Theodore Roosevelt National Park
North Dakota, USA

A visit here offers a taste of rugged individualism, and you can easily see how the area shaped a future president's love of conservation. TR park is divided into three main units - the south, north, and Elkhorn Ranch units.

The South Unit is the park's more popular area. If entering from the town of Medora, you'll first come to the South Unit Visitor Center. The park film plays here and Theodore Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Cabin is nearby. Before Teddy left Dakota and became president, he purchased the Chimney Butte Ranch and subsequently had a cabin built. Eventually, he sold his interest in the ranch. But, when ht became president, the cabin traveled the country for World's Fairs and other expositions. In 1959, the cabin made its way back to the park and was restored to the original state.

The South Unit also has a beautiful 36-mile scenic drive that tours badlands and is filled with overlooks. There are lots of short hiking trails along the drive. Arguably the prettiest hike in the area, Wind Canyon Trail is just .4-mile round trip through a wind-sculpted canyon that leads to some of the best river views in the park. It's a great spot for catching the sunset, as is Boicourt Overlook Trail (.2-mile round trip). Another short .2-mile round trip hike is Buck Hill. The highest point in this area, you'll get the best views to spot buffalo from afar. The Coal Vein Trail is a very popular .8-mile loop that teaches about geology and ecology. You'll feel detached from the hustle and bustle of normal life.

After completing the drive, head east to the Painted Canyon Visitor Center. This area has wonderful panoramic views and a high chance of seeing buffalo. The Painted Canyon Nature Trail (.9-mile round trip) allows you to hike down into the canyon. For camping, Cottonwood Campground is the South Unit option. If you are bringing horses, the Roundup is the park's one and only horse-friendly camping facility. It is available to groups and requires reservations.

Heading North in the park, you'll come to teh Elkhorn Ranch Unit. While there are no facilities or Visitor Centers here, you can certainly see why this was Teddy Roosevelt's favorite area. There is a .7-mile path to an exhibit on Roosevelt, which includes some writings and an old cabin foundation.

The final area is the North Unit, which has a Visitors Center. This area of the park is a little less visited and a little more rugged. There is a 14-mile scenic drive that starts in the baldnads and the rises to River Bend Overlook, which is a must-see viewpoint. You have a high change of seeing bison and, if you're lucky, you may see bighorn sheep. To see prairie dogs, head to the Caprock Coulee Trailhead and hope on the Buckhorn Trail to Prairie Dog Town. This is a 1.5-mile round trip that's rewarded with sights of the always cute and on guard prairie dog community. The North Unit has one campground - Juniper Campground.

While there is traditional lodging outside the park, I highly recommend trying to stay at a working ranch. These are not dude ranches setup to give you a taste of ranching and being a cowboy. These working ranches are similar to a bed and breakfast concept, except the owners will usually give you a tour of the farm, maybe have you help out with the animals, and then serve you a dinner of some of their prized beef before putting you up on their property for the night. It's a great way to get a taste of the ranching life. You'll be rewarded with a beautiful dark sky for stargazing.

I would like to mention one non-park attraction in the town of Medora. You can learn about the Marquis de Mores, an enterprising and quirky man who named the town after his wife Medora. The Chateau de Mores State Historic Site tells his interesting story.

Happy Travels!