Welcome to our travel guide on Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We are Eric and Myrian (@ontheroadtogether.online) and we have been traveling full time for 11 years. Myrian is from Brazil and graduated from college with a Physical Education major before becoming a retail store owner.
Eric is American and retired from 26 years as a U.S. Marine Corps pilot before retiring again as a 747 captain with a major airline and retiring yet again as an English professor at a Florida university. We met while Eric was flying trips to Brazil and all the odds were stacked against us.
Myrian spoke no English and Eric no Portuguese, we were raised in two different cultures, we were citizens of different countries and we lived more than 4,000 miles apart. But love prevailed and we overcame these obstacles and were married in 2002. Eric is 20 years older than Myrian, so it was a shock when she was diagnosed with cancer in 2008.
One day, while recovering from her surgery, Eric brought her medicines to her room. She said, “You know all those things we said we wanted to do someday? Well, today is someday!” As soon as she was well enough, we packed up and hit the road. We’ve been “on the road together” ever since. You can follow our journey here: @ontheroadtogether.online.
Visiting 62 US National Parks
We had hiked throughout South America and cycled through Europe for six summers, when it suddenly dawned on us that, in spite of becoming a US citizen, Myrian had not seen much of her newly adopted country. So, in 2017, we bought a 24-foot campervan and set out to see the United States.
Our aim was to experience the real America. So we adopted two rules: no cities and no highways. After eight months and 23,000 miles we had visited 38 US national parks. This was no real surprise because these national parks are all located in the most beautiful places of the country.
In 2018, while exploring Iceland, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, and Brazil, we came up with the idea of continuing our adventures to the rest of the US national parks. This was a major undertaking because it entailed traveling all the way from above the Arctic Circle to below the equator and from the Caribbean to the International Dateline in the Pacific.
So, in 2019, we bought a smaller campervan (many national parks have a length limit on RVs and we wanted to camp inside the parks in order to get the most from our national park experiences) and set out to complete our national park adventure. We spent three months in Alaska exploring the eight national parks there – only three of which can be reached by driving.
The others in Alaska require a bush plane to fly into the park and land on either a lake, in a clearing or on a gravel bar in a river. In 10 months we had driven 25,000 miles, taken 26 flights and visited all 62 US national parks (there were 59 when we started out but they added three during our travels) making a grand total of over 50,000 miles in 18 months of travel.
We were surprised when we returned to our home in Florida that both the newspapers and television broadcasts contacted us to do feature articles about our travels. It was an incredible journey full of amazing experiences.
A Spectacular Week at Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP) was a natural stopover on our way from Glacier National Park to Voyageurs National Park and it took us through some spectacular parts of Montana and North Dakota. We spent over a week here and could easily have spent more time.
We had heard very little about Theodore Roosevelt National Park before we got there. So we had no preconceived notion of what it would be like. This turned out to be a good thing because the park was one of the most pleasant surprises of our trip. It far exceeded any expectations we had.
The park’s 70,447 acres are actually divided into three separate units. The South Unit is the most-visited of the three because it is next to the town of Medora and has a visitor center, a 36-mile scenic driving loop, two dozen hiking trails, and ample opportunities to view wildlife and the badlands.
The North Unit is 70 miles away with its own visitor center, 28-mile out-and-back scenic drive, and river overlooks. The Elkhorn Ranch Unit is located between the other two units and has an unpaved road that leads to the site of Theodore Roosevelt’s ranch where the foundation stones of the buildings remain.
There are over 100 miles of trails in the park. Yet, you can enjoy the highlights from your car with access for wheelchairs at the major overlooks.
Spotting Incredible Wildlife at Theodore Roosevelt National Park
We love wildlife! So, for us, our favorite spots at Theodore Roosevelt National Park were the places where we encountered bison, wild horses, prairie dogs and other amazing inhabitants of the park. It’s their home and they roam it as they like – so you never know when you will see them.
But have your camera ready, stay at a safe distance, respect their right to this land and you will get some fantastic photos of these inhabitants.
5 Best Things To Do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
1. Learn Everything at the Visitors Center
This is where we started at each one of the 62 US National Parks we visited. Regardless of how much research you have done, this is the place to learn about the conditions, weather forecasts, ranger programs, best hikes, etc.
2. Drive through Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Cruising the scenic roads will give you not only an overview of the national park but also your best opportunity for wildlife sightings. As mentioned before, we saw bison, wild horses and prairie dogs, among other animals.
3. Visit the Awesome Prairie Dog Town
There is nothing more entertaining than seeing these active little creatures sounding the alarm or alerting their neighbors of a photo op?! Prairie dogs are funny little rodents native to the grasslands of North America.
4. Watch the Sunset at Painted Canyon Overlook
Painted Canyon Overlook is located in the South Unit and is the best place in the park to take sunset photos. You will see why they call it “Painted Canyon” when you see the striped formations that make up the terrain.
5. See the Sunrise at Oxbow and Riverbend Overlooks
Both the Oxbow and Riverbend Overlooks are situated in the North Unit and are ideal for sunrise photos. The former offers sweeping views of the badlands and of an oxbow in the Little Missouri River. And the latter offers epic views from a historic shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Two Campsites inside Theodore Roosevelt National Park
There are no lodging options inside Theodore Roosevelt National Park other than the two campsites, Cottonwood Campground in the South Unit and Juniper Campground in the North Unit. Both campgrounds are located in picturesque, treed areas and have potable water and flush toilets during the warmer months, but no showers or hookups.
Also, there are no restaurants or stores. There are several lodging, restaurant and grocery options in Medora, but since we camped in our campervan, we can’t comment on them. Your accommodation will depend on your preferences and whether you travel by campervan or not.
Favorite Memory from Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Our favorite memory of Theodore Roosevelt National Park was when we came up a hill and around a corner and landed straight in the middle of a herd of bison grazing on the plain as they have done for hundreds of years. It was as if we had been transported back in time 150 years. The bison calmly watched us with a penetrating eye and continued to graze.
We remained still and quiet and were rewarded with a real-life Nat Geo scene in the middle of a herd of these majestic animals. We were totally lost in time. After that, the bison slowly ate their way over the horizon and we just sat there and stared at each other, wordlessly – because neither of us could think of any words to describe what we were feeling.
Need to Know Before you Go
The remote beauty of Theodore Roosevelt National Park makes it a challenge to reach. The nearest major airport is in Bismarck (capital of North Dakota) about 140 miles east. There is also a smaller airport in Dickinson about 40 miles east but with commensurately fewer flights. A vehicle is most assuredly the best way to reach and explore the park.
Although it’s located in the northern reaches of the US, Theodore Roosevelt National Park can get hot in summer and cold in winter. The best times to visit are in the “shoulder seasons” in spring and fall.
TRNP is home to bison, wild horses, elk, deer, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelope, coyote and prairie dogs. Viewing opportunities of these animals abound. Make sure to be respectful, keep your distance and enjoy!
You can cycle the Scenic Loop in the South Unit in three to four hours and there are bicycles to rent in Medora. Horseback riding tours are also available in Medora. Lastly, check out Teddy Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin next to the Medora Visitor’s Center and look for the initials carved into the log near the roof on the right hand side!