I planned to break this into two posts, one for the national park, and one for non-national park information, but there isn’t enough non-national park stuff to warrant a separate post! We spent the vast majority of our two days in tiny Medora, North Dakota at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and had an incredible experience because 1) the scenery is gorgeous, and 2) it’s not a very heavily visited national park.
Medora is the most convenient base for exploring the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It is kind of a cutesy-cheesy tourist town–there’s food and drink and a nightly musical revue (“the rootin’-tootinest, boot-scootinest show in all the Midwest”)–but we didn’t go into a single establishment in town! Blame Covid. We probably would have checked out the musical revue in a normal year, since that’s the second biggest (second to the national park, of course) thing to do in Medora (like we tried to do in Branson for the full Branson experience).
We stayed at Red Trail Campground, a basic park with close-together sites and a rude lady working the counter. The location is good–the park is walking distance to the main drag of Medora, and biking distance to the national park–but it’s one of the tightest campgrounds with the narrowest campsites we’ve stayed at, and we don’t recommend it.
Our last day in town we hiked the Maah Daah Hey trail from Sully Creek State Park just outside of Medora, and we’d stay there at the White Tail Flats campground next time we visit TRNP. The sites are power-only, but the peace and scenery were a welcome change from Red Trail.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
As is the case at most national parks, dogs are not allowed on hiking trails at TRNP. So Bugsy didn’t hike with us there, but she was able to visit some overlooks.
Big Plateau Loop
We loved this loop! It combines the Big Plateau Trail, the Maah Daah Hey Trail, and the Ekbolm Trail for a 5.6 mile traipse through lively and hilarious prairie dog towns and past big badlands views. It was our first hike in the park, and it was a perfect introduction.
Painted Canyon Trail
Most people just hike the short nature loop at Painted Canyon, but to really get up close with the vistas, actually descend into the canyon on the Painted Canyon Trail. When you hit Paddock Creek Trail a couple miles in, you can tack on some extra distance if you’re feeling inspired. The views heading down into the canyon are bonkers and the walk through the canyon bottom is pleasant and animal-filled.
Overlooks along the scenic drive
Drive the 36-mile scenic drive in the South Unit and stop at the overlooks (remember, your dog can go anywhere a car can go, so pack a family picnic for the back of your car!). Our favorites stops on the drive were Buck Hill and Wind Canyon. Sunset at Wind Canyon is lovely, but very popular; we found a rock to perch on and toasted our good fortune with Junkyard beers from Fargo.
Outside the park: Maah Daah Hey Trail
The Maah Daah Hey Trail is a 144-mile trail stretching through some of the most incredible badlands scenery in North Dakota and it’s DOG-FRIENDLY. We did an out-and-back with Bugsy starting from the Sully Creek State Park trailhead, heading south, as there’s a pretty significant river crossing north-bound from the park. The trail is famous for long-distance mountain biking and horseback riding and it was the perfect trail for Bugsy after we kept ditching her to hike in the national park. The Maah Daah Hey Trail actually goes through the national park, and we hiked a piece of it in the Big Plateau Loop.
We cannot say enough good things about Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Dakota badlands. It made us want to go back to Badlands National Park and do a deeper dive there.