North Dakota Badlands lures nature enthusiasts

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WATFORD CITY, N.D. -- A dramatic landscape awaits clients who venture to North Dakota's McKenzie County.

The state's largest -- and least populated -- county encompasses a vast area of western North Dakota, with more than 500,000 acres of wild country to be explored.

And along with the area's natural beauty, there is an abundance of outdoor recreational pursuits available year-round. The following is a sampling:

• Theodore Roosevelt National Park. One of the least-crowded U.S. national parks is home to the North Dakota Badlands, which can be explored on foot, mountain bike and horseback along a series of backcountry trails that crisscross the park.

The brilliantly colored layers of rock that make up the Badlands were carved out over a period of 60 million years by the waters of the Little Missouri River combined with the forces of rain, wind and snow.

Among the self-guided nature trails are the easily negotiated Little Mo (1.1-miles) and Caprock Coulee (1.5 miles). Longer, more challenging trails include the 11-mile Buckhorn Trail and the 16-mile Achenbach Trail. From the trails, one may encounter herds of buffalo, elk and pronghorn sheep that roam freely throughout the park.

During the winter, cross-country skiing is popular, and the adventurous also can head out on trails through the back country. Snowmobiling is another favorite winter pastime, and a new, 85-mile trail takes riders into the far reaches of some of the park's most scenic areas.

• Little Missouri National Grassland. This is an unspoiled region of more than 500,000 acres that offers opportunities for hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, canoeing and camping.

It also is superb for wildlife viewing, with populations of antelope, whitetail and mule deer, prairie dogs, eagles and falcons.

This area is best-known for the 96-mile Maah-Daah-Hey Trail (a Mandan Indian phrase meaning "something that has been or will be around for a long time") that connects the north and south units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

One of the premier mountain-biking trails in the U.S, this shared-use path also is a favorite of hikers; guided horseback rides of one, two or five days also are available throughout the summer.

• Lake Sakakawea. This huge, manmade lake with more than 1,300 miles of coastline is a fisherman's paradise, with an ample supply of walleyed pike, salmon, catfish and small-mouth bass.

Also inhabiting the waters are the endangered pallid sturgeon, a fish that can grow up to 6 feet long, and the prehistoric paddlefish, which can weigh between 70 and 100 pounds.

Although fishing is a prime draw year-round, other activities on the lake include sailing, canoeing, jet skiing, windsurfing and scuba diving.

For more information, call the McKenzie County Tourism Bureau at (800) 701-2804 or visit www.4eyes.net/tourism.

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