Theodore Roosevelt National Park, named in honor of 25th U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, is located in western North Dakota and is comprised of 70,446 acres separated into three geographically areas – the North Unit, the South Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit – by surrounding badlands. The The Maah Daah Hey Trail connects all three areas, as does the Little Missouri River.
The two main units of the park feature long roadways with scenic views, as well as approximately 100 miles of foot and horse trails, wildlife viewing, and opportunities for back country hiking and camping, with each of the park’s three units featuring its own dedicated campground area. The vast terrain and varied agriculture allows for spectacular opportunities for viewing the native wildlife, which includes a plethora of animals including bison, coyotes, cougars, feral horses, badgers, elk, bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer and mule deer, and prairie dogs. In addition, over 186 species of birds are on display given the time of year, such as golden eagles, sharp-tailed grouse, and wild turkeys. Park officials manage the native wildlife in order to ensure that the balance of the region’s delicate ecosystem is maintained at all times.
Theodore Roosevelt, an avid outdoorsman, first came to Dakota Territory on a short trip to hunt bison in 1883. While there, he reportedly fell in love with the region due to rugged conditions and the overwhelming sense of freedom it afforded him. Wanting to set down ties in the Dakota Territory, he first invested $14,000 of his own money in the Maltese Cross Ranch, an establishment located seven miles south of Medora. Following the tragic death of both his mother and his wife in 1884, Roosevelt returned to the ranch in order to recover from the loss in solitude. Later, during the summer months, he would establish another ranch, the Elkhorn Ranch, located 35 miles north east of Dickinson; he spent a great deal of time in the region, hunting and exploring, and chronicled his experiences and adventures in articles that he penned in various newspapers and magazines published back on the east coast.
After Roosevelt passed away in 1919, areas in the Dakota Badlands were explored to determine possible park locations; the area that would become Theodore Roosevelt National Park was officially designated as the Roosevelt Recreation Demonstration Area in 1935; later, in 1946, it became the Theodore Roosevelt National Wildlife Refuge after being handed over to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. Later, in 1947, it was established as the Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park by President Harry S. Truman, and – following boundary adjustments in 1978 – its designation was changed to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and has remained as such ever since.
The only American national park named directly after a single person, Theodore Roosevelt National Park has remained a popular tourist attraction in North Dakota, hosting 749,389 visitors in 2018. Roosevelt cited his time in the Dakota Territory as being influential in his pursuit of conservation policies after he was elected as President of the United States in 1901. The park memorializes Roosevelt’s contributions to the conservation of America’s natural resources, and features a museum that sheds light for visitors on the days the President spent running his ranches in the area. In addition, Roosevelt’s former residences – Maltese Cross Cabin and Elkhorn Ranch – are open to the public and available for tours.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is considered one of the primary tourist attractions for the nearby city of Medora, which has a number of attractions that cater to visitors, including many that emphasize Theodore Roosevelt’s importance to the region.