So a trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park is basically a trip to the North Dakota badlands!
And the North Dakota badlands is said to have had a big impact on Theodore Roosevelt!
👆 Views of the North Dakota badlands a 10 minute drive away from North Unit entrance, driving up from the south along the CanAm Highway.
The National Park Service quotes Theodore Roosevelt as saying:
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 North Unit of the national park named after him!
The North Unit is a section of Theodore Roosevelt National Park that is one of the more remote areas of the national park. The more popular South Unit is more conveniently located right off the interstate (I-94), and it’s around 70 miles away by car from the North Unit!
And the North Unit does feel more wild and remote compared to the South Unit. (The Elkhorn Ranch Unit is even more remote!)
Below will focus only on the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
3 best things to do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the North Unit
1. Scenic Drive
Well, it is a given to drive the Scenic Drive when you are in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The scenic drive is the main road that goes through the North Unit!
So basically, just get yourself on the Scenic Drive! All the things to do in the North Unit listed below are located off of the Scenic Drive.
The North Unit Scenic Drive is an out-and-back drive that is listed as 28 miles round trip.
The National Park Service officially recommends giving yourself around 1 hour and 15 minutes to do this drive. But of course, that does depend on how many stops you make and what you want to do along the way!
There are a number of smaller stops you can make along the way, and there are 2 major overlooks to note on the Scenic Drive of the North Unit:
- River Bend Overlook is around halfway on the Scenic Drive.
- Oxbow Overlook is at the very end of the Scenic Drive. You could call this your destination!
2. Cannonball Concretions
If you are looking to do just ONE quick active activity in the North Unit, then you might want to make a stop at the cannonball concretions!
You will see unique rock formations of “cannonballs” and there’s an area that you can climb up onto some rocks.
You can also start the Buckhorn Trail from the cannonball concretions.
Share the Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit video with the people you’ll be traveling to North Dakota with!
3. Caprock Coulee Loop Trail
If you are looking to do just ONE hike in the North Unit, then you might want to make it the Caprock Coulee Loop Trail! This is also called simply the Caprock Coulee Trail.
This is one of the best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Part of this trail is the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail. The nature trail will allow you to see some unique rock formations. But to get the full experience, you’ll want to hike the full loop. It will give you many more grand views of the North Dakota badlands and unique rock formations.
The Caprock Coulee loop trail is officially listed as a 4.3 mile moderate to strenuous hike. There are some hills. The National Park Service also recommends giving yourself 2-3 hours for this hike. You can start this trail from the Caprock Coulee trailhead or the River Bend Overlook trailhead.
You can also extend this hike by adding 1.6 miles round trip to go to the prairie dog town. The Caprock Coulee Trail connects to the Buckhorn Trail near the Caprock Coulee trailhead. From there you can hike to the prairie dog town and back. Near guarantee of seeing prairie dogs!
See more about this North Unit activity: Hiking in the North Unit
Can you see buffalo in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park?
Yes, it is possible to see buffalo in Theodore Roosevelt National Park when you are in the North Unit!
I saw buffalo off in the distance in the fields, and I also saw the buffalo walking along the Scenic Drive.
You may even see buffalo when hiking.
I saw buffalo on the trail 2 times.
The first time I saw buffalo up ahead directly on the trail, and I decided to turn around. That was an out-and-back hike and I was still on the “out” part of it. That was the Buckhorn Trail to the prairie dog town! I later went back to the prairie dog town on a different day.
The second time I saw buffalo, on a different hike, once again it was pretty much directly along the trail. This was on the way back of a hike, and I tried to find an alternate route to go around the buffalo at a safe distance. That one actually required jumping into a small ditch and climbing out. The experience of hiking in the North Dakota badlands with buffalo!!
You may also hear buffalo being referred to as bison. They are the same thing.
What the National Park Service wants you to know about buffalo:
Bison may seem slow, but they can turn in an instant and surprise you with speed.
With a flick of a horn they can toss you in the air
Bison are unpredictable.
They are powerful, wild, and dangerous!
Further is safer.
Cost to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park
There is an entry fee for Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This cost is $30 per car. This will get you a 7-day pass for Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and it will be good for all units of the national park. If you plan to visit at least 3 national parks within a year, you may consider getting the annual national park pass.
👆 Theodore Roosevelt National Park entry fees for 2021.
See below for more to do in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit!
More things to do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit
The quick list of stops you may want to make as you are driving in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park
You probably will not be able to do ALL the things listed below with just one day in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but in case you are looking for options… or you will be spending 2 days in the North Unit… here is what you can do!
This list goes in order as you would come across it as you are driving along the North Unit Scenic Drive.
1. North Unit Visitor Center
If you plan on doing any nature trails listed below and you are interested in learning more about the geology and plant life, then stop by to pick up the trail guidebook. It’s likely that there will be the self-guided tour books at the trailhead, but just in case they are not, you might want to pick them up!
And then, it’s always good to stop by the national park visitor center in case there are any closures and such.
Also you can get a national parks passport stamp in the North Unit Visitor Center!
2. Cannonball Concretions
This is the stop that can be relatively quick to see unique rock balls and other rock formations.
You may also consider hiking the Buckhorn Trail to the prairie dog town (and back) starting from the cannonball concretions. This would be a 4.2 mile round trip hike. (There is also shorter way to hike to the prairie dog town, listed below.)
3. Little Mo Nature Trail
Little Mo Nature Trail is one of the nature trails in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and it will take you to the Little Mo River. (Little Missouri River.)
As a nature trail, there are numbered “stops” along the way that corresponds with a self-guided tour book so you can learn things as you walk! There seems to usually be a tour book at the trailhead, but if you don’t want to chance it, that’s when you may want to stop by the visitor center on your way in.
There is a shorter version (0.7 mile loop) and a longer version (1.1 mile loop) of the Little Mo Nature Trail. The longer trail is not that much longer and it will get you up close and personal to some unique rock formations.
You will turn down onto the campground road to access the Little Mo Nature Trail.
4. Picnic area
If it’s time for food when you pass through this area, there is also a picnic area on the campground road, available to all.
5. Juniper Campground
There is one campground in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and it’s the Juniper Campground. This is a first-come first-serve mostly rustic campground. There is a regular bathroom and drinking water available, but there’s no electricity and there are no showers.
6. Caprock Coulee Trail
Now continuing driving along the Scenic Drive, you will come to the Caprock Coulee trailhead. This is where you will start the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail and the Caprock Coulee Loop Trail.
The Caprock Coulee Nature Trail is a 1.5 mile round trip trail where you can make “stops” as you follow along in the self-guide tour book.
Again, there may be these tour books at the trailhead, or you may want to stop by the visitor center before you go.
Or, here is the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail guidebook online, and you can screenshot all the info so you can follow along when you do the hike. Or you can copy and paste the text into a word document and then print it before you go.
For the Caprock Coulee Loop Trail, you’ll start on the nature trail, and then instead of turning around at the end of the nature trail, you will continue hiking.
The Caprock Coulee trailhead parking lot was closed in summer 2021, but it seems it will open back up some time in September 2021. If it is still closed when you go, you can access the Caprock Coulee Trail from the River Bend Overlook.
7. Buckhorn Trail to prairie dog town
The Buckhorn Trail is a 10 mile loop trail in the North Unit, and it’s also possible to hike portions of it instead of the whole loop.
Once such portion that you can “section-hike” of the Buckhorn Trail is from the Caprock Coulee trailhead. Hiking from the Caprock Coulee trailhead to the prairie dog town is around 1.6 miles round trip.
Prairie dog towns are fun as you get to see all the little prairie dogs running around… and being loud! You will know when you are at the prairie dog town because you will see a whole bunch of mounds and holes… and you will probably hear them too! (And there’s a sign that says it’s the prairie dog town.😜)
The River Bend Overlook is one of the 2 major scenic overlooks you’ll find along the Scenic Drive. You’ll want to stop here to take a short walk out to the overlook where you will see vast views of the North Dakota badlands along with yes the river.
It is possible to start the Caprock Coulee Loop Trail from the River Bend Overlook.
Then you can continue to the end of the Scenic Drive and you will arrive at the Oxbow Overlook, the other major overlook along the Scenic Drive.
Once again you will get vast views of the North Dakota badlands, along with a view of the river.
10. South Achenbach Trail to Sperati Point
From the Oxbow Overlook you can then hike to Sperati Point.
You can follow signs to Sperati Point once you are at the Oxbow Overlook which means you will be hiking the Achenbach Trail. The South Achenbach Trail is listed as 10.6 miles one way, so you will just be hiking a portion of this trail.
The hike to Sperati Point is listed at the trailhead as being a 2.4 mile round trip hike. You’ll be walking across grasslands and then your “destination” is another overlook with vast views of the badlands and river. The National Park Service recommends giving yourself 1 hour for this hike.
And those are some ideas for how to spend your time in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit!
Plan more of your trip to the North Dakota badlands and beyond:
- Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Driving to the Elkhorn Ranch Unit
- Things to do in Badlands National Park for VIEWS
- Camping in Badlands National Park
- Things to do in Custer State Park for VIEWS
- Things to do in Mount Rushmore National Memorial
- Jewel Cave National Monument tour
- Places to visit in South Dakota for VIEWS
- Driving from South Dakota to Wyoming
HAPPY SPENDING TIME IN THE NORTH UNIT!
Plan more of your trip to North Dakota and beyond
- Things to do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit
- Best hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
- Best places to visit in South Dakota
- Best hikes in Badlands National Park
- Things to do in Mount Rushmore
- Best hikes in Custer State Park and the Black Hills
- Best cave tour at Jewel Cave National Monument
- Driving from Mount Rushmore to Devils Tower
- 7 day drive across Wyoming