain.

Rivers, valleys, rolling prairie, and grand plateaus are some of the sights you can expect to see along the tracks. There are a few stream crossings and a big one at the Little Missouri River. Due to the secluded location of the trail, you must come prepared as you will be self-sufficient. Your best route-finding techniques would be required here too.

The best way to enjoy the Maah Daah Hey Trail is to come prepared for several days, as the route is long and may take a couple of days to appreciate fully. The trail is an intermediate ride and would also be enjoyed by advanced riders.

2. Bison Plant Trail

Bison Plant Trail - Trailforks
© Trailforks

Situated in Minot, North Dakota, the Bison Plant Trail is a 3.5-mile single-track trail, a very tight route bordered by trees on both sides. A lot of work has gone into the trail since its inception a couple of years back. The trail is rated intermediate in both technicality and challenges. More tracks are being added to the trail, and its heavy traffic is a testament to the trail’s ever-growing popularity.

A 100% single-track trail, the route is anything but straightforward. The course is a curvy and tight route that winds through an adorable portion of the forest serviced and owned by Minot City.  Whoever coined the phrase “Uphill task” clearly had the Bison Plant Trail in mind, as the trail is littered with strenuous climbs, natural and human-made obstacles, and technical spots. There are roots, bridges, rocks, and berms that make this location exciting, along with every rider’s favorite downhills.

During summer, there are excellent shades to rest under, in between, or after rides. Bison Plant Trail offers a unique balance of fun and hard work, with just the right amount of technical areas to spice things up. Intermediate and expert riders would love the thrill that this trail offers.

3. The Ice Cave Trail

Ice Cave Trail - Zander Gopfert
© Zander Gopfert

Now, this one is ideal for the beginners. Situated in the small Grassy Butte town, North Dakota, is a 3-mile trail for newbies named The Ice Cave Trail. The trailhead is at the Ice Caves, which can be accessed using the Maah Daah Hey route through the Magpie Campground.

With a pure single-track course, the Ice Cave Trail will get your feet wet. The path goes over a few muddy creeks, which in the end is worth it. After leaving Maah Daah Hey, a gigantic canyon sits just beneath the huge rocks. This is where the Ice Caves that the trail is named after can be found. These Ice Caves add to the overall scenery of the trail. With nothing complicated, the course has some climbs with downhills following shortly after. Some rocks and roots, along with berms, help to spice things up.

The location has some wildlife, including deer, cattle, and antelopes. Locals warn that this is a breeding ground for rattlesnakes, so be watchful. The course is a perfect fit for beginners.

4. Black Buttes Adventure Trail

Black Buttes Adventure Trail - Trailforks
© Trailforks

Situated in Sawyer town, the aptly named Black Buttes Adventure Trail is a moderate-rated trail that encourages adventure. The narrow single-track trail includes many bumps and a few climbs. A muddy stream crossing can be found midway through the trail.

The trail goes through land reserved for pasture, close to a running river, and finally ascends the Black Butte.  Some portions of the trail are exceptionally rocky and quite challenging. The path forms a loop around the butte, with nice switchbacks, climbs, and descents. The major loop is a 5-mile course, while there is an alternative 3-mile trail that can be ridden around the main course. 

The majority of the trail’s route passes through pasture land, which is primarily private property; riders should be considerate on the trail. The height of the Black Butte gives it a vantage point, which gives a great view of the surrounding environs. Anybody can ride these trails and enjoys the sights and thrills that it has to offer.

5. Lake Sakakawea State Park

Lake Sakakawea State Park - North Dakota Game and Fish
© North Dakota Game and Fish

Located on the shore of the Lake Sakakawea, the third-largest artificial water body in the United States, the Lake Sakakawea State Park is famous for fishing. The park plays host to the Western Section of the North Country National Scenic Trail, which begins in New York and ends at this park traversing seven states running and running for a total length of 4,600 miles, which makes it the longest trail in the country. 

Three other trails make up the trail system at this park. The completed portion of the North Country Trail on this park measures meagerly 1.78 miles and passes through some shortgrass Prairie where you would find different wildflowers and wildlife such as deer and pheasants. The trail goes all the way to the southern end of the park. The shoreline trail, which is open to hikers and mountain bikes, is a 2.7-mile trail that runs the entire length of Lake Sakakawea State Park. The trail runs parallel to the lake, and riders would encounter some rock outcroppings along the trail.

Each trail here caters to the needs of different riders, and although they are short, they provide a proper workout.

6. Fort Stevenson State Park

Fort Stevenson State Park - Jon Grullon - MTB Project
© Jon Grullon – MTB Project

Also located along the shoreline of Lake Sakakawea is the Fort Stevenson State Park. With over 10 miles of trails, the park is highly frequented and hosts some choice events. The park shares the name of a fort in the 1800s that was a supply line for military camps in Dakota.

Hikers and bikers alike use the park for recreation purposes. The trails meander through trees, pines, grasslands, and wooded ravines, going through the more remote parts of the park. It can be ridden as one whole trail or divided into different loops. The smaller sections include; the Flicker Loop, a 2.3-mile loop that begins from the trailhead close to the Guard House and stretches up to the North Loop campground. Grassland and American elm line up the trail’s route. Another great Loop here is the Trooper Challenge Loop, a 0.63-mile loop that is as short and thorough as they come. Cross country skiers come in their droves during winter to use this loop.

Fort Stevenson is great for riders of all capabilities, from beginners to seasoned riders; there is a loop suited to your speed and difficulty levels.

7. Fort Ransom State Park

Fort Ransom State Park - Skinnyski
© Skinnyski

Another park with military history, the Fort Ransom State Park, is named after a military fort in the 1860s.  The park is situated in the beautiful and thickly forested Sheyenne River Valley. During summer, the park enjoys a lot of traffic from horseback riders and mountain bikers.

A part of the North Country National Scenic Trail passes through this park, measuring a little over 2 miles and stretching along the Sheyenne River. Over 20 miles of trails grace this park, divided into different loops. The trail surface consists mainly of grass, single-track, or dirt. Some other loops in this park include the Nelson 80 or the N80, a 1.28-mile loop that travels through oak trees and ironwood. The White Tail Loop is a short trail that is a habitat for deer. 

The trails here differ in length and difficulty, making it a favorite of many mountain bikers. The dense vegetation in the park makes it attractive to nature lovers.

8. Cross Ranch State Park

Cross Ranch State Park - National Recreation Trails Database
© National Recreation Trails Database

Largely undeveloped, the Cross Ranch State Park is located along the Missouri River. Sitting on a 589-acre expanse of land, the park grants access to the Cross Ranch Nature Preserve with over 17 miles of trails for the outdoor enthusiast to explore, coursing through river bottom forests, prairie grass, and woody draws.

There is very little development in this location, giving the rider a feel of what it looked like in the 18th century. The trails here are appropriately marked with adequate signposts where necessary. About four trails are usually open to mountain bikers, the most popular being the Matah River Trail, a 2.9-mile trail with a lot of history. On the trail’s path, there are description signs for the wildlife, culture, and topography of the area alongside the river. Cottonwood Trail/Gaines trail is the longest trail on the park at 5.4 miles and consists of 2 separate trails, the Cottonwood and the Gaines trails.

Some parts of the trails are out of bounds, as researchers are studying the area. Wildlife is abundant on this trail, and riders are expected to keep a distance from the animals, especially bison.

9. Beaver Lake State Park

Beaver Lake State Park - Nick Wilder
© Nick Wilder

A welcome escapes away from the humdrum of city life awaits you at the Beaver Lake State Park. The location is remote, plus there is a lake on the park grounds. With a rich and colorful history, the park goes way back into the McIntosh, Logan, and Emmons counties’ settlement.

The trail system at this park consists of 5 miles of trails divided into interconnected loops. The trail’s surface is mainly single-track, and grass in some parts. Four short loops are open to mountain bikers, but they could be ridden as one long trail. They include the rolling Prairie Loop, the Lake View Loop, the Moraine Loop, and the Woodland loop. The Moraine loop is the longest of the four, measuring 2.28 miles—it gives a great view of Beaver Lake, posing as an excellent place for bird watching.

The secluded location of the trail makes it easy to get lost, but with a map, you should be fine. The park does not involve many challenging trails and is safe for beginners and families to ride. 

10. Maah Daah Hey II (The Duece)

Maah Daah Hey II The Duece - North Dakota 365
© North Dakota 365

Not to be confused with the Maa Daah Hey IMBA Epic trail, this trail is an offshoot or extension of the original one—hence the name Maah Daah Hey II. It is commonly known and referred to as The Duece. When ridden with the original 100-mile trail, it adds another 50 miles to the trail length. Officially opened to the public in 2014, the trail is well marked and easy to follow, although it can get soggy during the rains.

The trail is divided into sections measuring at least 5 miles and at most 10 miles and has 7 different trailheads. Built to be better than its namesake, the trail is still under construction in certain areas and might end up becoming an Epic ride too. The exceptional bridges on the trail route are a testament to that fact.

If you happen to ride the trail during hunting season, make sure to wear bright colors. The location harbors rattlesnakes, so keep an eye out for snakelike movements. All categories of riders would enjoy a ride on the trails here, shaping up to be an Epic.

Conclusion

The Roughrider state ticks all the right mountain biking boxes, with varied terrain, peculiar wildlife, and an exciting range of trails. The fantastic scenery, peaks, and bodies of water help to add to the appeal of the state’s excellent trails. Now you know our top mounting biking destinations,  pack up your bike and go for a ride.