Makoshika State Park: The Complete Guide

Curiving road going past the rock formations of Makoshika State Park
zrfphoto / Getty Images
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Makoshika State Park

Address
1301 Snyder St, Glendive, MT 59330, USA
Phone +1 406-377-6256

If you travel to eastern Montana, which is a relatively remote area near the North Dakota border, you’ll find one of the most underrated, yet spectacular, state parks in the country: Makoshika State Park. Named after the Lakota word for "bad land" or "bad earth," the park is open year-round. You can see fossil remains of a Tyrannosaurus rex and a Triceratops, as well as relics from other major dinosaurs. Families can also explore dirt trails and marvel at unique badland formations, without the crowds that one sees in Badlands National Park. Makoshika is a hotbed for paleontology—fossils are regularly discovered here.

Camp under the star-filled sky and spend the next day hiking on the many trails in wide-open spaces, where you’ll see rustic cap rocks, hoodoo formations, and natural bridges. There are several short hikes that you can do, from 0.1 miles to 1.4 miles in length—or you could combine multiple linking trails to enjoy a longer outdoor on-foot adventure.

Keep reading this ultimate Makoshika State Park guide, where you'll find relevant information on the best hikes, scenic drives, and wildlife viewing.

Things to Do

You'll want to stop first at the Visitor Center to learn about the park from experts. Located at the park entrance, the Visitor Center is home to Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus rex fossils as well as a number of interactive exhibits. You’ll also find a gift shop for souvenirs and keepsakes.

  • To put things in perspective, take a look at the Montana Dinosaur Trail, where 14 different locations showcase the state’s historic dinosaur discoveries.
  • A fun variety of special events and festivals happen annually, including the popular Montana Shakespeare in the Park, Friday night campfire programs, youth summer programming, and paleontology interactions. Join Makoshika State Park staff on a full moon hike, gather your team and join a trivia-in-the-park challenge, or take part in the National Fossil Day event where participants can win prizes, play games, meet paleontologists, and enjoy a discounted entrance fee of only $5.
  • The Buzzard Day Festival is an action-packed weekend that includes 10K and 5K races as well as disc golf and corn hole tournaments. Young kids can ride the mini train and play in the bouncy house. Guided nature hikes include an astronomy tutorial on the Kinney Coulee trail, an early morning talk and hike on the Bluebird trail, and a paleontology presentation and hike. Your entire family will learn and be entertained the entire day.
  • Beyond hiking and biking, Makoshika State Park also has a relatively large and challenging disc golf course. You’ll have fun exploring the park by landing discs in the baskets along the designated paths. Keep your eyes out for turkey vultures, mountain bluebirds, prairie falcons, and golden eagles, which all thrive in the park.

Best Hikes & Trails

Makoshika Park Road is the main road that travels from the northwest corner of the park to the southeastern section. All the park’s trailheads can be accessed along this road. Make sure you grab a map from the Visitor Center or print out one from the website before you head out on the trails, some of which are rated with a moderate difficulty level. The map will highlight points of interest, the amphitheater, campgrounds, bathrooms, picnic areas, and trailheads.

This 11,538-acre park is Montana’s largest state park, so you’re sure to find plenty of outdoor spaces to hike or bike through, likely without seeing too many other visitors. A great resource to help you find your way around while exploring outdoors is onX Backcountry, a GPS navigation app. The discover feature allows you to find a specific trail, learn about the elevation gain and loss, see the trail’s length, study photographs, and be informed on the current weather patterns.

  • Bluebird: The trailhead starts just past the Visitor Center and you can hike 0.5 miles one way until you reach an intersection. Either way you turn, you’ll hike an additional 0.3-mile loop where you can enjoy the Birdseye Overlook.
  • Gunners Ridge: Hike (or drive) 0.5 miles south from the Visitor Center, where you’ll find the Gunners Ridge Trailhead, the longest hike in the park. You’ll walk 1.4 miles on Gunners Ridge Trail until you reach Hungry Joe Trail. Turn north and hike 0.8 miles until you reach Hungry Joe Overlook, or turn south and hike 2.2 miles south until you reach Eyefull Vista. You’ll have plenty of other hiking opportunities from this area as well should you want to increase your mileage and see more of the park on foot.
  • Buccaneer: Drive or hike 1.1 miles south of the Visitor Center and head out on the Buccaneer Trail, which travels 0.7 miles west until you reach the park boundary. You'll find the disc golf course at the start of the trail.
  • Diane Gabriel: You’ll find the Diane Gabriel trailhead one-third of the way into the park. Hike 0.5 miles until you reach the Hadrosaur Trail, which is where you’ll find the Sunset Overlook and the Hadrosaur fossil.
  • Switchback: The southern end of the park is where you’ll find a mixture of shorter trails that connect with each other. Start at the Switchback trailhead which goes for 0.6 miles to the Mcarty Trail. Continue 0.4 miles south until you hit the Ponderosa Trail. You’ll reach a 0.9-mile loop trail, where either way you go, you’ll see Cains Coulee Overlook.
  • Cap Rock: Toward the end of Makoshika Park Road is the Cap Rock Trailhead, a 0.5-mile loop trail that leads to a Natural Bridge. This is a must-visit location inside of the park.
Badlands of Makoshika State Park, Dawson, USA
Bruce B. Mittelman / 500px / Getty Images

Where to Camp

Camping in the wilderness, under the night sky, is one of those quintessential Montanan experiences that every visitor should try—at least for one night. The southern end of the park is where you’ll find all the camping opportunities, which must be booked in advance to secure a coveted spot.

Expect to pay between $4—$34 for a campsite, depending on the facilities, type of site, and what’s available. Reserve accommodations on the Montana State Parks website, where you can see a campground map and choose between rustic camp or tent sites, yurts, or tipis.

Where to Stay Nearby

If you're not interested in camping inside the park (which is highly recommended) here are some options for places to stay that are located nearby.

  • Astoria Hotel & Suites: Positioned right off the interstate, near the state park, this hotel has a fitness room, pool, hot tub, and complimentary breakfast.
  • Roadway Inn: Situated in nearby Wibaux, this budget property, formerly known as Beaver Creek Inn & Suites, features affordable accommodations and complimentary breakfast. You’ll be within walking distance to the popular Beaver Creek Brewery.
  • Beaver Valley Haven: Camp at this private campground, located in the town of Wibaux, where you’ll find RV and tent sites as well as laundry facilities.

How to Get There

Located only a quarter-mile from the small town of Glendive, Makoshika State Park is easily accessible for those with a vehicle. Take I-94 to the Glendive exit and follow signs southeast, just past the town, to the park.

The largest cities in Montana with airports include Great Falls, Bozeman, and Missoula.

Tips For Your Visit

  • Be sure to check on the current fire risk before visiting to learn about road closures and safety information. It will also allow you to make safe decisions on campfires.
  • Metal detectors are strictly prohibited inside the park as is the removal of artifacts or fossils.
  • The day-use entrance is free for Montanans or $8 per vehicle for non-residents.
  • You may want to consider bringing along a picnic lunch since options will be limited for food and beverages once inside the park. Stop at one of the grocery stores in Glendive and fill up a cooler with nibbles to fuel your day’s adventures.
  • If hiking, be sure to bring plenty of water and sun protection. Be mindful of your footwear and plan on bringing toe-covered shoes with good traction.
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Makoshika State Park: The Complete Guide