Family Vacations to Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Marie Waine
14th September 2017

Why Go

Part wilderness and part Wild West, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the only national park in North Dakota. It’s one of the least visited national parks in the country, and if it weren’t for I-94, which travels just south of the park, it would be even more obscure. Not only does Theodore Roosevelt National Park preserve extraordinary landscapes, it also honors the president that preserved more American lands than any president in history. Covering more than 70,000 acres of plains, hills, and plateaus, Theodore Roosevelt National Park encourages you to embark on an intimate and colorful experience with the landscape and the wildlife that live here.

There are three separate units that make up the park. The north and south units both have loop roads, making it easy to spot wildlife from your car. The isolated Elkhorn Ranch unit is located on gravel roads 35 miles north of Medora. You’ll find bison and wild horses all over the park, especially if you’re travelling the loop roads right around sunset. There’s also got a good chance you’ll spot deer, elk, pronghorn, coyote, and prairie dogs.

 

Photo courtesy of Getty/hartmanc10

Where to Go

Before heading into the south unit of the park, your first stop should definitely be the Wild West town of Medora. This is a great place to stock up on amenities, mail out your postcards, and fill up on some pizza. If you’re not planning on camping within the park, Medora has plenty of lodging options for you to consider. If you visit in the summer, check out Medora Musical, which is offered every night of the season. It’s a fun mix of comedy, singing, and dancing, and it tells the story of Teddy Roosevelt and his connection to the area.

The south unit of the park is the most popular with visitors, but all of the units are worth checking out if you have the time. Be prepared for a lot of driving. The north and south units are 70 miles apart. There are two campgrounds to choose from in the park. Cottonwood campground has 76 tent/trailer sites and is about seven miles from Medora in the south unit. Juniper campground is in the north unit with 50 sites.

A group of prairie dogs gather in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.

What to Do

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a hiker’s dream. Just about every trail leads to overlooks with expansive views. No matter what your ability level, you’ll find a trail to suit your speed, from easy, paved nature trails, to challenging multi-day trips. If you’re hiking in the summer, be aware that there isn’t much shade on the trails. Wear sunblock and carry plenty of water, even if you’re heading out on a short hike. Here are some of the best hikes for families:

Badlands Landscape – National Park South Dakota

Getting Around

The closest major airport is Bismarck Airport in Bismarck, North Dakota, which is about two hours away. Most visitors choose to explore the parks by car or RV. May and June are good times to see baby bison and wildflowers. The weather isn’t too hot yet, and the crowds will be minimal. Summer is the busiest month, but still not too crowded, especially during the week.

 

Tara, a mother of two boys, ages 15 and 18, is a freelance writer and travel blogger with a passion for outdoor adventures. She currently blogs at Back Road Ramblers, where she shares travel tips, adventure destinations, and outdoor vacation ideas for the wanderer in everyone.

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