Our RVing road trip last year was all about seeing National Parks. When we bought a National Park System Passport book, we started flipping through to find destinations that were hidden and not as well known. When I saw Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, I knew we had found a national park I wanted to visit.
It exceeded all of my expectations.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is not very well known, even though it is the only one dedicated to a U.S. President. Which means it is the perfect place to escape the crowds and enjoy a truly memorable National Parks vacation.
What to Do at Theodore Roosevelt National Park
This National Park is expansive. Even if you just visit one unit.
It really is best as a driving park. Much like Craters of the Moon National Monument, there are hikes to enjoy, but you’ll need to drive one loop road to get to them.
Prairie Dog Towns
From the moment you drive into the South Unit, you will instantly be aware that this part of North Dakota is a haven for prairie dogs!
I absolutely love watching the comical prairie dogs. So much so that we spent hours at sunset each night watching the show they put on. It’s way better than anything to watch on TV.
There are plenty of turnouts to park the car near prairie dog towns. There are also additional prairie dog towns along hiking trails. The prairie dog towns are actually marked on the National Park map, so you can easily find them.
It’s not just prairie dogs that are the favorite wildlife in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Bison are a big part of the wildlife here. Huge, in fact. (Watch our video above for some of our many bison encounters.)
We never saw so many bison and buffalo as we did at this national park. Keep in mind, that is comparing Yellowstone National Park and Badlands National Park with Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
We didn’t get to enjoy too many hikes, because the weather was so hot.
That, and the ones we wanted to do were blocked by bison on the path. No joke. Then we were scared to do too much hiking off the main road for fear of encountering a bison in the woods and not being able to get away.
When visiting the national park in summer, keep in mind the sun and heat can be intense. Yes, even in North Dakota!
You must be prepared for hiking in the summer with:
- Lots of water (check out these awesome water bottle options)
- Hat for shade
- Insect repellant (we also love these clothes that keep mosquitoes from biting you)
- A portable mini fan or neck cooling scarf are smart ideas
Scenic and Historic Sites
There are plenty of opportunities for easy, moderate and difficult hiking. Because of the heat in July, we didn’t do too many hiking activities. We settled for wildlife watching at sunrise and sunset, instead. We did do the following sites which made a memorable visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park:
- Skyline Vista Trail An easy, short walk will reward you with panoramic vistas on this plateau.
- Buck Hill Not an easy, leisurely stroll to get up to the second highest spot in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but not TOO bad. And it is totally worth it for the view.
- Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin Built between 1883-1884, Theodore Roosevelt spent time living in this cabin after his wife and mother died just hours apart in the same day. The cabin is located behind the South Unit Visitor Center. It has been moved from its original location. Check for times of National Park Ranger tours of the cabin for an extra element of interpretive history. Otherwise, explore on your own at any time.
Where is Theodore Roosevelt National Park?
This national park has three different units to make up the entire Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
All three parts of Theodore Roosevelt National Park are located in western North Dakota. After you cross over the Montana state line, you will be in Theodore Roosevelt National Park pretty quickly.
The three parts of Theodore Roosevelt National Park are:
- South Unit
- North Unit
- Elkhorn Ranch Unit
South Unit is accessed through Medora and is the most popular of all three park units. It is located on Interstate 94.
North Unit is about 14 miles south of Watford City, North Dakota on Highway 85.
It’s about 70 miles from the popular South Unit to get to the North Unit. We never traveled to the North Unit because we didn’t want to drive so far and there was plenty to see and do in the South Unit while we were there.
The Elkhorn Ranch Unit is the most remote and the least visited. You’ll need to take gravel roads to get there. It is located roughly between North and South Units.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the only National Park in North Dakota.
Considered the “Northern Badlands,” the park is located directly north of South Dakota’s famous Badlands National Park. The drive between the two parks is about five hours.
Where to Stay at Theodore Roosevelt National Park
There are a variety of options for lodging near Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
- We visited the park while traveling in an RV. We stayed just outside of the park (only 2 minutes away from the Visitors Center) at Medora Campground.
- There is Cottonwood Campground inside the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We heard that bison stampede near the campground regularly. Especially because the Little Missouri River is nearby the campground, so you might see a lot of wildlife. There are no hookups at Cottonwood Campground.
- Juniper Campground is located in the North Unit. There are no hookups at Juniper Campground and it’s first come, first served.
The town of Medora is literally at the foot of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It has several types of lodging to stay at.
We visited the Rough Riders Hotel, which is ideally located right downtown. The luxury hotel has an Old West feel, but definitely a modern day hotel rate. The lobby was really nice, and the meal we had inside the bar was great. If you’re looking for something upscale and don’t mind spending extra money on fancy digs, this is it.