Turtle Mountain State Forest is located on the northern most part of North Dakota in Bottineau County. The Turtle Mountain landscape features expansive prairies and farmlands stretching for miles, plus dozens of small ponds and lakes scattered along the grasslands. The views and atmosphere are beloved by RV visitors who wish to get out into the wild.
RVers head over to the far north of the United States to immerse themselves in nature, and explore the area by hiking, biking, horseback riding or ATVing. You can also fish in the lakes, canoe, sail, or camp during the warm summer months. In the wintertime, you can head over in your rig to enjoy cross-country skiing, ice fishing, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling.
There are primitive camping sites available, meaning the campgrounds provide few amenities except for vault toilets, hand-pumped potable water, and fire pits. This makes it a beloved destination for outgoing nature lovers. The campsites are big enough to accommodate trailers, campervans, and RVs. There are RV campsites available at Strawberry Lake for those who wish to be by the water and a campground at Twisted Oaks for equestrians.
Located in North Dakota, Turtle Mountain State Forest is about as close to Canada you get without actually crossing the border. In fact, the northern most section of the forest touches the Canadian border. The nearest small town with services is Bottineau, which is just under 15 minutes away. The closest larger cities of Bismarck and Grand Forks, ND are both three hours away. Take extreme caution if you visit the area during the winter, since road conditions may be extremely poor.
Highway 43 traverses through Turtle Mountain State Forest, which gives arrivals a scenic view of the entire forest. Within the forest, there are many multi-use trails, although some are limited to horses or non-motorized vehicles. There are paved roads which lead to the Strawberry Lake Campground and the Equestrian Campground at Twisted Oaks. Both the campgrounds have large parking spaces which can comfortably fit campervans and RVs. There is also enough space to turn big vehicles around or park boat trailers.
The campground at Strawberry Lake provides primitive campsites for tents, RVs, and trailer. This means there is drinking water, vault toilets, and fire pits available for RV campers. The campground also has a fishing pier, a boat launch, and picnic shelters. Some of the campsites are lake side so you can enjoy the views of Strawberry Lake right from your campervan or RV. There are no electric or water hookups, and campers are required to take all their trash away with them.
Twisted Oaks is a primitive campground for equestrians. Amenities are very limited, but you will have access to picnic tables, fire rings, vault toilets, drinking water, and a water tank for horses. Each campsite has one corral which can hold two horses. There is a whole equestrian area located right next to the campground for your horses. Before leaving, make sure to remove dirty hay and manure from the corrals. There is plenty of parking space to accommodate horse trailers and big rigs.
There are several lakes and small ponds within the Turtle Mountain State Forest, where keen anglers can try their luck with catching fish. Strawberry Lake has a boat launch, although only electric motors are allowed. Keep in mind that there are no fish in this particular lake.
There are plenty of other lakes in the area including Black Lake. Try your luck at Gravel Lake where you can get up to a 25-inch pike, Dion Lake, which is teaming with walleye, or Carpenter Lake, where you can find pike all year round.
For the keen equestrians, there is a dedicated horseback riding campground at Twin Oaks. There are specific trails designated for horseback riding, so keep your eyes open for signs. Most trails are for multi-purpose, so be ready to start sharing the trail with motorbikes, ATVs, and hikers. Why not head down the Strawberry Lake Trail or the Foothills Trail?
If you want to take a break from riding, please make sure to secure your horse to corrals rather than trees. There is one corral per campsite, with each able to accommodate two horses. Please make sure to clean up hay and manure when you leave. The hay and manure can be placed in the wood bunks next to the corral or taken away with you. If you are transporting horses from other states, make sure to bring a current health certificate from a vet given in the last 30 days.
Turtle Mountain State Forest has over 12 miles of motorized trails which welcome OHVs and ATVs. Most of them are shared with hikers, horse riders, and snowshoers during the winter. The primary OHV trail encircles the Turtle Mountain State Forest, and leaves from the parking lot just off Sjule Road. There are steeper inland trails which can bring you to Old Baldy's Look Out and challenge you with steeper climbs and ascents. You will also be passing by the lakes and through forests which are teaming with wildlife.
Permits are required for the use of motorized vehicles, and the trails are open year round. Motorbikes, OHVs, ATVs, and UTVs are all permitted.
The forest reaches from the Turtle Mountains all the way to the Canadian Border, and is one of the biggest continuous forests where you can adventure during the winter in North Dakota. Once snow falls Turtle State Forest becomes a winter playground for snow enthusiasts. The multi-purpose trails for horse riding and hiking in summer transform into roads for snow mobiles.
There are even several tracks exclusively for snow mobiles. There is one trail which branches off the main ATV trail and leads you past the low lying lakes. In wintertime, you will be able to see the unique wildlife in North Dakota. If you prefer snow shoeing, all the trails in the park are accessible to you. There is something magical about the silence and the snow crunching beneath your feet.
Another popular activity to explore the Turtle Mountains and surrounding prairies is to hike them. The many trails which cross the state forest that are always open to hikers. Why not try the Ruffed Grouse Trail? It will take you from Strawberry Lake all the way to Dalen Campground. This is a 2.2-mile easy hike following the contours of the landscape leading you past many of the ponds and lakes. The Black Lake Trail is another popular hike leading you near the Wildlife Management Area from Strawberry Lake to Black Lake. You will be walking past wetlands and having the chance to see arctic shrew, pygmy shrew, or river otters frolicking around.
The combination of the high Turtle Mountains and the low lying wetlands of North Dakota means many birds have made this area their home during the summer months. Grab your bird book and binoculars out of the rig, and set out early in the day for your best chance to see the largest diversity of birds.
Some of the birds you have the chance to encounter include American white pelicans, northern pintail, franklin's gull, black tern, short-eared owl and nelson's sparrow. A great place to see lots of bird species is by Black Lake, which is a short hike away from the campgrounds.