I didn’t know much about this park and wasn’t expecting much because…. it’s North Dakota. Boy, did it surprise me. For hours, during our drive there, it was the typical mostly flat plains, grassland, farms…. your basic midwest scenery. I was definitely not getting excited for Theodore Roosevelt National Park. But then BAM! We drove over an itty bitty midwest hill and it hits you. It’s a rugged landscape, full of badlands type rocks under all these open hills. It’s truly breathtaking.
We drove in through Medora, which is in South Unit of the park late afternoon. We drove the Park loop and did a few overlooks, with their small trails out to the actual overlooks. We were only able to do about half of the Park Loop Road because a landslide closed part of the road. Along the way, we saw many prairie dog towns, and on our drive back out bison took over the roads and stopped all the traffic for awhile! The baby bison are simply adorable.
We drove a little bit out of the park and slept in the neighboring National Grasslands BLM. I’m not sure if we were technically in a camping site, but we drove all the way to the end of the forest service road and saw no one. Mike taught me how to open and close cattle gates. Pro tip for you: don’t let the barbed wire hook you like I did….
Next morning drove up to the Northwest section of the South Unit and went to the Petrified Forest. Fun fact: Theodore Roosevelt National Park has one of the largest Petrified Forests in the country (even more than the namesake National Park!). The trail to it was a nice, relatively flat 3 mile trail that reminded me so much of my beloved camp.
Then Mike biked part of the Maah Dah Hey Trail while I hiked to Elkhorn Ranch, which was Teddy’s home ranch. It was pretty wild to walk the same place that Roosevelt walked, see the same views that he did, and experience what made him fall in love with nature and what also planted the seeds for future National Parks.
The plan was when Mike was done biking, I was to pick him up at a campsite on the way and we’d head up to see the North Unit of the park. I should have known. Once we make solid plans, something goes wrong. The bike trail was impassable at the creek so I had to go all the way back on these real fun gravel roads and get him. When we were on the side of the road that I picked him up, putting the bike away, something in the road caught Mike’s eye. It turned out, it was a lug nut from our back passenger side wheel. And not only was that one off, five of the six were off the wheel. We have no idea how it happened but we had just spent days on gravel roads so that was must have been part of it. We called AAA and got towed to the closest town; Dickerson, 50 miles away and the one I was just in getting groceries. Sigh. Mike spent the rest of the night fixing it in the parking lot of O’Reillys. Good news is that it only cost us $30 to fix which is a teeny tiny fraction than anything on the van ever cost us. Then we went to a dive bar and drank 50 cent Busch Lights and slept at Walmart. It was almost like being back home, since that’s all we slept at during the first part of this adventure.
The next morning, we headed back to the South Unit visitor center and met Theodore Roosevelt himself and I got my Junior Ranger badge. Sadly, we decided to skip the North Unit this time because of the distance and the wheel frustration. Next time though, we’ll definitely check that part out – I want to see the cannonball concretion rock formations!
- Don’t underestimate this park like I did! It is definitely worth the time for a family vacation. Plus it has lots more attractions nearby.
- Make sure do part of the scenic drive at dusk or dawn for wildlife sightings. It was such an incredible experience having bison walk right next to our car.
- There is such a variety of landscape – do the hikes! Get out of your car.