RV Travel Destination: Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The badlands hills of North Dakota rise one after another, revealing strata of colors: taupe and tan, red-brown, blue-gray. Earth here is a hybrid—hills like camel humps, tiger-striped by their rock layers—through which a smooth silver river glides. Badgers, bison, pronghorn, and elk enliven the terrain with their burrowing—pacing—leaping, while riders, at the feet of hills, guide their horses through wildflowers and scrub.
You may know this landscape, even if you’ve never seen it in person. This is the West with a capital “W”—epitome of rugged—quintessence of wild. Ranchland, canyon-land, no-man’s-land; land of movies and novels, murals and dreams. Seductive and merciless; humbling and awesome; world of campfire-crackle nocturnes and coyote-howl serenades.
The off-season is a great time to visit – a time of year when you won't have to share the park with hundreds of other visitors. Theodore Roosevelt National Park offers a wide variety of possibilities for a memorable visit, whether it is a day trip or an extended stay. Elk, mule deer, white-tailed deer, pronghorn, feral horses, longhorn steers, and bighorn sheep offer many wildlife viewing and photo opportunities. Prairie dogs, badgers, coyotes, and a multitude of birds, including turkeys and eagles, are frequently observed in the park.
Care to be surrounded by scenic beauty? The park is in the heart of western North Dakota's badlands. It includes three areas: South Unit, North Unit, and Elkhorn Ranch Unit. Two scenic drives, a 36-mile paved loop road in the South Unit and 14 miles of paved road in the North Unit, offer a kaleidoscope of panoramic vistas. Walk portions of the 95 miles of hiking trails, see Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Cabin, explore the park's museum, and watch the short film for interesting ways to fill your days. Geologic wonders, including the nation's third largest concentration of petrified wood, rain pillars, and cannonball concretions, are common within the Tertiary Sediments. The U.S. Forest Service's Maah Daah Hey Trail, open for hiking, bicycling, and horseback riding, connects the South and North units and passes the Elkhorn Ranch Unit, deep within the Little Missouri National Grasslands. (Biking on the Maah Daah Hey Trail is not permitted within the park, but bicyclists can bypass the South Unit by using the Buffalo Gap Trail.) As the trees display their brilliant autumn foliage, the park offers good opportunities for off-season camping. The Juniper campground and Cottonwood campground are both open year-round. Early autumn daytime temperatures commonly reach the 70s, and evening temps drop to the 30s and 40s. Accommodations are also available in the towns of Medora and Watford City.
Whether you hike, cycle or tour its scenic drives in your RV you will appreciate the park's details through a camera lens, its grandeur with your bare eyes. Let the land teach you what quiet is. Listen, in the stillness, for a bison’s hoof-stamp or a rustle of grass.