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Adventures in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Adventures in Theodore Roosevelt National Park by Jennifer Ditterich

I'm best known for my love of the lakes, so it may surprise some to learn that I'm originally from North Dakota. My love of the land stems from my childhood in western North Dakota, where I hiked through the North Unit of the Badlands with friends and family whenever possible. That dry, unforgiving land is in stark contrast to the lush lakes region I now call home, but it still holds a special place in my heart.

Sunrise in Theodore Roosevelt National Park by Jennifer Ditterich

The Badlands had been calling to me for a while, so this year we took our family trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park and historic Medora, North Dakota. We've visited many times before, but each time is an adventure filled with the amazing history and sights of the rugged west.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park by Jennifer Ditterich

This month we are celebrating the 100th anniversary of our National Parks system, so I'm excited to bring you photos and stories from Theodore Roosevelt National Park, named in honor of the president who so passionately championed the national park system and protected over 200 million acres during his presidency.

 Bison in the Badlands of North Dakota by Jennifer Ditterich

Theodore Roosevelt National Park was established in 1947 and pays tribute to Theodore Roosevelt, known as the "Conservation President." He had lived in the Badlands for a brief time in the late 1800's where he raised cattle. One of his cabins, the Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin, has been moved and is now located near the visitor center of the park.

Maltese Cross Ranch Cabin by Jennifer Ditterich

The park protects the Badlands, an incredible area of rugged terrain shaped by years of deposits and erosion. Layers of earth comprised of sandstone, bentonite clay, lignite coal and clinker have been revealed forming a grim rainbow and stunning scene.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Badlands by Jennifer Ditterich

The rock formations are stunning from a distance and intriguing when you get close.

Rugged View in the Badlands by Jennifer Ditterich

While the land is harsh to us, it is home to a wide variety of wildlife. While we were there we saw bison, elk, turkeys, mule deer, rabbits, wild horses, bluebirds, cedar waxwings and magpies.

North Dakota Traffic Jam by Jennifer Ditterich

We saw dozens of bison in the park and they were often near or on the road, sometimes stopping traffic. We affectionately refer to that as a "North Dakota traffic jam."

Wild Horses in Theodore Roosevelt National Park by Jennifer Ditterich

Herds of wild horses roam freely through the park, too.

Rabbit in Theodore Roosevelt National Park by Jennifer Ditterich

We saw many rabbits along the road in the park, usually in pairs.

Elk in the Badlands of North Dakota by Jennifer Ditterich

I went out early one morning to photograph the sunrise and saw three bull elk on the road! Unfortunately it was still dark, so I couldn't get great photos, but it was an exciting moment for me. I photographed the elk you see here at the Medora Musical. He makes a guest appearance each evening during the show.

Prairie Dog by Jennifer Ditterich Designs

There are several prairie dog towns in the park, offering an up close glimpse of these funny characters. This guy found what appears to be a very yummy treat.

Scenic Loop Drive in the Badlands by Jennifer Ditterich Designs

One of the main ways to explore the park is by driving the 36 mile Scenic Loop Drive. Its meandering path leads through most of the park and takes you to the hiking trails and scenic overlooks.

 Enjoying the view of the Badlands by Jennifer Ditterich

We hiked the Ridgeline Nature Trail in the afternoon. We saw wild horses, cactus and this incredible view.

Hiking Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park by Jennifer Ditterich

Later that evening we saw this bison heading up the very trail we had hiked earlier in the day! We watched him climb the steps and head out of view. The next morning when I was taking sunrise photos I saw him descending those very steps. That must be where he sleeps at night, but I'm certainly glad we didn't get in his way earlier!

North Dakota Bison in the Badlands by Jennifer Ditterich Designs

The bison were definitely my favorite part of the park. They are fascinating creatures, both powerful and stoic.

Kicking Up Dust Bison in the Badlands by Jennifer Ditterich

This handsome fellow was wallowing in the dust. It helps them keep flies away but it is also a way to show off their strength during the rut.

Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park by Jennifer Ditterich

I first saw this massive bull as he napped in the hot midday sun. After a few minutes he woke up, heaved himself to his feet and began grazing. He was enormous!

Wildflowers in Theodore Roosevelt National Park by Jennifer Ditterich

Even with the harsh terrain, each view would reveal a surprise. I found these wildflowers growing next to the Scoria Point Overlook.

Little Missouri River in the Badlands by Jennifer Ditterich

The Little Missouri River flows through Theodore Roosevelt National Park, bringing some much needed moisture to the area. I saw many tracks near its shores.

When we weren't exploring the park we were spending time in Medora. Medora is a quaint little western town that is situated right at the base of the Badlands. It has many attractions, cute shops and a family-friendly atmosphere. If you go to Medora, you have to check out the Pitchfork Fondue and the Medora Musical.

Pitchfork Steak Fondue in Medora North Dakota by Jennifer Ditterich

The Pitchfork Steak Fondue is so much fun. Your steak is literally skewered with a pitchfork and fondued in huge vats of oil. We'd tried it before so this time we tried the Cowboy Cookout, which has herb roasted chicken, BBQ ribs and buffalo roast. It was delicious!

After the meal we waddled over to enjoy the musical.  The Medora Musical is an outdoor theatre set in the rugged badlands.

Medora Musical by Jennifer Ditterich

It features traditional western music and comedy and is very family-friendly. At one point they welcomed all the kids in the audience to come forward and the whole stage was packed! They occasionally have featured entertainers and we were thrilled that we got to see Flight Crew Jump Rope, an act from America's Got Talent. They were incredible and my five-year-old has been jumping rope ever since.

Joe Wiegand as Theodore Roosevelt by Jennifer Ditterich

One of our other favorite attractions in Medora is the Theodore Roosevelt Salute to Medora and the National Parks. Joe Wiegand performs as Roosevelt and speaks to the audience in such a way that you feel you're witnessing the original. It is entertaining, educational and inspirational.

The rest of our time in Medora was spent making trips to the park, playing mini golf and eating ice cream. We had a great time and I encourage you all to check it out, too. (I'm not affiliated in any way with Medora or the park. I just love it!)

Sunset in Theodore Roosevelt National Park by Jennifer Ditterich

It felt wonderful to be back in the rugged Badlands of North Dakota again. I hope you've enjoyed the stories and pictures. What is your favorite National or State Park? I'd love to hear your stories and see your photos, too.





  • Jenn

    Hi Cindy! You’re going to have a fantastic time! Enjoy Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park! I’d love to hear what your favorite things are!

  • CIndy

    Thank you so much for this article! We just made plans driving across the country and this is one of our planned stops. Now I’m even more excited!

  • Jenn

    Thanks, Dick! It is really amazing. You would have a blast taking photos out there!

  • Dick Brunton

    You have an incredible talent. This was fun reading. I can’t imagine what being there is like. Thanks for this.

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