Theodore Roosevelt National Park

South Unit
South Unit, Theodore Roosevelt National Park
South Unit, Theodore Roosevelt National Park (Medioimage/Getty)

If you are traveling west on I-94, your first introduction to the park during the summer is the Painted Canyon Visitor Center, about seven miles east of Medora. The visitor center and rest area are open during the summer months. Here on the upper margin of the badlands is a magnificent panorama of the broken topography in its colorful hues. At the overlook, restrooms, picnic shelters, tables, water, and first aid are available. East of Painted Canyon you can sometimes see wild horses, the descendants of former domestic ranching stock.

Stop at the museum in the Medora Visitor Center to see personal items of Theodore Roosevelt, ranching artifacts, and natural history displays. The restored Maltese Cross cabin, which Roosevelt used, is behind the visitor center.

A major feature of the South Unit is a paved, 36-mile, scenic loop road with interpretive signs that explain some of the park's historical and natural phenomena.

A loop road guide, which is for sale in the visitor center, gives detailed information about the landscape. The following descriptions give you an idea of what you can expect to see and find at some of the points.

Scoria Point - True scoria is volcanic in origin. Locally, however, wherever a seam of coal has caught fire and baked the surrounding sand and clay into a kind of natural brick, it has been named scoria. Over the years erosion has removed the softer earth and left the bluffs capped with this harder, more resistant material.

Ridgeline Nature Trail - This self-guiding loop trail gives you information about the badlands scenery and ecology and about the role of fire, wind, and water in this area. Length: 0.6 mile.

North Dakota Badlands - Looking across Paddock Creek, you see a field of bumps. Erosion has worn away all but the hardest materials leaving the maze of buttes and canyons.

Coal Vein Trail - From 1951 until early 1977 a fire burned here in a coal seam. The intense heat baked the adjacent clay and sand, greatly altering the appearance of the terrain and disturbing the vegetation. Length: 0.8 mile.

Buck Hill - A short walk leads to this hill, which has an elevation of 2,855 feet. Note that only shrubs and other small plants grow on the dry, hot, south-facing slopes, and that trees grow on the wetter, cooler, north-facing hillsides.

Boicourt Overlook - One of the best views of the badlands in the park is from this overlook.

Wind Canyon - A short trail up the ridge leads to an overlook of both a graceful bend in the Little Missouri River and also the wind-sculpted sands of the canyon. A short way beyond the river the wilderness area begins.

Jones Creek Trail - This trail that leads through the heart of the badlands reaches the road at two points. It may be hiked from either end. Length: 3.7 miles.

Peaceful Valley - This was the site of a horse ranch during the 1880's heyday of cattle ranching. The high central section of the ranch house was built about 1885.

Petrified Forest - The greatest collection of petrified wood in the park can be reached only by foot or on horseback. Besides the petrified wood here, pieces may be found scattered throughout the park, though not in such great quantity. Length: 16 miles round-trip.

DeMores State Historic Site - Near the town Medora is the 27-room chateau that the Marquis DeMores built for his wife in 1884. The marquis was a wealthy French nobleman who built a slaughterhouse to process beef from large local herds for shipping to market in the new refrigerated railroad cars. He also built the town of Medora, which he named for his wife, and persuaded the Northern Pacific Railroad to build a station there. He was an acquaintance of Theodore Roosevelt. Conducted tours through the chateau are usually offered from late May through September.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 18 Mar 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »