Photos of Central Mckenzie Trails

My wife and hiked this trail in early June 2018 and loved every mile of its ever-changing scenery! We planned two nights out but heavy rains kept us off the trail and sleeping in our car in Juniper campground the first night. This place is solitude at its best—we were the only ones in the backcountry on a Saturday. The trail is challenging and will throw a lot at you: mud, high winds, poison ivy, ticks, river crossings, navigational challenges. These will vary based on the time of the year. We’re fast hikers but our overall average speed was only 1.5 mph.

We hiked the trail clockwise beginning at Juniper Campground and got one river crossing out of the way right off the bat. The river was swift and just over waist high. The riverbed is silt here and footing was sketchy. The second river crossing below Oxbow Overlook was easier as the riverbed is more rock than mud and footing was much better. There was a lot of mud and standing water on the trail from the previous night’s rain. The Bentonite clay that forms many of the badland features is very slick when wet and literally cakes the bottom of your boots with a thick layer of mud.

We had a GPS with a track of the trail, which came in very handy when we weren’t sure if we had gotten off the main trail or not. Many game trails intersect the trail. Every few minutes you should see an older wooden or newer brown Carsonite post. A few were lying on the ground. A ranger told us they have been working to improve navigation on the trail and this appeared evident to us. We still had to refer to our GPS numerous times.

Along the way, we stopped at Achenbach Spring to refill water. It had plenty of flow. It’s a pretty steep descent down to the spring. If it’s wet at all, good luck staying upright. We were getting buffeted by 50+ mph winds while walking the high prairie areas on either side of the spring.

We hiked about 13 miles the first day and camped in the valley a couple miles beyond Oxbow Overlook at the base of a butte. The grass in the cottonwoods along the river was too high and tick infested to consider camping in. Erosion of the buttes over the eons has created nice beds of sand at the base of them allowing for beach-like camping. Our boots and socks stayed off the entire evening. It was amazing to sit back at dusk and listen to the wildlife. Given the higher latitude and being at the far western edge of the Central Time Zone, it didn’t get completely dark until after 11pm under a clear sky. Several coyotes barking at our tent jolted us from sleep at 1am--a little frightening to say the least.

The next day we finished the trail. The first few miles after camp were spectacular! The climb up toward River Bend Overlook is steep and intersects with the Caprock Coulee Trail. We had to yield to a large bison standing at the intersection. Going right on the CCT follows a narrow ridge with the best vistas on the trail. Once we reached the road, we opted to hike it back to camp to finish out the loop.

All-in-all a great, challenging hike. What we liked best about the trail is the variety of habitats, the vistas and wildlife. Some of the amazing badlands formations deserve extra time for exploring. There is not a whole lot of info online about this trail so if you have questions, I'll try to help. Feel free to email me at

Our tips: treat all of your clothing with Permethrin for tick control. Load a track of the trail on a GPS or phone app.; it will save you time. Always keep looking forward for the next trail marker. Stay off the badlands formations if its raining.