I was excited about seeing Theodore Roosevelt National Park for a couple of reasons. First and foremost on the 100th anniversary of our national parks system, visiting the park honoring him seemed particularly appropriate. He is credited with creating our parks system and he himself directly credited his time as a rancher in the Badlands with building his character and making him president. Secondly, last year as we traveled towards Glacier we passed this park and noticed it because of the stark difference in the terrain. We were traveling through ranching country and then wham out of nowhere this beautiful rocky canyon area appeared. Since we were towing and on a schedule to meet people, we didn’t stop, but I made a mental note to come back and see it. I didn’t know the park was only an hour away from the beet harvest, but was excited when I found out. Plus we were lucky that we had a sunny, non-work day (a rare occurrence) and immediately decided to take advantage of it.
The park is divided in three sections and surrounds the area where Teddy had his cattle ranch. We were closest to the North Unit so decided to stop there first and I am so glad we did. The South Unit is the more commercialized of the two and I am sure many people only see that and don’t make the additional hour trip north to see the smaller north section, but we found the north to be absolutely beautiful. It also answered the lingering question in my mind if all nature would pale in comparison to what we had seen in Alaska. Thankfully this was not the case, as the beauty of the Badlands is so very different than Alaska that it drew no comparison.
Our American the Beautiful pass expired in August and when we saw that the park pass was $20 (for 7 days) we immediately renewed. Not only did we save money with the pass last year, but I am proud to support our National Parks and didn’t mind spending the $80. It was easy to renew. We simply pulled up to the gate, handed them our old one, and in no time received a new card. The North Unit has a 14 mile “out and back” scenic drive. Scenic drives are our favorite thing and since it was incredibly windy I was happy to have the truck with us. Pretty quickly the scenery was spectacular as we drove along the canyons bottom and then up to the top edge. It reminded me quite a bit of Palo Duro (the Little Grand Canyon in Texas), but I found it more beautiful than even that.
As we often do we stopped early on and checked out the Juniper campground. It was really nice and clean and had great views and even had a dump station. Most of the sites were pretty small, as is often the case with older public campgrounds, but there were some that could fit a bigger rig and it also had a great picnic area that we stopped at for our packed lunch.
As we drove along we saw several groups of bison, and we were careful on the windy road, but then we stopped at River Bend Overlook and the views just took my breath away. We got out and walked around and the views were stunning, and varied in 360 degrees. Truly an amazing spot and don’t be afraid to walk a bit here. You simply can’t take a bad picture.
After we spent some time at the overlook we continued the drive and met our first buffalo on the road. They couldn’t have cared less about our truck, and at one point a HUGE bull walked out in front of the truck. He was not moving and after we waited awhile, Lee gently edged around him. Gotta say it was kind of scary though because we was really close and big.
When we reached the end we stopped and saw some nice views and noticed a ranger filling buckets with dirt at the edge of a field. We weren’t sure what he was doing, but I took a picture and later when I read it, I thought it was the absolute coolest thing. He was creating a prairie trail, because it had been so wet.
It was only 1:45 when we were done so we decided to make the hour plus drive down to the South Unit. I have to say that of the two I really liked the North Unit better and would definitely recommend it if you can only do one. But the South Unit did have more animals and a nice visitors center than included the original cabin Roosevelt had lived in.
This park was a 36 mile loop which had four separate prairie dog towns. These areas were huge and the prairies dogs were very close by so we spent lots of time taking there pictures.
The wildlife was great, but the views just weren’t as spectacular and the campground would be pretty hard to get a big rig in. Like I said it wasn’t bad, but I definitely recommend the North Unit.
It was a 2 hour drive back to the campground from the south unit, but so worth it. We really needed the nature time and I am so glad we got to experience the park. Absolutely worth the trip.
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