Theodore Roosevelt National Park Trekking and Backpacking Overview

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Theodore Roosevelt National Park (National Park Service)

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Trekking & Backpacking Travel Tips

  • Backcountry camping permits are available in the North Unit and South Unit visitor centers. There are no established campsites, so use the open terrain to your advantage, and pick a good one (keeping in mind Leave No Trace ethics).
  • For those with navigation skills, the opportunities for cross-country travel are a park highlight. For those who prefer the beaten path, the South Unit has a more substantial network of long-distance trails.
  • Hike the Petrified Forest Trail from the Peaceful Valley trailhead in the South Unit for a 16-mile hike that shows off the park's largest collection of petrified wood. 
  • Hiking through the Achenbach Hills via the 16-mile Achenbach Loop in the park's North Unit is a much more interesting way to reach Oxbow Overlook than accessing it via the Scenic Drive road. 
  • Be on the look-out for bison. Two large herds roam the park (one in each unit), and they're known to charge when visitors try to get up close and personal.

North Unit

Little Mo Nature Trail - This self-guiding nature trail, which begins at the Juniper Campground, goes through river woodlands and badlands. Length: 1.1 miles. A shorter trail, 0.7 mile, is wheelchair accessible.

Achenbach Trail - Also beginning at Juniper Campground, this trail climbs from river bottomland up through the Achenbach Hills, drops to the river again, climbs to Oxbow Overlook along the way by a spur trail, and returns along the river bottom to the campground. Inquire about the condition of the river crossings before departing. Length: 16 miles.

Caprock Coulee Nature Trail - About 1.5 miles west of Juniper Campground is the start of a self-guiding trail through badlands coulees—dry water gulches—and breaks—interruptions in the grassy plains. Length: 1.5 miles round-trip.

Upper Caprock Coulee Trail - This is a continuation loop from the self-guiding portion of the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail bringing you back to the trailhead. Length: 4.25 miles. As a loop with the nature trail: 5 miles.

Buckhorn Trail - This loop trail can be reached from the Caprock Coulee Nature Trailhead. You come to a prairie dog town about 1 mile from its beginning. Of the seven varieties, only the blacktailed prairie dog lives within the park. Remember that prairie dogs are wild animals, that they can inflict severe bites, and that they often carry disease. Do not feed them or get too close. Length: 11 miles.

Sperati Point - The trail from Oxbow Overlook, which is a portion of the Achenbach Trail, leads to the narrowest gateway in the badlands. The flow of the Little Missouri River once continued north from this point, ultimately draining into Hudson Bay. Blocked during the Ice Age, the river had to find a new course and finally broke through the gap between this point and the Achenbach Hills on the other side. The Little Missouri now drains into the Gulf of Mexico via the Missouri-Mississippi system. Near this point it leaves its old bed and follows its newer channel. Length: 1.5 miles round-trip.

South Unit

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.

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.

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.

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.


Published: 29 Sep 2009 | Last Updated: 18 Mar 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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