Dreaming of Travel: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Published on January 13, 2022 - Updated on February 24, 2022

If you think Theodore Roosevelt National Park isn't a 'must-see,' you're sorely mistaken.

In case you didn't know, North Dakota has a National Park! And it's a fabulous destination for family fun. Comprised of over 70,000 acres of land, Theodore Roosevelt National Park has quite a bit to offer the outdoor adventurer. Though the park itself was established back in the 1920s, it wasn't officially crowned as a national park until 1978.

Named in honor of the 26th president of the US, this park has so much to offer; it's no wonder this beautiful land inspired a lifetime of conservation efforts. Teddy Roosevelt once said, "I would not have been president had it not been for my experience in North Dakota." In 1883, Roosevelt arrived in North Dakota's badlands to hunt bison. He adored the rigorous lifestyle of a working cowboy and fell deeply in love with the land. While in North Dakota, he purchased Chimney Butte Ranch, now known as Maltese Cross Ranch. Both his Maltese Cross Cabin and Elkhorn Cabin are historical sights you can visit while exploring Teddy Roosevelt National Park.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park reminded me quite a bit of South Dakota's Badlands National Park. I was surprised by how similar the geography was between the two. And I had no idea this park also technically contains badlands.


What are badlands? They are caused by weathering and erosion and allow park visitors to view rocks that are millions of years old without having to dig to find them. It's really quite amazing if you think about it. These formations look other-worldly and are not often seen by human eyes.

Where to Go in the Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is divided into three units in southwestern North Dakota: there's the North Unit, South Unit, and Elkhorn Ranch, which is located between the two. The South Unit is the most popular to visit, as it's located immediately off I-94. So, for those stopping on a cross-country trip (which is most visitors), the South Unit is the easiest and most convenient. It's also the largest portion in this National Park, at nearly twice the size of the North Unit.


The crowning jewel of the South Unit is a 36-mile scenic drive, which offers beautiful glimpses of this gorgeous park. There are many places along the drive to get out and explore, which is key for families looking to really get a feel for the park. If you want beautiful sunset views, check out the South Unit's Boicourt Overlook Trail, which is an easy trail for families, even those with littles! The trail is only 0.2 miles long but does have a small bit of elevation. Wind Canyon Trail is another great option for soaking in a glorious sunset.

The North Unit is located 70 miles away, and a visit to the third and most remote portion of the park, Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch, requires a 30-mile drive down a dirt road. If you have older kiddos and are prepared for a rigorous trail adventure, Achenbach Trail in the North Unit makes for a great adventure.

Family Fun


If you love seeing wildlife, as most avid National Park lovers do, there is also plenty to see in this beautiful park. Spend a day here, and you have the chance to see wild horses, bighorn sheep, bison, elk, and prairie dogs. As with most National Parks, patience is the key to catching glimpses of these creatures. For my kids, the prairie dogs were a huge hit! The prairie dog mounds are located very close to the overlooks, and the girls delighted in hearing them squeaking playfully as they peeked out of their little holes in the ground. What an exciting experience this is for kids!


For photography-buffs, and those who enjoy a little family challenge, be sure to snap away while you're in the park and enter the annual Picture Yourself in Theodore Roosevelt National Park challenge. Winners have the chance to be featured in the park's official annual pass and calendar! It's a really fun challenge for photography families and a great way to get your kids interested in the hobby as well! And, if this leaves you wondering if our family will be submitting some snaps to the contest, all I can say is, "you betcha!".

Another great perk to this park? It never closes. Even when the visitor centers are closed, the park remains open 24 hours a day, every single day of the year. This means that if stargazing is your thing, your family can experience the Milky Way in all her glory over the gorgeous landscape of TRNP.

I highly recommend a trip to North Dakota's Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Whether you're looking to hike, camp, or just make a quick day trip to the area, be sure to make a stop at this less-traveled but must-see national park.

Are you hoping to visit a national park soon? Unsure of which ones would be best for your family to visit? Check out the happyly blog and find a ton of great information on traveling to national parks with kids. Head west to find Saguaro National Park, Joshua Tree National Park, Mt. Rainier National Park, or even Death Valley National Park. Or head east and go as remote as possible at Dry Tortugas National Park! There is a national park out there for every family!

Don't forget to tag us on Instagram @gethappyly with all of your family adventures for a chance to be featured. We love traveling vicariously through all of you!

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Thoughtfully captured by:
Heidi Keller
Heidi Keller was born in the mountains of Northern Idaho, and raised in Minnesota. She completed her undergraduate degrees at the University of Minnesota and has begun graduate studies through the University of North Dakota. She fell in love with traveling at a young age, and her passion has only grown since then. She is passionate about photography, traveling, scuba diving, reading, nature, and any creative projects. But, most of all, she's passionate about spending quality time with her kiddos. She is also an advocate for making reading together a core part of family life with kiddos.
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This often-overlooked National Park is a hidden gem located in the badlands of SW North Dakota.