The next stop on our road trip was Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota. We weren’t really sure what to expect because this isn’t a park that you hear about very often. I’m glad we decided to go because it ended up being one of my favorite stops on our trip.
There are two separate section of the park and they are not connected. They are about an hour apart, so it would be possible to visit both in one trip if you wanted to see both of them. We went to the South unit, which is located just outside of Medora ND.
We got up early so that we would hopefully get to the park in time to get a campsite. Driving though North Dakota was really nice. We would drive for an hour and see nothing but fields of sunflowers. It was beautiful.
We arrived at Cottonwood campground at about 9am and there were still quite a few sites available. The sites are all first come first serve. You take an envelope when you arrive at the campground, then go look for an empty site. When you find the one you want, you set up your stuff to claim your spot, then on the way out you drop your envelope with your money in the drop box.
There are rangers who come by during the day to check that you did actually pay for your site. If you don’t pay for your site they leave you a warning saying that you need to pay by the end of the day or you will receive a fine. Sites were only $14 per night, which isn’t bad at all. There are flush toilets and sinks, but no showers. The sites are very nice and they views from each site are amazing.
After we set up camp we headed to the visitor center to get a park map and some trail information. There is a nice little museum in the visitor center all about the history of the park and Theodore Roosevelt. The exhibits were all really informative and interesting.
Outside of the visitor center is the cabin that Theodore Roosevelt lived in when he stayed in ND. We attended a Ranger program at the cabin and learned a lot about Theodore Roosevelt’s life. I would definitely recommend attending Ranger talks. They are a great way to learn about the history of a park. It’s nice to just go and look at things, but I personally enjoy it more when I know a little bit about what I’m looking at.
After the ranger talk we headed out to drive the scenic loop. It’s a 36 mile loop that has a number of scenic views and short trails to stop at along the way. There are quite a few Prairie dog towns along the loop. I had never seen a prairie dog before. They are very skittish of people though, so I wasn’t able to get a great picture of them, but believe me, they’re adorable.
As we were driving along we came across a heard of wild horses. They were beautiful. A lot of people were pulled over to stop and look at them and there was a ranger there as well, making sure no one got too close to them. The horses weren’t afraid of people at all. There were two baby horses with the herd and they were so freaking cute. It was great to see.
We continued our drive, stopping at some pretty amazing overlooks along the way. We stopped to do the wind canyon trail. It’s a short, easy trail that has really nice views of the Little Missouri River. We were able to see a herd of Bison in the distance, which was really awesome. We really wanted to see some up close though.
Little did we know, a few minutes later our wish would come true. Driving down the road we came to an abrupt halt when we encountered a herd of bison in the road. There were at least twenty of them. Traffic was stopped in both directions to let them cross.
They were huge! I knew they were big, but you don’t really realize it until they are up close and personal. A few of them passed right by my window. They were so close I could have reached my arm out of my window and touched them. I didn’t though, because I didn’t want to get eaten. This guy was my favorite. He was giant and he was about a foot away from me. I was in love.
Seeing the bison up close was definitely one of the best parts of my road trip. When the bison finally cleared the road we continued on to Buck Hill. This is the highest point in the park and it has a great view where you can see for miles. You can drive up most of the hill, then there is a pretty decent sized set of stairs to climb to get up the very top. It was worth it though. Amazing views in every direction.
We finished the scenic loop, then headed to the Painted Canyon section of the park. This part of the park is not attached to the rest of the park. You get back on the highway and drive for about ten minutes, so it’s not far from the main part of the park. The views from the Painted Canyon Visitor center are amazing. Pictured really do not do it justice. The reds and yellows of the hills are so vibrant and you can see so far into the distance. It really is one of those things you need to see with your own eyes.
There are a few trails that start from the Painted Canyon Visitor Center. We did the Nature Trail, which is one of the shorter trails. It’s a one mile loop that takes you down into the canyon so you can see some of the plants and rock up close. Going down was fairly easy. Coming back up was a little harder. Overall, I’d rate it as a moderate trail and would definitely recommend doing it if you feel capable. It was neat to be able to actually go down in the canyon.
It was still fairly early in the day so we decided to check out the town of Medora before heading back to our campground. It’s a really cute little town that looks like it is straight out the Wild West. It’s definitely a tourist town, full of gift shops and restaurants and hotels. It’s worth checking out if you want to get yourself a souvenir or a nice dinner.
After walking around town we headed back to our campsite to make some dinner. While we were cooking we heard some snorts coming from the field by our campsite. We looked up and saw a few Bison grazing just a few yards from us. It was great. Bison definitely became one of my favorite animals after visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
After dinner we went back to Skyline Vista to watch the sunset. It was beautiful. It was a nice end to a very nice day.
I absolutely loved Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The scenery is breathtaking and the amount of wildlife we saw was incredible. It may not be one of the biggest parks or one of the most popular but definitely go check it out. You won’t be disappointed.