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Exploring Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Painted Canyon
Christine McClellan
Prairie Public
Painted Canyon

There is never a bad day to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but some days are better than others. And if you are up for soaking in the sights with a little more solitude than what is generally available during the summer months, this fall might be a great time to visit the park.

You could visit the South Unit near Medora, the North Unit south of Watford City, or both. And remember that Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch Site is also part of the park.

There is a good chance of seeing bison, mule deer, pronghorn, and prairie dogs in the park. Prairie dog towns are good places to do some nature watching and seem to always provide good entertainment. With a little luck one might see elk and coyotes. And if you camp in the park, your chances of hearing the coyotes howl are greatly improved.

Birds such as golden eagles, magpies, burrowing owls, and others should provide for some good birdwatching.

The kaleidoscope of wildflowers is winding down, but the goldenrods, sunflowers, and fall asters should provide some interesting color to the landscape. And the fall colors on the grassland, woody draws, and along drainages are or will be putting on their fall show soon.

In the Badlands
For many among us, the real treat of visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park is just being able to spend some time soaking in some of the best of the Little Missouri River badlands that Theodore Roosevelt grew to value so highly.

There are about 70,000 acres to explore here, and several ways to do so. Both the North Unit and the South Unit have a scenic drive. The drive in the South Unit is 48 miles, while that of the North Unit is 28 miles.

There is somewhere around 100 miles of trails, ranging from less than a mile to around 20 miles, where you can get up-close and personal with the buttes, washes, prairie, woody draws, wildlife, and other interesting aspects of the badlands.

Visitor Information
Both park units have visitor centers. The south unit has two visitor centers, the Painted Canyon Visitor Center off I-94, and one in Medora. The north unit has one near the park entrance. Consider stopping and checking out the displays and ask the staff for any suggestions about what to see and do.

So, consider a fall visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It can be a day trip or perhaps longer. It seems like a trip to the park is always time well spent.

Chuck Lura has a broad knowledge of "Natural North Dakota"and loves sharing that knowledge with others. Since 2005, Chuck has written a weekly column, “Naturalist at Large,” for the Lake Metigoshe Mirror, and his “The Naturalist” columns appear in several other weekly North Dakota newspapers.
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