Teddy Roosevelt hunted for bison during his first visit to North Dakota in 1883. He moved to the state following the death of both his wife and mother on the same day in 1884. He had a ranch in the Medora area.
Roosevelt went to lead the “Rough Riders” during battle in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War in 1898. Later that year, he was elected as New York’s governor. Two years later, he was elected Vice-President of the United States. In 1901, he ascended to the Presidency following the assassination of President McKinley. Roosevelt was elected to his own term in 1904.
The Theodore Roosevelt National Park sits just outside Medora in western North Dakota. The park was named in his honor, because of the time he spent in the state.
Initially, the area was named Roosevelt National Demonstration Area. The area was developed during the Great Depression by the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps) as part of the stimulus program to help create jobs and rebuild the economy.
The area was eventually renamed as a national park by President Harry Truman in 1947.
The park is divided into three sections – the North Unit, the Elkhorn Ranch Unit and the South Unit.
The North Unit is located about 70 miles from Medora, thought the exit is about 15 miles east of town. A beautiful view of the North Dakota Badlands is located at the exit. It whetted our appetite for the visit.
The Elkhorn Ranch Unit is located between the North and South units, and is about 35 miles from Medora.
The South Unit is located just outside Medora, off of Interstate 94. It’s the best accessible area of the park. It offers visitors a 30-mile route of attractions, trails and wildlife.
A cabin once used by Theodore Roosevelt is located near the visitors center. Public tours of the small cabin are offered.
The visitors center offers some interesting exhibits. A prehistoric alligator fossil is on display. North Dakota was once part of a sea.
The center has a small Roosevelt exhibit, featuring the 26th president on a horse.
The exhibit features an undershirt with a bullet hole. Roosevelt had been shot shortly before he was scheduled to deliver a speech during the election season. He gave the speech less than two hours after he was shot.
The drive through the park is beautiful. Plan 2-3 hours to really take in the views. Several overlook locations are scattered along the route. We suggest stopping at almost all of them. You get some nice views of different areas.
I love prairie dogs. The park has several prairie dog towns. It’s impressive the system they have. They communicate and warn each other when danger is near – or humans. LOL. I loved watching one working on his mound. He dug up some dirt and then moved it to his mound.
We noticed that the North Dakota Badlands aren’t as barren and jagged as the South Dakota Badlands. The North Dakota area has green space and more rounded formations.
You see the line from the evolution of the area. Each color layer indicates a different era, dating back to the days of North Dakota being underwater.
We stopped at an area called Buck’s Hill. We made a steep walk to the top of the peak to get a great view of the area. Prairie grass on rolling hills eventually make the way to trees, more hills, and ends along the Painted Canyon (name for the color lines along the rock formations).
We looked forward to seeing some wild animals up close, including horses and bison. As cute as prairie dogs are, they didn’t quite fulfill the wild animal goal.
As things would have it, it didn’t take long for us to run into a herd of bison grazing along the roadside. It was such a neat feeling to see these majestic animals in the wild. We’ve seen them in wildlife parks, but this was different. It was amazing to see them a couple of feet from the car.
Since they were scattered along the road, we thought it best to stop and let them do their thing. A car behind us must have grown impatient, because as soon as the bison had opened one lane ahead of us, they passed us and drove past. We weren’t sure if we were supposed to wait until they cleared the road or not, but thought it best to play it safe.
There was a pull-off area a short distance away once we were able to move. We joined other visitors in checking out the bison. We got a kick out a couple of them using parking posts as their personal belly scratchers.
Baby bison were enjoying their grazing away from their parents, but as soon as we pulled near, they didn’t hesitate to call out and hurry toward mom and dad.
We enjoyed checking out the bison and could have spent hours watching them. But, we were now on a mission to find the wild horses.
In the end, we had to settle for enjoying the bison. The horses were nowhere to be found. However, the next morning as we were leaving our motel, another guest noticed a horse on a bluff overlooking Medora. It was too dark to get a decent photo, but I did see my wild horse – three actually, as two more came along on the bluff.
We had a wonderful time checking out the beauty of Roosevelt National Park. We recommend making it a destination trip. Combined with other attractions, you could spend a few days in the area.
For more information on the national park, please visit:
Disclaimer: Thanks to the North Dakota Tourism Division for coordinating our visit through the state.