Home LIFE STYLE What travelers will find at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

What travelers will find at Theodore Roosevelt National Park


Many people are often surprised by the existence of Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.

“First of all, they’re surprised there’s a national park here,” said the park’s Deputy Superintendent Maureen McGee-Ballinger.

“People traveling to Glacier or Yellowstone National Park will see the Park Service arrowhead on the highway and think, ‘There’s a national park!’ When they arrive, they’re surprised to learn it’s related to Theodore Roosevelt. They often associate him with New York, not North Dakota. Then they’re amazed by the park’s beauty and diversity. It’s a hidden gem they didn’t expect.”

The Story Behind Theodore Roosevelt National Park “This is where Theodore Roosevelt first came for a bison hunt. It resonated with him,” McGee-Ballinger explained. “After losing his wife and mother, he came here for healing. During that time, he built his ranch and developed the conservation ethic that defined his presidency.”

What Makes Theodore Roosevelt National Park Special? “It’s the cradle of conservation,” said McGee-Ballinger. “That alone is a compelling reason to visit. Plus, there are bison, the Little Missouri River, fascinating geology, fossils, and diverse vegetation.”

A Word of Caution About Bison “While they appear slow and clumsy, bison are very fast and unpredictable. Give them plenty of space,” she advised.

Are There Bears in Theodore Roosevelt National Park? No. Despite the association with Teddy Roosevelt and bears, McGee-Ballinger clarified, “We don’t have suitable habitat for them.”

Nearest City to Theodore Roosevelt National Park The South Unit is adjacent to Medora, North Dakota. The North Unit is about 15 minutes from Watford City, North Dakota. The nearest major airport is in Bismarck, served by multiple airlines.

“But most visitors drive here rather than fly,” McGee-Ballinger noted.

How Long to Explore Theodore Roosevelt National Park? “To get a thorough feel, it might take 10 or 15 years,” McGee-Ballinger joked.

She suggested spending at least two to three hours in the South Unit, one-and-a-half to two hours in the North Unit, and factoring in an hour for travel between them. Ideally, she recommended dedicating a few days to the park.

Can You Drive Through Theodore Roosevelt National Park? Yes, each unit has a scenic drive. “Most people drive through, seeing wildlife from their vehicles. They might stop for a short hike or at an overlook,” McGee-Ballinger said. “But the park offers much more, and it’s worth taking the time to fully enjoy it.”

Best Time to Visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park While every season has its charm, McGee-Ballinger’s favorite is fall.

“In September and October, the weather is usually mild, and the cottonwoods along the river turn a stunning golden yellow. Seeing the Little Missouri River bordered by these trees is spectacular.”

Must-See: Elkhorn Ranch McGee-Ballinger highly recommends visiting Elkhorn Ranch.

“That’s where Theodore Roosevelt built his ranch and lived,” she said. Although the original ranch is gone and it’s challenging to reach, the journey is worth it. “The back roads can be rocky and muddy when wet, but the ranch site, along the Little Missouri River with its cottonwoods and rolling hills, provides a sense of the peace and healing Roosevelt found here.”

Native Peoples of the Land “Lands within the park are part of the traditional bison hunting and eagle trapping grounds of the Hidatsa and Mandan tribes,” according to the National Parks Conservation Association. The Arikara, Crow, Blackfeet, Gros Ventre, Chippewa, Cree, Sioux, and Rocky Boy tribes are also associated with lands within the park.

Additional Insights About Theodore Roosevelt National Park “It’s a place of change,” McGee-Ballinger noted. “The hills and buttes may look like solid rock, but much of it is clay soil, making the landscape dynamic. Heavy rains can cause shifts and landslides, so the park is constantly evolving. Each visit can offer something new.”