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Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Herds of American bison roam freely in both units. These magnificent animals are descendants of the creatures that once thronged the Great Plains. Roosevelt came to the badlands in 1883 to hunt bison and other game. Intrigued by the ranching industry, he acquired a partnership in the Maltese Cross Ranch, 7 miles south of Medora.

The following year Roosevelt established the Elkhorn Ranch, 35 miles north of Medora, adopting a rancher's lifestyle, assisting in the organization of the Little Missouri River Stockmen's Association and later serving as its chairman and president. He also wrote a number of articles and a portion of a book during his badlands residence.

In 1864 Gen. Alfred Sully compared the region to “hell with the fires put out.” Today's visitors, however, don't have to face hostile conditions in an unexplored area and will find the plateaus, buttes and conical hills quite scenic.

Over time the Little Missouri River has helped carve the terrain into many strange and brilliantly colored formations; hues of gray, blue, buff and yellow, interspersed with black, red and brown, have mingled and blended by the effects of erosion. The variegated coloring is best appreciated in the early morning or late afternoon.

Throughout the badlands are numerous exposed beds of lignite coal, varying in thickness from less than an inch to 18 feet. For thousands of years lightning and grass fires have ignited some of these seams, baking the surrounding sand and clay to a natural redbrick material called clinker, locally known as scoria. The clinker, which is highly resistant to erosion, is a late addition to the colorful rocks of the badlands. Petrified wood remnants also can be found in several locations.

Indigenous wildlife includes pronghorn, white-tailed deer, mule deer and elk as well as coyotes, porcupines, bobcats, badgers, beaver, jackrabbits, cottontails, prairie dogs and a wide variety of bird species.

General Information

The park is open all year, although some roads close periodically from November through April due to ice and heavy snowfall. Campgrounds are open year-round; running water and flush toilets are available May through September. Permits for backcountry camping are required and are available free of charge at the visitor centers.

Rangers conduct daily summer programs, including walks and hikes, interpretive talks and evening programs about local nature and history. Both the North and South units of the park have self-guiding nature and hiking trails.

A 36-mile scenic loop drive begins and ends at the entrance to the South Unit. A 14-mile scenic drive begins at the entrance station to the North Unit and ends at Oxbow Overlook.

Picnic facilities are at Painted Canyon, Cottonwood and Juniper. Water and fully equipped restrooms are available at the Cottonwood campground in the South Unit and the Juniper campground in the North Unit; camper hookups are not available. Inquire at the park's visitor centers about opportunities for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and canoeing.

Note: The North Unit Visitor Center closed in 2013, but a temporary visitor center is available. It is located in a trailer near the entrance to the North Unit (watch for signs) and is open Fri.-Mon. 9-5 (CT). A new permanent visitor center will eventually be built in a different location.


ADMISSION to the park is $30 per private vehicle, $25 per motorcycle or $15 per pedestrian, bicyclist or rider on horseback, valid for 7 days. A camping fee of $14 per unit per night is charged May through September and $7 per unit per night the rest of the year.


PETS are permitted in the park if kept on a leash, crated or otherwise physically restricted at all times. However, they are prohibited on all trails.


ADDRESS inquiries to the Superintendent, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, P.O. Box 7, Medora, ND 58645; phone (701) 623-4466.

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