13 of the Best Hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The North Dakota Badlands of Theodore Roosevelt National Park are split into three separate units. The North Unit, the South Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit all have something special to offer visitors. Hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Part are plentiful and full of beautiful views!

The North and South units both have short hikes, scenic drives, and campgrounds to explore. Let’s talk about the best hiking trails in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Top Hikes in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park  

The North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is my favorite. There are significantly fewer people in the North Unit than in the South and more substantial trail options. 

Buckhorn Trail

Distance: 10.8 Miles

Elevation Gain: 1,033 Feet

One of the longer day-hikes in the park, the Buckhorn Trail is a great way to experience the landscape of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It’s also the best hike for you if you want to reach one of the highest accessible points in Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s North Unit. 

Views form the High Point on the Buckhorn Trail, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Hike the sage-filed flats, and open prairies, and climb to the plateau plains for amazing views where the great plains meet the badlands. 

Be prepared for Bison near the Prairie Dog Town. Don’t be afraid to reroute to keep a safe distance from the Bison! Always enjoy wildlife from a safe distance.

This hike is very exposed and the summer months are HOT. Be sure to pack enough water for the full distance. Sun protection in the form of a hat, long sleeves, and sunscreen are also necessary! 

Caprock Coulee Nature Trail

Distance: 1.6  Miles

Elevation Gain:

This .8 mile out and back is perfect for families with young children. It’s relatively flat, includes interesting rock formations, and it’s informational! 

Photo Credit: Earth Trekkers

Stop at the numbered points along the way to learn more about the area’s geological variety. Match the numbered points to the corresponding text on the National Park Webpage.

Caprock Coulee Loop

Distance: 4.4  Miles

Elevation Gain: 583 Feet

 Often described as one of the best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Caprock Coulee Loop is popular! 

The coolest part of the Caprock Coulee Loop Trail is that it shows you the natural and geographical variety of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It’s one of the few trails that gets you up close and personal with the densely wooded area of the park.

A portion of the trail does provide shade, however, the majority of this trail is exposed. It’s essential that you prepare for sun exposure by wearing sunscreen, a hat, long sleeves, and/or pants. 

Oxbow Overlook

Distance: .2 Miles

Elevation Gain: 6 Feet

At the very end of Scenic Loop Drive, you’ll stumble across Oxbow Overlook. Definitely park your car and take a look! You won’t be disappointed.

Oxbow Falls Overlook at the end of the road

The ‘trail’ is truly more of a stroll to the overlook, however, it’s one of the best views in the park and should absolutely not be missed. If you’re looking for a good hike from this point, check out Sperati Point below. 

Sperati Point

Distance: 2.4 Miles

Elevation Gain: 269 Feet

Sperati Point is the perfect length and location for sunset. At the very end of the scenic loop drive, you’ll notice a few trails from Oxbow Overlook. 

Reach Sperati Point via the Achenbach Trail and enjoy scenic views of the Little Missouri River. This is hands down one of the best views in the park. 

The sunset on Sperati Point Trail, Theodore Roosevelt National Park

It seems like a no-brainer to hike through mostly flat prairie grasslands to one of the highest points in the North Unit. This makes Sperati Point one of the best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. 

Maah Daah Hey Trail

Distance: 144 Miles

Elevation Gain: 15,141 Feet

This rugged trail stretches through the back country Badlands of North Dakota. The trail’s Northern Terminus can be found in the CCC campground just outside the North Unit Entrance. The Southern Terminus is 30 miles south of Medora at the Burning Coal Vein Campground. 

Hike, bike, or ride (horseback), the Maah Daah Hey Trail

One of the coolest parts of this trail is that it’s open to hiking, biking, and horseback riding. We rode straight from our campsite at the CCC a few miles down the trail at sunset one evening and it was breathtaking. Be aware of free-range cattle! You will come across them on your hike/bike/ride. 

The Maah Daah Hey Trail might not be a Theodore Roosevelt trail, but it is a great option for thru-hikers, mountain bikers, and anyone looking to escape the crowds. 

Best Hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s South Unit

The South Unit of the park is just outside the only incorporated place in Billings County, Medora. Medora is the gateway to the South Unit and home to the  North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame; it’s a great little town to explore when visiting Teddy Roosevelt’s, the 26th president’s, National Park. 

Boicourt Overlook Trail

Distance: .8 Miles

Elevation Gain: 62 Feet

Boicourt Overlook trail is a beautiful, easy, and accessible trail for all visitors. The trail is smooth and paved and includes benches for anyone needed a rest or a comfortable viewing point. 

At the end of the trail, there’s a dirt path that takes you out to 360-degree views. This path is not for the faint of heart as it is narrow with steep drop-offs on each side, however, it provides absolutely breathtaking views.

This is a must-do when you visit the South Unit of the Park. 

Buck Hill

Distance: .4 Miles

Elevation Gain: 55 Feet

Buck Hill is a short hike with incredible views. This steep but short hike trail brings you to one of the highest points in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. 

Buck Hill is the Highest Hikeable Point in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Buck Hill is a popular hike that provides stunning views. Although it may not seem it, it is the highest point in the park and the comparative flatness of the surrounding area provides breathtaking views. 

It’s important to note that Buck Hill may seem like an easy hike, however, hikers should wear proper footwear as there are uneven surfaces and rattlesnakes on the trail. It’s one of the best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s South Unit.  

Coal Vein Trail

Distance: .6 Miles

Elevation Gain: 16 Feet

A simple, flyer-guided nature trail that tells the 60-million-year geologic story of the Badlands.

When you first begin the trail, stay left and follow the posts in number order. As you make your way around the loop you’ll learn about the constantly changing landscape.

We found the underground coal vein to be incredibly interesting to learn about. When it collapsed in 1951 collapsed, it caught fire and burned for 26 years! You’ll have to hike the trail to learn more about the Coal Vein and the surrounding area. 

Painted Canyon Trail

Distance: 1.1 Miles

Elevation Gain: 262 Feet

For many visitors, Painted Canyon is a dramatic introduction to the badlands of North Dakota. The vivid layers of the canyon make it one of the most visited in the park. 

Photo Credit: Emerging Horizons

The Painted Canyon Nature Trail is one of the most popular in the park. This moderate 1-mile loop will bring you down into the canyon through juniper and wildflowers providing a massive payoff for a little hike! 

Petrified Forest Loop Trail

Distance: 10.2 Miles

Elevation Gain: 833 Feet

Explore the third highest concentration of petrified wood in the whole United States on this trail. Take a step back into the park’s past, a time when massive trees stood in place of the buttes and prairies. 

Photo Credit: Earth Trekkers

Located in the remote northwest corner of the South Unit, this hike’s trailhead is not accessible by the main entrance. This is a long loop, but it can also be done as an out and back in either direction. From the parking area, both sections of petrified wood are 1.5 miles from the parking area. If that’s all you want to see, you can make your hike short and sweet! 

It’s important to note that removing any resource from a National Park is illegal.  

Ridgeline Nature Trail

Distance: .7 Mile

Elevation Gain: 111 Feet

The Ridgeline is a guided nature trail where you’ll follow numbered posts through North Dakota’s natural landscape.  

Photo Credit: TripAdvisor

This beautiful trail with varied terrain is the perfect place to learn more about the northern great plains. It’s also a great trail for wildlife viewing; wild horses, bison, or mule deer. 

Wind Canyon Trail

Distance: .5 Miles

Elevation Gain: 55 Feet

The Wind Canyon Trail provides one of the most dramatic views in the park. The very short trail travels along the eroded cliffs of the Little Missouri River.

Photo Credit: National Park Service

This family-friendly, relatively flat trail is the perfect place to watch a gorgeous badlands sunset. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Where Should I Stay When Visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park?

The North Unit of the Park is closest to Watford City. Little Missouri Inn & Suites and The Watford are your best options. 

If you want to camp inside the park, Juniper Campground is your only option. The CCC campground is located just south of the North Unit’s Entrance. Both Campgrounds are great options, however, the CCC provides better views for less money. 

In the South Unit of the park, you have a few more options. The town of Medora is home to the AmericInn by Wyndham, the Rough Riders Hotel, and Elkhorn Quarters.

You can also camp inside the park at Cottonwood Campground. Sully Creek State Park is a great option 10 minutes south of the park. The Scoria Pit in Little Missouri National Grasslands is a great place to camp (BONUS POINTS: it’s free).  

How Far is Theodore Roosevelt’s North Unit from the South Unit?

The North Unit and South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park are about 70 miles from one another. It takes less than an hour to drive from one park entrance to another. 

Interestingly enough, both units of the park are in different time zones. The North operates in Central Time and the South Unit in Mountain time.

Where’s the Best Place to See Wild Horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park?

Believe it or not, the best place to see wild horses in the park is right along the scenic road in the south unit. Horses can also be seen from a distance along the park boundary on 94 and from high points throughout the park as well.  

Photo Credit: Reddit

Best Things to Do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

  • Check Out Peaceful Valley Ranch
    Peaceful Valley Ranch is the only original ranch house remaining in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. As one of the oldest dude ranches in the state, it’s served may roles, Most recently a popular place for guided horseback rides. 
  • Hike in Theodore Roosevelt
    Check out one of the many hikes the park has to offer! Everything from short and sweet with stunning views to long hauls through the gorgeous terrain of the north Badlands.
  • Painted Canyon Visitor Center
    This Visitor Center offers a bit of everything. Panoramic views of the Canyon, wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking trail heads, and the typical visitor center offerings. An information desk, educational displays, a gift shop, restrooms, and more are available.
  • South Unit Visitor Center
    Check-in with Park Rangers to help answer questions, plan trips, and issue back country permits. Walk outside to take a self-guided tour of the Maltese Cross Cabin and/or check out the book store for national park goodies! 
  • Visit Maltese Cross Cabin
    The Maltese Cross Cabin can be found at the visitor center at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Explore Teddy Roosevelt’s first cabin in the Dakota territory and enjoy a first hand, authentic look into his life in the Badlands. 

What Wildlife Will I See In Theodore Roosevelt National Park?

  • Bison
  • Elk
  • Feral Horses
  • Prairie Dog
  • Pronghorn
  • Mule Deer
  • Rattlesnakes
  • Various Bird Species

What Is There to do at the Elkhorn Ranch Unit?

The Elkhorn Ranch Unit is located about 25 Miles North of Interstate 94. It can only be reached via gravel roads, making it the most secluded part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

There are no visitors center, facilities, or scenic roads. You can visit Theodore Roosevelt’s Cabin’s remains (just the foundation) and feel the sense of peace and solace he felt there. There are exhibits present for you to learn more about Roosevelt and his time in the cabin. 

Things to Do in The Dakotas

Believe it or not, North and South Dakota have some amazing places to visit. Head into South Dakota for a number of amazing sights. Here’s a few of our favorites!

Don’t count these two states out on your next road trip! There’s so much to do and such beautiful places to see.

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