Dakota Prairie Chapter

Hiking through the grasslands,

Hiking through the grasslands, photo by Linda Norland

About the Chapter:

The Dakota Prairie Chapter (DPC) takes its name from the one of the area’s most significant features – the Dakota Prairie Grasslands. This is the formal name given to the combination of the three National Grassland units found in North Dakota – the Little Missouri, Grand River, and Sheyenne. The DPC was chartered in 2013 by NCTA members from southeastern North Dakota, primarily from Cass, Richland, and Ransom counties south and west of Fargo.

The DPC is very active and has quickly grown to about 70 members, including 20 Household memberships and 5 landowner partner memberships. Starting with 28 miles of existing trail developed by the U.S. Forest Service on the Sheyenne National Grasslands, the DPC has added more than 4 miles of new off-road and urban trail each year since the chapter was chartered. Primary trail access points are located at Fort Abercrombie, Colfax, Walcott, the Ekre Grassland Preserve, 3 locations on the Sheyenne National Grasslands, and along various county and township roads. The Chapter organizes at least one hike per month at various locations along the trail. Chapter meetings open to the public are held monthly at various towns along the Trail and often include a hike.

Connect:

Please use the links below to contact us to find out about upcoming events and volunteer opportunities:

Red River Valley Outdoors Meetup: http://www.meetup.com/Red-River-Valley-Outdoors/

NCT in North Dakota Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/NCTinND/

E-mail: Chapter President, Gail Rogne at gtrogne@gmail.com

Join our Chapter! Become a member of the NCTA, join a Chapter and select Dakota Prairie Chapter here: northcountrytrail.org/membership

Maps:

Find this area of the Trail on our Retail Paper Maps ND-104

View this area of the Trail on our online interactive map here.

Events:

Click on an event to see more detail.


Trail Overview:

 

The Dakota Prairie Chapter trail range 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.

On the trail in the Ekre pasture; DPC Meetup Hike; September 6, 2014

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.

photo by Linda Norland

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.

Area Links:

Suggested Hikes:

Show Suggested Hikes

The Gateway to the Dakotas: around 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/saloon, gas station, etc.

The Monarch Way: between Colfax and Walcott (6.5 miles one way; easy-moderate)

The NCNST here is built on the right-of-way of the Red River Valley & Western Railroad between two small, rural towns. The flat trail wanders under old telegraph poles emblazoned with NCNST blue blazes. Impressive puncheons, one 300’ 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 ¾ of a mile 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 Ave. west of the RRV&W crossing.

Railroad and Section Lines (9 miles one way; easy-moderate)

This route fills the gap between the Monarch Way and the Sheyenne River Overview by using 2 miles of the RRV&W 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, and 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. (Be alert and stay away from the cattle. They are generally not dangerous although often curious.) Limited parking is available at the south trailhead on 59th St. SE about 2 miles east of the NCT trailhead at the Ekre Grassland Preserve and at the east trailhead on 160th Ave SE one-half mile north of 59th St. SE. It is 1.4 unpaved road miles between the two trailheads if you choose to make the hike a round trip.

Happy Valley Loops: On the 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 1990’s. 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 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 North Dakota Highway 46 and 8 miles north of ND Highway 27.

Dakota Prairie Special: Between the Ekre Grassland Preserve and the Sheyenne National Grassland (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, pasture land, 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 Grasslands (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 3 NCNST trailheads where parking is available: East Trailhead on Richland CR23; Middle Trailhead on Ransom CR53 (147th Ave. SE); West Trailhead on Ransom CR54 (141st Ave. SE). One-way or out-and-back hikes of various distances can be planned by using the 3 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.