The 70-mile Killdeer Mountain Four Bears Scenic Byway takes travelers through some of the most beautiful country in western North Dakota, a journey of breathtaking badlands and river breaks. Pair a sunny day with a full tank of gas, and you’re in for an adventure of learning and enjoyment.
Opportunities to discuss the rich culture of the indigenous people who make their homes here abound. These five stops offer a considerable chance to dig deep and explore the the traditional land of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara tribes.
The Killdeer Mountain Four Bears Scenic Byway route begins at Manning, north of Dickinson on Highway 22. Look for the byway sign to designate the beginning of the route – the pull-off here provides background information as well as a listing of highlights to look for along the way.
Killdeer Mountain Battlefield
Wander off the main road to visit the Killdeer Mountain Battlefield and learn more about this battle fought on July 28, 1864. Here troops commanded by General Sully attacked a gathering of Sioux Indians, one of a series of battles fought at the time.
North of Killdeer, the site is 7 ½ miles down a sometimes narrow gravel road. As you get closer to the site you will pass over several cattle guards, a herd of bored-looking cows roams free near the monument itself.
You’ll find a quiet space for reflection on the history of this area, the tribes, and interactions between our government and the people of this nation. A sign gives background on what happened here, and two graves are protected within the fence.
Close the gate behind you, have a seat at the picnic table, and listen to the birds. You’ll be glad you took the time to take in the energy of the place.
Oral tradition of the people who fled that battle says they escaped through a nearby cave called the Medicine Hole.
From the battle site, the Medicine Hole is a few miles down the gravel road. The last turn isn’t marked, so I suggest putting it into Google maps, which will bring you to the trailhead.
From the trailhead, it is a hike of about one mile to the spot where the Medicine Hole, a largely unexplored cave that extends into one of the steep hills known as the Killdeer Mountains. Unfortunately, that informal parking and picnic area at the base of the Medicine Hole trail is as far as visitors are currently allowed.
Check ahead of time for current information to avoid wandering into a controversy over land rights, and please be respectful of the landowner’s wishes that visitors stay off his private land.
Little Missouri State Park
Back to the highway, the beautiful buttes of the Badlands will be becoming denser and more beautiful. The next stop is Little Missouri State Park, located 17 miles north of Killdeer and two miles east of Hwy 22.
I’ll be honest here, you have to wade through a little bit of oilfield traffic to get to this park, but the views are worth it. Be sure to bring your camera, because this is land is screaming out as a perfect backdrop.
The rough and unforgiving Badlands bring to mind times when dinosaurs and saber tooth tigers roamed the area, so it is a good time to feed the imaginations (and the minds) of those younger travelers.
The park includes an incredible 47 miles of trails, and horse lovers will be happy to find corrals, artesian wells, and certified weed-free hay. Facilities are primitive, but electrical hookups are available for campers.
What a crazy story! The Lost Bridge stop is simple, just a scenic pull-off directly off Hwy 22. Here you’ll find a sign explaining the story behind the unique name, as well as a piece of the old bridge, was dismantled in 1994.
So why is it called the Lost Bridge? Built as a project of the “New Deal” to put American laborers to work, the bridge sat isolated for 20 years with no road leading to it. That’s right, it was literally a bridge to nowhere, marked only by a clearing through the trees because funding became scarce as the Depression set in.
Ghosts of North Dakota has a piece with more information on the story. Give it a read, then set out on a drive, because you really should see this one for yourself!
Three Affiliated Tribes Museum
As the Killdeer Mountain Four Bears Scenic Byway rolls on, we travel onto the Fort Berthold Reservation, and cuts east onto Highway 23. The next stop is the Three Affiliated Tribes Museum, on the south side of the road.
Adjacent to the Four Bears Casino, The Three Affiliated Tribes Museum is a draw for those looking to stretch their legs and soak up some history.
The A-frame museum wasn’t open when I went by, but this heritage center preserves the history and culture of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara people. It is marked by a collection of flag poles, making it easy to find.
Crow Flies High Butte
The Killdeer Mountain Four Bears Scenic Byway ends at New Town, North Dakota, a town with a rich history to share.
Just after crossing the Four Bears Bridge, turn left to climb to the Crow Flies High Butte Scenic Overlook, which gives views of the bridge and Lake Sakakawea. Created in 1955 when the Garrison Dam was built, this 178-mile long lake is popular for recreation in the region. At low water, you might catch a glimpse of the town of Sanish, flooded at the creation of the lake.
Signs on the overlook tell the story of the lake and the area it now covers.
Have you traveled the Killdeer Mountain Four Bears Scenic Byway? Tell us about your experiences in the comments!