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Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a great place for families to spend time together, and the best National Park to escape the crowds. Whether you are looking for some adventure or just a relaxing day, this North Dakota National Park has something for everyone! There are plenty of opportunities to have fun and explore the Theodore Roosevelt National Park with kids. In this article, we will discuss some of the most popular adventures in and around Theodore Roosevelt National Park that you can do as a family!
Layout of Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The Theodore Roosevelt National Park is spilt into three areas: North Unit, West Unit (or Elkhorn Area), and Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit.
The most popular section of the park is the South Unit, since it can be easily accessed from the town of Medora and I-94. If you only have a short time to spend in the park and want to see as much as possible in a short period of time, you’ll want to visit the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
The North Unit is about 90 minutes north from the town of Dickinson and gets less visitors than the South Unit. If you want to escape the crowds, head to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National park.
The Elkhorn Area is also an uncrowded National Park section and is located between the South and North Units.
Important Things To Know Before Visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Before you visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park there are are few important things that you need to know.
First of all, it’s important to know that you are right on the edge of the time zone boundary here. The South Unit operates on Mountain Time and the North Unit operates on Central Time. The towns of Medora and Dickinson are on Mountain Time and Bismarck is on Central Time.
You also need to know that the two main units of the park are not connected to each other and it will take you an hour to drive from one section of the park to another.
At certain times of year, ticks can be a major problem at the park. Always check yourself and your friends at the end of each day to remove any ticks on your skin and clothing.
Best Time of Year To Visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The best time of year to visit the park is during the spring or fall. Temperatures are the most pleasant then and in the late spring, you’ll see and abundance of wildflowers and in the fall, you’ll get to see the fall colors showcases along with the striking colors of the badlands.
Despite what many may believe, winters are not incredibly harsh around Theodore Roosevelt National Park so if you don’t mind bundling up a bit, you may have the park all to yourself. Temperatures often are between 25-50 degrees in the winter, and many years it only gets a little bit of snow here.
Best Adventures Around Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt is the perfect National Park for families who want to escape the crowds and spend time in nature. Here are our favorite activities in and around Theodore Roosevelt National Park with kid.
- Mountain Bike The Maah Daah Hey Trail
- Horseback Ride In Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Kayak The Little Missouri River
- Discover Wild Horses In Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Go Cross Country Skiing in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Ride The Manitou Point to Point Zipline
- Do Some Stargazing
- Count Prairie Dogs In Prairie Dog Town
- Get A Junior Ranger Badge
- Drive The South Unit Scenic Loop
- Discover The Geology of Painted Canyon
- Check Out The Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Eat A Pitchfork Fondued Steak
- Take In Some History With A Musical Twist
- Visit Theodore Roosevelts Elkhorn Ranch
- Cool Down In The Little Missouri River
- Tour The Maltese Cross Cabin
- Take A Hike In Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Best Hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Mountain Bike The Maah Daah Hey Trail
This was hands down the best activity that we did around Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The Maah Daah Hey Trail is a 144 mile trail that goes through the North Dakota Badlands and connects the different sections of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The mountain biking on this North Dakota trail was absolutley amazing and we were thrilled to learn that even though the trail is exciting, there were very few rocks, making it friendly for all mountain bike abilities.
While you are not allowed to ride your bike on the Maah Daah Hey inside of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, there are some amazing mountain bike sections right outside of the park that will blow your mind. If you’re looking to rent bikes or get a guide for your North Dakota mountain biking, check out Dakota Cyclery. Their gear was gear and well maintained and our guide was amazing at not only teaching us about the trail, but also helping everyone improve their own mountain bike skills.
Horseback Ride In Theodore Roosevelt National Park
If you’re comfortable in the saddle, you’ll love exploring Theodore Roosevelt National Park on horseback. The trails here can be a little challenging, to riding here is only for experienced riders. If you’re looking for a good trail ride for beginner and intermediate riders and kids over the age of 7, check out the trail rides in Medora.
Kayak The Little Missouri River
If you love to paddle, then kayaking or canoeing the Little Missouri River through Theodore Roosevelt National Park will probably blow your mind. May and June are the best times to float for both the water level and for the weather. If you float later than that, plan on dragging your boat through shallow sections often. There are several small sections that you can float, but if you’re feeling ambitious and have lots of backcountry paddling experince, you can go nearly 270 miles!
Discover Wild Horses In Theodore Roosevelt National Park
There are few places in the world where you can go to see wild horses, and Theodore Roosevelt National Park is one of them. There are a few herds of wild horses that roam the South Unit of the park and the best time to see them is early in the morning or in the evening.
Go Cross Country Skiing in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
There are several options for cross country skiing in Theodore Roosevelt National Park each with different lengths. While Theodore Roosevelt National Park in winter isn’t always super snowy, there’s usually a few inches of snow on the frozen Little Missouri river that you can cross country ski here (yes, the river is one of the best places to ski in Theodore Roosevelt National Park). While most of the hiking trails aren’t suited to skiing, there are several roads that are closed in winter that allow great ski access. Note: The park does not groom any ski trails. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a great destination for people who love skiing, but don’t want to travel too far from home on a big snow year.
Ride The Manitou Point to Point Zipline
Just outside of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the charming town of Medora. If your family loves a play with a good dose of adrenaline, head to the town zipline. The ride has you seated in a chair (so even little kids can ride), and zips you up the hill backward, before releasing you as you zip into town. While you’re there, make sure to check out the town playground and miniature golf right there too.
Note: In 2022 Medora is opening an amazing looking pool right next to the zipline. This will be the ultimate place to hit up after a day of exploring!
Do Some Stargazing
If you love astronomy or just learning about the stars, the remote location of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is perfect for stargazing, since there is very little light pollution. In the summer, make sure to check the schedule to see if you can join in on the Dakota nights astronomy festival.
Count Prairie Dogs In Prairie Dog Town
I’ve never seen my kids so excited to see prairie dogs as they were in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We loved that the park celebrates these little critters for all they bring to the ecosystem instead of just seeing them as a pest. Our kids loved the challenge of trying to count them before they scurried away!
Get A Junior Ranger Badge
Did you know that anyone (yes even adults) can get a Junior Ranger Badge? In fact, we’ve learned that doing the Junior Ranger program is one of the best ways to learn about a park and the unique features in it. Best of all, most of the Junior Ranger activities and lessons can be done in about an hour.
Drive The South Unit Scenic Loop
The Badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park are vast and one of the best ways to get familiar with them is by car. The South Unit scenic loop will take you through a variety of terrain with tons of great overlooks to stop at, and short hikes to enjoy.
Discover The Geology of Painted Canyon
Painted Canyon is one of the first things that most visitors encounter as they get to Theodore Roosevelt National Park since it’s directly off of I-94. While there’s an amazing overlook here (making it the best place to watch sunrise in Theodore Roosevelt National Park), to really experience Painted Canyon, plan on taking a hike inside! The colorful rocks and hoodoos are natures playground that anyone can enjoy!
Check Out The Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
There are several large bison herds in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and finding them is rarely an issue. In fact, the bigger problem can be the traffic jams they create. Remember to only observe them from a distance of 500 feet or from the safety of your car (yes, people die every year from being gored by angry bison!
Eat A Pitchfork Fondued Steak
If you love a good steak, the Medora Pitchfork Fondue cannot be missed. Not only is the steak incredible, but watching huge quantities of steak by cooked in fondue on a giant pitchfork is an absolute treat!
Take In Some History With A Musical Twist
After you visit the Pitchfork Fondue Dinner, stick around for the Medora Musical. It’s an entertaining show for the whole family complete with singing, dancing, and a whole lot of joking around. The musical tells the story of the area and President Roosevelt, all with a fun and modern twist. I you’ve got kids, head there on a Sunday or Wednesday when kids 17 and under are FREE!
Visit Theodore Roosevelts Elkhorn Ranch
Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch is situated on the banks of the Little Missouri, which Theodore Roosevelt used for hunting and fishing. Theodore Roosevelt also had his mail sent to him at the horse-powered stagecoach station here. Theodore Roosevelt died in 1919 and the ranch has been designated a national historic site of the United States. The ranch consists of Theodore Roosevelts house, barns, and sheds. Theodore Roosevelts Elkhorn Ranch is 3 miles northwest of Medora on State Highway 87.
Cool Down In The Little Missouri River
Summer is the most popular time to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park and it can get HOT then, with temperatures nearing 100 degrees. The best place to go to splash around in the river is at Paradise Ranch. Park here and follow the trail down to the river, about 0.2 miles. Here the river is quite wide so it’s more shallow and is the perfect place to soak your feet in the cool water or to let the kids take a little dip in the deeper sections.
Tour The Maltese Cross Cabin
If you want to get a glimpse of early history in the area, make sure that you visit the Maltese Cabin. For a full experience, take a ranger led tour (daily from June-late September).
Take A Hike In Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Best Hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a great place for hiking, especially with kids, since many of the hikes are shorter. Here are the best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park:
Easy Hikes In Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit
Wind Canyon Trail, 0.4 miles
If you want a fun trail where your family can explore, Wind Canyon is the best hike in Theodore Roosevelt National Park for short adventures. The trail skirts along the top of Wind Canyon and has several places where you can hike into the canyon to hike up alongside the hoodoos.
Skyline Vista, 0.1 miles
This short, paved nature trail is the perfect place to stop and stretch your legs. Best of all, there’s a great view from the top of Johnsons Plateau.
Boicourt Overlook Trail, 0.2 miles
This nature trail is one of the most beautiful hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This is also the best place to watch the sunset at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Ridgeline Trail, 0.6 miles
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
The Ridgeline trail is a great nature trail to give you an exciting badlands experience. The trail has a few steep sections as well as some stairs.
Coal Vein Trail, 0.6 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
The Coal Vein Trail is a great area to learn about the geology and ecology of the badlands (grab a trail brochure at the trail head for details). For a long time, the Coal Vein her actually was burning!
Painted Canyon Nature Trail, 0.9 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Hiking the Painted Canyon Nature Trail is the best way to see Painted Canyon. The trail into and out of the canyon is steep, but after that section, you’ll get to hike among the junipers, hoodoos, and different layers of rock!
Best Hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit
Little Mo Trail, 0.7 miles
The Little Mo is great trail to take to learn about the river bottom habitat. Make usre to grab a trail brochure since they describe what you’re seeing making this a very educational hike in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Caprock Coulee Nature Trail, 1.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
The Caprock Coulee trail will take your through the badlands and several washes as you explore the geology of the area. Make sure to grab a brochure at the trailhead to learn more about the area.
Caprock Coulee Trail, 4.3 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
This trail starts out by following the Caprock Coulee Nature trail and then turns more strenuous as the trail starts to climb a butte. The views from Caprock Coulee are absolutely stunning.
Maah Daah Hey, 7.1 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
While the entire Maah Daah Hey Trail is over 140 miles, there is a small portion of the trail that runs through the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. While no bikes are allowed on the trail, like they are directly outside of the park, this is a great way to hike the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt Park. Note: If you are biking the rest of the Maah Daah Hey, you can ride the Buffalo Gap trail around the South Unit to reconnect with the rest of the park.
Petrified Forest Loop, 10.3 miles
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous
If you want to see the ancient Petrified Forest of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, consider this hike the best way to do that. Along this hike, you’ll go through a few different petrified forests as well as areas of wilderness. This loop will take a good part of the day to complete.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a great place to visit for families, and there are so many adventures nearby. Theodore Roosevelt National Park has great hikes for families, places to see wildlife, scenic overlooks, and of course, plenty of places to get away from national park crowds. Theodore Roosevelt park is the perfect outdoor destination in North Dakota, so if you’re looking for an adventure or just want some fresh air, start planning your trip now