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Theodore Roosevelt National Park – A Hidden Treasure
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of the lesser known parks, claiming only 623,748 visitors in 2010 compared to Yellowstone National Park which boasted 3,640,185 visitors. Located in North Dakota, this 70,446 acre park offers breathtaking panoramas of the badlands and up-close views of wild horses, bison, elk, prairie dogs, deer, grouse, and pronghorns. You can hike through a petrified forest or see Bison herds grazing along the Little Missouri River.
Teddy Roosevelt Loved This Land
For fans of Theodore Roosevelt, this park is a must-see, as it really gives you some insight into his life before he became president. Roosevelt came to this land to hunt buffalo in 1883, and decided to go into business as a cattle rancher by the end of the trip. Only five months later, his wife Alice and his mother died on Valentine's Day. Grief stricken, Roosevelt came back out to North Dakota to find consolation. While in the badlands he stayed at the Maltese Cross Cabin until 1984, then built the Elkhorn Ranch where he spent most of his time. The park offers tours of the Maltese Cross Cabin. For the more adventurous, you can drive on an undeveloped road to the Elkhorn Ranch which is about 35 miles north of Medora.
Where To Stay
My husband and I visited this park in 2010 during a cross country tour in our 30 foot travel trailer. We were looking for a campground with full hookups, and so we camped at Medora municipal campground . Campsites range from $20.00 nighty for a primitive site to $35.00 nightly for a 50 amp hookup with water, sewer and electric. There is a community pool adjacent to the park where you can swim for a small fee. The park is an adequate central place to stay since it is conveniently situated a few miles from the South entrance of the park.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park offers three campgrounds, but none of them have hookups. Juniper Campground and Cottonwood Campground offer individual campsites, accommodating tents, trailers and RVs. These campsites are only available on a first come first served basis. There is also Roundup Group Horse Campground for group camping.
For you non-campers, there are plenty of hotels in the historical town of Medora. Founded in 1883 by the French nobleman the Marquis de Mores, the town was named for his bride Medora von Hoffman. This quaint little town offers entertainment centered around Theodore Roosevelt - the Western style Medora Musical and the one act play "Bully". If you're a golfer, there's the beautiful Bully Pulpit Golf Course. We didn't have time to play it, but it looks wonderful.
Exploring The Park
The park is divided into two sections - North and South. We toured the South loop of the park two times, and drove out to the North loop on the third day of our stay. I think what enchanted me most about the park were the wild horses. According to the National Park Service, feral horses were almost exterminated during the modern ranching era because they were seen as a nuisance. In the 1950s and 1960s efforts were made to protect them, culminating in the 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Today these magnificent creatures can be seen roaming freely throughout the park. Luckily, I managed to get some great video of them.
Both South and North loops treat you to many overlooks offering spectacular views of the North Dakota badlands. We look the short walk up Wind Canyon trail, which ends in an overlook that gives you a view of the Little Missouri River and the canyon. We were fortunate to come across a herd of Bison peacefully grazing below us.
When you gaze at the muted pastel hills and valleys of this wild land, with the wind blowing through the canyon, you gain a sense of why Roosevelt loved this land so much. It has a mysterious and riveting beauty that it uniquely its own. It is a national treasure well worth visiting.
Here's a video I took of the beautiful wild horses
© 2011 Margaret Perrottet