Are you planning a fun trip to North Dakota and want to know what the best things to do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park are? While this small national park in the middle of nowhere Midwest is off the radar for many travelers, there are some pretty cool sites to see and things to do here that’ll no doubt blow you away!
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If there is one place in North Dakota that I can’t help but visit again and again, it’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
With its scenic badlands landscape, unique geological formations, endless wildlife (bison, horses, and birds – oh my!), vibrant foliage, exciting walks, and historic past, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a destination I make a habit of stopping at when doing road trips through Western North Dakota!
I can’t help but take a moment to admire the beauty this national park oozes, even if it is in the middle of nowhere.
However, I think that’s part of its charm. Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s remoteness and off-the-grid feel adds a sort of allure to this destination, making your journey here even more magical and worthwhile.
To help you plan the best trip here, uncover my eight incredible things to do when visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park! You won’t be disappointed.
(By the way, this post specifically focuses on things to do in the South Unit! Unfortunately, I’ve not had the opportunity to visit the North Unit yet but hopefully will get there sometime in the future.)
Table of Contents
- 1 BEST THINGS TO DO IN THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK
- 2 Theodore Roosevelt National Park Map
- 3 Where to Stay in Theodore Roosevelt National Park?
BEST THINGS TO DO IN THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK
Painted Canyon Visitor Center
Ideally located right before the South Unit entrance (if you’re coming from the east), Painted Canyon Visitor Center is a great place to stop before you enter the park. The views here are spectacular! It’s like a little sneak peek into what awaits you in the actual national park.
Furthermore, the placards dotted around the area offer cool insight into the park, such as what you’ll see while visiting, things to do, the geological wonders, and its history with Theodore Roosevelt.
Visit Theodore’s Home (Maltese Cross Cabin)
Did you know that you can visit one of Theodore Roosevelt’s homes, which was previously used by him before his presidency?
Located conveniently at the South Unit entrance (though it was originally built seven miles south of Medora), the Maltese Cross Cabin was Theodore Roosevelt’s first cabin in the Dakotas. It was used by him from 1883 to 1884, after he arrived to the area to hunt bison (or buffalo, depending on where you are from and what you may call this animal).
Nowadays, Theodore Roosevelt National Park visitors can tour the small home and learn more about his life here in the Dakota territories.
Fun fact: while I say “small home,” Maltese Cross Cabin was actually considered somewhat of a mansion when it was built. With one and a half stories, wooden floors, and three separate rooms (a kitchen, living room, and bedroom), the cabin was notorious for its large size and lavish design. Interesting, right?
Prairie Dog Town
One of my absolute favorite things to do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park is visit the bustling prairie dog towns and watch the adorable prairie dogs live their full and exciting lives!
While that may sound totally and completely boring to you, I assure you… these little guys are well worth a watch when you’re visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Not only are prairie dogs ridiculously cute, they’re fascinating to watch and listen to. Did you know that prairie dogs have one of the most complex languages in the animal kingdom? Even more complex than dolphins or chimps!
In fact, some scientists that study languages within the animal kingdom believe that one day soon, humans and prairie dogs will be able to communicate with each other. That’s how complex and extensive the prairie dog language is! How cool is that?
Go Searching for Bison
…this isn’t a particularly hard task, as lots of bison are constantly roaming and moving around this magical national park! In fact, you’ll likely find it’s almost impossible to NOT see one or two dotting the landscape and mulling about near the roads.
Even during the harsh North Dakota winters, the bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park are always moving from one place to another, often in search of food. This makes it easy to spot one on your trip to this Midwest national park!
However, before you go on a mission looking for bison, I urge you to read my top bison safety tips. It’s imperative you keep yourself and your family safe from this wild animal, as bison can be unpredictable when threatened or angered.
Bison Safety Tips:
- Stay a safe distance away. Many park rangers recommend two school buses worth of distance. And never — EVER — touch one.
- Do not stop your car near a bison. I can’t tell you how many times I saw this while in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Not only can this seriously anger a bison, especially a mother protecting her baby or a bull that’s testosterone-driven, you put the animal and yourself at harm’s risk. Furthermore, bison have no qualms about ramming and destroying your vehicle.
- Do not feed the animals. This often makes the bison associate humans with food, which not only means they’ll go closer to humans in the future, putting them at extra risk, but they might forget how to find food to feed themselves.
- Never hike or walk between bison. This is especially true for a mother and her calf, as they are (rightfully) extra protective about them.
- Walk slowly and make your presence known. When hiking in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, put forth an effort to make your presence known to the animals so they can move out of your way. And walk slowly around blind bends so you don’t scare or startle them.
Go for a Walk
While Theodore Roosevelt National Park isn’t particularly known for its great hiking, there are some wonderful walks throughout the area that’ll help you uncover this cool destination in North Dakota by foot.
Whether you are looking for a short hike that’s ideal for kiddos or a longer route perfect for those who want to tack on the miles, you’ll find a suitable hiking trail in Theodore Roosevelt National Park!
Here are some of the best hiking and walking routes in the South Unit:
- Wind Canyon — 0.4 mile easy loop
- Boicourt Overlook — 0.4 easy out and back trail
- Skyline Vista — 0.1 mile easy out and back route (perfect for kids!)
- Petrified Forest Loop — 10.2 mile moderate to hard loop
Go Wandering for Wildlife (Other Than Bison!)
As mentioned above, there is loads of wildlife in Theodore Roosevelt National Park! Far more than just the bison (which is what most people come here to see).
While the roaming bison herds are exceptionally cool to view and admire, I recommend keeping an eye out for additional wildlife!
Throughout the park, you might get an opportunity to spot wild horses running through the grasslands, whitetail and mule deer grazing in the valleys, large elk crossing the hills, vibrant birds soaring the skies (and walking the grounds!), prairie dogs scampering about their populated towns, and so much more.
Admire the Views at the Overlooks
Dotted across the national park are several spots where you can stop and admire the incredible views of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. These are called overlooks and I highly recommend taking a break at a few to get the full viewing experience of this magical destination!
Here are a few of my favorite overlooks in Theodore Roosevelt National Park:
- Badlands Overlook
- Boicourt Overlook
- Scoria Point Overlook
You won’t be disappointed by the views you get at these amazing overlooks! It’s beautiful to gaze down into the valleys and see the glistening Little Missouri River cutting through the landscape, animals dotting the countryside, and foliage blanketing the hills.
My top tip? Visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the fall when the leaves change color and see the vibrant hues of oranges, reds, yellows, and light greens. It’s absolutely stunning!
Adventure Down Scenic Loop Drive
Arguably THE most popular drive in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Scenic Loop Drive is a 32 mile long road that winds through the park’s most iconic viewpoints, hiking trails, and landscapes.
For example, Scenic Loop Drive is the road that takes you to several prairie dog towns, Boicourt Overlook, Coal Mine Trail, and many other beautiful points of interest.
No visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park would be complete without meandering down Scenic Loop Drive! And to be completely honest, you wouldn’t see much of the park without going down this road… as it is basically the one road that takes you right through the heart of the South Unit!
Theodore Roosevelt National Park Map
To help you get a better idea of where Theodore Roosevelt National Park is located, as well as where you can find the top attractions and things to do here, view the map below.
Where to Stay in Theodore Roosevelt National Park?
While you can’t actually stay in the national park itself, there are lots of accommodations nearby that make it easy to visit the park.
I recommend staying in Medora, which is a super cute town just outside the park’s South Unit entrance. Located in the North Dakota Badlands, Medora gives off “Old Western” vibes and features tons of cute shops, as well as locally-guided tours into the surrounding park and grasslands.
Though there are not tons of accommodations in Medora, here are the best:
Aside from Medora, there are several small towns within an hours drive of the national park that have affordable accommodation options! Here are my recommendations:
- Holiday Inn Express Hotel & Suites (Glendive, MT)
- La Quinta by Wyndham (Glendive, MT)
- Hawthorn Suites by Wyndham (Dickinson, ND)
- AmericInn by Wyndham (Dickinson, ND)
As you can see, there are several awesome things to do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park!
Though it may be in the middle of nowhere and certainly off the radar of many United States travelers, this vibrant national park is well worth a stop if you’re passing through the Midwest (or if you live nearby!).
Tell me, are you planning a trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park? Or have you ever considered visiting this park before? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!
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