Some of the activities that can be enjoyed in Theodore Roosevelt National Park are but not limited to: visiting park visitor centers with museum and orientation films; visiting the Maltese Cross Cabin near the Medora Visitor Center; joining a guided talk or walk or attending evening program; driving scenic park roads; wildlife viewing; bird watching; hiking; and camping.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is noted for opportunities to see bison, elk, mule and white-tailed deer, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, coyote and other small mammals as well as a variety of birds including golden eagles. Wild (feral) horses can be seen in the South Unit and longhorn steers in the North Unit.
If you are traveling west on 1-94, the paved 36 mile scenic loop road with interpretive signs that explain some of the park's historical and natural phenomena, your first introduction to the park is the Painted Canyon Overlook, about seven miles east of Medora. Here on the upper margin of the badlands is a magnificent panorama of the broken topography in its colorful hues. At the overlook, a visitor center, restrooms, picnic shelters, tables, and water are available generally April through October. A short walk provides access during winter when facilities are closed. East of Painted Canyon you can sometimes see wild horses, the descendants of former domestic ranching stock. No admission fees are charged at Painted Canyon.
Continue to the South Unit Entrance in Medora. Stop at the museum in the Medora Visitor Center to see personal items of Theodore Roosevelt, ranching artifacts. and natural history displays. The restored Maltese Cross cabin, which was Roosevelt's first ranch house in the badlands, is behind the visitor center and is open for self-guided tours from 8:00 am to 4:15 pm daily.
One of the best views of the badlands in the park is from this overlook.
Near the town of Medora is the 27-room chateau that the Marquis DeMores built for his wife in 1884. The Marquis was a wealthy French nobleman who built a slaughterhouse to process beef from the local herds for shipping to market in the new refrigerated railroad cars. He also built the town of Medora, which he named for his wife, and persuaded the Northern Pacific Railroad to build a station there. He was an acquaintance of Theodore Roosevelt. Conducted tours of the chateau are usually offered from late May through September.
To reach the site of the Elkhorn Ranch, take the dirt road going north out of the South Unit. After a drive of roughly 32 kilometers (20 miles), you will be in the vicinity of the ranch site. You must ford the river to reach the actual site. No buildings remain; foundation blocks mark the outline of the 30-foot by 60-foot building. A bulletin board is next to the actual site. Please inquire at the Visitor Center before attempting this trip.
Looking across Paddock Creek, you see a field of bumps. Erosion has worn away all but the hardest materials, leaving the maze of buttes and canyons.
The name itself evokes an image of color and light playing across the face of a wild and broken land. Of the countless individuals who have stood transfixed at the canyon rim -Native Americans, fur traders, a cavalry general, a man who would become the twenty-sixth President, naturalists, travelers, and writers -- all have tried to express the feeling of the moment. To many, the view has a quiet, haunting beauty. Wind and water still shape the canyons; light and shadows add depth and contrast to define their character. Following a rain, the landscape appears closer to the overlook, and the eye is greeted by a kaleidoscope of colors: pinks, reds, blacks, ochres, and greens. On cloudy days, grays and browns seem dull and cold. The golden glow of dawn gives way to harsh, shadow-seeking sun rays at midday. Evening introduces soft blue silhouettes, and purple shadows fade beneath a brilliant vault of stars.
This was the site of a horse ranch during the 1880's heyday of cattle ranching. The high central section of the ranch house was built about 1885.
True scoria is volcanic in origin. Locally, however, wherever a seam of coal has caught fire and baked the surrounding sand and clay into a kind of natural brick, it has been given the name scoria. Over the years erosion has removed the softer earth and left the bluffs capped with this harder, more resistant material.
Take the time to drive the 14 mile Scenic Drive that goes from the entrance station to the Oxbow Overlook, with turnouts and interpretive signs along the way. Between the entrance and North Unit Juniper Campground you might see some longhorns, similar to the cattle raised by ranchers in Roosevelt's time.
About 3.5 miles west of the visitor center is a series of slump blocks, huge sections of bluff that gradually slid intact to the valley floor. This is not uncommon in the badlands where canyon walls are too steep to support a top-heavy formation. Continued erosion has moved the face of the parent bluff farther back from its original position. Though the blocks generally tilt as they slump, the bands of color on the bluff and the block can be matched so you can get an idea of the original position of the block.
For more trails see the Hiking Page.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is well supplied with watchable wildlife. What you see depends on the season, your patience and luck. Binoculars are helpful, but not essential.
Badger's chief food is rodents, they are more apt to be seen near prairie dog towns at night or early mornings.
Bald Eagles migrate through the area each fall.
Beavers may be seen in Squaw Creek (North Unit) along the Little Missouri River near the campground in the evenings or during the night.
Birds, there are many different species of birds inhabit the park campgrounds where there is plenty of food and shelter in the thick brush and trees. Mornings and evenings provide the best viewing times. It's also good birding where two habitat zones meet such as the edge of the trees and the grasslands.
Bison roam throughout the park and should be given a wide berth if met along the trail. Check at the visitor centers to learn those areas bison frequent and where they have been recently sighted.
Bobcats are rarely seen. Consider yourself very lucky if you see a bobcat! Only two or three are seen each summer. Look for them on the barren rocky slopes, especially at night.
Coyotes are more often heard than seen. They usually howl once night falls and may be seen in the early mornings running anywhere across the park road.
Elk are in the South Unit only and are most often seen feeding in early morning or evening on open grassland sites in the Buck Hill area and in the southeastern quarter of the park. Generally seek the shade of hardwood and juniper draws during the beat of midday.
Golden Eagles - Always check the sky for glimpses of soaring golden eagles along the river floodplain and at the North Unit's River Bend Overlook. Look for their large, dark-colored nests perched high on steep cliffsides.
Longhorns are in the North Unit only. In mornings and evenings, they are usually found drinking water at the bison corral located at the end of the service road spur that begins at mile marker 2.5. Check beneath cottonwoods along river during the heat of the day.
Mule Deer most often seen between dusk and dawn anywhere along the park road in open areas. They usually seek shade in dense juniper groves during the heat of the day.
Porcupines are usually seen in the tops of small cottonwood and ash trees feeding on twigs and bark. They often amble along roadsides at night. Drive with care.
Prairie Dogs, the park road passes through three large prairie dog towns in the South Unit. No dog towns can be seen from the North Unit road; the nearest is a one-mile hike from the Caprock-Coulee parking area. Be sure you take the right-hand turn after crossing the footbridge.
Pronghorns are seldom seen in the North Unit. Often sighted in the open fields along U.S. Highway 85 and along Jules Creek Road in the South Unit.
Snakes, including the poisonous prairie rattlesnake, are found frequently in the evening warming themselves on the paved surface of the road. During the hot daytime hours, they typically seek shade under bushes and rocks or in burrows.
White-tailed Deer prefer thick wooded areas and river bottomlands and may be seen in the campgrounds and picnic areas in the evening and early mornings.
Wild Horses are found in the eastern section of the South Unit only. Often visible from the park road, at Painted Canyon, and along the park boundary fence east of Painted Canyon. Horses seen in the vicinity of Peaceful Valley ranch belong to the park's trail ride concession.
Information provided by the National Park Service
Activities & Calendar
Address, Email & Phone
Amphibians & Reptile List
Basic Visit Recommendations
Brochures, Maps, Written Info
Common Plant List
DeMores States Historic Site
Jobs, SCA, Volunteer Positions
Junior Ranger Programs
Maltese Cross Cabin
Natural History Page
North Dakota Badlands
Size & Visitation
Skiing & Snowshoeing
Winter Hiking & Camping
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