North Dakota

Brown Ranch

Why You Should Visit
The Sheyenne Delta, which encompasses Brown Ranch, was a river delta formed at the place where the Sheyenne River flowed into glacial Lake Agassiz. This lake covered the Red River Valley some 15,000 years ago. At its maximum, it was the size of the current Great Lakes. When Lake Agassiz drained after the continental glaciers receded, the sandy river sediments that made up the delta were left exposed as low rolling hills.

The current Sheyenne Delta is one of the most important native prairie landscapes left in the Upper Midwest. Because of its less productive, sandy prairie soils, much of it was never plowed for crop production. It is one of the few large blocks of grassland (369 square miles) left in the tallgrass prairie region. Although the Delta area was settled by farmers and ranchers in the 1800s, during the Dust Bowl and Depression years the federal government bought much of the area to help provide relief to struggling farmers and ranchers. Today, that land is administered by the U.S. Forest Service as the Sheyenne National Grasslands.

Brown Ranch is located on the southern edge of the Delta. Tallgrass prairie vegetation dominates the upland areas, with wetlands or wet prairies filling the lower-lying swales.

Brown Ranch is located in Ransom County about 8 miles northeast of Milnor, 13 miles northwest of Wyndmere, or 16 miles southeast of Lisbon, ND.

Plan Your Visit
For more information on visiting this and other North Dakota preserves, check out our Preserve Visitation Guidelines.

The land owned by the Conservancy at Brown Ranch is 1,531 acres. It is bordered on two sides by the Sheyenne National Grasslands administered by U.S. Forest Service and is part of the larger Sheyenne Delta landscape, nearly 236,000 acres, in a mix of private and public ownership.

What to See: Plants
The upland prairies of Brown Ranch are primarily sand prairies. On the drier areas, little bluestem, porcupine grass, and grama grass dominate the sand prairie. On slightly moister sites, sand bluestem and prairie sandreed are more common. In the still wetter swales, bluejoint, wooly sedge and wet meadow are commonly found.

The Sheyenne Delta as a whole contains about 850 of the 1,200 estimated plant species found in North Dakota. The Brown Ranch contains a quality example of the prairie portion of this flora. The rare plants found at Brown Ranch or its immediate vicinity include dune ragwort, bicknell's sunrose, upright pinweed, and northern lady-fern. The western prairie fringed orchid, federally-listed as threatened, is also found on Brown Ranch.

What to See: Animals
More than 20 species of butterflies have been identified here including the regal fritillary. The best time to see butterflies is on warm sunny days in early summer. Brown Ranch also has a resident population of greater prairie chickens. Nationally, these birds are declining in much of their range. Brown Ranch has one of the few remaining populations in North Dakota.

Why the Conservancy Selected This Site
The Conservancy identified Brown Ranch in their Northern Tallgrass Prairie Ecoregional Plan as a high priority for protection because it is an important part of the Sheyenne Delta and one of the few large examples of nearly intact native tallgrass prairie in northern tallgrass prairie ecoregion.

What the Conservancy Has Done/ Is Doing
The Conservancy purchased Brown Ranch in 2000 and has worked to restore 100 acres of disturbed prairie using prescribed fire for invasive weed control.

In addition, the Conservancy is building strong partnerships with neighboring landowners and government agencies. An example: working with the U.S. Forest Service and ranchers, the Conservancy is encouraging sustainable grazing practices to improve native species diversity, along with livestock production. The Conservancy is also restoring habitat for threatened grassland birds in the region by controlling the spread of invasive species.

Finally, the Brown Ranch is being utilized for numerous research projects by with North Dakota State University, North Dakota Parks and Recreation Department, U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Canoeing the Sheyenne River, photography, bird watching, and mountain biking, hiking, and horseback riding on the North Country National Scenic Trail are some of the activities in which to participate in the area. There are no facilities available at Brown Ranch. There are supplies and gas at surrounding small towns. Bring plenty of water in the summer.

Hunting and Fishing Policy in North Dakota


If you are coming from the north, east or south, take Interstate 29 to the Colfax exit (#37), go west to Highway18, then go 2 miles south to Highway 27, then go west 8 miles to a sign pointing south to McLeod.

If you are coming from the west, take Highway 27 east from Lisbon for about 15 miles to the sign pointing south to McLeod.

To get to the Brown Ranch from McLeod, take the road (gravel road) heading west and follow it (it winds around a little, so you are heading south, but there are no other roads to turn onto) until the (2.5 miles) first 4-way intersection, turn west and go 2 miles, then turn north and go 1/10 of a mile and on the right you'll see the driveway to the house/office.


Have you been to this preserve? Are you thinking of visiting? See what others are saying about their experiences and add your comments below.

Add Your Comments

Time for you to join the discussion. Tell us about your experience at this preserve. What plants and animals did you see? When did you go? You can help others plan their visit when you share your thoughts. And thank you for visiting one of our nature preserves!

comments powered by Disqus

Read our guidelines on posting comments


Stay Updated

Learn about the places you love and find out how you can help by signing up for Nature eNews.

I'm already on the list Read our privacy policy

Thank you for joining our online community!

We'll be in touch soon with more Nature Conservancy news, updates, and exciting stories.