The National Park consists of three parts in total, with the two largest being separated by some 120 kilometers between them. They are being referred to as North and South Unit. Both main sections feature scenic roads with good observation points, many miles of hiking trails, campgrounds and visitor centers and both are suited well for nature experiences and wildlife watching. The Park is located in North Dakota’s so-called Badlands region, the nearest town is Medora. There and in Dickinson, a bit farther away, a number of hotels are available.
Theodore Roosevelt had first come to this region in fall of 1883 and had experienced a sensation of freedom here that made him go out and buy a ranch; followed one year later by a second one, Elkhorn Ranch. He continued to visit the region regularly until his death in 1919. The experiences Roosevelt made her played an important role to fuel his commitment to preserving nature during his presidency and he also pushed for having such a preserve established here in North Dakota. But it wasn’t until 1946 that a preserve bearing Theodore Roosevelt’s name was established, whioch became a National Park one year later. In 1978, the area was expanded.
Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch doesn’t exist anymore today, but the place where it stood and where the President enjoyed nature and tranquility can still be visited. The grounds do belong to the National Park, yet they are located far away from the other two sections in a remote area, accessible only via a long, unpaved road. There is significantly more to discover in the other two sections.
The North Unit’s entrance is located near the town of Watford City. After entering the Park, you will find a visitor’s center here and access to the Scenic Drive, which is a little more than 20 kilometers long and leads to several viewpoints. It also provides acess to the trailheads of a number of hiking trails. A few of those have information panels on the plant and animal species living in this area. The South Unit offers similar attractions; but here, the continuously paved scenic drive is more than twice as long. This section’s visitor center has a small museum informing about the area, including casting a light on the role Theodore Roosevelt played for the region. Probably the most beautiful view is the one at Painted Canyon (via exit 32 off of Interstate 94), there is another visitor center here.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s main attraction has always been and still is nature, in particular the abundance of animal life. The species living here include prairie dogs, feral horses and coyotes. Visitors usually favor the herd of bison. These animals have been re-introduced to the area and are under constant monitoring by Park Rangers and scientists. To enable this monitoring work and to keep the herd together, the entire National Park is encircled by a fence.
Even if you aren’t so lucky to spot some of the animal species living here, the Park is still worth visiting, for the wide range of different landscapes alone. There are creeks and rivers, forests and prairie and meadows that are overflowing with colorful wildflowers in the spring. In winter, on the other hand, there is usually a lot of snow, which may lead to some of the park roads being blocked off for traffic.