Hi there!

 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is made up of 3 “units.”

Each of these units are pretty far from one another, and it can take 1-2 hours to drive between them.

There is worthy hiking in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in each of these units:

 

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Hiking in South Unit. Hiking in North Unit. Hiking in Elkhorn Ranch unit. Best things to do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. north dakota travel blog

 

 

5+ great hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Hiking in South Unit. Hiking in North Unit. Hiking in Elkhorn Ranch unit. Best things to do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. north dakota travel blog

 

Hiking in the South Unit

 

1. Painted Canyon Trail

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking the painted canyon trail. north dakota travel blog

 

The Painted Canyon Visitor Center of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is located in one of the outer areas of the South Unit, away from the South Unit Scenic Drive. It’s located right off of I-94, and it can serve as a rest area for drivers too.

When facing the painted canyon, the Painted Canyon Trail start off on the right side. This is around a 4.2 mile round trip hike. You will be hiking into the canyon, and it’s possible to get up close to some of the rock formations.

 

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking the painted canyon trail. north dakota travel blog

 

There is an overlook area near the Painted Canyon Visitor Center so you can see the “painted canyon” from above without hiking. There is also the Painted Canyon Nature Trail, which starts off on the very left side. This is about a mile round trip. You will also go a little bit down into the canyon. 

 

 

2. Petrified Forest Trail

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking the petrified forest trail north. north dakota travel blog

 

The Petrified Forest is also located in an outer area of the South Unit, away from the South Unit Scenic Drive.

You will get to see petrified wood with the backdrop of the North Dakota badlands.

The Petrified Forest loop trail is around 10 miles long. You can make it a shorter hike by hiking just part of it. You can hike to the north or to the south as a 3 mile round trip hike.

I made it a shorter hike on the Petrified Forest Trail to the north.

 

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking the petrified forest trail north. north dakota travel blog

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking the petrified forest trail north. north dakota travel blog

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking the petrified forest trail north. north dakota travel blog

 

 

3. Upper Talkington Trail

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking the upper talkington trail. north dakota travel blog

 

You can combine the Upper Talkington Trail is around 3.8 miles one way, which connects to the Rim Trail which you can then hike onwards.

I didn’t hike the whole Upper Talkington Trail, but just part of it for a total of 1-1.5 hours, so hiking for 30-40 minutes and then turning around. This will start you off hiking through a prairie dog town and then give you some views of unique geological rock formations.

 

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking the upper talkington trail. north dakota travel blog

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking the upper talkington trail. north dakota travel blog

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking the upper talkington trail. north dakota travel blog

 

 

BONUS: Hidden caprocks from Talkington trailhead (hoodoos of the North Dakota badlands!)

North Dakota hoodoos. Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking to hidden caprocks. north dakota badlands hoodoos. north dakota travel blog

 

This is not a “real” hike, or even a named hiking trail, or even a named spot (as far as I can tell). But this is a spot I really liked for the unique geological rock formations!

And, it requires a walk, so I will mention it as a spot where you can see unique geological formations with a “hike”!

The spot itself is directly along the side of the South Unit Scenic Drive so it’s not really hidden at all, but you’ll need to get out of the car to get a closer look to really see the caprocks!

 

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking trail to hidden caprocks. north dakota travel blog

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking to hidden caprocks. north dakota badlands hoodoos. north dakota travel blog

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking to hidden caprocks. north dakota badlands hoodoos. north dakota travel blog

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking to hidden caprocks. north dakota badlands hoodoos. north dakota travel blog

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking to hidden caprocks. north dakota badlands hoodoos. north dakota travel blog

North Dakota hoodoos. Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking to hidden caprocks. north dakota badlands hoodoos. north dakota travel blog

North Dakota hoodoos. Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking to hidden caprocks. north dakota badlands hoodoos. north dakota travel blog

 

There is no parking area directly in front of the spot. And you’re encouraged to only park in paved areas, not in random spots along the side of the road on grass or other natural surfaces.

This means that the closest parking spot (when I was there, and that I’m aware) is at the Talkington trailhead. This is about a 0.6 mile walk from this hidden spot, so it will maybe be around a 1.2 mile hike round trip. This means you’ll be walking on the side of the road, alongside the cars to get to the spot.

See the map: the hidden spot is the “destination” that’s just past the Boicourt Overlook. The Talkington trailhead is also marked on this map. So basically, when you are driving south on the South Unit Scenic Drive, start paying attention after you pass the Boicourt Overlook. You’ll pass the spot on your RIGHT side. You’ll keep driving until you come to a small roadside parking area, where you will find a sign for the Talkington trailhead. Then, you’ll start walking in the direction that you were just driving from to find the caprocks.

 

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking to hidden caprocks from talkington trailhead parking. north dakota travel blog

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit: hiking to hidden caprocks from talkington trailhead. north dakota travel blog

 

 

Next, moving on to hiking in the North Unit…

There is only one main road in the North Unit, and that’s the North Unit Scenic Drive. You will come across the hikes below as you are driving along the North Unit Scenic Drive.

 

 

 

4. Caprock Coulee Trail

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit: hiking the caprock coulee loop trail. north dakota travel blog

 

If you are going to do just ONE hike in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, then you just may want to make it the Caprock Coulee Trail! This is a loop trail.

The Caprock Coulee Loop Trail might be the best hike in all of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It’s a top contender anyway!

This will give you lots of views of the North Dakota badlands from different angles.

You might want to give yourself 2-3 hours for hiking the Caprock Coulee Loop Trail.

 

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit: hiking the caprock coulee loop trail. north dakota travel blog

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit: hiking the caprock coulee loop trail. north dakota travel blog

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit: hiking the caprock coulee loop trail. north dakota travel blog

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit: hiking the caprock coulee loop trail. north dakota travel blog

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit: hiking the caprock coulee loop trail. north dakota travel blog

 

For a shorter hike, there is also the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail. This also gives you some views of unique geological features, although not as magnificent as the loop trail.

 

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit: hiking the caprock coulee nature trail. north dakota travel blog

 

By hiking the Caprock Coulee loop trail, you will also end up hiking part of the nature trail.

 

 

5. Buckhorn Trail from Cannonball Concretions to prairie dog town

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit: hiking the buckhorn trail to prairie dog town. north dakota travel blog

 

The Buckhorn Trail is around an 11.5 mile loop trail in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

It is also possible to hike sections of the Buckhorn Trail.

One of the sections that you can hike is from the Cannonball Concretions to the prairie dog town. This is listed as a 4.2 mile round trip hike.

 

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit: hiking the buckhorn trail from cannonball concretions trail. north dakota travel blog

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit: hiking the buckhorn trail. north dakota travel blog

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit: hiking the buckhorn trail to prairie dog town. north dakota travel blog

 

It’s also possible to make it a slightly shorter hike to the prairie dog town by hiking the Buckhorn Trail from the Caprock Coulee trailhead.

 

And those are a couple of the best hikes in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There are more hiking trails in the North Unit that you will come across as you are driving the North Unit scenic drive.
See more: Things to do in North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

 

Next, moving on to hiking in the Elkhorn Ranch Unit…

 

6. Elkhorn Ranch Trail

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park Elkhorn Ranch Unit: Elkhorn ranch trail. north dakota travel blog

 

There is only one trail in the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and that is the trail that will lead you to the site of what used to be Theodore Roosevelt’s ranch.

When you do this trail, you are quite literally walking to nothing. There is pretty much nothing left of the ranch, except a few stones that are said to be the foundations of the ranch.

It’s also a drive of 1.5 to 2 hours to get to the Elkhorn Ranch, whether you are coming from the South Unit or from the North Unit.

According to the National Park Service, Theodore Roosevelt is quoted as saying that he would not have been president had it not had been for his time in North Dakota.

So the purpose of hiking the Elkhorn Ranch trail is to imagine what Theodore Roosevelt may have felt by being out here pretty much all alone in the wilderness of the North Dakota badlands.

 

 

See more: Getting to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit trail

If you are looking for more hiking, instead of driving all the way to the Theodore Roosevelt Elkhorn Ranch Unit, you can instead drive to the Elkhorn trailhead in Little Missouri National Grassland. You will see this on the Elkhorn Ranch Road as you drive to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit.

From this Elkhorn trailhead, you can hike part of the North Dakota famous Maah Daah Hey Trail to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

 

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park Elkhorn Ranch Unit: hiking the maah daah hey trail near Elkhorn ranch trail. north dakota travel blog

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park Elkhorn Ranch Unit: hiking the maah daah hey trail near Elkhorn ranch trail. north dakota travel blog

 

And that’s a bit about hiking in Theodore Roosevelt National Park!

 

Plan more of your trip to the North Dakota badlands and beyond:

 

HAPPY HIKING IN THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK AND THE NORTH DAKOTA BADLANDS!

 

Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Hiking in South Unit. Hiking in North Unit. Hiking in Elkhorn Ranch unit. Best things to do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. north dakota travel blog