Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Guide

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Introduction

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a place full of not only wonderful wildlife and nature, but also remnants of history that helped to shape America as we know it today.

Theodore Roosevelt himself came here, decided he loved it, and stayed. Now you can see for yourself what the man who was to become one of our greatest presidents loved about this place. Immerse yourself in the beautiful badlands, see stunning views from overlooks, and get up close to some of the biggest and most intimidating animals in the United States. Check out the places where Theodore Roosevelt stayed when he visited North Dakota and set foot in the same places he stepped.

There’s plenty to experience when you come in your RV, and the park is easy to access in your rig. Summer is a great time to visit, as high temperatures tend to run in the 70s and 80s Fahrenheit. This is the ideal season to get out on all the incredible trails, go canoeing and kayaking, and participate in some fun ranger-led programs. Prefer cooler temps? Head your rig hear any time--Theodore Roosevelt National Park stays open year-round. Be aware though, the park averages about 30 inches of snow a year, so there can still be remnants of the white stuff even after the snowy season has passed. Be sure to check road conditions before heading out and enjoy some fun winter activities like skiing and snowshoeing. No matter when you visit in your RV, you can be guaranteed an unforgettable Park experience!

Park Alerts (1)

[Information] South Unit Road

The South Unit's has a 24 mile out-and-back scenic drive (48 miles roundtrip). A small portion of the former Scenic Loop is closed to vehicle traffic due to road deterioration. This area is open to hiking/biking, however the landslide cannot be crossed.

RV Rentals in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Transportation in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Driving

You can enter the park from the North Unit, South Unit, or the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. The best way to navigate through the park is by taking your own personal vehicle. If you bring your RV, you’ll find that the scenic routes are accessible for all large vehicles. Be extra careful when driving though, as there are some steep grades and spots that quickly turn into sharp and narrow curves.

Parking

There are plenty of options available for parking even the largest of vehicles and trailers. The best spots that are more likely to guarantee available parking are Cannonball Concretions Pullout and Oxbow Overlook at the North Unit, and the Painted Canyon Visitor Center, Peaceful Valley Ranch, and Lower Jones Creek trailhead at the South Unit.

Public Transport

Public transportation is available outside of the park, but there is currently none within the park. Bringing your bicycle is an option for those who wish to travel greener while getting a workout at the same time. Some places in the park can prove to be strenuous for cyclists, but can be an interesting way of getting around in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Campgrounds and parking in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Campsites in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Reservations camping

Cottonwood Campground

This campground is located about six miles from the South Unit park entrance, and is a great place to bring your RV when visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park. While half the sites are first-come, first-served, the other half can be reserved online. There are 76 total sites, 37 of which are reservable for your convenience. There are pull-through, back-in, and walk-up sites, making setting up camp easy here. You can bring the entire family with you, or up to six people, whenever you like since the campground is open and available year-round. Keep in mind though that you won’t find any RV hookups, dump station, or showers around. During peak visitor season, you can find flush toilets available, but during other times of the year, you’ll only have access to pit toilets. There is also one group site available at Cottonwood Campground that can be reserved online as well.

Roundup Group Horse Campground

This campground, located at the South Unit of the park, was specifically designed for those who wish to bring horses with them to the park. So if you’re a serious horseback rider or belong to a big group, this is the place for you to be. This spot is not just for horse owners though. The limit for the camp area is 20 people and 20 horses, or if you or other members of your party aren’t bringing any horses, you can bring a maximum of 30 people. As you can imagine, this area offers ample space with plenty of parking for horse trailers and RVs. You’ll also find some tent platforms, raised grills, a covered picnic pavilion, and nice restrooms. What you won’t find are RV hookups though, so be prepared for that. This campground is open from May 1st to October 31st, and when you make reservations, you can stay up to five days here.

First-come first-served

Cottonwood Campground

Half of this campground is reservation only, and the other half is first-come, first-served. When you choose to do a walk-up instead of make reservations, there’s a chance that you might get to pick out the spot that you prefer. Choosing first-come, first-served camping is the best option during the off-season. Most of the spots will be open, allowing for plenty of camping choices that you might not otherwise get if you make reservations or come during the busy season.

Juniper Campground

You’ll find Juniper Campground five miles from the North Unit park entrance. Here you’ll get to choose from 50 different camping spots that include pull-through and back-in sites. All all these sites are available year-round and on a first-come, first-served basis. That means all you have to do is show up and pick a spot that feels the best to you. There are no RV hookups, but there is a dump station and drinking water available, along with grills and picnic tables on site. Year-round, you’ll find pit toilets, but during the popular season flush toilets are made available. Don’t forget that you can bring up to six people or the entire family when you go camping here. You can also get up to a 50 percent discount for anyone that holds a Senior Pass or Access Pass.

Alternate camping

Backcountry Camping

If you’re looking for a wilder way of experiencing the badlands and don’t mind leaving the RV behind on this trip, you can choose to go backcountry camping. There are no designated spots for this kind of camping, so be sure to come completely prepared for whatever your trip holds. This includes bringing enough drinking water and keeping all food properly sealed. Be sure to also get a backcountry permit before heading out. These can be obtained at the visitor centers. When you go, you can be gone for up to 14 days, but no more. After all, it can be difficult to pack everything that you’ll need for any amount of time longer than 2 weeks. When taken seriously and done safely, backcountry camping can be an excellent way to experience all of the beauty and nature that the badlands has to offer.

Seasonal activities in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Spring

Wind Canyon Trail

This is a relatively short trail - only .4 miles and usually only taking 20 minutes - but is a popular attraction. The hike claims to hold “the best view of the Little Missouri River the South Unit has to offer,” and is also well-known for breathtaking sunsets.

Peaceful Valley Ranch

The house that you’ll find here on the ranch dates back all the way to the 1800s and is the only historic house still standing in the South Unit of the park. The ranch is a popular attraction, as it serves as a large part of history, exemplifying what life and culture were like centuries ago.

Hiking Trails

There are many different trails to choose from when you visit; you can be sure that you’ll be able to find a trail for everyone in the family to be able to enjoy. Some trails are hardly half a mile long, while other trails can be almost 20 miles long. Whatever your skill and motivation levels are, you’re guaranteed to find a trail that fits for you.

Photography

When you visit, you’ll find that there are lots of opportunities for picture perfect moments here in the park--from witnessing wild animals in their natural habitat to looking out at the scenic nature from an overlook. There is lots to see, so bring a camera to preserve the wonderful memories.

Wildlife Watching

The badlands offers all kinds of unique wildlife that you can see for yourself when you visit. One of the most popular attractions is watching the buffalo roam. You can also see elk, deer, horses, longhorns, bobcats, prairie dogs, and so much more. Bring your binoculars and see what you can see.

Summer

Junior Ranger Programs

This park is very kid-friendly, and you’ll find a variety of fun-packed activities for the entire family. Your child can even earn a junior ranger badge by participating in some of the planned activities here. At the visitor centers, you can pick up a Family Fun Pack that includes binoculars, activity sheets, guide book, and much more. The possibilities are endless.

Ranger-Led Programs

This park offers a wide variety of ranger-led programs throughout the year, ranging from learning programs to evening programs and even touring programs. Be sure to check the schedule for details and information before you go. You never know what kind of fun activities this park has planned just for you.

Bicycling

Biking is a great way to get around the park, but is restricted to paved or dirt roads only, and is not allowed off-road or on the hiking trails. Be aware that if you choose to travel by bike, you’ll be sharing the road with large vehicles including trailers and RVs, and will need to exercise caution for wild animals such as bison.

Canoeing & Kayaking

The Little Missouri River can be reached within the park, and canoeing and kayaking on it is a popular way of experiencing the beauty of the park. Many people take days-long trips along the river. May and June are the best times of the year to go, as all the ice from the cold season is finally melted by this time.

Backcountry Camping

Backcountry camping is a great way to immerse yourself in all that nature has to offer here in North Dakota. Get up close and personal with the wildlife and free your mind from all the stresses of the outside world. Just be sure to obtain your backcountry permit at one of the visitor centers, and come prepared for however long you intend to stay in the wilderness.

Fall

Scenic Drives

When you visit the badlands, you’ll find that the area is absolutely spectacular. A great way to see it all is to take your car on the scenic roads that go throughout the park. There are roads built specifically for sightseeing at both the South Unit and North Unit in the park: South Unit Scenic Loop Drive and North Unit Scenic Road. Whichever road you choose to take, be prepared to have your breath taken away by the wonderful sights.

Fishing

The Little Missouri River, nicknamed “Little Mo” or “Little Muddy” for its dirty color and heavy amounts of sediment, is home to all kinds of fish. Here, you might see catfish, bluegills, chubs, carpsuckers, and minnows. Be sure to check the regulations before dipping your line into the water though.

Boicourt Overlook

While only being .2 miles long and taking just 15 minutes to reach, Boicourt Overlook offers one of the most stunning views of the badlands in the South Unit. In fact, it’s even been named as one of the favorite spots to see a sunset within the park. Bring the whole family to see a beautiful view.

Horseback Riding

Horseback riding is allowed through the backcountry and along backcountry trails, but not along nature trails or roadways. If you’re looking for good places to park your horse trailer, there are plenty of options on both sides of the park. At the South Unit, you can try parking at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center, Peaceful Valley Ranch, and Lower Jones Creek trailhead. At the North Unit, try Cannonball Concretions Pullout and Oxbow Overlook. These places tend to have the best parking options.

Elkhorn Ranch Site

Step foot inside the building that Theodore Roosevelt himself wrote about as being his “home ranch.” He talked a great deal about how much he enjoyed his time spent here, making it a fantastic piece of history that you can see for yourself, held right here in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Winter

Long X Trail

This trail is not like most. The Long X Trail was used to move cattle from one place to the next during the same time that Theodore Roosevelt resided in the area. In fact, he even used the trail himself for his own cattle. Now, the park even keeps a herd of longhorn steers as a living history exhibit.

South Unit Visitor Center Museum

You’ll find all kinds of neat historical artifacts here. Check out exhibits on history, nature, and geography. And you can’t forget about the Theodore Roosevelt collections. You’ll see all kinds of unique things here in this little museum, any time of the year.

Skiing & Snowshoeing

Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular during the winter months. After all, the park gets an average of 30 inches of snow a year. Be aware that while skiing and snowshoeing on the trails is allowed, it can prove to be quite challenging. Many people enjoy skiing on the Little Missouri River when it freezes over.

Johnson’s Plateau

The walk to Johnson’s Plateau is really short, being only .1 mile. You can reach this neat little area of flat land by taking the Skyline Vista trail that is located within the South Unit of the park. This is a great spot to visit if you’re looking to feel on top of the world without the challenge of hiking and climbing.

Maltese Cross Cabin

This cabin happens to be the first place that Theodore Roosevelt himself stayed in upon visiting North Dakota. He later relocated to a different cabin, but the significance of the first place he stayed will never fade. Maltese Cross cabin hold lots of historical significance, and is a great piece of history to see for yourself.

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