North Dakota is said to have had a big impact on Theodore Roosevelt!
The Elkhorn Ranch is specifically one spot in North Dakota that he did spend a lot of time.
The National Park Service quotes Theodore Roosevelt to have said about North Dakota:
I have always said I never would have been president if it had not been for my experiences in North Dakota.
Hopefully you will get to experience at least a small part of that with a visit to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of the national park named after him!
There are 3 units that make up Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota:
The entirety of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is located in a pretty remote area of North Dakota, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit is the most wild and remote of them all.
And the purpose of going to the Elkhorn Ranch is to see a whole lot of nothing!
More specifically, you can see the location of what used to be Theodore Roosevelt’s home, the Elkhorn Ranch.
The story goes that he moved out west to North Dakota from New York after tragedy.
Nothing much exists of the Elkhorn Ranch anymore, except for small pieces of what’s left of the ranch foundation.
The purpose of visiting the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is for reflection!
👆 The main (only) thing to do in the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is to hike the Elkhorn Ranch Trail to… almost nothing! Little remains of what used to be Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch.
According to the National Park Service, about the Elkhorn Ranch:
Here, the strenuous life on the ranch and the lonely freedom of the West revived Roosevelt’s spirit and inspired his passion to preserve America’s wild places and dwindling natural resources.
The National Park Service strives to maintain the tranquility and sanctity of this site so visitors may experience the lonely freedom of the badlands that drew Roosevelt to this very place.
And with a visit to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit where Theodore Roosevelt spent his time, you can get a glimpse of what he experienced in North Dakota.
A visit to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit is really about using your imagination.
You will likely see few people.
👆 You’ll be driving through a whole lot of nothing to get to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit. Welcome to the North Dakota badlands!
Is the Elkhorn Ranch Unit worth it?
Driving out to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit is a time commitment.
It’s literally in the middle of nowhere.
Driving one way from the South Unit to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit is over an hour.
Driving one way from the North Unit to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit it around 2 hours.
The Elkhorn Ranch Unit isn’t for everyone, and some people will say it’s absolutely not worth it to drive so far to see the minimal remains of a location that a past president considered to be a major inspiration in his life.
Personally, I am glad that I visited the Elkhorn Ranch Unit.
I think visiting all 3 units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Elkhorn Ranch Unit, North Unit, South Unit – gave me a better appreciation for the North Dakota badlands and the remote experience that Theodore Roosevelt had. This is a president who is now known as the “conservation president” (the reason his face is on Mount Rushmore National Memorial), and whose legacy is about protecting public lands.
You will get to experience vast openness in North Dakota with a visit to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit.
If that sounds good to you, you may also prefer the North Unit over the South Unit (if you don’t want to go to both).
More below about the Elkhorn Ranch Trail aka THE thing to do in the Elkhorn Ranch Unit!
More of North Dakota: Things to do in Theodore Roosvelt National Park for VIEWS!
Where are you going after North Dakota?!
- Best places to visit in South Dakota for VIEWS!
- Driving from Mount Rushmore SD to Yellowstone National Park
- Best campgrounds for a South Dakota road trip
Hiking in the Elkhorn Ranch Unit: Getting to the Elkhorn Ranch Trail in Theodore Roosevelt Nationanal Park
From the North Unit to Elkhorn Ranch is likely to be around a 2 hour drive.
From the South Unit to Elkhorn Ranch is likely to be a drive of a little over 1 hour.
The National Park Service says not to rely on GPS when going to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit.
It is also recommended that you stop by a Theodore Roosevelt National Park visitor center to ask about directions to the Elkhorn Ranch. You can pick up a paper map there too.
I did use google maps. 😆 It was not perfect. But I did manage to make it there.
Elkhorn Ranch Unit – Theodore Roosevelt National Park is on google maps.
It was the final road to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit that was a little questionable on google maps.
But at that point, there was a sign to Elkhorn campground (part of Little Missouri National Grassland), which will lead you to the road to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit, so it worked out just fine.
If you decide to rely on google maps, then you’ll want to be sure to download offline maps before you go. (It’s free.) Even if you have no data service, GPS generally works.
So the Elkhorn Ranch Road will eventually lead you to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit!
👆 As you continue driving, you may wonder if you are even on the right road, and then you will see the Elkhorn Ranch Unit parking lot! (Well, if there are cars there you will. It’s also possible that there may be no one there when you arrive!)
👆 The final road down to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit parking lot.
And then you have made it to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit parking lot!
Then you can get started hiking (leisurely walking) on the Elkhorn Ranch Trail to the former site of Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch.
There will be a gate (cattle guard), and you can open this to go through.
This trail to get to the historic Elkhorn Ranch site is listed as 0.7 miles.
There are many informational signs along the way.
You have come all the way out here, so be sure to stop and read them to gain more insight into Theodore Roosevelt and the North Dakota badlands!
So with the reading, it might take you 20-30 minutes or more to walk back to Theodore Roosevelt’s secluded former home.
And that’s a bit about the Elkhorn Ranch Unit in Theodore Roosevelt National Park!
More nationally designated sites in the Dakotas:
Plan more of your trip to the North Dakota badlands and beyond:
- Best things to do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Best hikes in Badlands National Park
- Camping in Badlands National Park
- Best hikes in Custer State Park
- Things to do in Mount Rushmore National Memorial
- Jewel Cave National Monument tour
- 10 days in South Dakota (coming from North Dakota)
HAPPY VISIT TO ELKHORN RANCH UNIT!
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