Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt became the 26th President of the United States of America at the age of 42. He became known as the Conservationist President by preserving and protecting 230 million acres of land of ecological and scenic value including 18 national monuments and 5 national parks. That’s an area larger than the state of Texas! Roosevelt was educated on the east coast and traveled to North Dakota to “bag a buffalo”. He was fascinated with the rugged lifestyle and even moved there for a part of his life. Roosevelt realized that our lands were not infinite and the need to protect them apparent. Fun fact: the “Teddy Bear” was named after him after he refused to shoot a bear that was tied up because it was unsportsmanlike. Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy is noted in the naming of this park and his bust is among those on Mount Rushmore.
The park is made up of two units (north and south) and we arrived at the south unit of the park through the city of Medora. Interstate 94 borders the south and if you travel this way a stop in the park is recommended and at the very least stop at the Painted Canyon visitor center which also serves as a rest area as the views are stunning. The Ranger at the entrance station told us that there might be a site available at the Cottonwood Campground, which is five miles down the road. Arriving at a national park late on a Saturday afternoon in the summer season is not the best plan, but we were able to grab one of the few remaining first come first serve sites.
The south unit has a 36-mile scenic loop drive that meanders throughout the park and connects many trailheads. We enjoyed this drive stopping often at the overlooks and to hike the Boicourt Trail, Wind Canyon Trail and the Jones Creek Trail. We were treated to hundreds of roaming bison, incredible amounts of prairie dogs, and tons of birds. The scenery is stunning and, as luck would have it, a front blew in to infuse the sky with billowy clouds that made for some great pictures.
The north unit is over a hundred miles away from the south unit and is very remote. We day tripped it and enjoyed the 14-mile scenic drive. We stopped to explore the River Bend Overlook and the Cannonball Concretions. As always we sought out a fabulous place to have lunch. We did run into some bison here and of course plenty of birds flying in the thermals. We didn’t enjoy this part of the park as much as the south portion and wondered if the trek here was worth it. So, to recap definitely visit, but skip the north unit if your time is limited and you have to choose one.
Visited: August 2015