Road Trip: Makoshika State Park

A weekend in Montana's badlands.

Glendivians might disagree, but it would do Bozemanites some good to spend a long weekend in eastern Montana. This region bears a unique allure, with marvels such as the Great Plains prairies, the rolling lower Yellowstone River, and the enchanting landscape at beautiful Makoshika State Park.

Makoshika (pronounced muh-KO-shih-kuh) is derived from the Lakota maco sica, which means badlands; bad because they were difficult to travel through. The fascinating sandstone and shale columns, coulees, and peaks were created by eroding millions of years of sedimentation. The park hosts activities and events for all ages and varied interests. With a unique landscape and relaxed pace of living—even by Montana standardsyou’re guaranteed to come home with a fresh perspective on our home state.

Round out the trip with a beer (root or otherwise) at Glendive’s Cross Country Brewing or spend a couple hours at the Frontier Gateway Museum for an interesting look at the early days of eastern Montana, along with a few dinosaur fossils. And down the street, over 24 full-size dinosaurs fossils are on display at the Glendive Dinosaur & Fossil Museum. 

Remember to leave no trace, disturb nothing, and bring home only memories (and the well-behaved kids).

Who Should Go
Dino-crazy rugrats. Geology nerds. Midwest-bound travelers. History buffs. Photographers looking to add to their portfolio. Disc golfers in need of a new course. Runners who’ve done all the local events. Mountain bikers enervated from riding in constant fear of a grizzly encounter. Bird watchers looking to check out the turkey vulture, bluebird, or prairie falcon. Bozeman residents who want to get better acquainted with Montana.

Makoshika State Park, Birds, Turkey Vultures

What It Is
Montana’s largest state park, at over 11,000 acres. Tons of historical remnants are buried beneath the badland-scape, from early human artifacts to some of the world’s best-preserved dinosaur fossils. Makoshika has a campground, archery range, disc-golf course, visitor center (with triceratops and T-rex skulls), amphitheater, miles of hiking trails, a scenic-drive loop, picnic areas, wildlife, scenery, and more.

Dinosaurs, Glendive

Typical activities include Shakespeare in the Parks, scavenger hunts, Makoshika-themed bingo, 5k and 10k runs, and the signature Buzzard Day Festival in June, which celebrates the turkey vultures’ return to the area. Unfortunately, most summer 2020 programs have been cancelled, but the Friends of Makoshika organization is committed to bringing back even bigger events for 2021.

When To Go
The park and campground are open year-round, though most events occur in the warmer months. Water is available year-round for campers. Winter tends to be colder and windier here than in southwest Montana.

Makoshika State Park, Running, 5K

Where It Is
Makoshika State Park sits in far-eastern Montana, some 30-odd miles from North Dakota, and abuts Glendive. It’s about a five-hour drive from Bozeman via interstates 90 and 94.

Makoshika State Park, Bike, Badlands

Why to Go
Because you want to learn how to pronounce Makoshika (and see what it’s all about). Because your Montana bucket list isn’t going to check itself. Because Junior’s favorite dinosaur is on display at the visitor center. Because Bozeman sometimes gets a little too Bozeman. Because eastern Montana is beautiful, too.

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