Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Location: North Dakota

Park Tally: 28/59

Orientation: Theodore Roosevelt National Park is made up of three distinct units. The South and North Units are the largest and have the most options for exploring. Elkhorn Ranch is the smallest unit and is located mid-way between the South and North sections of the park. All three units are varied in their history and landscape, therefore offering a unique park experience wherever you find yourself.

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Most iconic view:  Each unit of the park has its own iconic feature. The South Unit is famous for the ever so stunning Painted Canyon Overlook, which provides magnificent panoramic views of colorful badlands. Nearby Painted Canyon Nature Trail (1-mile loop) is a wonderful way to explore the badlands geology from top to bottom.

River Bend Overlook is arguably the most well-known feature in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The wheelchair accessible viewing deck and nearby overlook shelter provide vast scenic views over the entire park.

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The Elkhorn Ranch Unit is the site of Theodore Roosevelt’s beloved second ranch. Although only the foundation stones remain of the original buildings, visitors continue to enjoy visiting this historic location. Note – a high clearance vehicle may be required after snow or rain when accessing the area.

Accessible activity: Traveling by car is one of the best ways to see the park, with both the South and North Units offering scenic drives. The South Unit has a 36-mile scenic loop drive with pull-outs for wildlife spotting and sight-seeing. Many of the viewpoints and short trails are wheelchair accessible, including Skyline Vista and Boicourt Trail.

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The North Unit’s 14-mile scenic drive may be reasonably short but it is bursting with value. The drive takes visitors past all the best-known stops and viewpoints, including the famous Prairie Dog Town and River Bend Overlook. Be sure to look out for wild horses and bison on the side of the road!

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For the adventurous:  Those looking or an even bigger adventure might want to consider hiking the Maah Daah Hey Trail. The 144-mile hike traverses between all three park units, allowing an escape from the crowds and a chance for complete solitude. Be sure to check conditions and ask about permits at the Visitor Center prior to setting off hiking.

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Best photo opportunities: Theodore Roosevelt National Park has numerous photogenic locations for those camera buffs out there. Sunrise is particularly beautiful at the Oxbow and River Bend Overlooks in the North Unit of the park. Your best bet for sunset will be Painted Canyon Overlook in the South Unit.

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Quick facts

  • Theodore Roosevelt was officially designated a National Park in 1978.
  • The park was named after former United States President Theodore Roosevelt due to his early ranch and love for the area.
  • Many say that Theodore Roosevelt’s love for nature was established during his days ranching in North Dakota. During his presidency (1901-09) he went on to establish the US Forest Service, 18 national monuments, 5 national parks, 150 national forests, and numerous federal reserves – a total of over 230 million acres of protected land! What a legend!
  • Wildlife in the park includes horses, bison, prairie dogs, while-tailed deer, white mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep and pronghorn.
  • A petrified forest can be found within the wilderness area of the South Unit. It can only be accessed via foot or horseback.
  • Bicycling and horseback riding are both popular activities in the park, though the park does not offer rentals or guided tours.
  • In 2016 the park had just over 750,000 visitors.

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