Hands down the most impressive sight in all of North Dakota is the famous Painted Canyon. With a well-kept rest area and visitors center right off I94 and just a few miles from Medora, the overlook lets you gaze at thousands of acres of wild terrain.
Because the land is completely unsettled and untouched by man, you’ll frequently see herds of Bison roam throughout the area, searching for their next meal or drink of water.
If you’re heading to the Medora area from the east, this is the first opportunity you’ll have to get a view of the only national park named after a person – Theodore Roosevelt National Park. While the rest of the park is also stunningly beautiful, this view is unique in the sheer amount of colors you can see ‘painted’ in the different levels of rock formations, all sitting atop a tapestry of greens and browns.
The beautiful red rocks are scoria – coal that is heated to the point that the red color emerges. According to the National Parks Service, “The burning lends both color to the badlands and helps to shape them. These hardened rocks are more resistant to erosion than the unbaked rocks nearby. Over time, erosion has worn down the less resistant rocks, leaving behind a jumble of knobs, ridges, and buttes topped with durable red scoria caps.” Read more about the geological formations here.
The landscape of Western North Dakota is unique and in stark contrast to the valley that makes up Eastern North Dakota. Looking at the landscape is like peering back in time, giving you a glimpse of hundreds of thousands of years of the Earth moving and forming to its current shape.