Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a United States National Park comprising three geographically separated areas of badlands in western North Dakota. The park was named for U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. 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.
When Theodore Roosevelt came to Dakota Territory to hunt bison in 1883, he was a skinny, young, spectacled dude from New York. He could not have imagined how his adventure in this remote and unfamiliar place would forever alter the course of the nation. The rugged landscape and strenuous life that TR experienced here would help shape a conservation policy that we still benefit from today.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park Animals
A wide diversity of animals make their home in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. An abundance of native grasses provide sustenance for grazing animals both large and small while the tapestry of different habitats attracts a great number of birds. The terrain of the badlands creates microclimates of warm, dry slopes, relatively cool and wet juniper woodlands, and riverbottoms.
North Dakota has a sparse fauna of amphibians and reptiles. While individual populations may get quite high, species diversity is low. The semi-arid climate provides only marginal conditions for breeding and hibernation of amphibians, while low winter temperatures and the short growing season appear to be primary limiting factors for reptiles. Several of the species listed below are very rare or infrequently found and are in quite localized populations. Tiger Salamander, Ambystoma tigrinum, Plains Spadefoot Toad, Scaphiopus bombifrons, Great Plains Toad, Bufo cognatus, Rocky Mountain (Woodhouse’s) Toad, Bufo woodhousei, Boreal Chorus Frog, Pseudacris nigrita, Leopard Frog, Rana pipiens.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s habitat diversity provides homes and food sources for abundant bird life. More than 185 different bird species may be seen in the park at different times of the year. Most of the park’s birds are migratory, meaning they move around from one season to the next in search of food, nesting sites, and the right kind of climate. Some birds are adapted to the cold North Dakota winter and may be found year-round in the park.
Some notable year-round residents include golden eagles, wild turkeys, black-capped chickadees, white-breasted nuthatches, and great-horned owls. A great variety of migratory birds pass through the park in spring and fall, including white-throated sparrows and huge flocks of sandhill cranes. Summer migrants include insect-eating birds such as flycatchers, warblers, and swallows. Some birds migrate south to winter in the park including juncos and redpolls.
Many of the iconic animals in Theodore Roosevelt National Park are mammals. Animals such as the American bison and the black-tailed prairie dog are relatively easy to spot. Others such as big horn sheep or elk are more difficult to find, due to their behaviors and/or preferred hours of activity.
Many of the large mammals living in the park today were not present at the time of the park’s establishment in the 1940s. Bison, elk and bighorn sheep had all been extirpated from this region. Deer and pronghorn were rare. Various reintroduction programs proved successful in returning native wildlife to the ecosystem. Not only do they represent the experiences of Theodore Roosevelt, but they provide visitors with their own experience of a wild prairie.
Map of Theodore Roosevelt National Park
South Unit: From Bismarck, 130 miles east, take I-94 west across the prairie to the entrance near Medora. From points south, use US 85 north to Belfield, then I-94 west 17 miles to Medora. North Unit: US 85 north from Belfield will bring you to the North Unit entrance. Airports: Dickinson and Bismarck, North Dakota, and Billings, Montana (280 miles).
If you have only one day, take the Scenic Loop Drive in the South Unit, allowing yourself time for nature trails and longer hikes. A second day can be devoted to the Scenic Drive in the North Unit, 70 miles away. A visit to the undeveloped site of Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch or a guided horseback trip from the Peaceful Valley Ranch in the South Unit can fill out a longer stay.
Although this is an all-year park, portions of the park road may close in winter, and services are quite limited from October to May. Summer is the most popular time to visit; the days are very long. Late spring and early autumn are best for wildflower enthusiasts.