The Maah Daah Hey Trail: A Hidden Mountain Bike Gem of North Dakota
Being an avid mountain biker, you wouldn’t think living in North Dakota would be an ideal place to call your home. In most places of the state there are some of the flattest places in the world, but there is one place that is unlike anywhere else. That place is the badlands of western North Dakota, home to the Maah Daah Hey Trail. Having lived on the eastern side of the state for 10 years I felt it was finally time to give a go at the Maah Daah Hey Trail.
The phrase Maah Daah Hey catches most people in curiosity in what in the world does that mean? The phrase comes from the language of the local Mandan Indians with a meaning of: An area that will be around for a long time. This meaning can best be understood when you stop to take a break midway through a 25 mile day on the bike, and realize the vastness of the North Dakota badlands.
When I decided to finally tackle a part of the 144 mile trail I recruited my buddy Nick who is always up for an adventure and an avid mountain biker alike. Then came the biggest question, how do we logistically ride pieces of the trial and what gear do we need to bring? We decided to bring two pickups to shuttle ourselves from campsites to trailheads in order to bike the trail back to our camp. The game plan was to camp three nights in three different campsites with around 25 miles of epic mountain biking in between each site.
We of course were hooked up with my favorite Stanley gear for a trip such as this. My favorite piece of gear for a camping trip is the Adventure Base Camp Cook Set 4X. This thing has everything you need to cook and devour any meal you throw at it. We also were covered with Adventure Stacking Vacuum Pints and Classic Vacuum Water bottles to keep our coffee warm and our water cold!
We arrived late Thursday afternoon. After seeing a large bull snake slither through our planned site we moved to the other end of the campground and immediately poured a couple beers and set up camp. (Picture 1) That evening we grilled a couple burgers and enjoyed a local brew out of our Stanley Classic Vacuum Growler around the fire.
The next morning, we woke up to have breakfast, fuel up on coffee and pack our bags for day one. We anxiously drove around to the trailhead sipping hot coffee and unloaded our bikes for what would be an unforeseen exhausting day. We started out ripping through the trail in a lower river basin full of sage brush, then we started to climb. After a grueling 1,300 ft. climb we were pretty gassed for a couple of flat landers, so we stopped to have a snack and enjoy the views. The rest of the afternoon we spent climbing prairie meadows, dropping down clay faces into creek beds, and tittering along narrow switchbacks.
At about mile 15 we realized we had gone out a little too hard and we were really feeling exhausted. We knew we still had 10 miles back to camp and the realization we were literally in the middle of nowhere with only one way back to camp started to sink in. Those last 10 miles of mountain biking were some of the most challenging because of our physical and mental state. We pushed and encouraged each other and finally made it back to our home away from home. We were a mess. We were thirsty, hungry, and exhausted. We spent the rest of the day recovering from our two wheeled 25 mile, 3,400 ft. elevation gain day.
Unfortunately, that night it began to rain and continued on through the afternoon the next day. We spent most of that day drinking coffee and driving around viewing the vastness of the badlands. We moved camp that afternoon to relax and recover from the day before.
Our last day on the Maah Daah Hey Trail was a quick morning bike of around eight miles. We were pretty tired still but also the trails were pretty slippery and wet in spots so we had to call it quits early. Overall, the trip was a great experience and learning opportunity for our next time out. We will definitely be returning to cover more parts of the trail that we missed with a plan to cover the entire trail over the next couple summers.
About Nolan Berg: I was born and raised in northwest Minnesota. From as early as I can remember I have always loved and lived the life of an outdoorsman. Hiking and camping are a big part of my life, as well as trail running and of course, mountain biking. I love the destinations mountain biking can take you, as well as the speed and amount of area you can explore on a bike.