Where is Theodore Roosevelt National Park
315 Second Avenue, Medora, ND 58645
Theodore Roosevelt US National Park is located in western North Dakota, just 30 miles east of the Montana boarder and about 90 miles north of the South Dakota border. The park is located in the Badlands near the towns of Medora and Watford City. Bismarck, ND is the closest city located 133 miles east of the national park.
There are three parts of the national park, the North Unit, South Unit, and Elkhorn Ranch Unit, sprawling about 80 miles from Medora to Watford City. The South Unit of the national park is 2 minutes north of the small town of Medora. 80 miles north is the North Unit of the national park, just 14 miles south of Watford City. The more remote Elkhorn Ranch Unit is located between the north and south units and is accessed by gravel roads requiring 4WD and a high clearance vehicle.
How Big is Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The park totals 70,446 acres. There are over 100 miles of hiking and backpacking trails to explore. The Little Missouri River runs the national park. The lowest elevation is 2,240 feet at the banks of the Little Missouri River. The highest elevation is Buck Hill, 2,855 feet above sea level.
Badlands shape the landscape in this area and are characterized by eroded hillsides exposing geological features and layers of multiple colors in the clay-rich soils. Wind and water continue to erode the land making it an ever-changing landscape. Badlands are named by explorers after seeing the land as difficult to travel through with minimal food from vegetation and very little water.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park Weather
The weather in the Badlands is generally warm in the summer and cold with snow and ice in the winters. Wind is considerable and frequent year-round. May through September has the warmest temperatures with an average high in the high 70’s. July is the warmest month with an average high of 86 degrees.
Winter is chilly with an average of 30 inches of snow and an average low of 5 degrees. Winter lasts from November to March. The average high during winter is in the high 20’s. The coldest month is January with an average low of 3 degrees.
Because of the colder temperatures and snowfall, summer is the preferred time to visit the national park and draws in the majority of visitors. During winter, roads can often close from heavy snowfall and icy conditions. Summer operations such as horseback riding are only open during summer. Winter does offer certain activities, weather permitting, such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Wildlife viewing opportunities are available year-round. There are over 400 bison in the South Unit roaming in their natural habitat. There are also wild horses, elk, white tail deer, bighorn sheep, cougars, bald eagles, and prairie dog towns.
When did Theodore Roosevelt Area Become a National Park
Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th US president, spent years ranching in the Badlands of North Dakota making this land famous and well known for its historical connection to the president as well as the natural beauty, geological wonder, and wildlife of the Badlands.
In 1883, Roosevelt came to North Dakota to hunt Bison. He fell in love with the area and invested money into a local ranch south of Medora. He soon started his own ranch, Elkhorn Ranch, where he hunted and ranched.
Roosevelt wrote three books about his time hunting in the Badlands that later became influential in conserving the land. From 1934 to 1948, the land was slowly added to conservation land under different designations, finally becoming a national park in 1978.
Things to do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
With over 100 miles of trails to explore through the scenic Badlands, wildlife to view such as wild horses and bison, and plenty of history and nature to learn about and explore, the national park offers something for everyone to enjoy. Driving through the national park from the South Unit to the North Unit takes a total of about 3 hours. The more remote Elkhorn Ranch Unit is more difficult to access and requires a 4WD vehicle. There are 3 visitors centers to stop at and enjoy. Our National Park Visitors Guide highlights some of the amazing activities below.
Drive the South Unit Scenic Loop
A 48-mile scenic drive takes you around the south unit of the park, past 12 trail heads, overlooks, and interpretive park signs to learn more about the natural land and history of the park.
Drive the North Unit Scenic Byway
A 28-mile drive takes you through the scenic badlands with great views of the Northern Great Plains, wildlife, and an overlook of the Oxbow Bend of the Little Missouri River.
Visit the South Unit Visitor Center
The visitor center has a museum with history of Roosevelt’s life and ranching in the area, and the Maltese Cross Cabin he lived in.
Visit the Painted Canyon Visitor Center
Located just east of Medora, this visitor center has panoramic views of the picturesque, colorful, Badlands, information, exhibits and displays, and snacks.
Drive to Elkhorn Ranch
Located 35 miles north of Medora accessible by gravel roads, you can visit Roosevelt’s ranch and see remanence of the ranch such as the ranch house foundation and other shop buildings.
Stargaze at Night
The park is located so far north with very dark skies, that you can sometimes see the northern lights.
There are over 400 bison located in the South Unit of the park as well as wild horses, elk, deer, prairie dog towns, bighorn sheep, pronghorn, cougars, eagles, and wild turkeys.
Hike up Buck Hill
A short and steep trail takes you to the highest accessible point in the park with great views. The hike is .2 miles.
Hike Wind Canyon Trail
A .4-mile hike takes you through a canyon slowly climbing up to a view of the Little Missouri River.
Go on a Guided Horseback Ride
Shadow Country Outfitters offers popular horseback riding trips during the summer. There are 1.5-hour long rides or full day rides.
When to go to Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The park, including the campgrounds and visitors’ centers, are open year-round. Campground amenities such as running water and flush toilets are only operating during summer from May through September. Activities such as horseback riding operate from May through September only. Certain roads such as the Elkhorn Ranch gravel road close when conditions are icy or snowy.
The park does not draw large crowds at any time of the year due to the dispersed landscape and open spaces, however lodging and campgrounds are limited and book up during summer from May through September. Plan ahead to visit during the summer and reserve lodging. The most popular time to visit is during summer because of the warmer pleasant temperatures and the wider variety of activities available.
Must-Have Things to Bring to Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The national park is sprawled out through the rural Badlands of North Dakota. Cell phone service and amenities are limited throughout the area. Stock up on essentials at the town of Medora before you begin your adventure in the national park. Medora has a grocery store to provide you with everything you need before setting out.
Hot summer temperatures and sun require you to stay hydrated and drink more water than you think. List of Parks advises to bring lots of water from the nearby town of Medora.
Food and Snacks
Stop at Medora to buy food and snacks to bring with you as there is no food or snacks for sale in the national park.
Physical Park Maps
While the park does not seem that complicated to get around, there are very remote areas such as the Elkhorn Ranch where you lose cell service. Bring a map to not get lost and to help you find interpretive stops and trailheads to learn about the history and natural area of the Badlands.
Proper Hiking Boots
During the winter the snow and colder temperatures can make trails very icy. Bring solid hiking boots with good traction to be able to explore comfortably.
Temperatures can change drastically here so bring warm layers anytime you visit.
Sunhat and Sunscreen
Temperatures up into the 90’s make it very hot in the summer. Bring lots of sunscreen and a sun hat to protect your skin and help you stay cool.
There are bison, wild horses, prairie dogs, and bighorn sheep to view. To safely view these animals up close, bring binoculars.
Where to Stay in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
In the national park there are three campgrounds: Cottonwood Campground in the South Unit, Juniper Campground in the North Unit, and Roundup Group Horse Campground in the South Unit. The campgrounds are open year-round, and it is suggested to make reservations ahead of time if planning a visit from May through September.
Outside of the park there are hotels and lodging in surrounding towns, but the options are very limited and lodging books up quickly from May through September. Have a reservation during summer to secure lodging before you go. Located in Medora near the South Unit of the park is the Medora campground, Badlands Motel, Historic Rough Riders Hotel, Sprit of the Badlands, Eagle Ridge Lodge, Wannagan Creek Cabins, Amble Inn, and Buffalo Gap Guest Ranch. There are more hotels near the North Unit in Watford City.
Food Nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park
While there are no food services in the park, the town of Medora has many options to explore! The historic town offers a chance to step back into history of cowboys, ranchland, and the wild west. Many restaurants offer great wild west culture and all-American food such as the Farmhouse Café, Cowboy Café, Little Missouri Saloon & Dining Room, Boots Bar & Grill, Maltese Burger, Pitchfork Steak Fondue, Medora Uncork’d, and Hidden Springs Java Coffee Shop.
Up north in Watford City there are many restaurant and dining options as well, from Mexican food to American BBQ.
Airports Near Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The closest major airport to the national park is Bismarck Airport, located about 2 hours, 137 miles east, of the park. The closest regional airport is Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport, about 42 miles from the park. The best way to travel to the park is to fly into Bismarck Airport, rent a car, and drive about 2 hours to the national park.