Driving through Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt, U.S. President from 1901 to 1909, is known as the “conservation president.” He created the U.S. Forest Service and also established numerous national forests, bird reserves, game preserves, national parks, and national monuments. It’s fitting that North Dakota’s national park, an area where Roosevelt hunted, ranched, and grieved the passing of both his wife and his mother, is named after him. A drive through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, located in the North Dakota Badlands, was a highlight of our week-long road trip through North Dakota last summer.

I would not have been president had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.  — Theodore Roosevelt

The Three Units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is divided into three units: the North Unit, the South Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. Since we stayed in Medora the night before our visit to the park, we explored the South Unit.

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Before driving the 36-mile loop trail through the park’s South Unit, we stopped at the visitor center. We picked up a park map, watched a short orientation film, checked out some exhibits. and walked out to the Maltese Cross Cabin. Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin was moved here from its original location and restored.

Theodore Roosevelt sculpture
The clothing and horse gear on this sculpture of Theodore Roosevelt were worn and used by Roosevelt.
Maltese Cross Cabin
Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin

Driving the Scenic South Unit Loop

The 36-mile scenic loop took us at least four hours to drive. We stopped at overlooks, hiked a few trails, and oohed and aahed at the Painted Canyon topography. We photographed feral horses, bison, and elk and watched prairie dogs pop in and out of their burrows.

Rather than trying to further describe the beauty of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park wildlife and landscape, I’ll show you with photos.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - wild horses

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - 1

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - 2

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - feral horse

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - 3

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - elk

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - 4
I love the “face” created by the rock ledge shadows on this formation.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - 7

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - bison

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - 6

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - prairie dog

The North Unit

Because the North Unit is 68 driving miles from the South Unit, we didn’t go there. I’d love to go back and explore it sometime. A 14-mile scenic drive winds through the North Unit, with overlooks, trails, and a herd of longhorn steers.

Elkhorn Ranch Unit

The Elkhorn Ranch Unit is the site of Roosevelt’s second North Dakota ranch. Park brochures advise you to check with one of the visitor centers before heading there, as the roads are steep and unpaved. Buildings no longer exist at the ranch but markers and exhibit panels tell the story.

If you visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The easiest access to Theodore Roosevelt National Park is from I-94, Exit 24 or 27 to Medora. Follow the signs to the park entrance. The South Unit Visitor Center operates on Mountain Time and is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Visit the park website for additional details.

Accommodations

We stayed at the historic Rough Riders Hotel during our visit to Medora and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Check room rates

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park

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Disclosures: North Dakota Tourism hosted our North Dakota road trip. However, any opinions expressed in this article are my own.
This article contains an affiliate link. If you book a hotel room through the “Check room rates” link above, I will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.

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