Why You Should Visit
Cross Ranch is located along the only free-flowing section of the Missouri River in North Dakota. The river is bordered by some of the most extensive floodplain forests left in the state. Farther away from the river are uplands that are covered by mixed-grass prairie that is similar to what was viewed by Lewis and Clark when the Corps of Discovery passed through the area in 1804. Although the natural flow of the river has been greatly altered by the operation of Lake Sakakawea, several endangered species are found in the river and along its banks. Least terns, piping plovers, and fall-migrating whooping cranes still use the sandbars in the river, Pallid sturgeon cruise its channels, and bald eagles fish the waters.
Cross Ranch is located adjacent to Cross Ranch State Park about 30 miles north of Mandan or about seven miles south of Washburn. It is situated on the west bank of the Missouri River and the adjacent hills.
Plan Your Visit
For more information on visiting this and other North Dakota preserves, check out our Preserve Visitation Guidelines.
The total size of Cross Ranch is 5593 acres, 4953 of which are owned by the Conservancy. The ranch is broken into three main units. The 1840 acre north unit is located on the banks of the Missouri River and borders Cross Ranch State Park. The central unit consists of 2300 acres and is located in the Missouri River hills above the floodplain. The south unit is 1440 acres in size, also located in the Missouri River hills, and is about three miles south of the central unit.
What to See: Plants
Three main natural communities are found at Cross Ranch. Adjacent to the Missouri River and within its former floodplain are riparian woodlands and forest. This community is dominated by declining populations of cottonwoods and willows. These species need regular flooding to reproduce and renew themselves, but current management of the river's flow regime largely precludes spring flooding events. Green ash, boxelder, and American elm are increasing in abundance as the cottonwoods die off.
In the adjacent hills, mixed grass prairie dominates. The major prairie grasses include needle and thread, blue grama, junegrass, little bluestem, and buffalograss. Even in the best prairies, there are also a number of exotic grasses, most notably smooth brome, crested wheatgrass, and Kentucky bluegrass.
The third major community type is the ravine woodland community. This is an extremely important habitat for prairie wildlife species. It occurs primarily along seasonal draws of prairie slopes and is dominated by shrubs and small trees. The most common species include burr oaks, buffaloberry, hawthorn, boxelder, quaking aspen, American elm, and basswood.
What to See: Animals
The Conservancy maintains bison herds in the central and south units of Cross Ranch. These bison are wild animals and should not be approached. They can be viewed at a distance or from across fence lines.
Birdwatchers should look for Sprague's pipit and Baird's sparrows, both declining grassland species. Other rare animals include rare butterflies such as the ottoe skipper and regal fritillary.
Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
Initially, the riparian cottonwood forests along one of the few free-flowing stretches of the Missouri River in North Dakota was the feature that was of most scientific interest. Later the significance of the mixed grass prairie system within one of the largest untilled landscapes in central North Dakota was also recognized.