When he was still a state assemblyman in New York in 1883, the future president Theodore Roosevelt visited the badlands of North Dakota to hunt bison. That same year, he and some partners established the Maltese Cross Ranch, followed by the Elkhorn Ranch in 1884.

Teddy was so in love with North Dakota’s outdoors that he visited it from time to time until 1896. So inspired was the politician that he authored three hunting books about his life in the West. The rugged landscape and unfamiliarity of this Peace Garden State destination really left a mark on the statesman.

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To honor the president, the area was named after him until it became a national park in 1978. It remains today the only national park in the U.S. bearing the name of a person. The Maltese Cross Cabin can be visited and so is the Elkhorn Ranch. It’s a trip down memory lane in its three units (North, South, Elkhorn) and wherever tourists look, the landscape of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is always inviting.

Planning your visit to Theodore Roosevelt national park: what to do there

The park is open 24/7, with the North Unit operating in Central time while the South Unit is on Mountain time.

  • The North Unit Visitor Center is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Wednesday to Monday.
  • The South Unit Visitor Center is open from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day, but only until 5 p.m. in spring.
  • Painted Canyon Visitor Center is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. but closed during winter.
  • There's a $30 entrance pass for private vehicles, $25 for motorcycles, and $15 for walk/bike/boat-in guests.

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A guide to The Units within Theodore Roosevelt national park

There are three units in the park, each offering something spectacular for every visitor.

The South Unit is the most visited because the town of Medora is located here along Interstate 94. It's perfect for scenic driving, wildlife watching, camping, and hiking.

The North Unit, meanwhile, is ideal for those who want to venture into less-traveled parts of the park. Located along Highway 85, it boasts rugged beauty where solitude is always at hand.

Elkhorn Ranch, on the other hand, used to be TR's "home ranch." The park preserves the remnants of this Roosevelt refuge, and as such, it has no facilities, scenic roads, and visitor centers. Tourists can check out the unit’s historic cabin.

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Activities within Theodore Roosevelt national park

There’s something for everyone in Roosevelt’s former playground. From day hikers to stargazers, the park is nothing short of surprises.

Camping

There are two campgrounds available for tourists who want to get the most out of the park from sunrise to sunset.

Juniper is the only campground in the North Unit, where tourists can literally sign off because there's no cell phone reception. Tent and RV campers are welcome, too. Located in the South Unit, Cottonwood Campground is nestled in a grassland – perfect for those who want to explore the town of Medora. Horseback riders can settle in Roundup Group Horse Campground near the Little Missouri River. Backcountry campers are also welcome, but there are no established backcountry sites, perfect for those who want a primitive adventure.

Hiking

Hikers will not be disappointed conquering the 19 tracks of the park. From easy to strenuous trails, there’s something for any type of trekker.

Buck Hill in South Unit will only take 15 minutes to finish, and it lets hikers climb the park's highest accessible point. Short but steep.

Little Mo Trail in the North Unit can be finished in 45 minutes, but trekkers can stay for a little longer because the river view is just stunning.

For a moderate trek in the North Unit, hikers can navigate the Achenbach Trail, which will take them through the prairie and then to Sperati Point.

The Painted Canyon Nature Trail in South Unit is perfect for fans of stunning canyons as this path leads them down to it.

For those who want a little challenge, they can have a journey along the 4.3-mile Caprock Coulee in the North Unit, where they will climb to the top of a butte. It will take two to three hours to finish. For the experienced trekker, how about finishing a 19-mile Upper Paddock/Talkington Loop adventure? This South Unit trail, which takes eight to 10 hours to complete, will let hikers enjoy the views of clay and sandstone formations.

  • Guided tours will have guests learning about history, nature, and geology.

Wildlife Viewing

It’s not always about solitude in this park, especially if the animals start showing up with their majesty and beauty. That’s fine because they’re always part of Mother Nature’s impressive show.

Bison are the busiest as they roam the North and South Units, while mule deer make their grand entrance between dusk and dawn. Other mammals that can be seen include elks, feral horses, longhorns, bobcats, coyotes, pronghorns, badgers, beavers, and prairie dogs.

Birders can consider the park their office, thanks to sightings of golden eagles, chickadees, wild turkeys, nuthatches, and owls. Migratory birds like white-throated sparrows, swallows, warblers, flycatchers, juncos, redpolls, and sandhill cranes also pass by. Amphibians, like salamanders, and reptiles can also be spotted.

Fishers, meanwhile, can score catfish, saugers, and goldeyes. Other fish that can be seen include minnows, carpsuckers, bluegills, fingerling pikes, and walleyes.

More than 400 plant species have been recorded including junipers, spikemoss, bladder ferns, lupines, ground plums, and white clovers, among others.

Other activities in the park include biking, paddling, horseback riding, skiing, and snowshoeing during winter. Whatever a tourist needs, from a quiet time in the North Unit to an action-packed saga in the South Unit, the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the place to be.

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