Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Theodore Roosevelt National Park-North Unit, 7/30/2016

The North Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is about 70 miles from Medora. We put dinner in the crockpot (well, John did), packed a picnic lunch, and headed east on I-94. First, we stopped at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center that is not far from Medora and and also a rest area on I-94. Part of the South Unit of the park, there are exhibits, an overlook, several trail heads, and park rangers available to answer questions/dispense advice about activities in the area. There is no admission fee to enter this area of the National Park.

We continued east on 1-94 and then north on ND - 31 to the North Unit of the Park. There are signs all the way from I-94 to the park so it is very easy to find. The Visitor Center is currently housed in a trailer. The park ranger told us about the the overlooks that can be found along the 14-mile Scenic Road through the North Unit. 

A short distance into the park we spotted this bison herd. We pulled over at a turn off to admire them. These seemingly slow moving animals can actually run 40 miles an hour for sustained periods of time. Wow! A bull can weigh over a ton! National Park rules state that you should be view them from at least 25 yards away (for your safety). 

This photo illustrates a geologic formation called slumping. The tilted mounds were once part of the higher cliffs. A stream running close to the base caused blocks of earth to slide downhill. There are lots of examples of this throughout the badlands.

The large spherical boulders found here are called concretions. They are usually round but can be any shape. Concretions are formed within rocks by deposits of mineral around a core.

Across the street from the concretions is the Little Mo Trail. It's an easy .7 mile loop trail through a prairie to the Little Missouri River. Along the way we saw this group camp site. The shelter was built by the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) during the 1930s. 

Continuing on the scenic drive, we next stopped at the Caprock Coulee Nature Trailhead. We did not hike the entire trail (it was 95 degrees and very humid!)

The River Bend Overlook is one of the most well-known views at Theodore Roosevelt Park. There is a short gravel trail to the viewing deck. There is another short walk to the River Bend Overlook Shelter (also built by the CCC). 

We continued west towards the Oxbow Overlook. Along the way we encountered another herd of bison on the road. These guys just stood in the road for abut 15 minutes. They say not to look bison in the eye as they will not break the stare and it can prompt them to attack your vehicle. Yikes! In the winter they grow a heavy overcoat, but shed it in the summer. Both bulls and cows grow horns. 

The Oxbow Overlook is situated on the rim of the prairies with stunning views of the colorful Little Missouri River Badlands.

We also saw this capstone rock (formed by wind erosion) here. I snapped a quick shot of this beautiful Western Meadowlark near the parking area. 

Achenback Trail, the most difficult hike in the park through rugged and remote terrain, can be found here. The North Achenback Trail is 4.2 miles and the South Achenback is 10.6 miles with multiple river crossings (no bridges). One of the most popular hikes in the North Unit, Sperati Point Trail, also begins here. It's an easy 2.4 mile round trip. Unfortunately, we did not hike it due to the very hot weather (we could not leave our doggy, Sadie, in the car for that long even parked in the shade with the windows down). 

The scenic road ends at the Oxbow Overlook, so we turned around and retraced our route back to the Visitor Center. Along the way, we saw the bison herd that had been hanging around the road earlier still in the area. I can't get enough of these beautiful beasts. 

During the last 50 years of the 1800s, the bison population was reduced from 50 million to about 1,000. Today the largest herd in the wild is located at the Yellowstone ecosystem (Yellowstone National Park and surrounding National Forests/federal land) and numbers 5,000 head. There are wild herds in both the North Unit and South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but they are relatively small.

While it was a 2-hour drive each way to the North Unit, we really enjoyed seeing more of the beautiful countryside of North Dakota. We would have liked to do more hiking there but the weather wasn't suitable for it. If you visit Medora to see the South Unit, it's worth your time to stay an extra day to see the North Unit, too.

Admission to the park is $20/vehicle for a 7-day pass. If you purchase a pass in the South Unit, it is, of course, valid for the North Unit. For additional information about the park, check it out online.

Website: www.nps.gov/thro


  1. Ha, we are in the South Unit... Did some touring and hiking in it today, will be here in Medora for tomorrow for one more day of hiking in TRNP...

  2. Oh my goodness, I was wondering if you were coming this way. We left Medora this morning (long drive planned today as we head east/south). We would have loved to meet you in person. Last night would have been the perfect time... Darn, next time for sure! Enjoy your stay and safe travels.