Outdoor markets, warmly lit downtowns, cozy restaurants, cheerful locals... there is something special about American…
There seems to be a dating app or website for every type of person. So why not make one for National Parks? Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite are like the rock stars and supermodels of the dating world—sexy, sure, but too much competition! Where are all the kind librarians, sensible accountants or strong, silent outdoorsmen and women of the National Parks world?
Until someone creates Tinder for travelers, I’m showcasing some of the lesser-known parks. Our first bachelor hails from western North Dakota. A locale that may not be top of mind, but offers an irresistibly rugged and—dare I say—wild side.
Here’s why you should swipe right on Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Age: I was founded as Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park in 1947; and declared a National Park in 1978. However, my geological age stretches back to the Paleocene Epoch. So, I’m anywhere from 39 to 65 million-years-old. Age is just a number, right?
Location: Mendora, North Dakota (just of Interstate 94, near the Montana border)
Size: 70,466 acres of prairie grass, canyons and badlands terrain.
Height: The lowest elevation is 2,240 feet at Little Missouri River; the highest elevation is 2,855 feet at Buck Hill. Not exactly impressive, but I promise my painted rock formations will reinforce that old cliché about size not mattering. ;)
Claim to fame: I once helped heal a broken heart. Teddy Roosevelt first visited me in 1883. He fell in love with the place and invested in a local cattle ranch. The following February, his wife and mother died within hours of each other. Devastated, Roosevelt abandoned politics and founded Elkhorn Ranch right here in North Dakota! Though he returned to New York in 1886, he always considered Elkhorn his “home ranch.”
You can still visit Teddy’s Maltese Cross Cabin at my South Unit visitor center.
First thing people usually notice about me: I’ve heard I have very sexy buttes and canyons.
Known for: Wildlife. You’ll find wild horses, longhorns, bison, elk, prairie dogs, coyotes, badgers, and many more. Not to brag, but I also have one of the largest deposits of petrified wood in the country.
My perfect Friday night: My remote location means you’ll find some of the country’s best stargazing. In fact, every September, I host a stargazing festival. Let’s cuddle under the Milky Way!
Not to be presumptuous, but if you were to spend the night…: You’d have to camp. There are two main campgrounds open year-round. You can reserve a space in the summer, but there are some sites available on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you’re not the outdoorsy type, I won’t hold it against you. Nearby Medora, ND has lots of hotels.
How I like to spend Sunday morning: With a hike! From quick and easy strolls to more strenuous day hikes, I’ve got something for everyone. A good place to start is Painted Canyon Nature Trail in the park’s South Unit. This roughly 45-minute walk gets you up close and personal with the rock layers, junipers, and wildlife.
Background: For thousands of years, original peoples like the Mandan, Hidatsa, Crow, and many others called me home. At the end of the 19th century, conflict between the US Army and the Sioux brought war to the badlands and involved many well-known historical figures: Sully, Custer, Sitting Bull, Inkpaduta, and Gall.
Hobbies: Bicycling; canoeing and kayaking; hiking; fishing. A lot of people like to take their horses on back country rides. If you don’t have your own, you can sign up for a guided ride with nearby Medora Riding Stables.
I’m really good at: Reinventing myself, literally. I’m made of soft bentonite clay, so I’m easily eroded by wind and water. In the spring, the Little Missouri River pulses with the melting snow. In the summer, it barely trickles… that is unless there’s one of my famous thunderstorms, in which you’ll find impressive flash-flooding! I’ll keep you on your toes.
Favorite books: Teddy Roosevelt wrote both the Hunting Trips of a Ranchman & The Wilderness Hunter while he lived here.
Favorite Season: I’m open year-round, but probably at my best in the summer. Though if you love snowshoeing and don’t mind a little whipping wind, I’m also your guy.
Favorite quote: “I would not have been president had it not been for my experience in North Dakota.” – Theodore Roosevelt
Best place for a Selfie: Painted Canyon Visitor Center. On a clear day, the Badlands stretch endlessly into the horizon.
Weird fact about me: I’m actually located in two time zones. The south section of the park is in Mountain Time Zone, while the north is in Central. Confusing, but it’s all a part of my mystique.
Since you’re in the neighborhood… Spend a day in historic Medora. Take a guided walking tour through this old west town– it’s very cool.
Let’s meet! If you live east of me, I’m a great stop on your road trip west (on the way if you’re visiting my sister parks, Glacier or Yellowstone). And I’m about five hours north of the Black Hills, home to Mount Rushmore and Sturgis. Bring your motorcycle—I’m great for riders, especially my 36-mile scenic drive!
If you want to see some un-airbrushed photos of me, check out my Instagram feed.
What’s your favorite lesser-known National Park? Share in the comments!
Photos courtesy of the National Parks Service