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Theodore Roosevelt National Park: Things to Do and Where to Stay

Our year of full time RVing was all about seeing National Parks. When we bought a National Park System Passport book, we started flipping through to find destinations that were hidden and not as well known. When I saw Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota, I knew we had found a national park I wanted to visit.

I’m so glad we did! The rugged landscape and great plains of this national park service site are unlike anything we have ever seen. The vast lands, full of buffalo and prairie dogs and few people, are a tranquil escape from the rest of the world.

Teddy Roosevelt, the 26th President of the United States, lived on this land and was passionate about creating a conservation policy to protect public lands. In fact, he worked with famed naturalist John Muir to develop conservation initiatives.

In his tenure as president, Roosevelt established:

  • 5 National Parks (but not the one named after him)
  • 18 National Monuments
  • 4 National Game Preserves
  • 51 Federal Bird Reserves
  • 150 National Forests

President Theodore Roosevelt is one of the four faces on Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, however he is not the one that put his face on the famous stone monument!

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is not very well known. Which means it is the perfect place to escape the crowds and enjoy a truly memorable National Parks vacation.

Where is Theodore Roosevelt National Park?

This National Park Service site has three different units that make up the entire Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

All three parts of Theodore Roosevelt National Park are located in western North Dakota. After you cross over the Montana state line, you will be in Theodore Roosevelt National Park pretty quickly.

The three separate units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park are:

  • South Unit
  • North Unit
  • Elkhorn Ranch Unit

The South Unit of the park is accessed through Medora and is the most popular of all three park units. It is located on Interstate 94.

North Unit is about 14 miles south of Watford City, North Dakota on Highway 85.

It’s about 70 miles from the popular South Unit to get to the North Unit. We never traveled to the North Unit because we didn’t want to drive so far and there was plenty to see and do in the South Unit while we were there.

The Elkhorn Ranch Unit is the most remote and the least visited. You will need to take gravel roads to get there. It is located roughly between North and South Units.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the only National Park in North Dakota.

Considered the “Northern Badlands,” the park is located directly north of South Dakota’s famous Badlands National Park.

The drive between Badlands National Park and Theodore Roosevelt National Park is about five hours.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Fun Facts

To understand the magnitude and importance of this national park, it helps to know some of these really cool fun facts about Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which is the only National Park named after a U.S. president!

  • Nearest Town: Medora, North Dakota
  • Size: 70,466 acres (about 110 square miles)
  • First Protection: Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park was created April 25, 1947
  • Created as a National Park: November 10, 1978
  • Highest Elevation: 2,865 feet at Peck Hill
  • Lowest Elevation: 2,240 feet at Little Missouri River
  • Visitors: 668,679 (in 2022)
  • Entrance Fees: $30 per vehicle; $25 per motorcycle; or Free Admission with the America the Beautiful Annual Pass

Here’s another fun fact: Badlands National Park and Theodore Roosevelt National Park were created on the same day and in the same year! Congaree National Park was also created on the same day.

Best Things to Do at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

There is a lot to do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. With three units spread across the miles, you really need to be smart about choosing what activities you want to see and do and plan for them.

This National Park is best for a scenic drive, with stops along the way to enjoy hiking and wildlife viewing. In fact, most people enjoy the 36-mile scenic loop drive during a one day visit and don’t do much hiking off the road.

Much like Craters of the Moon National Monument, there are hikes to enjoy, but you will need to drive one loop road to get to them.

We are not big hikers. While we enjoy getting out and exploring the trails, our style of visiting National Parks is probably a lot like yours: get out and enjoy nature, do some short hikes and then go back to the hotel or RV at night.

Our list of main attractions to see and things to do does not include overnight camping or hiking, or strenuous trails that should only be done by experienced hikers.

Prairie Dog Towns

From the moment you drive into the South Unit, you will instantly be aware that this part of North Dakota is a haven for prairie dogs!

I absolutely love watching the comical prairie dogs. So much so that we spent hours at sunset each night watching the show they put on. It is way better than anything to watch on TV!

There are plenty of turnouts to park near prairie dog towns. There are also additional prairie dog towns along hiking trails.

The prairie dog towns are actually marked on the National Park map, so you can easily find them.

Wildlife Viewing

It is not just prairie dogs that are the favorite wildlife in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

American Bison are a big part of the wildlife viewing here! They love the large open prairies that can be found throughout the public lands.

Did you know that the United States has a national mammal, and that it is the bison?

Yep, the bison is the largest mammal in North America. They are also known as buffalo, after the French called them “les boeufs” and over time bison became known as buffalo.

Watch our video below for some of our many bison encounters.

We never saw so many bison and buffalo as we did at this national park! And that is comparing Yellowstone National Park and Badlands National Park with Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Even though Yellowstone has the largest bison population on public lands, we found that they were more spread out in Yellowstone. At Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we found more wildlife viewing in concentrated spots.

Short Hikes

We didn’t get to enjoy too many hikes, because the weather was so hot. Keep this in mind, the weather can be extremely brutal in North Dakota during the summer.

When visiting the national park in summer, keep in mind the sun and heat can be intense. The hot summers are no joke. Yes, even in North Dakota!

You must be prepared for hiking in the summer with:

  • Lots of water (check out these water bottles we love)
  • Sunscreen
  • Hat for shade
  • Insect repellant (we also love these clothes that keep mosquitoes from biting you)
  • A portable mini fan or neck cooling scarf are smart ideas

There was another funny reason that we didn’t get to hike a lot, too. The trails we wanted to do were blocked by bison on the path. No joke.

After seeing large animals along the entrance to the trails, we were then scared to do too much hiking off the main road for fear of encountering a bison in the woods and not being able to get away.

Scenic Sites

There are plenty of opportunities for easy, moderate and difficult hiking. Because of the heat in July, we didn’t do too many hiking activities. We settled for wildlife watching at sunrise and sunset, instead.

We did enjoy the following sites which made a memorable visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park:

Skyline Vista Trail 

An easy, short walk will reward you with panoramic vistas on this plateau.

Plateau view from Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Benches on plateau in national park

Buck Hill

Not an easy, leisurely stroll to get up to the second highest spot in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but not TOO bad. And it is totally worth it for the view.

Buck Hill sign at Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Vista from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota

Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin

Built between 1883-1884, Theodore Roosevelt spent time living in this cabin after his wife and mother died just hours apart in the same day.

The cabin is located behind the South Unit Visitor Center. It has been moved from its original location.

Check for times of National Park Ranger tours of the cabin for an extra element of interpretive history. Otherwise, explore on your own at any time.

Log cabin in woods

Visiting Medora

The charming town of Medora is where you will find the National Park headquarters, as well as all of the amenities you might need during a visit.

We even found a Theodore Roosevelt impersonator who did a really great educational show for families downtown.

We took half a day to explore Medora and enjoyed eating in the restaurants, shopping and having some ice cream.

There is a gift shop is located in Medora with all of the souvenirs that you want!

Be sure not to miss the Mr. Bubble museum at the Harold Schafer Heritage Center! It is fascinating that this icon bubble bath had its starts in Medora.

The Medora Musical is one of the most popular attractions in the city. This is an outdoor musical that combines a country western variety show with a reenactment of Theodore Roosevelt’s charge during the battle of Big San Juan Hill along with a fireworks finale.

The Pitchfork Steak Fondue is a huge steak dinner beforehand if you want to add on that option.

We booked the dinner and did not enjoy it at all.

The steak wasn’t that great and the “buffet” limited the amount of each type of food you could get. So it wasn’t all you could eat and we were seated at long tables with tons of crowds.

The actual meal we were served at the Pitchfork Steak Fondue. With the portions that were allotted to us (no refills).

After our experience, we definitely won’t be doing the Pitchfork Steak Fondue again.

When Is the Best Time to Visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park?

The weather can be extreme in North Dakota.

Summers can be extremely hot, even this far north. When we were there in late July, it was so hot that we didn’t want to be outdoors in the middle of the day.

However, the cold winters of North Dakota are legendary. You won’t want to be visiting during extremely cold weather. In fact, the park service shuts off the water starting in October.

We suggest the best times to visit are late Spring and early Fall.

Where to Stay at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

There are a variety of options for staying near Theodore Roosevelt National Park.


We visited the park while traveling in an RV. We stayed just outside of the park (only 2 minutes away from the Visitors Center) at Medora Campground.

Be sure to see our Complete Guide to Medora Campgrounds.

As well as our guide to the best boondocking sites near Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Medora Campground Sign in North Dakota near Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Inside the South Unit of the national park there is Cottonwood Campground.

We heard that bison stampede near the campground regularly. Especially because the Little Missouri River is nearby the campground, so you might see a lot of wildlife.

There are no hookups at Cottonwood Campground.

Juniper Campground is located in the North Unit. There are no hookups at Juniper Campground and it’s first come, first served.

On holiday weekends, this campground is usually at capacity.

Check out our other National Park travel guides:

  • 25 Essential Travel Tips for Glacier National Park
  • Wind Cave and Jewel Cave
  • Congaree National Park Travel Tips
  • 17 Minuteman National Historic Site Travel Tips