Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park Things to Do Tips by KimberlyAnn Top 5 Page for this destination
Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park Things to Do: 67 reviews and 143 photos
Oxbow Overlook In October
The Oxbow Overlook is 13.7 miles along the park road, and gives you your last panoramic view of the Little Missouri River along the North Unit’s road. Here the river takes a large bend and turns eastward.
From this parking area you can also access the 16-mile loop Achenbach Trail. If you look down from the overlook below the cliffs, you can see a section of this trail.
From this overlook area, you will turn back and drive toward the park entrance. Even though you have already driven this route, the drive will give you some different views. Keep your eyes open for geologic features that were hidden from view on your drive in.
Directions: The Oxbow Overlook is at the end of the North Unit’s road.
Other Contact: http://www.nps.gov/thro
The River Bend Overlook
To reach the River Bend Overlook, take a short walk from the parking area to a stone shelter from which you will have a panoramic view of the Little Missouri River, which will be 550 feet below you. The Little Missouri River varies in size with the seasons. In the spring and early summer, if it is full, the river is about 7 to 8 feet deep, and moving fast enough to float cottonwood trees down the river. Later in the summer, the river is usually much smaller, and in dry years, it may only be a few feet wide and a few inches deep.
The shelter is made of sandstone, and was built in 1937 by the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC, as it is commonly known, was a Federal relief program established during the depression of the 1930s to give unemployed people work. This Federally funded organization built conservation projects all across the United States. There are a number of CCC built projects in Roosevelt National Park.
Directions: The River Bend Overlook is located 7.8 miles along the North Unit’s road.
Hiking the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail
The Caprock Coulee Nature Trail, is a 1.6 mile roundtrip walk. This is a self-guided trail, so be sure to pick up a guide at the trailhead, and watch for the corresponding numbered posts. This is not a loop trail, but signs and your pamphlet will help you know when to turn back to the parking lot. This is a very nice trail, and with the guide is also a very informative hike. This trail gave us some insight into the geology and flora of the park. We walked through badland landscapes, sagebrush and grasses, a small wooded area, along a coulee (a dry water gulch), past a couple of slumps, as well as caprocks. Caprocks are hard rocks on the tops of columns of softer material. One day erosion will cause the softer material to wear away, and the harder caprocks will fall back to earth. We also saw a number of petrified wood logs. Some of these were on the ground, but many were higher up along the sides of the hills.
From the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail you can continue along the 4.1 mile loop Caprock Coulee Trail, or connect with the 11 mile Buckhorn Trail loop.
Directions: The parking area for the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail is 6.2 miles along the North Unit’s road.
President Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Cabin
If you are visiting the South Unit, a visit to the Maltese Cross Cabin is an easy and quick activity. This was Theodore Roosevelt’s first home when he was living in Dakota. Roosevelt was the United State’s 26th President. The cabin was originally located about seven miles south of Medora, in the wooded bottomlands of the Little Missouri River. The cabin is a one and one-half story cabin, made of ponderosa pine logs that were cut and floated down the Little Missouri River. This cabin, although small in size, was almost considered a mansion at the time it was built, because of its wooden floors and separate rooms. The cabin included a kitchen, living room, and Roosevelt’s bedroom. The steeply pitched roof also created an upstairs sleeping loft for the ranch hands. A number of the items inside the cabin had belonged to Roosevelt.
Directions: The Maltese Cross Cabin is located behind the Medora South Unit Visitor Center.
Prairie Dog Along the Buckhorn Trail
1.2 miles along the North Unit’s road, near the visitor center, look for the trail post on the right side for the Buckhorn Trail. This is a loop trail, and you can also reach it from the Caprock Coulee Nature Trailhead, which is located 6.2 mile along the park road. It is about a 0.4 walk from the Caprock Trail to the Buckhorn Trail. If you begin at the Caprock Trail head, and if you take a left turn onto the Buckhorn trail loop, so that you are walking in a clockwise direction, you will come to a prairie dog town about one mile from the parking lot. The Buckhorn trail is 11 miles in length, but we just walked as far as we wished, then turned around and went back to our vehicle. I love this black-tailed prairie dog town! They are probably my favorite things in Roosevelt. They are just so cute. We watched them as they ate grass seeds, and heard their barks, which are high pitched little sounds. Sometimes they would run into one of their holes, but you could still hear their little chipping sounds. You can pick up a backcountry guide and map of this trail at the visitor center.
Directions: To visit the closest prairie dog town start at the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail and walk about 0.1 mile. Take the route to the right, and walk another 0.3 miles to the Buckhorn Trail loop. Turn left and walk in a clockwise direction.
Rock Hill Along the Cap Rock Trail
Normally we visit the South Unit, as we usually travel along highway I-94 on our way home, and the North Unit of Roosevelt National Park is out of our way, as it lies another 50 miles off of the highway, making this a 100 mile detour. This area again has a lot of buffalo, deer, and other wildlife like the South Unit. In 1996 bighorn sheep were introduced into the North Unit. We have also seen wild turkeys in the area. This park road is a 14-mile one-way road with sweeping views of the North Unit, which has a loop turn around at the end. The road crosses a series of eroded ravines, and will carry you past a number of trailheads and pullouts. The Little Missouri River again flows through this unit, although it is not as close to the highway as the South Unit, except in a few places. Like in the South Unit, you will see cottonwood trees and greener vegetation along its banks. If you stop at the Longhorn Pullout, you may see a small heard of free-ranging longhorn cattle. Like the South Unit you will see buttes, and reddish colored clinker rock, also locally called scoria. Around 3.3 miles along the road notice the badland buttes on your right, and the hills on your left. The buttes face south and look brown with prickly pear cactus, saltbush, sagebrush, and yucca, all dry land plants. This is because the south facing hills receive direct sun, which causes them to be hotter and dryer. The north-facing slopes stay cooler and moister, and therefore are greener and covered with junipers, ash, and a variety of shrubs. The highest area you can drive to in the park is located at mile marker 8, where the road climbs to 2,450 feet. Except for in the winter, you may see wildflowers grown here.
Note: Unlike the South Unit, you will not see any prairie dog towns along the North Unit’s road.
Coal Vein Trail
I really enjoy walking the Coal Vein Trail.. The trail is scenic, and just under a mile in length. There is a coal seam along this trail at number 7, where a fire burned from 1951 to early 1977. Lightning, range fires, and even spontaneous combustion can cause fires such as this one. While this seam was burning, visitors could actually see flames, and a few tourists even roasted marshmallows over the embers and flames. Like the Ridgeline Nature Trail there are numbered stops along the way. Pick up a leaflet at the trailhead or one of the visitor centers. The route is fairly level, but there are a few moderately steep hills and several areas with steps to climb. Because of this, the trail is not wheelchair accessible. Look for the red brick colors along the trail that are examples of clinker, or scoria as locals call it. (See my fifth photo.) You will also see some bands of black lignite coal. (See my third photo.) You will see a variety of striped colors in various places along the trail. (See my second photo.) The thick, grayish-blue layers you see on the hillsides are bentonite. This was also formed by fire, when fifty-five million years ago, volcanoes in the Rocky Mountains spewed ash over a large area, including North Dakota. This was buried, and heated, and over time the ash was turned into clay. Vegetation you will see along the trail includes creeping juniper, Rocky Mountain juniper, skunk bush sumac, lichens, and wild grasses.
Warning, prairie rattlesnakes live in the area. Also the holes you see in bentonite are often homes to black widow spiders, so keep your hands away.
Directions: Coal Vein Trail is located 15.5 miles along the South Unit’s road, when traveling the loop in a counterclockwise direction. Turn onto the short side road that comes off of the right side of the loop
North Dakota Badlands Overlook
Stop at the North Dakota Badlands Overlook to see an expansive view of the badlands within the park. Here you will see buttes and canyons that were left behind after erosion has warn away all but the hardest material. You will see colored layers on the hillsides and red scoria capping the tops of butts. The bluish gray layers are beds of siltstone and claystone. In the brownish gray sandstone layers you will see iron-rich bands, which are colored orange. The black and bluish areas are lignite, a form of coal.
Directions: Traveling counterclockwise, this overlook is located 11.4 miles along the park road, within the South Unit’s loop drive.
Ridgeline Nature Trail
The Ridgeline Nature Trail is a 0.6 self-guided loop trail that is quite easy to walk, although the first section does have a somewhat steep, uphill climb that may be difficult for some. The trail leads through the typical environment found in the North Dakota Badlands. Pick up a pamphlet at the trailhead or at a visitor center to give you information for each numbered sign that you see along your walk. The trail is designed to give you information about the environment and the ecology of the area. It also teaches how wind, water, and fire have helped to create the badlands. As you walk you will see juniper trees, grasslands, sage, cactus, yucca plants, and lichens. Keep your eyes open for bison, which sometimes roam the area. If you see tree trunks that look like they have been polished, this is probably due to bison, which like to rub against trees to rid themselves of insects and loose hair.
Warning, this trail may become slippery when wet. Also there is a lot of poison ivy in the area along the trail, and rattlesnakes live in the area, so stay on the trail for your own safety.
Directions: The nature trail is found about 1.5 miles past the Scoria Point Overlook, if traveling the South Unit’s road in a counterclockwise direction.
Weathered Caprock In the South Unit
About 0.6 miles from the Scoria Point Overlook, if traveling clockwise, stop to view some excellent examples of badland erosion. Here you will see buttes and conical shaped hills that are capped with scoria or sandstone which was more resistant to weathering than the material around them. I especially liked the disc like formations seen in this photo. The erosion in this area has lefts some formations with an almost pyramid shape, and others similar to rugged columns as seen in my last photo.
Directions: This viewing area is within the loop section of the South Unit’s scenic road.
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