White Butte (North Dakota State Highpoint)

White Butte, North Dakota

Trip Date: Tuesday, September 18th, 2018
Last Updated: Tuesday, October 23rd, 2018
By Ricky Holzer

Hike Information

Rating ★★★★★(5/5)
Overall Difficulty Moderate
Navigation Difficulty     Easy
Distance 4 miles roundtrip
Time 2 hours
Terrain Hilly
Best Seasons Spring, Fall
Family Friendly No
Dog Friendly Yes
Accessible No

Highlights

Hike Walkthrough

Summitting White Butte marked my 7th state highpoint, and one that actually required a bit of climbing. Located about an hour south of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in southwestern North Dakota near the South Dakota border -- one of the least densely populated parts of the U.S. -- this place feels especially remote despite being surrounded by active farms. Unlike the flat highpoints in the Midwest that don't require any physical exertion to reach (I'm looking at you Nebraska and Iowa), White Butte actually looks like a mountain.

To be honest, the first part of the hike is absolutely boring. It's flat and nearly perfectly straight through farmland. Save for the cows chewing grass beyond the fence on either side of the trail (pictured below), the scenery is monotonous. The most interesting part may be pondering what kind of person owns the neighboring farm to your left as you read the threatening no trespassing signs and see relatively new electric fencing.

You'll be sharing part of the trail with cows

You'll be sharing part of the trail with cows

About two thirds of the way on that boring flat part, you'll pass the ruins of a farmhouse on the right side. To me, this really echoed my feelings of desolation.
You'll pass this abandoned farmhouse along the way

You'll pass this abandoned farmhouse along the way

After the farmhouse, you'll enter an area enclosed by barbed wire fencing on either side. When I visited, a calf and its mother had escaped from one of the farms and were hanging out in this area. After a few close encounters with cows in the Sheyenne National Grassland and and bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, I felt nervous as I hiked alone, about to corner these beasts more than five times my size. There was no need to worry, however, and the spry calf somehow jumped over the barbed wire fence as I approached, and the mother sprinted past me. (For a moment I fretted that the mother and calf were separated now, but soon noticed that the fence wasn't continuous and the cows could walk around it to meet if they were smart enough). Anyway, you'll reach a gate marking the real start of the trail, pictured below. Open this, and you'll enter into an active range. Cows may be standing near the trail to the summit up until you start seriously ascending the butte, but they'll likely run away or you'll be able to walk around them.
The entrance gate to the trail

The entrance gate to the trail

Past the gate, the trail starts ascending, albeit gradually. The scenery will finally change a little bit, and you can see white cliffs on either side of the trail (pictured below) -- the namesake of this highpoint.
Limestone buttes lining the side of the trail

Limestone buttes lining the side of the trail

The trail meanders back and forth slightly to keep the uphill climbing gradual, but not quite enough to be called switchbacks. Eventually, you'll see the summit in front of you, as pictured below. If you're like me, this is the point where you excitedly start speeding up despite exhaustion.
The final push to the summit

The final push to the summit

Once at the top, you'll be treated to unobstructed panoramic views (one of the few benefits of such a treeless hike). Nothing else in view is higher than you, so enjoy the interesting geology surrounding you, as pictured below. Of all the highpoints in the Midwest, only South Dakota's Black Elk Peak has a better, farther reaching view.
The view of chalky buttes as seen from White Butte's summit

The view of chalky buttes as seen from White Butte's summit

An ammo canister next to the survey marker holds the summit register, and taking a picture with its white lettering on the side is the only proof of your successful ascent available. To the east, a ridge continues, as pictured below, and you can easily hike in that direction for a different vantage point if so desired.
The ridgeline extending west from the summit

The ridgeline extending west from the summit

Head back the way you came once you're done. Congratulations on achieving the North Dakota state highpoint! Even though the climb isn't very difficult, the whole experience is a fun adventure. This place embodies the spirit of highpointing: traveling to a part of the country you otherwise wouldn't have visited and seeing a sight characteristic of that state. Let me know what you think in the comments section below, and be sure to use #nocoastbestcoast on Twitter and Instagram!

Important Information

The most important thing to consider is that this trail lies on private property in middle of nowhere North Dakota; while there aren't any rules and you may not get caught doing something questionable, your actions here may cause this place to be closed to the public forever. There are no signs outlawing dogs, but do know that half of the trail is on active rangeland. Keep your dog on leash unless you know how your dog reacts to cows, and be sure to pick up after it. This is not a family friendly hike given the distance and less-maintained trail condition -- head to Theodore Roosevelt National Park instead for a fun family trip. While there aren't restrictions on seasons, I do not recommend hiking during the brutally hot, shadeless summers nor the frigid, windy, and icy winters. Furthermore, beware of rattlesnakes on warm days. Even though this is a notable destination, I wouldn't expect to see anyone else while doing this hike given its remoteness.

Directions

Unlike my luck with other state highpoints, simply typing "White Butte" in Google Maps did not yield the proper directions, though it did take me close. Luckily, you can click the Google Maps link below and it will take you to the right place. From Belfield, North Dakota along Interstate 90, head south on U.S. Highway 85. After the road curves to the west, look for the sign for White Butte (I was actually surprised to see a sign, must be a new addition), then turn left on the dirt road 140th Avenue. That sign on the main highway was the only one you'll get, however. Watch your odometer, and turn right on an unmarked dirt road after about 5 miles. One mile ahead, park on the left side of the road as labeled by the small, white sign pictured below. Although it looks like a road heads south towards White Butte, don't go any further -- the landowners specifically marked this area by the main road as the designated parking.

This white sign designates the parking area for White Butte

This white sign designates the parking area for White Butte



Google Maps Directions

Parking, Fees, and Facilities

While parking is technically free, a donation is suggested to help maintain public access to this private property. I paid $5 into the red pole located across the driveway from the parking area, pictured below.

Please place a small donation in this red slot to keep White Butte public!

Please place a small donation in this red slot to keep White Butte public!

External Links

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