This summer, we added 10 National Parks to our ever-growing list of parks visited… which put us at over halfway to our goal of reaching them all!!
Our first stop for the summer: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, located in Medora, North Dakota.
DAY 1-3 Overview:
- DAY ONE: drove from Spokane, Washington (where we live!) to Great Falls, Montana, to help break up the 13-hour drive between Spokane and Medora.
- DAY TWO: morning: drove from Great Falls to Medora; afternoon: visited the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
- DAY THREE: visited South Unit of the Park and walked around Medora in the morning, then headed south towards the Black Hills of South Dakota.
We started by dropping by the visitor center (in the South Unit) for a map, then heading straight up to the North Unit to get a hike in and watch golden hour fall. It’s about a hour to drive between the South + North Units of the park. In fact, they’re in two different time zones!
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the only US National Park (so far!) to be named after a person; 26th President of the US Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt lived and ranched in the Dakota Territories in the late 1880s and, once he became president, dedicated 230 million acres to conservation for generations to come. If you’re a fan of National Parks + Preserves, Teddy Roosevelt should be your hero; his administration had a huge impact on the preservation of important places in this country.
Immediately upon entering the park, we saw buffalo, wild cows, prairie dogs, cool rock formations, wildflowers, wide skies… All the things TRNP is famous for! (Wild horses generally live at the South Unit of the park… keep scrolling!)
Once inside the park, our first stop was at Cannonball Concretions, a collection of very interestingly-shaped rocks that seem to be popping out of the nearby cliff. So cool!
Then we set off to hike to Prairie Dog Town… just you wait, because the cuteness overload is INSANE.
It’s a quick and easy 2-mile round-trip hike over flat ground (and potentially past some HUGE, napping bison… I held my breath, tiptoed, and was too afraid to take a photo, so you’ll have to take my word for it).
I thought you’d be able see prairie dogs from a distance, maybe… but NO! The little things are very curious and VERY used to people, so you can get super close before they turn skittish and run away.
Then we headed out towards River Bend Overlook to catch golden hour at the bluffs that overlook Missouri River.
There are actually three different units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park — the South Unit (most popular, right off I-94), the North Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit; which is where Theodore Roosevelt actually lived. We didn’t make the time to take the trek to Elkhorn Ranch, but we definitely will next time! It’s recommended you have four-wheel drive and high clearance to reach that remote area of the park.
Here’s what Teddy said about his homestead in the 1890s… “My home ranch-house stands on the river brink. From the low, long veranda, shaded by leafy cotton-woods, one looks across sand bars and shallows to a strip of meadowland, behind which rises a line of sheer cliffs and grassy plateaus. This veranda is a pleasant place in the summer evenings when a cool breeze stirs along the river and blows in the faces of the tired men, who loll back in their rocking-chairs (what true American does not enjoy a rocking-chair?), book in hand—though they do not often read the books, but rock gently to and for, gazing sleepily out at the weird-looking buttes opposite, until their sharp outlines grow indistinct and purple in the after-glow of the sunset.”
Finally, we got hungry + tired enough to head back towards Medora. We camped for the night at the Sully Creek State Park; just a few minutes south of the South Unit.
Since we pulled in after dark and left super early, I don’t want to say “oh yeah, it’s a super nice campground!” We were barely there… but our short experience was enjoyable!!
The next morning, after an early breakfast, we entered the park to see the South Unit!! Of course, there was a temporary road closure that impacted our ability to travel around the loop that circles the park, so we only went partway up for a quick hike.
Our first stop was the Visitor’s Center + Maltese Cross Cabin. It’s since been moved since Teddy lived in it, but it was amazing to see the history.
THEN we got to see wild horses. LIFE COMPLETE.
Our morning hike of choice was the short trail to Wind Canyon Overlook. Wind Canyon Overlook is a wide + windy spot to view the Missouri winding through the park. We could barely believe we had the entire place to ourselves (peep our car in the EMPTY parking lot). It’s a rare experience in National Parks these days!
Finally, we stopped in Medora to take a quick walk and find a post card to add to our collection! It’s a quaint, quiet little town with distinctive Western vibes leftover from the 1880s.
After a quick lunch (from the back of the Jeep while standing on the sidewalk, so classy!!), we headed South towards the Black Hills and more adventures!
Theodore roosevelt national park North unit highlights
- Scenic Drive (total: 14 miles one-way)
- Cannonball Concretions (short walk to see rock formations)
- Hiking to Prairie Dog Town (2-mile round-trip hike)
- River Bend Overlook (especially at golden hour or sunset)
Theodore Roosevelt National park south unit highlights
- Visitor Center
- Maltese Cross Cabin
- East River Road (+ a few pull-outs to see horses!!)
- Skyline Vista Overlook
- Wind Canyon Trail
Facts + Figures: Theodore Roosevelt National Park
SIZE | 70,446 acres
VISITATION | 600,000 annually
NATIONAL PARK STATUS | November 10, 1978
NEARBY | Medora, ND, Watford City, ND, Sully Creek State Park