"I never would have been President if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota"These words by the 26th president of the United States of America are a testimony to the influence of North Dakota plains on his life, politics, and his role as a conservationist. Theodore Roosevelt first arrived in the badlands in 1883 on a hunting expedition. Inspired by the rugged and colorful landscape of the plains, he invested in two cattle ranches here known as the Maltese Cross and the Elkhorn, and worked here as a cowboy and rancher for many years.
On April 25, 1947, the Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park was established as a tribute to the president. It was designated as a national park in 1978 to conserve the 29,920 acres of wilderness. Enclosed within the boundaries of the Little Missouri National Grasslands, the park is divided into three geographically separated areas: the South Unit, North Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch. The largest among them, the historic South Unit, which is lined with the interstate 94 receives the most visitation followed by the smaller and rugged North Unit which is located near US highway 85. The remote Elkhorn Ranch is located 35 miles north of the South Unit and was one of the sites where Roosevelt built his ranch in 1884.
Things to Do in The Park
The park offers a host of outdoor attractions like hiking, trekking, and camping. One of the most popular sites for visit is the Painted Canyon Overlook and the visitor center located in the South Unit. Providing a splendid panoramic view of the North Dakota badlands especially during the sunrise and sunset, the site has picnic shelters as well as a one mile nature trail.
A visit to the South Unit would bring you to the visitor center located at the entrance of Medora which has an information desk and a short movie about the park history. The visitor center also has a small museum. The Maltese cabin owned by Roosevelt stands adjacent to the center.
For those wanting to enjoy the sights and sounds of this amazing natural landmark, a drive along the Scenic Loop road is a must. The loop offers scenic overlooks and a range of trails to explore. One can stop at the Wind Canyon or the Scoria Point to glimpse into the beautiful world of the park. Not only does the park offer scenic beauty, but also provides an opportunity to spot a large variety of wild animals. This includes the bison, the prairie dog, elk, pronghorn, and many others. Visitors should, however, take note that the bison can get quite dangerous, especially during the calving season.
For people desiring to enjoy hiking, there are 100 miles of fascinating trails along the park like the Ridgeline Trail and the Coal Vein Trail. The park also offers various campgrounds like the Juniper campground with 50 camping sites in the North Unit and the Cottonwood campground with 78 sites in the South unit. While no hookups or showers are available, there are facilities like water, picnic tables, fire pits, and paved pads. The campgrounds are usually available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Far from the bustling urban centers, the park offers a perfect getaway to people who would love to enjoy the solitude and beauty of the place which has remained unchanged from the days Roosevelt described it as a "chaos of peaks, plateaus and ridges".