Northern Region Viewing Area
Visitors take in the pollinator garden at Buffalo Gap. Photo by Kelly Privratsky.
Look for Sago lily (Calochortus nuttallii) in June on hill slopes. Photo by Kelly Privratsky.
Purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) puts on a display in July. Look for it on dry prairie, especially rocky hills. Photo by Kelly Privratsky.
Buffalo Gap Campground
Forest: Dakota Prairie Grasslands, Little Missouri Grassland
District: Medora Ranger District
Description: Adjacent to the camper registration kiosk is a pollinator garden planted in 2010. This approximately 2500 square foot area showcases native wildflowers, many of which are important for native pollinating insects. Plant labels indicate the Latin and botanical names for many species. Spring starts out with displays of prairie buckbean (Thermopsis rhombifolia), ground-plum (Astragalus crassicarpus), and an occasional Hood’s phlox (Phlox hoodii). Later spring brings beardtongues (Penstemon species), western wallflower (Erysimum asperum), and blue flax (Linum perenne). Perhaps the greatest displays are found in the summer when the heat-loving forbs produce a riot of color. Look for blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata), dotted blazingstar (Liatris punctata), stiff goldenrod (Solidago rigida), purple prairie-clover (Dalea purpurea), lavender hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), and Maximilian sunflower (Helianthus maximilianii). Watch for butterflies in this garden, especially at the height of summer.
Visitors who want more of an adventure can set off on trails from the campground. The Buffalo Gap overlook trail starts just off the campground entrance road with a 600-foot hike leading up a steep scoria hill to an overlook and set of interpretive panels on the geologic history of the area. The wildflower display varies monthly, with pasqueflower (Anemone patens) and prairie-turnip (Pediomelum esculentum) in the spring. Summer brings harebells (Campanula rotundifolia), yellow wild buckwheat (Eriogonum flavum), purple coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia), stiff sunflower (Helianthus rigidus), prairie coneflower (Ratibida columnifera), and shrubby cinquefoil (Potentilla fruticosa). Grassy areas below the scoria knob have an abundance of whorled milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) and wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). For a longer hike, take the Buffalo Gap spur trail, which ties into the 97-mile Maah-daah-hey trail, where hikers, bikers, and horseback riders are rewarded with an even richer diversity of native plants. Look for different wildflowers found in the varying plant communities of scoria ridges, clay buttes, eroding sandstone bluffs, rolling prairie, and woody draws. Come back several times during the growing season, as the floral display on the Little Missouri National Grassland is constantly changing.
Safety First: Extreme summer heat is a concern in this region, so bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat. Prairie rattlesnakes, though not commonly seen, will defend themselves if irritated, so be watchful. Be aware of other trail users including mountain bikers and horse-riders. Bug spray is a good idea too.
Directions: From the town of Medora, North Dakota, go west nearly 6 miles on Interstate 94 and take the Buffalo Gap exit to the campground entrance.
Ownership and Management: U.S. Forest Service, Dakota Prairie Grasslands, Medora Ranger District, Dickinson, North Dakota. Phone 701-227-7800.
Closest Town: Medora, North Dakota.