Theodore Roosevelt National Park

“I grow very fond of this place, and it certainly has a desolate, grim beauty of its own, that has a curious fascination for me.” – President Theodore Roosevelt

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South Unit

It surprised even myself, but Theodore Roosevelt National Park is now one of my top five favorite National Parks and my number 1 favorite for viewing wildlife. It was the last National Park visited during the 2017 four park road-trip and it was definitely the most fun. We saw wild horses, hundreds of prairie dogs, bison, pronghorn, jackrabbit, cottontail rabbit, and coyote.

So far, I think Theodore Roosevelt is one of the lesser known National Parks that I have visited. Every time I told someone where I was going on my 2018 National Park road-trip the responses were Grand Teton (oooo), Yellowstone (oooo), Glacier (awwww), Theodore Roosevelt (*puzzled stare*). There were a few national park aficionados who knew what I was talking about, but for the most part I got the puzzled stare response, which was fun because then I could share with them about the park.

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North Unit – Oxbow Overlook

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is made up of 3 sections: the North Unit, the South Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch. Elkhorn Ranch is the site of President Theodore Roosevelt’s second North Dakota ranch. The foundations of the buildings are the only things that remain. To reach the ranch you have to drive 35 miles on a gravel road that the park website recommends using a high clearance vehicle for because the road condition varies. Due to our two day time constraint, we focused on the South Unit with a half day trip to the North Unit.

In preparing for the trip I used the “Contact Us” form on the park website asking if there were any hiking books about Theodore Roosevelt National Park available because I was having trouble finding more detailed information about the trails in the park and a Park Ranger emailed me back!! …it might have been the highlight of my week. Ranger Amy recommended purchasing the National Geographic – 259 Theodore Roosevelt National Park / Maah Daah Hey trail map. The bison create paths that look like hiking trails so having a topographical map helps hikers stay on the correct path. She also emphasized the importance of staying hydrated. The trails in Theodore Roosevelt NP do not offer any type of shade. She said most of the rescues that the Park Rangers make in August are heat related.

The town of Medora, North Dakota sits on the southern border of the South Unit and is where we stayed during our visit. Learn more about the town of Medora here.

Camping is another option when visiting. There is a campground in both the North Unit (Juniper Campground) and in the South Unit (Cottonwood Campground). We chose to stay in a hotel for this part of the trip because of the heat. It is near impossible for me to sleep when it is hot. The average high in August is in the 80s, but this year they were hitting 98 by July. 

theodore roosevelt north unit
North Unit

Read about our adventures in the North Unit.

theodore roosevelt south unit
South Unit

Read about our adventures in the South Unit.

Bucket List:

  • Hike Petrified Forest Loop, South Unit – 10.3 miles (South Unit)
  • Hike Buck Hill – highest point in the South Unit
  • Hike Painted Canyon Nature Trail – .9 miles (South Unit)
  • Hike Painted Canyon Trail – 4.2 miles (South Unit)
  • Hike Ridgeline Nature Trail – .6 mi (South Unit)
  • Watch Sunset from Boicourt Overlook (South Unit)
  • Hike Caprock Coulee Trail – 4.2 miles (North Unit)
  • Hike to Sperati Point on the South Achenbach Trail – 1.4 miles (North Unit)