Plains Bison

Theodore Roosevelt National Park - South Unit

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, established in 1978, encompasses over 70,000-acres within what is known as the North Dakota Badlands. As you may or may not know the park is separated into two main units, South and North, of which the South Unit is both larger and far more frequently visited. Of the roughly 800,000 visitors the park sees in a year, approximately 70% only ever visit the South Unit. That 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 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 South Unit sits astride Interstate 94 adjacent to the small tourist town of Medora. The main entrance and visitor center for the park is located within Medora while a secondary center, known as the Painted Canyon Visitor Center, is accessed by exiting I-94 about seven miles farther east. A 36-mile Scenic Loop Drive begins at the Medora Entrance and provides access to most of the major natural and cultural highlights located within the South Unit. The landscape here is dramatic, to say the least. High cliffs and domed bluffs 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, cuts through the western portion of the Unit. Wildlife is everywhere as well. Thousands of chirping prairie dogs inhabit huge portions of the flatter ground within the park while larger mammals, such as the parks famous wild horses or huge herds of bison, are frequently seen grazing among the hills and atop the buttes. The South Unit also supports a healthy network of trails. Everything from backpacking routes to dayhikes to quick overlook walks can be enjoyed, providing access to just about every corner of the area. If you like wild places, in short, you could certainly do worse than the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Rather than my typical hiking albums, this page consists of primarily an auto tour of the South Unit. The order of photos generally follows the Loop Drive in a clockwise direction through the Unit, stopping at each overlook with some short walks scattered in as well. A small section of the Loop Drive was closed on our visit for repair so we were only able to do about three-quarters of it but, regardless, I think a look through this album will give you a fairly complete feel for this section of the park. So, no boots necessary this time…just hop on in and enjoy a nice leisurely tour of the spectacular South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park…as always, ENJOY!!


  • Dave Kathy Weemhoff

    on August 10, 2019

    What an amazing place! So much to see and breathtaking views!