Jump to content

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Coordinates: 46°58′N 103°27′W / 46.967°N 103.450°W / 46.967; -103.450
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Theodore Roosevelt National Park
View of the badlands and the Little Missouri River
Map showing the location of Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Map showing the location of Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Location in North Dakota
Map showing the location of Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Map showing the location of Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Location in the United States
LocationBillings and McKenzie counties, North Dakota, United States
Nearest cityMedora
Coordinates46°58′N 103°27′W / 46.967°N 103.450°W / 46.967; -103.450
Area70,446 acres (285.08 km2)[1]
EstablishedNovember 10, 1978 (1978-November-10)
Visitors668,679 (in 2022)[2]
Governing bodyNational Park Service
WebsiteTheodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is an American national park of the badlands in western North Dakota comprising three geographically separated areas. Honoring U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, it is the only American national park named directly after a single person.

The park covers 70,446 acres (110.072 sq mi; 28,508 ha; 285.08 km2) of land in three sections: the North Unit, the South Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. The Little Missouri River flows through all three units of the park. The Maah Daah Hey Trail connects all three units. The park's larger South Unit lies alongside Interstate 94 near Medora, North Dakota. The smaller North Unit is situated about 80 mi (130 km) north of the South Unit, and Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch is located between the North and South units.

Both main units of the park have scenic drives, approximately 100 miles (160 km) of foot and horse trails, wildlife viewing, and back country hiking and camping. The park received 850,000 recreational visitors in 2021.[2]


Roosevelt connection[edit]

Rainbow over the badlands
The badlands in winter

Roosevelt first came to the North Dakota badlands to hunt bison in September 1883. During that first short trip, he got his bison and fell in love with the rugged lifestyle and the "perfect freedom" of the West. He invested $14,000 in the Maltese Cross Ranch, which was already being managed by Sylvane Ferris and Bill Merrifield, seven miles south of Medora. That winter, Ferris and Merrifield built the Maltese Cross Cabin. After the death of both his wife and his mother on February 14, 1884, Roosevelt returned to his North Dakota ranch seeking solitude and time to heal. That summer, he started his second ranch, the Elkhorn Ranch, 35 miles north of Medora, which he hired two Maine woodsmen, Bill Sewall and Wilmot Dow, to operate. Roosevelt took great interest in his ranches and in hunting in the West, detailing his experiences in pieces published in eastern newspapers and magazines. He wrote three major works on his life in the West: Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail, Hunting Trips of a Ranchman and The Wilderness Hunter. His adventures in "the strenuous life" outdoors and the loss of his cattle in the starvation winter in 1886–1887 were influential in his pursuit of conservation policies as President of the United States (1901–1909).

Park development[edit]

Following Roosevelt's death in 1919, the Little Missouri Badlands were explored to determine possible park sites. Civilian Conservation Corps camps were established in both of the future park units from 1934 to 1941, and they developed roads and other structures in use today. The area was designated the Roosevelt Recreation Demonstration Area in 1935. In 1946 it was transferred to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge. After a five-year campaign by North Dakota representative William Lemke, President Truman established the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park on April 25, 1947, the only National Memorial Park ever established; the North Unit was added by act of Congress in June 1948. In 1978, in addition to boundary adjustments and the establishment of 29,920 acres (121.1 km2) of the Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness, the park's designation was changed to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.


North Unit map
South Unit map

The North Unit, the South Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit cover a total of 70,446 acres (110.072 sq mi; 28,508 ha; 285.08 km2).[3] The park's larger South Unit lies alongside Interstate 94 near Medora, North Dakota. The smaller North Unit is situated about 80 mi (130 km) north of the South Unit, on U.S. Route 85, just south of Watford City, North Dakota. Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch is located between the North and South units, approximately 20 mi (32 km) west of US 85 and Fairfield, North Dakota.


According to the Köppen climate classification system, Theodore Roosevelt National Park has a Cold semi-arid climate (BSk). According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the Plant Hardiness zone at the North Unit Visitor Center (2008 ft / 612 m) is 3b with an average annual extreme minimum temperature of -30.6 °F (-34.8 °C), and 4a with an average annual extreme minimum temperature of -29.3 °F (-34.1 °C) at the South Unit Visitor Center (2261 ft / 689 m).[4]

Climate data for North Unit Visitor Center, Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Elev: 2198 ft (670 m)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Mean daily maximum °F (°C) 25.2
Daily mean °F (°C) 14.6
Mean daily minimum °F (°C) 4.0
Average precipitation inches (mm) 0.39
Average relative humidity (%) 74.6 73.2 65.7 52.4 53.0 57.9 54.9 50.7 51.9 57.5 68.2 75.9 61.3
Average dew point °F (°C) 1.6
Source: PRISM Climate Group[5]
Climate data for South Unit Visitor Center, Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Elev: 2382 ft (726 m)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Mean daily maximum °F (°C) 28.0
Daily mean °F (°C) 16.9
Mean daily minimum °F (°C) 5.8
Average precipitation inches (mm) 0.31
Average relative humidity (%) 71.6 70.8 64.2 53.0 53.8 57.9 54.1 50.1 51.3 56.8 66.0 72.8 60.2
Average dew point °F (°C) 9.3
Source: PRISM Climate Group[5]


The park is featured on the reverse of North Dakota's 2016 America the Beautiful quarter, and depicts Theodore Roosevelt and the Little Missouri River

According to the A. W. Kuchler U.S. Potential natural vegetation Types, Theodore Roosevelt National Park has two classifications; a Wheatgrass/Needlegrass (66) vegetation type with a North Mixed grass prairie (18) vegetation form, and a Northern Floodplain (98) vegetation type with a Floodplain Forests (24) vegetation form.[6]

The park is home to a wide variety of Great Plains wildlife, including bison, coyotes, cougars, mustang horses, badgers, elk, bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer, mule deer, pronghorn, prairie dogs, and at least 186 species of birds including golden eagles, sharp-tailed grouse, and wild turkeys. Nine longhorn cattle roam the North Unit.[7]

The bison, elk, and bighorn sheep were reintroduced to the park. Park officials manage populations of bison, horses, and elk to maintain a balanced ecosystem.[8][9] The entire park has been surrounded with a 7-foot tall (2.1 m) woven wire fence which keeps horses and bison inside the park and commercial livestock out. Other animals are able to pass over, under, or through the fence in specific locations provided for that purpose. Elk seek refuge in the park from external hunting pressure. The elk reproduce and have been removed to mitigate resource damage from overpopulation. Prairie dogs are native wildlife that are considered a keystone species because of their foraging and burrowing behaviors that mix soils and promote native plant diversity, critical to healthy landscape ecology. They also serve as a prey base for a variety of other native wildlife.[10]

After the park was fenced, a horse round-up held in 1954 removed 200 branded animals. A few small bands of horses eluded capture and went unclaimed. These horses continued to live free-range in the park. For several years the National Park Service tried to remove all horses from the park. In 1970, a change of park policy recognized the horse as part of the historical setting. Historically, the park conducted roundups every three to four years using helicopters to herd horses to a handling facility and then sold them at public auction. New methods for herd management were tried including contraceptives, low-stress capture techniques, genetics research, and partnerships with nonprofit horse advocacy groups.[8] The 1978 Environmental Assessment document set a population goal for the demonstration herd to 35-60 head.[11] The goal for number of horses and herd demographics is being reevaluated during the development of a new management plan with current research.[12] The absence of livestock would enable reestablishment of natural grazing regimes to benefit native plant life and natural ecosystem function.[10]

Twenty-nine bison were introduced to a South Unit in 1956 and subsequently transferred 20 bison from that herd to the park's North Unit in 1962. They are routinely culled down to approximately 350 and 20 animals, respectively.[13] The gathering and reduction of the herd alternates between the two units each year. The bison are shared with Native American tribes to increase numbers in existing tribal herds and provide genetic diversity.[14] The conservation of bison is an ongoing, diverse effort to bring bison back from the brink of extinction. The 2020 Bison Conservation Initiative by the Department of the Interior has five central goals: wild, healthy bison herds; genetic conservation; shared stewardship; ecological restoration; and cultural restoration.[15] Six yearling female bison were transferred from Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in 2020. National Park Service experts will study the extent to which translocated animals integrate into the established herds.[16]


Created by an act of Congress in 1978, the wilderness covers an area of 29,920 acres (121 km2) and comprises over a third of the area of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There are two geographically separated sections of wilderness, one in each of the two main units of the National Park. The northern section covers most of the North Unit of the park, in McKenzie County, whereas the somewhat smaller southern section covers only the western portion of the larger South Unit, in Billings County. The southern section is located at 46°59′N 103°33′W / 46.983°N 103.550°W / 46.983; -103.550.

Badlands in Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness

The wilderness protects from development the wildest sections of the National Park, an area described as badlands where erosional forces have carved steep cliffs into the relatively flat prairie. Bison, pronghorn, elk, mule deer and coyote are all found here, along with hundreds of species of birds such as the bald eagle, falcon and hawk. The wilderness is separated into two sections along with the park, a north and a south unit, by a distance of 70 miles (110 km). The Little Missouri River is on the south side of both units and is credited for being the primary erosional source which created the badlands topography.

Eighty-five miles (137 km) of trails allow access to the most remote sections of the wilderness. Camping is allowed with a permit, however gathering wood for fires is prohibited and overnighters are encouraged to bring a portable stove.

U.S. Wilderness Areas do not allow motorized or mechanized vehicles, including bicycles. Although camping and fishing are usually allowed with a proper permit, no roads or buildings are constructed and there is also no logging or mining, in compliance with the 1964 Wilderness Act. Wilderness areas within National Forests and Bureau of Land Management areas also allow hunting in season.


Cannonball concretions[17] in the North Unit
Bisons at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center
Wild horses

Both main units of the park have scenic drives, approximately 100 miles (160 km) of foot and horse trails, wildlife viewing, and opportunities for back country hiking and camping. There are three developed campgrounds: Juniper Campground in the North Unit, Cottonwood Campground in the South Unit, and the Roundup Group Horse Campground in the South Unit. Wildlife viewing is popular

The brown, dormant grass dominates from late summer through the winter, but explodes into green color in the early summer along with hundreds of species of flowering plants. During winter, snow covers the sharp terrain of the badlands and locks the park into what Theodore Roosevelt called "an abode of iron desolation."[18]

Theodore Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Cabin

A museum at the South Unit Visitor Center provides background on Roosevelt and his ranching days. Roosevelt's Maltese Cross Cabin is at the South Unit Visitor Center.

Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch is a separate, remote area of the park, 35 miles (56 km) north of Medora, accessible by gravel roads. The foundation of the ranch house and other shops buildings have been preserved, though the other portions of the cabin were removed and re-purposed after Roosevelt vacated the ranch. Threats to the Elkhorn Ranch site include oil development on adjacent lands, particularly visual intrusions and noise pollution from oil facilities and traffic.

The park units are mostly surrounded by grasslands. The area has very dark night skies with excellent star gazing and occasional northern lights.

The town of Medora, at the entrance to the south unit, provides a western experience, with wooden planked sidewalks, old fashioned ice cream parlors, and buggy rides. There are several museums and the Burning Hills Amphitheather with nightly productions of the Medora Musical from early June to early September.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Listing of acreage – December 31, 2011" (XLSX). Land Resource Division, National Park Service. Retrieved May 13, 2012. (National Park Service Acreage Reports)
  2. ^ a b "NPS Annual Recreation Visits Report". National Park Service. Retrieved July 23, 2023.
  3. ^ U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park
  4. ^ "USDA Interactive Plant Hardiness Map". United States Department of Agriculture. Archived from the original on July 4, 2019. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  5. ^ a b "PRISM Climate Group, Oregon State University". www.prism.oregonstate.edu. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  6. ^ "U.S. Potential Natural Vegetation, Original Kuchler Types, v2.0 (Spatially Adjusted to Correct Geometric Distortions)". Data Basin. Retrieved July 19, 2019.
  7. ^ Dura, Jack (August 26, 2023). "Wild horses that roam Theodore Roosevelt National Park may be removed. Many oppose the plan". AP News. Retrieved August 27, 2023.
  8. ^ a b Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from Horse Background and History - Theodore Roosevelt National Park. U.S. National Park Service. August 3, 2023.
  9. ^ Berlinger, Sara (December 29, 2022). "TRNP considering removal of horses, cattle from park". KFYR-TV. Retrieved December 30, 2022.
  10. ^ a b Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from Frequently asked questions about horses - Theodore Roosevelt National Park. National Park Service. August 3, 2023.
  11. ^ Dura, Jack (March 12, 2024). "Wild horses facing removal in a North Dakota national park just got another strong ally: Congress". Yahoo News. Retrieved March 13, 2024.
  12. ^ Dura, Jack (April 25, 2024). "Wild horses to remain in North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park, lawmaker says". ABC News. Associated Press. Retrieved April 26, 2024.
  13. ^ "Bison Conservation Initiative". U.S. National Park Service. August 4, 2020. Archived from the original on September 16, 2020. Retrieved November 18, 2021.
  14. ^ Dura, Jack (October 13, 2023). "Theodore Roosevelt National Park to reduce bison herd from 700 to 400 animals". AP News. Retrieved October 14, 2023.
  15. ^ Repanshek, Kurt (May 7, 2020). "Interior Department Extends Bison Conservation Initiative For A Decade". National Parks Traveler. Retrieved July 27, 2021.
  16. ^ "Bison Transfer to Establish Wolakota Buffalo Range Marks Interior Commitment to Bison Conservation" (Press release). U.S. National Park Service. October 30, 2020. Retrieved November 25, 2021.Public Domain This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the National Park Service.
  17. ^ "Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit Scenic Byway". state of North Dakota. Archived from the original on May 8, 2012. Retrieved May 13, 2012.
  18. ^ Roosevelt, Theodore (1888). Ranch Life and the Hunting Trail. New York: The Century Co. p. 73.

External links[edit]