Monday, September 3, 2018

Theodore Roosevelt National Park: Painted Canyon Nature Trail (Blog Hike #712)

Trail: Painted Canyon Nature Trail
Hike Location: Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Geographic Location: east of Medora, ND (46.89434, -103.38265)
Length: 0.9 miles
Difficulty: 3/10 (Easy/Moderate)
Last Hiked: August 2018
Overview: A short lollipop loop with some steep areas offering up-close views of badlands rock formations.

Directions to the trailhead: This hike starts at the west end of the I-94, exit 32 rest area in western North Dakota.  This rest area is accessible to both eastbound and westbound traffic.

The hike: After I hiked at Grand Bay in Mississippi and Fanny Bay in Florida, both of which start at rest areas on I-10, I thought I had done every hike that starts at an interstate rest area.  Then as I was driving I-94 across North Dakota to/from Montana, I stopped at the rest area at mile marker 32 to stretch my legs and found this hike.  Much to my surprise, this rest area also contains an official Visitor Center for Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which sits immediately north of the interstate.  Thus, this hike is not only a rest area hike but also a national park hike.
            Established in 1978, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the only national park to be named after an individual.  The 26th President’s dedication to conservation is honored at this park because he spent several years hunting bison here in the late 1800’s.  The park consists of two sections, a northern section and a southern section, and both sections offer scenic, rugged badlands scenery.  The park’s southern section is the one bordering I-94.
This short hike takes you deep into a badlands canyon, thus letting you see the badlands’ colored rocks and interesting rock formations up close and personal.  Despite the short length, do not underestimate the difficulty of this hike.  The trail includes some short steep sections, and almost the entire hike is exposed to the sun, making for hot hiking in the summer.  Also, do not attempt this hike after a heavy rain: water turns the badlands’ dirt into thick, goopy mud.
Painted Canyon Nature Trail trailhead
Start at the signed trailhead for the Painted Canyon Nature Trail on the west side of the rest area.  Do not confuse this trail with the similarly named but much longer Painted Canyon Trail that starts on the east side of the rest area.  The narrow trail immediately leaves the canyon rim and begins descending on a moderate to steep grade that features some wooden waterbars.  Views of the colorful rock bands that give this canyon its name open up to the left.
Descending on Painted Canyon Nature Trail
At 0.15 miles, the trail splits to form its loop.  I chose to continue straight and use the trail going right as my return route, thus hiking the loop clockwise.  The trail is marked only by some brown carsonite posts bearing the words “Painted Canyon,” but the route is easy to follow for the most part.  Small clusters of ponderosa pine trees border the trail, and large amounts of goldenrod line the sunny areas.
After more descending, you reach the lowest elevation of the hike at 0.4 miles.  This point sits roughly 250 vertical feet below the canyon rim, and looking around reveals both the colorful cliffs above you and the grassy canyon bottom below you.  A bench placed here invites you to sit and see what you can see provided it is not too hot.
Colorful butte in Painted Canyon

Rock bands in Painted Canyon
The trail curves right and starts ascending around a tall banded rock formation that stands to the right.  A colorful red/orange butte stands ahead in the distance.  Moderate ascending brings you to the close of the loop.  A soft left turn and more climbing return you to the rest area to complete the hike.  Before you leave, check out the exhibits about Badlands flora and fauna in the national park Visitor Center located at this rest area.

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