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What To Do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park – 2024 Guide

    While this national park is not likely to be named on any top 10 US National Park lists and may not be a park most people have ever heard of, Theodore Roosevelt National Park ranks right in the middle for number of annual park visitors. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is split into north and south units as well as a small portion called Elkhorn Ranch. Most of the visitors are exploring the South Unit, located conveniently along Interstate 94.

    If you’re on a North Dakota road trip, you’re most likely driving right past this scenic spot, so you should definitely plan a visit. But once this national park is on your North Dakota travel itinerary, what should you do when you visit? How long should you stay? What should you do?

    Where to Stay in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

    The South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park contains Cottonwood Campground, but there are also a handful of nearby options for camping. Sully Creek State Park, with equestrian, primitive, and modern campsites is located just a short drive away from the national park through the town of Medora. Buffalo Gap Campground is located in the Buffalo Gap Grasslands. US Forest Service campgrounds nearby include Elkhorn Campground and Dakota Prairie Campground. Visitors to the North Unit of the park can also camp in Juniper Campground.

    Best Time to Visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park

    Theodore Roosevelt National Park is an area of badlands, a harsh landscape with harsh weather conditions. So a winter visit is most likely not high on your list. May and June are beautiful months to visit, with temperate weather and lush ‘spring’ landscape before everything is scorched by the heat of the summer. Those are the 2 rainiest months, so if you’re visiting in that time of year, you might want to plan an extra day to accommodate possible weather. July and August are quite warm, with September having milder temperatures again before the threat of freezing weather in the remaining months of the year.

    What To Do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

    Half Day Theodore Roosevelt Travel Itinerary

    A visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park should naturally start at the Visitor Center. Tour the small museum and the Roosevelt cabin behind and watch the short park film. Plan about an hour here.

    After exploring the visitor center, head out on the scenic drive. During our visit, part of Loop Rd was closed for maintenance, but visitors can typically experience the scenic roads as a leisurely 2-3 hour loop. Along the way be on the lookout for wildlife, including prairie dog towns. Stop at the scenic overlooks and short hikes.

    • Wind Canyon Trail
    • Boicourt Overlook Trail
    • Buck Hill Trail
    • Coal Vein Nature Trail
    • Ridgeline Trail
    • Old East Entrance Trailhead

    2024 Update: The road construction on South Unit Road is still not complete, so visitors will need to drive the 22 miles of open road as an out and back instead of a loop.

    Full Day Theodore Roosevelt Travel Itinerary

    If you have a full day for your Theodore Roosevelt Travel Itinerary, follow the half day laid out above and stop by the Painted Canyon in the afternoon. Wander around the rim, enjoying the overlooks, or take the Painted Canyon Nature Trail down into the canyon. This hike is a short 1 mile loop, but it will require a steep descent into and ascent back out of the canyon.

    Note that the Visitor Center here is little more than a restroom and gift shop, so if you need any other park services, you’ll want to return to the South Unit Visitor Center. (We unfortunately learned this the hard way when we tried to get our boys’ junior ranger badges at this location on our way out of the area.)

    Two Day Theodore Roosevelt Travel Itinerary

    With two full days at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you’d have enough time to drive to North Unit. Take their scenic drive, ending at Oxbow Overlook. Be sure to see the unique cannonball formations. North Unit hikes include Little Mo Trail, Caprock Coulee Nature Trail, and Sperati Point.

    If time allows, take the long way back, stopping at Elkhorn Ranch on the way. Take a .7 mile walk through the grass to view the cabin site. Note that a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle is sometimes required on these remote unpaved roads.

    In addition to these activities inside Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the nearby town of Medora has plenty to keep you busy during your visit. See more of our Medora recommendations in our North Dakota Road Trip post.

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    What To Do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

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