Have you ever wanted to follow an actual dinosaur trail? If yes, then Montana’s largest state park should be your next stop! Makoshika State Park is the ideal family getaway, with over 11,000 acres of land to explore.
The park’s history extends millions of years to when dinosaurs ruled the world; however, its name comes from the Native Lakota tribe. In their native language, Makoshika means “bad earth.”
This breathtaking terrain comprises badlands formations with juniper and pine trees and picturesque nature routes ideal for bicycling, hiking, picnics, and wildlife viewing.
The magnificent vistas are complemented by a diverse collection of dinosaur fossils discovered nearby. During your tour, you may learn about the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex, as well as other found treasures.
Dive into the Prehistoric Past of Montana
The Makoshika State Park’s landscape is a part of the infamous Hell Creek Formation. As a result, the park has been the epicenter of various discoveries regarding dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals.
Over ten dinosaur species have been discovered at Makoshika. Moreover, adding to the list of findings, a complete Triceratops horridus skull and a complete skeleton of the rare Thescelosaur have also been found at the park.
The K-T boundary line is one of the main attractions at Makoshika State Park. For those unaware of the abbreviations, ‘K’ stands for the Cretaceous period, and ‘T’ stands for the Tertiary period. This line denotes the physical separation between the two eras, dating back 65.5 million years.
Makoshika State Park offers a wide range of activities for its visitors to enjoy. Moreover, the activities differ depending on whether it’s off-season or in-season. However, we assure you that each activity offered by the park will add to your experience.
Makoshika State Park serves as the ideal location for any professional or amateur photographer. If you prefer wildlife photography, you’ll be able to observe various native animals around your campground, with the forest providing a perfect backdrop for any of your subjects.
Many state parks’ trails and roads are ideal for mountain riding. If you are looking for an easy biking trail, then the Paramount Biking Trail is just for you. It starts at the Diane Gabriel Trail and finishes near its visitor center. It’s only a mile long and makes for a fantastic first ride for an amateur biker.
If you’re a serious mountain biker, you can download the route map from the park’s website and go out on a longer ride.
Makoshika’s gorgeous sceneries and wide nature paths will beckon you no matter what time of year you visit. Short and long tracks starting from your campground will provide you with a better perspective of the surrounding scenery. We will discuss the trials in detail later in the article.
If you don’t feel like venturing out into the badlands, then you should try your luck at the park’s archery range available to visitors. Practicing at the range is an excellent way to enhance your aim and learn new techniques. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned archer, don’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind experience during your visit to the park.
Given the abundance of fossils discovered at Makoshika State Park, it’s only natural that archeology is included among the activities available. Before you get too enthusiastic, keep in mind that bringing your equipment or removing artifacts from the state park is banned.
The park’s visitor center, on the other hand, provides educational opportunities as well as the occasional paleontology field excavation. If you are a huge fan of dinosaurs, these events are just for you.
Makoshika State Park offers two camping options: reservation camping and first-come-first-served camping. Each option provides a wide array of services discussed in detail next.
The reservation option gives you access to the Cains Coulee Campground. It is the main camping area for RVs. Additionally, the camping ground has 14 campsites and one tipi. Before arriving at the campground, you must reserve your place two days before reaching.
The camping ground does not have hookups, but what it does have are vault washrooms and running water. Moreover, many camping sites can fit 35-45ft rigs. If you have a big rig, don’t worry! There is a campsite available that caters to rigs up to 70ft.
- Maximum capacity: 8 people
- Quiet time: 10 pm to 7 am
First-come-first-served camping gives you access to eight campsites that are present at different locations within the park. These campsites are ideal for someone looking to reconnect with nature. There are no hookups available at these camping sites like the reservation camping option.
However, visitors can avail some amenities such as a fire pit and picnic table. Moreover, the camping site is more suitable for tents and small rigs, so make sure you check with the park that the rig is of the appropriate height.
The campsite fees for both options range from $4-$34 per night. Moreover, the price can change depending on the season and additional amenities used by the visitor.
In contrast, the pricing of the tipi varies depending on if the visitor is a resident or owns a Park Pass. Visitors with the pass or residents have to pay $30 per night. Non-residents without the pass have to pay $42 per night.
Best Trails in Makoshika State Park
What can be a better way to explore the magnificent badlands other than hiking through the trails present at the Makoshika State Park. The park is home to eleven trail routes that its visitors can explore. However, among these trail routes, five stand out for the beautiful views that these trails have to offer.
You can check out the PDF trail map for Makoshika State Park here.
Diane Gabriel Trail
Diane Gabriel Trail, also commonly known as “The Dinosaur Trail,” is a 1.4-kilometer loop trail with a moderate rating located near Glendive, Montana. Sinkhole caves and sob tabletops dominate the landscape as you make your way across the track.
However, the highlight of the trial lies in the series of Hadrosaur vertebrae left partially exposed at the hillside, allowing visitors to get a first-hand experience of what it is like to excavate fossils. Near the excavation site, there is a dinosaur museum. The museum is home to various fossils and remains found at the park.
- Length: 1.4 km
- Elevation Gain: 39m
Kinney Coulee Trail
Kinney Coulee Trail is a 1.4-kilometer loop trail with a moderate rating. The track offers breathtaking views of the badland formation. Hoodoos, accompanied by lush green pine trees, are a view worth capturing in a camera. Due to its rugged path, the trail is typically used for hiking.
- Length: 1.4 km
- Elevation Gain: 95m
CapRock Trail is a 0.8 kilometer loop trail. The track is accessible to people of all ages and skill levels. Moreover, on this trail, you will see many caprock formations and a natural rock bridge, giving you a glimpse into the geological wonders present at the park.
- Length: 0.8 km
- Elevation Gain: 28m
Gunner Ridge Trail is a 7.1 kilometer out & back trail with a moderate rating. It is the most extended trail route present at the park. Despite the long distance, the trail route offers its visitors various opportunities for an adventure, such as the Graveyard Coulee Trail and the Bucket Trial.
- Length: 7.1 km
- Elevation Gain: 165m
Bluebird Trail is a 1.6 kilometer out&back trail with an easy rating. Beautiful wildflowers and colorful badlands alongside a wide range of birds create a fantastic view. People of all ages and skillsets can easily access this trail.
- Length: 1.6 km
- Elevation Gain: 39m
Hiking is the best way for you to explore what the park has to offer, but you need to take the necessary steps to ensure your safety from various animals you may encounter during your hike. These steps include:
- Take a map or a guidebook to ensure that you are on the correct path. Also, refrain from deviating from the designated route as you may get lost.
- Before going for a hike, make sure you tell someone about your whereabouts.
- Refrain from hiking alone as someone needs to be there with you if you encounter a dangerous situation.
- Wear the appropriate gear according to the weather.
- Do not interact with the wildlife present at the park, as that may put you in a dangerous situation.
Things you Need to Know Before You Visit
Hours and Sessions
The visitor center’s hours are subject to change according to the seasons or special restrictions. Moreover, the center is closed on all state and federal holidays except Labor Day, Memorial Day, and The 4th of July.
The Makoshika State Park is open all year round from 7 am to 10 pm. In contrast, the camping grounds are available 24/7.
The residents of Montana who pay annual vehicle registration, including the parking fee of $9, do not have to pay the daily entrance fees for Makoshika State Park. However, residents who do not register their vehicles annually will pay the same prices as non-residents.
Non-residents with vehicles must pay a daily entrance fee of around $8. Moreover, non-residents with bikes or bus passengers must pay $4. However, a non-resident on foot is allowed to enter for free.