Contact the Superintendent, Theodore Roosevelt National Park, P.O. Box 7, Medora, ND 58645-0007 (tel. 701/623-4466 for the South Unit, the main number, or 701/842-2333 for the North Unit; www.nps.gov/thro). The National Park Service has a variety of brochures that explore the park's cultural and natural resources, including a very useful road log guide, sold in the visitor center. Information and a variety of publications are available from the Theodore Roosevelt Nature and History Association, P.O. Box 167, Medora, ND 58645 (tel. 701/623-4884; www.trnha.org). The park produces Frontier Fragments, an excellent park newspaper. It's updated annually and filled with relevant stories on the park's history, wildlife, interpretive offerings, and visitor services.
For information about the area, contact the Medora Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 186, Medora, ND 58645 (tel. 701/623-4910; www.medorandchamber.com).
The park has three visitor centers. The South Unit Visitor Center (for the South Unit) is located just inside the park entrance at Medora and is open daily 8am to 4:30pm Mountain Daylight Time (MDT) year-round, with extended hours in the summer. The Painted Canyon Visitor Center, located on I-94, is 7 miles east of Medora and open daily, 8:30am to 4:30pm MDT, from April 1 to November 11. The North Unit Visitor Center, located just off U.S. 85, is open daily 9am to 5:30pm Central Standard Time (CST) from April 1 through November 11, and Friday through Sunday the rest of the year. Visitor Centers are closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.
Fees & Permits
Entry into the park for up to 7 days costs $10 per vehicle. Campsites cost $10 per night and $5 in the off season. Campsites are $5 per night with Senior or Access passes. Group campsites and the Roundup Horse Camp (South Unit) are by reservation only.
Special Regulations & Warnings
The animals in the park are wild and should be viewed from a safe distance. (Even the prairie dogs can bite.) Watch out for ticks in late spring and early summer. Climbing on the steep, barren slopes of the badlands can be dangerous due to slippery clays and soft sediments that may yield underfoot, so stay on designated trails. Horses are prohibited in campgrounds, in picnic areas, and on self-guided nature trails.
Tips from a Park Expert
After 18 years at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a dozen years with the National Park Service in Alaska, and 6 years each in Death Valley and Crater Lake, retired longtime Chief of Interpretation Bruce Kaye had some insights for prospective visitors.
Kaye encouraged visitors to view Roosevelt's two ranch sites -- the Maltese Cross, whose ranch house was relocated to the park in 1959 from the state capital in Bismarck, and the Elkhorn Ranch site, 35 miles north of Medora. Kaye said visitors should check with rangers before traveling to the Elkhorn site, to ensure that road conditions or high water will not impede their progress.
While visiting the park, Kaye said travelers should keep their eyes open for a wide variety of wildlife, including bison, elk, wild horses, mule deer, white-tailed deer, coyotes, antelope, a variety of birds, and the ever-abundant prairie dog.
"The best month to be without crowds at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, yet do the things you want to do in view of the weather, is September," Kaye says. "But even at the height of the summer season, most visitors will not be bothered by overcrowding." Kaye added, "Summertime is not all that busy -- you can still go out into the backcountry and not see people; you can even drive one of the park roads and not be inundated."
Kaye said that hiking, camping, and cross-country skiing are ideal experiences in the off season.
Even as layers of sediment were being deposited, streams began to carve through the soft strata, sculpting the infinite variety of buttes, tablelands, and valleys that comprise the Badlands today.
As inhospitable as this land looks, it is home to a large variety of creatures and plants. Rainfall supports an abundance of prairie grasses and wildflowers, and 186 species of birds have been observed.
Mule deer and white-tailed deer inhabit the park, and prairie dogs build their "towns" in the grasslands. Through careful management, some animals that nearly became extinct in the 19th and early 20th centuries are once again thriving. Bison and elk, for example, have been successfully reintroduced into the area.
The wealth of wildlife that first attracted Theodore Roosevelt and thousands of other avid sports enthusiasts to this area still exists. Bands of wild horses roam in the park's South Unit, just as they did when Roosevelt rode over this land and tended his cattle a century ago.