White Butte (3,506′) | North Dakota’s State High Point | 05/21/21

White Butte (3,506′) | Little Missouri National Grassland

Bowman, ND | 05/21/21 | 3.44 miles | 451′ gain


We had a little bit of a rough start to our trip, but hopes were high that the weather would improve and allow us to do some high-pointing. After all, Diana and I had planned this trip specifically to climb the North and South Dakota state high points. We decided to visit North Dakota first as its high point, White Butte, was the furthest away from our hotel in Hill City, SD. Neither of us were really looking forward to the seven-hour round-trip drive, but it would be worth it if we could reach the summit. Our only concern was the fact that the last ten miles of the drive was on dirt roads. We did not want a repeat of the previous evening’s gumbo road fiasco. But the weather looked clear so we made the drive, hoping for dry roads.

The amount of anxiety we both felt as we approached the turn off the highway was overwhelming, and we both breathed a sigh of relief when we found not only dry roads, but a gravel surface instead of dirt or clay. We confidently continued our drive to the trailhead and had no further gumbo-related incidents the rest of the trip (thank goodness). The trailhead is small but well-maintained, with room for two or three vehicles. White Butte (and the entire hike) is on private property, and while a fee isn’t required, it’s a good idea to leave a few bucks in the donation box as a thank-you to the owners for allowing access to their land.

The weather wasn’t great (it was super cold and foggy) but at least it wasn’t raining. The trail starts out on a 2-track which runs due south along a fence-line to the old trailhead. On one side of us was an agricultural field and on the other was cattle pasture. Welcome to North Dakota.

The fog made the trees look really spooky…
…and the old farmhouse wasn’t much better.

After about a mile, we reached the old trailhead. Visitors used to be able to drive to this point, but we didn’t mind the easy road-walk. Once through the gate, the hike became a bit more difficult. It was an another 3/4-mile and 350′ to the summit.

The old trailhead

Now on a trail, we hiked through the fog into the chalk hills. Some sections were steep and slippery, but generally the trail was in good shape.

Photo: Diana
Climbing a steep, slippery section

As we walked, hills rose up out of the fog. Each hill looked to be the summit until we reached its top and saw the next hill, a little taller than the last. Eventually we found the actual summit of White Butte. As to be expected, there were no views.

The summit!
Summit marker

It was a lot colder than it looks so we were motivated to get back to the car quickly. We spent just long enough on the summit to get our photos before we turned back around.

Descending a steep section (Photo: Diana)
Tufted Evening Primrose, locally referred to as Gumbo Lily (Photo: Diana)

Despite the fact that we couldn’t see much of anything, it was fun to climb to the top of White Butte and check off my 6th state high point! Now we just had a 3.5-hour drive back to the hotel before the next day’s adventure up Black Elk Peak in South Dakota.

I would like to acknowledge that White Butte is on the ancestral land of the Itázipčho (Itazipco, Sans Arc), Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (Great Sioux Nation), Cheyenne, Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara.


8 thoughts on “White Butte (3,506′) | North Dakota’s State High Point | 05/21/21

    1. There are areas of North Dakota that are pretty but generally I’ve shared your opinion. When I was a child, my family took a road trip and spent a little time in North Dakota, though none of the things we did were very memorable or exciting. A few years ago, I spent a week or so working in North Dakota. We were doing some soil and vegetation surveys for a proposed pipeline. The area we were in was just beautiful, didn’t feel like North Dakota at all.


  1. Even though you weren’t able to admire the views, your pictures look so beautiful with all the mist and fog. The chalk hills look so neat. That’s a long drive to reach the highest peak, but it’s nice to cross another one off the list. I’m actually in the US right now and taking a road trip to Savannah. Along the way we stopped at the highest points in Pennsylvania and West Virginia so far. If it weren’t for you and Diana writing about these, I wouldn’t have even known that this was even a thing.


  2. Pingback: Black Elk Peak (7,242′) | South Dakota’s State High Point | 05/22/21 – Colorado Chelsea

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