It can take a long time to reach Theodore Roosevelt National Park, located as it is in southwestern North Dakota. Fortunately, there are some great hikes to do once you get there to stretch your legs. Here are five aspects of the park not to miss on your next visit.
1. Stop at the South Entrance at Medora and take a ranger-led tour of Theodore Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Cabin next to the visitor center. This cabin, transported from south of the park to its current location, gives you a great feel for the cramped quarters Roosevelt endured during his first few years in the then-Dakota Territory. Some of the furniture in the cabin is thought to have belonged to the young Roosevelt, including the rocking chair.
2. Hike the Upper Caprock Coulee Trail in the North Unit of the park. Near the end of the trail, by a shelter built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, you have some of the best views of the badlands that are the hallmark of the park. The trail rises and falls, but mostly rises, as you leave your car farther and farther behind. Coming into eyesight not only are views of the Little Missouri River, but also flanks of striated badlands that the river eroded from the landscape down through the millennia.
3. Explore the Ridgeline Nature Trail in the South Unit located about 11 miles inside the park's South Entrance at Medora. What makes this short (0.6 miles) hike worthwhile is it 1) gets you out of the car, 2) quickly gains a little elevation that rewards you with sweeping views, and 3) has signage, if you grabbed the trail brochure at the trailhead, explains the vegetation and geology in front of you.
4. Visit Elkhorn. Yes, it will take some determination, as you'll likely need to get back on Interstate 94 and head west for a bit before turning north on some county roads. But the payoff is seeing the site where Roosevelt built the headquarters of his Elkhorn Ranch. Sadly, the ranchhouse itself is no longer there, although the foundation stones it rested upon are. But you still can get a sense of place where, with the slow moving Little Missouri River fronting the homesite and the badlands across the river.
My home ranch lies on both sides of the Little Missouri, the nearest ranchman above me being about twelve, and the nearest below me about ten, miles distant. The general course of the stream here is northerly, but, while flowing through my ranch, it takes a greater westerly reach of some three miles, walled in, as always, between chains of steep, high bluffs half a mile or more apart. The stream twists down through the valley in long sweeps, leaving oval wooded bottoms, first on one side and then on the other; and in an open glade among the thick-growing timber stands the long, low house of hewn logs. -- Theodore Roosevelt, The Home Ranch
5. Camp out. There's something about sleeping under the open sky, and at Theodore Roosevelt National Park you have two campgrounds to choose from. Go with the Juniper Campground in the North Unit. You'll treasure the murmuring of the Little Missouri, the stars overhead, the swaying cottonwoods, and the resident bison that aren't bashful (so keep your distance!). Best of all, this 50-site campground is far, far away from Interstate 94, which you can hear from the Cottonwood Campground in the South unit.