Chapter Trail Section
The Dakota Prairie Chapter trail segment covers about 90 miles of the NCNST between Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site on the north-flowing Red River and Sheyenne State Forest in southeastern North Dakota. About 55 miles of the Trail exists off-road and in towns, while another 35 miles follows mostly unpaved rural roads. This section of the NCNST roughly follows the route of the historic 19th century Fort Abercrombie-Fort Ransom military road that was used by frontier soldiers, explorers, mail carriers, settlers, gold seekers, trappers, and almost everyone heading west across the Dakotas in the decades after the Civil War. Running roughly east-west, the NCNST traverses the flat, fertile Red River Valley, the “beach ridges” of the former glacial Lake Agassiz, tall grass prairie on the 77,000-acre Sheyenne National Grasslands (SNG), cattle pastures, sand hills, oak savannas, Sheyenne River bottomlands, mixed oak-aspen-birch forests, and rare plant communities. One unique 8-mile segment of the NCNST follows the right-of-way of a working railroad, while other segments cross the woods and fields of 19th century farms. The SNG portion of the Trail is open to foot traffic, bicycles, and horses. In addition to the remoteness and natural and historic features of the Dakota Prairie trail segment, a hike here provides an excellent view of modern large-scale agricultural practices.
Connect and Get Involved
Join the Chapter
Red River Valley Outdoors Meetup
Use the Report Trail Condition form to alert NCTA and the Chapter to poor trail conditions. Visit the Trail Alerts page while planning your adventure.
The Gateway to the Dakotas, Abercrombie: 1.7 miles one-way, easy. This 1.5-mile urban section of the NCNST runs between Fort Abercrombie State Historic Site and Richland County 81, passing by a town park where water, toilets and camping are available; through another town park along an old rail bed; and through a private park and across an old highway bridge northwest of town. In town the Trail is marked with blue stickers on white plates fastened to utility poles and street signs. The Abercrombie trailhead, which is also the eastern terminus of the NCNST in North Dakota, is in the parking lot of the Fort Abercrombie Historic Site. The friendly town of Abercrombie has various services of interest to hikers including a post office, a store, a café and saloon, gas station, and more.
The Monarch Way, between Colfax and Walcott: 6.5 miles one-way, easy to moderate. The NCNST here is built on the right-of-way of the Red River Valley and Western Railroad between two small, rural towns. The flat trail wanders under old telegraph poles emblazoned with NCNST blue blazes. Impressive puncheons, one 300 feet long, cross wet areas. Pheasants, hawks, song birds, deer, Monarch butterflies, coyote and gopher diggings, and many types of native prairie plants are natural features of this section. Both Walcott and Colfax have a variety of services for visitors. A tent campsite (without water) is available about 0.75 miles north of Colfax. Tent camping is also possible in the Walcott City Park. In Colfax, the Trail runs north through town from County Road 4 on streets marked with blue blazes on white plates; parking is available at the Richland 44 School. The Walcott trailhead is located on the south side of Main Avenue, west of the Red River Valley and Western Railroad crossing.
Railroad and Section Lines: 9 miles one-way, easy to moderate. This route fills the gap between the Monarch Way and the Sheyenne River Overview by using 2 miles of the Red River Valley and Western Railroad right-of-way, 3.5 miles of Walcott Township Section Line, and 3.5 miles of lightly traveled gravel roads. The terrain includes farm fields, pasture land, woods, a now-vanished farm road to the site of an old country school, and several grassy two-track lanes. There are many lovely isolated places in the wooded areas hidden from the surrounding agricultural land. Deer, birds and other wildlife abound in the secluded woods. There are several places to access the Trail where it crosses country roads, and parking is available at the NCNST trailheads in Walcott and 160th Avenue.
Sheyenne River Overview: 3.5 miles one-way, moderate (with some hills). Located in Barrie Township 2 miles east of the Ekre Grassland Preserve on private land, this winding, undulating trail through woods, ravines, sand hills, and over scenic high points provides a picturesque hike. Benched trail sections connect prairie pastures and oak savannas with the banks of the meandering Sheyenne River. Step stiles make it easy to cross pasture fences, trail-side benches offer places to rest, and short bridges cover creek and drainage areas. A camping area with a table, benches, fire ring, and wilderness privy is available near the river. Some areas of this property are used for cattle grazing. (Please be alert and stay away from the cattle. They are generally not dangerous, though often curious.) Limited parking is available at the south trailhead on 59th Street SE about 2 miles east of the NCT trailhead at the Ekre Grassland Preserve, and at the east trailhead on 160th Avenue SE 0.5 miles north of 59th Street SE. There are 1.4 miles of unpaved road between the two trailheads if you choose to make the hike a round trip.
Happy Valley Loops, Ekre Grassland Preserve: Short, easy hikes of various distances. The 1,600-acre Ekre Grassland Preserve (Happy Valley Ranch), beautiful in all seasons, displays the natural and scenic beauty of the Sheyenne River Valley. Albert Ekre, a bachelor farmer and son of early Norwegian settlers, donated the Preserve to North Dakota State University for agricultural research and production in the 1990s. About 2.5 miles of hiking trails were built by Boy Scouts and other volunteers, and are marked with colored blazes and location maps. The trails wind through hardwood forests and native prairie, over bluffs and through valleys, and along a section of the historic 19th century Fort Abercrombie-Fort Ransom military road. One branch of the early 19th century ox cart trails between Pembina and St. Paul crossed the Sheyenne River here, as did the branch of the military road that led northward to Fort Totten at Devil’s Lake. The Ekre Grassland Preserve hiking trails contain several fence stiles, benches, and small bridges, and connect to the NCNST where it crosses the Preserve. Happy Valley loop hikers can park at the NCNST trailhead on the east side of ND Highway 18, 5 miles south of ND Highway 46 and 8 miles north of ND Highway 27.
Dakota Prairie Special, between Ekre Grassland Preserve and Sheyenne National Grassland (SNG): 6.4 miles one-way, moderate. This popular hike highlights all the types of interesting scenery that eastern North Dakota offers including pasture land, native prairie, oak savannas, prairie wetlands, wind sculpted sand hills, and lovely prairie vistas. Stiles of various types cross fences and several puncheons cover wet areas. A shady lunch spot midway along the trail has a table, benches, and a wilderness privy. From east to west, the route crosses Ekre Grassland Preserve fields and woods, private pasture lands and oak savannas, and a narrow sand hill Section Line right-of-way that reaches the east boundary of the Sheyenne National Grasslands. From the boundary, a 2.8-mile segment intersects the SNG Oak Leaf Trail, passes the Jorgen’s Hollow Campground, and connects to the SNG East Trailhead along Richland County Road 23. Trail access and parking is available at either the Ekre Grassland Preserve trailhead on ND Highway 18 or the SNG East Trailhead.
Hikes on the Sheyenne National Grassland: Any distance, easy to challenging. The SNG contains a 31-mile section of the NCNST that winds through open grazing land, climbs sandy ridges, traverses oak savannas, crosses Iron Springs Creek, passes the Jorgen’s Hollow Campground (with pit toilets), and runs to the SNG eastern boundary where it connects to the NCNST segment across to the Ekre Grassland Preserve. The NCNST in the SNG is marked with large wooden posts containing NCNST emblems. In the SNG, the Trail is open to foot traffic, bicycles, and equestrians. The SNG has three NCNST trailheads where parking is available: East Trailhead on Richland CR-23, Middle Trailhead on Ransom CR-53 (147th Avenue SE), and West Trailhead on Ransom CR-54 (141st Avenue SE). One-way or out-and-back hikes of various distances can be planned by using the three trailheads and vehicle or bicycle shuttles. One of the most popular hikes is 4 miles of oak savannah and sand dunes from the East Trailhead to the Iron Springs Creek bridge and another 4 miles back. The 4-mile Oak Leaf Trail, east of the East Trailhead, also provides great scenery and varied terrain. In addition to the Forest Service campground by the East Trailhead, dispersed camping is permitted anywhere on the SNG.
Chapter Maps and Guidance
View our section of the Trail on the interactive online map
Additional Local Resources
Bagg Bonanza Farm
Biesterfeldt Earth Lodge National Historic Landmark
Buffalo River State Park
Cross Ranch State Park
Fort Ransom State Park
Fort Ransom State Historic Site
Sheyenne National Grasslands
Sheyenne National Grasslands, Hankinson Hills unit
Sheyenne River National Scenic Byway
Sheyenne River State Forest