River Bend Overlook -- 2,400'

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - North Unit

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, established in 1978, encompasses over 70,000-acres within a region known as the North Dakota Badlands. As you may or may not know the park is separated into two main units, North and South, of which the North Unit is a tad smaller and far less frequently visited. Of the roughly 800,000 visitors the park sees in a year, barely more than 25% make the journey up to the North Unit. That 800,000 park total may sound like a large number but consider this…Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the nation’s busiest, sees that same number of people every two weeks during peak season! This makes Theodore Roosevelt's North Unit a fantastically refreshing place to enjoy the wonder of nature without the usual crush of summer traffic experienced in most other parks. In addition, the landscape here is all but untouched. It exists in almost the exact condition it did hundreds of years ago. Location and terrain have helped to preserve it from the damaging hands of man, just as Theodore Roosevelt would have wished it.

The North Unit is located about 50-miles north of Interstate 94, reached via North Dakota Highway 85.  The main entrance and visitor center (such as it is) for the Unit is located just north of where Highway 85 makes a very scenic crossing of the Little Missouri River.  A 14-mile (one-way, out-and-back) Scenic Drive begins here and provides access to most of the major natural highlights located within the North Unit. The landscape here is dramatic, to say the least. High multi-colored cliffs are everywhere, made all the more striking by the multi-colored layers of rock which form them. The Little Missouri River, surrounded by a wide floodplain populated by huge cottonwood trees, bisects the Unit from west to east. Wildlife is everywhere as well. The parks famous wild horses or huge herds of bison, are frequently seen grazing among the hills. Hiking in the North Unit is limited to three main loop trails, of varying lengths.  Ascending by mileage is the Caprock Coulee Trail (4.3-miles), the Buckhorn Trail (11.4-miles), and the Achenbach Trail (18-miles).  Though hiking options are more limited than what you'll find in the South Unit, this only adds to the more wild nature of the North Unit. This is a landscape that is all but unchanged since Teddy first rode through these hills, and it feels it.  I loved the South Unit, but my explorers soul was more greatly stirred within the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Rather than my typical hiking albums, this page consists, primarily, of an auto tour of the North Unit. The order of photos generally follows the Scenic Drive from east-to-west through the Unit, stopping at each major overlook.  It's my hope that this small album will at least provide a small taste of the natural wonder contained within this section of the park. So, no boots necessary this time…just hop on in and enjoy a nice leisurely tour of the spectacular North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park…as always, ENJOY!!


  • No Comments