At Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you may channel your inner cowboy. While some national parks take your breath away the moment you see them, this enormous wildness in western North Dakota catches you off guard. Theodore Roosevelt, the park’s namesake, described the location as “an abode of iron desolation,” which aptly describes the spirit of this North Dakota national park.
Its rocky badlands, herds of wild bison, and star-studded night skies will make you feel like you’re the only person alive for miles—and you might be. If you want to get off the beaten route, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the place to go, ideally on horseback and with a lasso in hand.
Where is Theodore Roosevelt National Park?
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is divided into three sections: the South Unit, North Unit, and Elkhorn Ranch. It is located in western North Dakota. With Interstate 94 running along its southern border, the South Unit is the largest and most popular. The closest city is Bismarck, which is roughly a 2-hour journey west. Meanwhile, the North Unit is accessible by US Route 85, which connects to I-94. Elkhorn Ranch, the park’s tiniest portion, is only accessible by automobile through a gravel road and has very few amenities.
How to get there?
Part of the attraction of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is its remoteness. Bismarck, North Dakota’s little capital city, is the closest city, about a 2-hour drive to the east. It’s simple to get from Bismarck to the South Unit entrance by taking I-94 West and exiting at Medora.
Best time to visit
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is open all year, 24 hours a day. Summer is the busiest season at the park, however, it is still quite quiet by national park standards. Being out of the way has the advantage of exposing you to more animals than people. Summer is also the hottest season, with high temperatures averaging in the 80s and occasionally reaching the 90s. While it was hot for hiking in the middle of the day when we went at the end of July, the morning and evening temperatures were lovely.
Winters are bitterly cold, with blizzards and lows in the single digits on a regular basis. With warm weather, late spring and early autumn might be a terrific time to visit.
While Theodore Roosevelt National Park is open all year, the summer months of June through September are the busiest. Fortunately, because the park is located far from any major city, crowds are rarely an issue, especially during the summer. However, you should reserve your lodging ahead of time because the few hotels in the area might fill up quickly.
Winter at Theodore Roosevelt National Park brings problems, even if viewing the badlands powdered in snow is wonderful. Roads are routinely closed, and some (but not all) campgrounds, particularly those with restrooms and running water, are also closed.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is open every day of the year, 24 hours a day. Remember that the North Unit is in Central Time, while the South Unit is in Mountain Time. Between September and June, the South Unit Visitor Center is open every day except major holidays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., with longer hours from June to September.
The Painted Canyon Visitor Center, located in the South Unit, is open Tuesday through Saturday from May through October. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, the hours are extended, and from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. the remainder of the year.
After the original visitor centre was dismantled due to structural problems, the North Unit Visitor Center is now housed in a temporary facility. Their current hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., with Wednesday and Thursday closed, but check ahead before going because things may change.
Due to COVID-19, the park’s operations are now restricted. Check out Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s current conditions for the most up-to-date COVID status and frequent updates.
Park Entrance Fee
The entrance charge for a single, private, non-commercial car is $30, which covers all individuals in the vehicle for seven days. The price for motorbikes is $25 for seven days, whereas it is $15 for people travelling by foot, horseback, or bicycle. Meanwhile, an annual pass costs $55 and covers either a single vehicle and all of its occupants or the pass holder and his or her immediate family.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park Hiking Trails
Painted Canyon Nature Trail
Boicourt Overlook Trail
Little Mo Trail
Caprock Coulee Loop
Petrified Forest Trail
Maah Daah Hey Trail
Where to stay?
Juniper Campground (North Unit) — Year-round campground with 48 sites. All sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. In the high season (May to September), rates are $14, and in the off-season, rates are $7. (October to April).
Summit Campground (near North Unit in Grassy Butte) — There are two walk-in tent sites with picnic tables and fire grates at this campground. It’s about a 10-minute walk from the north entrance.
Cottonwood Campground (South Unit) — A year-round campground with 72 sites. During peak season, half of the sites are available for booking. In the high season (May to September), rates are $14, and in the off season, rates are $7. (October to April).