Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Located: North Dakota  -  Established: November 10, 1978

“There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite groves of giant redwoods and sequoias, the canyons of the Colorado, the canyons of Yellowstone, the three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.”
— Theodore Roosevelt

The ParkPresident Theodore Roosevelt (Teddy) is considered by many to be one of conservation’s greatest advocates! As president, Teddy was responsible for creating the US forest Service, establishing 51 bird sanctuaries, 4 National Game Preserves, 150 National Forests, 5 National Parks and enabling the Antiquities Act which led to the establishment of 18 National Monuments – five of which became National Parks.  The passage above poignantly describes Teddy’s love for our parks and his wish to see them protected for all to enjoy.

 Terry "shooting" bison on our  36th  park visit.

Terry "shooting" bison on our 36th park visit.

During his presidency, Teddy signed legislation preserving over 230,000,000 acres of public land. Ninety-five years after he first set foot in North Dakota, Roosevelt was honored with a National Park bearing his name. 

Getting there: Located in the “badlands” of western North Dakota off I-94, this park is comprised of three units –the South Unit, North Unit and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. The South Unit (where we stayed) is located just outside the small town of Medora. The North Unit is a bit more remote and can be accessed via Hwy 85. Elkhorn Ranch is located 35 miles north of Medora via a gravel road that can be somewhat dicey to navigate!

When to goLike most parks, Teddy is open year round; however, winter conditions (snow and ice) can close access to all units of the park. 

 Wild horses are plentiful along the South Unit's Scenic Drive. 

Wild horses are plentiful along the South Unit's Scenic Drive. 

What to doBoth the North and South Units have excellent scenic drives. The 36-mile Scenic Loop Drive in the South Unit will expose you to a plethora of items of visual interest! The 14-mile Scenic Drive in the North Unit runs from the park Entrance Station to the Oxbow Overlook. 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is teeming with prairieland wildlife! A large population of wild horses can be found grazing on the upland plateaus. This park is one of the few remaining areas in the West where free-roaming horses can be easily viewed.  

 Mom and her calves roaming the South Unit

Mom and her calves roaming the South Unit

The American Bison (buffalo), the largest and perhaps the most ferocious mammal in North America, was once on the brink of extinction.  The “Tatanka” (the Indian name for Bison) were saved by a few foresighted people…including Teddy Roosevelt! Today 200-400 bison roam the park’s south Unit while between 100-300 occupy the North Unit.

In addition to feral horses and the mighty Tatanka, you’ll observe a well established population of elk, several prairie dog “towns” and a herd of Longhorn Steers that will certainly enhance your visit to this amazing park!  Be on the alert for rattlesnakes! I darn near stepped on one shooting pictures of a Momma Bison and her calves!

 Pappa Bison munching the sweet grasses of the "badlands" of North Dakota. 

Pappa Bison munching the sweet grasses of the "badlands" of North Dakota. 

There are plenty of day hikes located within both the North and South Units including the 96-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail connecting the North Unit to the South.  

 Watch out for these critters when walking about the park. I almost stepped on one while shooting the Momma Bison and her calves!

Watch out for these critters when walking about the park. I almost stepped on one while shooting the Momma Bison and her calves!

Where to stay:  There are no lodges in this park; however, camping is available in both the North and South Units. In the North Unit, Juniper Campground offers 50 first-come, first-served sites. Cottonwood Campground in the South Unit has 76 campsites, half available via reservations, the other half first-come. The Roundup Group Horse Camp is located in the South Unit accommodating up to 20 people and 20 horses.

Memorable moment: Hearing a herd of snorting bison wander through our campsite late one evening. Peeking out the tent to observe them as they passed by.

TriviaStrangely, the North Unit operates on Central Time, while the South Unit is set up on Mountain Time! 

Banner: Prairie Dogs on alert!

Experience these Check List:

  • Stop by the park's two Visitor Centers - South Unit and Painted Canyon 
  • Take the Scenic Loop Drive (South Unit)
  • Drive to Oxbow Overlook (North Unit)
  • Marvel at the Prairie Dog Towns (So. Unit)
  • Experience Bison wandering about (No. & So. Units)
  • Observe wild horses grazing (So. Unit)
  • Visit Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin  (So. Unit)
  • Hike the Coal Vein Trail (So. Unit)