Top Ten Offbeat Summer Parks

Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park (Photodisc/Getty)

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

70,500 acres (29,912 wilderness)

472,000 annual visits

Attractions: Though the badlands of South Dakota receive far more traffic, Theodore Roosevelt offers all the geologic drama of its southern cousin and some intriguing historical context as well. Young Teddy Roosevelt came to these parched lands in the 1880s to hunt buffalo and try his luck cattle ranching. After experiencing the struggle of life on the prairie, Roosevelt later wrote: "I would not have been President, had it not been for my experience in North Dakota."

Aside from the stunning landscapes, wildlife is the biggest draw at Theodore Roosevelt. Bison roam the grassy plains with elk, deer, and wild horses, and prairie dogs stand at attention in their "towns" as humans approach.

Activities: Scenic driving is the easiest way to familiarize yourself with the park—there is a 36-mile loop road in the South Unit and a 14-mile road to the north. The scenery might be best exemplified at the River Bend Outlook on the edge of the Little Missouri's deep valley. But at some point you'll want to leave the pavement behind and let your hiking boot-shod feet touch the earth.

Finding Solitude: Hiking is a sure bet for leaving behind the crowds: The Petrified Forest Loop is a two-day excursion into the backcountry that passes exposed stumps from centuries ago.


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