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. You'll see why so many RVers have been enchanted by the badlands landscape of this incredible part of the country.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park sits in a western section of North Dakota near to the city of Medora. This recreational area is nestled in the crook connecting the Great Plains to the Badlands. The region is a natural haven for such animals as bison, elk, and prairie dogs. The park itself is divided into three distinct areas which are joined to one another via the Little Missouri River. Among its most popular attractions are the picturesque Painted Canyon and the Maltese Cross Cabin, a former home to President Roosevelt himself. A trip down the Scenic Loop Drive unveils many different lookout points and hiking trails for families to enjoy.

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. 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 here any time since Theodore Roosevelt National Park stays open year-round.

Be aware though, the park averages about 30 inches of snow a year, so winters can create difficult travel conditions. 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 experience!

Park Alerts (2)

[Park Closure] Weather-related Road Closures

North Unit Scenic Drive: OPEN 6 miles from Hwy 85 to the Caprock Coulee trailhead, but CLOSED 8 miles beyond that point until it can be cleared of snow. South Unit Scenic Drive: OPEN 24 miles until the road deterioration closure already in effect.

[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. You can soak in the scenery thanks to pull-outs and overlooks along most scenic roads. Check for road conditions and closures before traveling during the winter. The nearest gas stations are located in Medora, ND in the south or Watford City, ND in the north.

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, or 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

Cottonwood Campground is located about five miles from the South Unit park entrance and is a great place to bring your RV when visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There are 76 total sites. Thirty-seven sites are reservable for your convenience, while the rest of first-come, first-served. 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 per site, 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. Each site comes with a fire pit and picnic table. During peak visitor season, you can find flush toilets and drinking water 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. Your pet is welcome to join you during your stay. The maximum RV and trailer length is 65 feet in this campground.

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 on their camping excursion. 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. 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 to October, and when you make reservations, you can stay up to five days here.

First-come first-served

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 of the regular 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 is one group site available by reservation only.

There are no RV hookups, but there is a dump station and drinking water available. You'll find a grill and picnic table at your 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.

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. Pets are not allowed in the backcountry.

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 two 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

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 a naturalist's guide so you can identify the different animals you will discover.

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 beauty of nature from an overlook. There is lots to see, so bring a camera to preserve the wonderful memories.

As you journey through the park, you will cover lots of ground, so be sure to wear comfortable shoes and clothing. If you plan to spend a lot of time looking for photo-worthy opportunities, you will also need snacks and drinks.

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 a half-mile long, while other trails can be almost 20 miles in total length. Whatever your skill and motivation levels are, you’re guaranteed to find a trail that fits for you.

If you just want to step out of the motorhome and soak in the view, head to the .1-mile Skyline Vista. For some stunning scenery of the badlands and local wildlife, check out the 1.5-mile Caprock Coulee Nature Trail. If you're truly an adventurer, you can try the 18-mile Achenbach Trail. Although the strenuous trail requires two river crossings, it provides epic sunrise views over the Little Missouri River.

Be sure to do your homework and select a path that is best suited to the age and activity level of each person tagging along for the fun. On any hiking excursion, it is always a good idea to be sure you have lots of bottled water to stave off dehydration. If you plan to do a strenuous hike, you will also need a packed lunch or some snacks to enjoy.

Wind Canyon Trail

This is a relatively short trail at only .4 miles and usually only takes 20 minutes to travel, 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.

Though brief, this trail's scenery and terrain are quite impressive. Bring your camera to capture the sights you will discover. Wear appropriate hiking shoes, and be sure to carry along some drinking water and snacks.

Peaceful Valley Ranch

The house that you’ll find here on the ranch dates back all the way to the 1800's 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. Take a step back in time and meander through a property with many tales to tell about what life was like in the heart of North Dakota in years gone by.

Summer

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.

Backcountry campers should be aware of the possible presence of dangerous wildlife including black bears. An excellent backcountry camping tip is to store any food items very carefully to prevent wildlife from encroaching on your camping area.

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.

Be sure to wear a helmet for protection. Since the terrain throughout this region can be hilly, you will want to ensure you have lots of drinking water and some snacks to help keep up your hydration and your energy. Toting along a camera is also an excellent idea as the scenery is absolutely stunning.

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.

Ranger-led programs differ from junior ranger events in that they are designed to appeal to people of all different ages with an interest in learning more about the park and its natural features. Though no badges can be earned at this level, Ranger-led programs open up another level of fun activities for families to participate in as a group.

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 books, and much more.

Canoeing and Kayaking

The Little Missouri River can be reached within the park, and canoeing and kayaking on it is a popular way of experiencing the natural beauty of this recreational area. 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.

If you're looking for a different kind of adventure, a trip down the Little Missouri might be just what you are looking for. Be sure to pack adequate amounts of food and water to sustain you on longer trips, but even if you are only going for a few hours, you will want to have some supplies on hand.

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 found on the grounds: South Unit Scenic Loop Drive and North Unit Scenic Road.

The South Unit Scenic Loop Drive starts in Medora and takes about an hour-and-a-half to complete, offering gorgeous views of the Little Missouri Badlands. The North Unit Scenic Road takes just over an hour to drive, providing sweeping views of badlands with stops at the River Bend Overlook and Oxbow Overlook. 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. If you're over 16-years-old, you'll need a fishing license.

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 Elkhorn Ranch, a place that Theodore Roosevelt himself wrote about as feeling like home. President Roosevelt 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. While President Roosevelt's original cabin no longer stands, you can see the foundations of the foot cabin. Since you'll be in the heart of the badlands and close to the Little Missouri River, the views of this isolated wilderness are just stunning.

Winter

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 holds lots of historical significance and is a great piece of history to see for yourself.

The cabin contains many pieces of memorabilia from the time of President Roosevelt's residency there including a writing desk where he once spent much of his time. The bedroom furniture is original to the days when the president made this cabin his home and bears his initials on several different pieces.

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.

The terrain traversed on this trail is quite diverse, so be prepared for adventure and wear appropriate footwear for hiking to prevent injuries. Bundle up against potential cold by dressing in layers. You will want to bring drinking water along with you on this hike.

South Unit Visitor Center Museum

You’ll find all kinds of neat historical artifacts here. Check out exhibits on history, nature, and geography. Also on display at South Unit Visitor Center Museum are the Theodore Roosevelt collections which display memorabilia and historical pieces from his life as one of America's most beloved presidents. Regardless of the time of the year for your visit, you'll be treated to all kinds of interesting things at this little museum.

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.

Be sure to bundle up against the cold by dressing in layers. To help ward off any chill, bring along a thermos of coffee or hot chocolate. Toting along drinking water is also advised.

Johnson’s Plateau

The walk to Johnson’s Plateau is really short at 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.

A trail that is well-suited to all ages and activity levels, you are sure to have a ball and take in some incredible sites along this hike. Bring a camera to capture some great photos. You'll want to pack a bag that includes drinking water and snacks.

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