At the edge of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, in the North Dakota Badlands, I-94 carries travelers toward or away from Montana. If you are traveling this route, even only passing through, you owe yourself a stop at mile marker 32, the Painted Canyon Rest Area. From high on the scenic overlook, you will get a commanding view of the National Park that may just encourage you to delay your destination and visit the park.
The rest area features the usual building with a well-equipped visitor information center typical of the first stop in a state’s Interstate rest area offerings. Behind the building is a long sidewalk that parallels the edge of a cliff. A fence protects people from getting too close to the drop-off, and because of its length, it presents the visitor with a wide variety of views inside the park. The panoramic opening photo is best viewed by selecting the photo to enlarge it (if your browser allows.)
At the west end of the rest area, you will find the trailhead for the Painted Canyon Nature Trail. A short trail at only .9 miles, (1.5 km), it is rated moderate and descends steeply into the canyon. Though we didn’t take the time to walk the trail on this trip, my wife, Lynn, and I have taken the hike. It is a loop so you will return to the rest area at the conclusion of the hike, but you’ll climb steeply on the way back. Near the top, a set of stairs makes the climb up a little easier.
At the east end of the viewpoint sidewalk, the dropoff edge is just on the other side of the protective fence. A sign warns visitors by implying that they shouldn’t get any bright ideas about climbing over the fence to get a view of the cliff directly below the rest area. If the photos above don’t convince you to visit the rest of the park, maybe the photos featured in the gallery below will convince you to spend some extra time in the badlands. On the scenic drive through the park, you will likely see one of the buffalo herds or bands of wild horses. I submit for your review a gallery of images captured that day during our 30-minute stop at the Painted Canyon Rest Area. In most browsers, you can click on one of the images to enlarge it and scroll through the slides.
Notice: This post is being written during the COVID-19 pandemic and at this time, the rest area is open, but some areas of Theodore Roosevelt National Park are closed to visitors. Be sure to check online for the status of the venue before traveling. Please stay safe and follow your state or country’s guidelines for travel in your region.