Welcome to North Dakota!
To the eastern eye, used to hills and forests and people, North Dakota seems barren. But, look again, with a wider eye, to the distant horizion, the clear dome of blue sky, the prairie rolling away like a grassy ocean. Hidden in the folds of the land is one of the great waterfowl nesting areas of North America. Those rolling grasslands once supported buffalo by the millions, and you can see them in your mind’s eye if you look hard enough. Montana calls itself “the big sky country”; the sky is no smaller in North Dakota. At night, it’s filled with stars, and sometimes on the coldest nights you can almost hear the Northern Lights crackle as they dance in the sky. Home of friendly people and welcoming wide open spaces, the state has a special beauty all its own. The scattering of people across the rural parts of the state are a tough and hearty breed, few enough that the state is one of the last reserves of elbow room in an increasingly crowded country.
Sweeping views are the norm in North Dakota, as the North Country Trail moves through the open country of the northern Great Plains, serving up big skies, superb birding and breathtaking sunsets.
Starting at the Red River of the North at Wahpeton, the trail heads north for Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site. Originally built in 1858, this reconstructed fur-trade era Army fort was once known as “the Gateway to Dakota Territory.” From Fort Abercrombie, the route heads west to the Sheyenne National Grasslands (part of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands), the largest remaining remnant of tallgrass prairie in public ownership. Within the Grasslands, the NCT meets up with the Sheyenne River, a major tributary to the Red River of the North and North Dakota’s longest river. The NCT route will follow the Sheyenne closely for most of its path across North Dakota. Stops along the way include Sheyenne State Forest (where you can hike to North Dakota’s only waterfall), Fort Ransom State Park, Clausen Springs Recreation Area, through the City of Valley City, Lake Ashtabula, New Rockford Canal, and Lonetree Wildlife Management Area. West of Lonetree the NCT follows the McClusky Canal to Lake Audubon National Wildlife Refuge and then follows along Lake Sakakawea, across Garrison Dam, and the western terminus at Lake Sakakawea State Park.
Along the route, hikers will encounter a surplus of scenic landscapes, including patches of remnant prairie; prairie pothole wetlands; the Sheyenne River bottomland forest; grazing pastures for cattle and buffalo; row-crop fields of canola, sunflower, wheat and sugar beets; and rolling glacial hills. Hikers will also get a personalized lesson in North Dakota history, as they witness the state’s bonanza farms, grain-hauling railroads, dust bowl sand dunes, ghost towns, and Native American cultural sites.
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