On-A-Slant Indian Village and Little Soldier Loop

Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, North Dakota

Trip Date: Saturday, September 15th, 2018
Last Updated: Monday, October 29th, 2018
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★★(5/5)
Overall Difficulty Moderate
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 2.8 miles roundtrip
Time 1.5 hours
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons Spring, Fall, Winter
Family Friendly Yes
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No


Hike Summary

If you only do one hike in Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, this is the one to choose. Starting with a walk through the reconstructed Mandan dwellings, the trail travels to the top of the bluffs overlooking Bismarck and the Missouri and Heart Rivers with a final stop at the historic blockhouses before descending. In less than 3 miles, you will see absolutely everything worth seeing in this park.

Before starting the hike, I highly recommend visiting the exhibits in the visitor center to learn more about the Mandan people. From the visitor center, follow the signs to the On-A-Slant Indian Village, and you'll find yourself surrounded by 6 earthlodges, like the two pictured below. This village was originally established around 1575 and was much, much larger with 75 earthlodges and a population of 1000 people.

Reconstructed earthlodges at On-A-Slant Indian Village

Reconstructed earthlodges at On-A-Slant Indian Village

You can actually walk inside of most of these dwellings, see the picture below. A couple of them have educational exhibits teaching you about the traditional Mandan way of life. You may be surprised to learn that these houses were typically constructed by the women of the tribe.
Inside one of the earthlodges

Inside one of the earthlodges

Finding the trail after leaving the village is difficult, and I never found the unpaved trail shown on the official map linked below. Instead, I walked up the hill to the road and found my way to the paved trail and headed north -- this trail is very obvious. Near where the road ends in a loop, you'll find the intersection with an unpaved trail leading uphill to a picnic shelter. Walk up the stairs to the shelter, and look for the continuation of the trail on the side of the shelter. This is the steepest part of the entire hike, so be careful! Shortly after reaching the top, you'll have excellent views of the Heart River, pictured below.
The Heart River and Bismarck from the top of the bluff

The Heart River and Bismarck from the top of the bluff

Views like the above picture prevail for most of the next mile, and you'll enjoy some of the best views of Bismarck around. Eventually the trail will circle around and begin heading south, and your sweeping views will be replaced by the grassy hills pictured below. At the fork in the trail ahead, stay left to remain on the Little Soldier Loop.
Grassy slopes with two blockhouses visible in the background

Grassy slopes with two blockhouses visible in the background

After less than half a mile, you'll reach the historic infantry post, Fort McKeen. You can enter the blockhouses, like pictured below, and climb to the top for views the army experienced in the late 1800s. If you're interested, you can step away from the trail to explore the historic fort and see footprints of the old buildings that no longer stand.
Go inside the blockhouse and climb to the top for views

Go inside the blockhouse and climb to the top for views

Find the trail again located at the southeast end of the fort, and you'll begin descending the bluff. Just before the final stretch of downhill, you'll reach a bench overlooking On-A-Slant Indian Village and the Missouri River, the final view of the hike pictured below. The rest of the descent is a little steep, though there are a few stairs to help level out the trail. At the bottom of the hill, you'll end at a trailhead parking area. Continue south on the paved trail or walk alongside the park road to return to the visitor center -- the paved trail goes up and over a hill, so choose the road if you don't want to walk uphill.
The last view of the hike overlooks On-A-Slant Indian Village and the Missouri River

The last view of the hike overlooks On-A-Slant Indian Village and the Missouri River

This hike is definitely worth a trip if you're ever in Bismarck. With so much history and scenery packed into one trail, you will leave this park satisfied. Let me know what you think in the comments section below, and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Important Information

Dogs are allowed on a leash of 6 feet or shorter. While this hike isn't particularly difficult, it may be a little long and hilly for younger children; the Young Hawk Interpretive Trail is a shorter option at 1.1 miles. Hiking is available in all seasons since the trail is not groomed for skiing in winter, but this trail is not recommended in the heat of summer since it lacks shade. Unsurprisingly, most people congregate at the On-A-Slant Indian Village and the blockhouses at the top of the hill and the Little Soldier Loop is much quieter. Note that this trail is multi-use and you may encounter mountain bikers and horseback riders -- yield to these users for your safety.


From Downtown Bismarck, head west on Main Avenue and continue straight as it changes into Memorial Highway. Turn left on 3rd Street, then turn left on 6th Avenue, which eventually becomes Highway 1806. Follow signs for the park, and turn left on Fort Lincoln Road just after passing the North Dakota Veterans Cemetery. After paying your fee at the entrance station, follow signs for the visitor center, then turn right into the parking lot.

Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

All vehicles must pay the $7 daily or $35 annual entrance fee (perfect if you plan on visiting North Dakota State Parks 5 or more times in a year) either in the visitor center (when staffed) or at the self service station. More information available at the North Dakota State Parks entrance fees page. You can also order an annual vehicle entrance permit online through the North Dakota State Parks Online Reservation System. There are restrooms, water, a gift shop, and educational exhibits inside the visitor center.

External Links