Maah Daah Hey

  • Distance

    158 Mi.

    (254 KM)
  • Days

    4-5

  • % Unpaved

    100%

  • % Singletrack

    94%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    7

  • % Rideable (time)

    95%

  • Total Ascent

    15,086'

    (4,598 M)
  • High Point

    2,941'

    (896 M)

Contributed By

Aaron Couch

Aaron Couch

Guest Contributor

Aaron Couch (Teton Valley, Idaho) is a human-powered adventure enthusiast and a sucker for epic hiking and biking routes that often bring about thoughts like, “I really thought this would be more of a trail.” In addition, Aaron is passionate about sustainable recreation and conserving our land’s resources. Aaron’s currently employed by Fitzgerald’s Bicycles, Team #BarYak member and runs his own blog, Destination Reroute, in hopes to encourage others to step out of their comfort zones and seek adventure.

Across 150 miles of Western North Dakota badlands, the Maah Daah Hey trail passes through expansive rolling prairies, runs alongside steep clay badland buttes, dives into lush valleys and wooded draws, and crosses the Little Missouri River several times. There is no other place where this much contiguous singletrack passes through badlands where coyotes, pronghorn, bison, bighorn sheep, elk, and horses roam wild.
Share Facebook 0 Twitter Pinterest Google+

The trail got its name “Maah Daah Hey” after the aboriginal Mandan tribe. In simple english the phrase translates to “An area that will be around for a long time.” The complete 150-mile trail begins 50 miles south of Medora, ND and ends just south of the park entrance to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The Maah Daah Hey crosses some of the most beautiful landscapes in North America. The ride can be done in either direction and meets a number of gravel roads, providing endless start and end points with a shuttle (or even providing a return route via gravel), however the most rewarding bikepacking routes are the 100 and 150-mile point-to-point trips.

As the singletrack trail traverses through the varying landscape, it drops into several steep creek bottoms and ascends many more steep buttes. Pushing and walking your bike will occur, but you’ll make up the time across the open grasslands. What may come as a surprise to you are the wooded draws you coast through. Though short, these aspen groves are a refreshing touch on the otherwise vast and open plains of Western North Dakota. At any moment, you may feel completely removed from society and out in the middle of nowhere. And you are. However, Little Missouri National Grassland is open to all forms of recreation and a variety of additional uses, such as oil drilling, cattle ranching and hunting. The Maah Daah Hey trail itself is non-motorized, but even late in the season you’ll likely encounter horseback riders, backpackers and other mountain bikers.

At the end of each day, you’ll be torn between exhaustion from that day’s terrain and in awe of the sun setting between clay buttes in the lush grassland before you.

  • Maah Daah Hey 150 Bikepacking Route
  • Maah Daah Hey 150 Bikepacking Route
Difficulty: This route has been given a 7 out of 10 overall. The technical difficulty of the trail is a 6. The physical demand is an 8. The logistics and time required to cache water (depending on time of year) and the shuttle rank a 6. These numbers are very much dependant on how much time you decide to take. For instance, if you ride 40 miles/day over 4 days, the logistics of caching water are almost non-existent, especially if ridden in the spring or fall. The river and stream crossings will make this trip in the spring more difficult than in the fall. Packable waders are highly recommended (although riders in the summer will find these crossings refreshing). These stream crossings have bits of clay in the water and it can get in your drivetrain. Either carry your bike or bring a chain and cassette cleaning tool. The terrain is made up of bentonite clay, which when wet will get on everything and gum up your drivetrain in just a few rotations. If trails are wet, do not ride for the sake of not getting stranded and having to carry your bike out.

Route Development: The Maah Daah Hey was almost a trail of the past. With several sections untraveled and unmaintained due to the lack of resources, the trail with a name that indicates it will be around forever, almost fell apart. Luckily, a passionate individual, Nick Ybarra, stepped up to steward the trail in cooperation with the Forest Service. The organization Save The Maah Daah Hey was born to create events and establish funding for ongoing upkeep. The Maah Daah Hey Trail Association is another non-profit organization working alongside the USDA Forest Service providing volunteer power, funding as well as a phenomenal online resource with an interactive map, all the water cache and campground locations and everything else you need to know to get on the trail. In addition, both of these organizations as well as the Forest Service as willing to talk to you an answer your questions. Since these organizations came into the picture, the trail has gained national attention, outdoor enthusiasts come from all over to experience the North Dakota badlands. The Maah Daah Hey won a slot in the ROUT3 competition.

NOTE: Some photos were contributed by fellow rider, Joe Stiller, a winter-ultra cyclist and creator of BarYak.

  • Highlights

    camera

  • Must Know

    alert

  • Camping

    home

  • Food/H2O

    drop

  • Trail Notes

    signpost

  • Sully Creek State Park has all amenities: campground, vault toilets potable water and showers.
  • Devil’s Pass viewpoint
  • China Wall natural wonder — worth going out of the way
  • Taking a break from riding to explore the Ice Caves
  • Potable water at most campgrounds (tip use a small pebble to keep the valve open if riding solo)
  • Friendly trail users you meet along the way who give you cookies or leave free water in the cache boxes
  • Seeing herds of big horn sheep, pronghorn, bison and other wildlife
  • Gazing up into the unpolluted starry night sky
  • Riding into badland sunsets and waking up to gorgeous sunrises
  • Potable water is available from pumps at most campgrounds (check with Forest Service for updates)
  • April through June and September through November are the best times to ride to avoid the heat.
  • Bentonite clay when wet will destroy everything — don’t ride if the trail is wet, period
  • Shuttling services are available in the peak season (contact Dakota Cyclery), otherwise reserve a day for shuttling vehicles
  • Cattle and wildlife will be present — ride responsibly and respectfully
  • River crossings can be dangerous in the springtime or gum up drivetrain with clay sediment
  • Bring a chain cleaning tool, packable waders and handkerchief or neck gaiter — dual purpose. Protects neck from sun and works as a “pre-filter” to avoid clogging your water filter
  • Wilderness areas and private land border the Maah Daah Hey — do not cross or trespass into these areas without prior permission.
  • Two detours occur, rerouting you off the official Maah Daah Hey trail to ensure you will not ride through any wilderness areas, national parks or private land. The first occurs when you veer west towards Buffalo Gap Campground, a reroute created for mountain bikers to bypass the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The second reroute, 137 miles in, goes toward Bennett Campground. From there you’ll take 8 miles of gravel roads back to the trail and finish at the CCC campground and trailhead. It’s highly recommended that before you go to Bennett Campground, to continue out of the way on the Maah Daah Hey towards the incredible China Wall and then turn around.
  • Campsites with water, vault toilets, and tables are spread out along the trail — fees are required for overnight stays
  • Dispersed camping is legal within the Little Missouri National Grassland, but you are responsible for following regulations
  • Camping is not permitted in State Land Trust zones (clearly marked on maps and the trail)
  • Water cache boxes are available along the trail — use your own cached water unless a jug says “free”
  • There is one steakhouse at an inconvenient 57 miles into the ride. You’ll most likely pass this the morning of the second day, but riding north to south, this could be a much-enjoyed stop.
  • Creeks and streams are along the trail and offer decent filterable water — best to use a neck gaiter or handkerchief as a pre-filter to avoid clogging your filter with small particles of clay in the water.
  • It’s recommended to carry all the food you will need for the 4 to 5 day trip.
  • In Medora both the Boots Bar & Grill and the Little Missouri Saloon and Dining Room served delicious meals. For coffee, Hidden Springs Java serves delicious coffee and breakfast food.

We recommend 4 days for this trip. 5 days will work, but the longer you’re riding, the more food you need to carry and water becomes a more logistical challenge. Any longer you will need to anticipate where along the trail you’ll need water and possibly drive hours down long dirt roads.

The Maah Daah Hey is 95% rideable. Some days will be more demanding. The steep inclines, though relatively short, simply aren’t worth trying to pedal up and burning yourself up. There also are two significant crossings of the Little Missouri River, the Sully Crossing and Elkhorn crossing. There are a few other creek crossings that there may not be planks to cross on. We found it very useful to have packable waders — keeping our feet clean and dry on the 50 degree fall days in November.

It’s recommended to bring a map and use the GPS route provided. The great thing is the Maah Daah Hey is very easy to follow — just look for the turtle.

Additional Resources

Terms of Use: As with each bikepacking route guide published on BIKEPACKING.com, should you choose to cycle this route, do so at your own risk. Prior to setting out check current local weather, conditions, and land/road closures. While riding, obey all public and private land use restrictions and rules, carry proper safety and navigational equipment, and of course, follow the #leavenotrace guidelines. The information found herein is simply a planning resource to be used as a point of inspiration in conjunction with your own due-diligence. In spite of the fact that this route, associated GPS track (GPX and maps), and all route guidelines were prepared under diligent research by the specified contributor and/or contributors, the accuracy of such and judgement of the author is not guaranteed. BIKEPACKING.com LLC, its partners, associates, and contributors are in no way liable for personal injury, damage to personal property, or any other such situation that might happen to individual riders cycling or following this route.

  • mikeetheviking

    Very nice

  • Joe Stiller

    Very Well done Aaron Looking forward to our next Adventure.. Lov ya Bro..

  • Don

    Thanks for trip review. Two quick ones – curious about the need to bring the heat, plus I’m curious about the handlebar extension out front as I’ve not seen that before. Is there a specific function for that?

    Thanks, Don

  • Math Teacher

    Is anyone interested in doing the trail the fall of 2017? November 22-26?

  • Medium Rick

    Great overview. Thank you.

  • Jake Dean

    Looks like an amazing place. What’s the deal with the water cache? The Forest Service stocks it and it’s just there for anyone’s use?

  • Paul Schmidt

    We did this in mid September 2017 and the route between Elkhorn Camp and Wannagan was ruined by terrible trail building “improvements.” Steep, dangerous water bars (or more accurately a trench with a pile of dirt dropped on one side) littered the trail on every climb and downhill. They looked very recently built and I contacted the forest service about it and they responded so hopefully they will take care of it asap. Aside from that, the trail was great fun built in a beautiful unique location. Save the Maah Daah Hey again. Also, what did you need the gun for?

  • Giorgio Frattale

    Great job guys! Thank you.

  • This time of year, it’s hit or miss. We got super lucky as it started raining with 10 miles left on the last day on the trail.

    Snow is currently on the trail, which is certainly rideable, but talking to Nick Ybarra recently, it’s about to get warm(er) again. So, if it melts, the bentonite clay won’t be rideable. I say make plans, but have a Plan B in place!

  • Don,

    I never carry a sidearm. Joe, my riding partner on this trip, often does and did. Did that make me feel any different? Not personally as I’m indifferent to packing one. Bottom line: If you want to carry, do. If you don’t want to for weight or practicality, then I don’t think you HAVE to.

    Where is my point of view coming from, you might ask? I avidly go adventuring in prime predator country in the Tetons where I live. Cougars, black and grizzly bears, wolves, moose, elk, etc. I carry bear spray and that’s in. In every wildlife encounter I’ve had, I’ve always been to make some noise by shouting and they’ll leave.

    To address your second question, that’s the BarYak. Joe is the creator of those. I can put you in touch with him if you’d like. They are capable of supporting more weight, should you need it, while also giving you cable clearance and more places to attach lights, a power supply, mount your phone or GPS, etc.

    Glad you enjoyed the review!

  • It’s incredible! To answer your question, the only role the Forest Service plays in the water is turning on/off the pumps at campgrounds. You’re responsible for your own water caching — there are boxes available (I’ve marked all of the locations they’re in) and you have to drive down each road and place water there.

    There are services that will aid you in shuttling and water, but you of course have to pay for those. I linked to Dakota Cyclery in the route under additional resources.

  • Hi Paul,

    The trail definitely has a rugged feel and that is much to the type of soil — bentonite clay is essentially in a constant state of erosion, creating a never ending need of maintenance and upkeep.

    As far as your question, I’m a bit confused. Where do you see a firearm in the photos or where did I mention it in the article? Joe, my riding partner did bring a sidearm because he likes to carry, but I wouldn’t say you need one.

  • Thanks Giorgio!

  • Thanks Rick! Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Thanks Joe! Always a privilege to ride with you.

  • Paul Schmidt

    Sitting cross legged with coffee cup, shoes, and a revolver.
    So you didn’t notice the water bars? It was only in that one section, but 20-30 miles worth. The rest of the trail is pretty rugged and suffers from erosion due to the clay, but mostly because they didn’t follow the 50% rule of trail building. However, I’d much rather have a trenched out trail than a perpendicular trench and a B.B. dragging mound to ride over on my climbs and downhills.

  • Joe Stiller

    Hi Don, Aaron is Correct, There is no need to carry a sidearm, Bear or pepper spray is always the best, either way make sure you are well versed on either decision. For more Information on the BarYak go to BarYak.com we have completed some of the most challenging Bikepacking & Expedition on the planet,

  • Joe Stiller

    Joe Stiller Aaron Couch • a few seconds ago

    Hi Don, Aaron is Correct, There is no need to carry a sidearm, Bear or pepper spray is always the best, either way make sure you are well versed on either decision. For more Information on the BarYak go to BarYak.com we have completed some of the most challenging Bikepacking & Expedition on the planet,

  • Ah yes. Should have remembered that was in the photo!

    There may have been water bars, but over 150 miles, it wasn’t something that stuck out in my mind.

  • Math Teacher

    Thanks! I may look to try it sometime in the spring then.