Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota is an underappreciated gem of a national park. And as we discovered on our exploration, the park’s North Unit, which is about 70 miles north of the more accessible South Unit, is simply beautiful.
On our recent road trip to the North Unit, we decided to capitalize on a glorious summer day to hike the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail and the Caprock Coulee Trail. These two trails done together form a 4.1 mile loop. The scenery was fantastic everywhere we turned!
I had the good fortune of visiting the Medora, North Dakota area the prior summer for a conference. It’s a charming little town just outside the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It was a treat to bring my family back to this lovely area this summer.
Our Midwest Road Trip
Due to COVID-19, our bigger international travel plans we had for this year were put on hold. So we decided to stay closer to home for a quick summer getaway. After all, doing more Midwest travel (in our own backyard) is one of our family’s travel goals. So off to western North Dakota and the Black Hills of South Dakota we went for a week of hiking, outdoor adventures, and family bonding.
A trip to a neighboring state might seem a little anticlimactic for a travel loving family, but visiting North Dakota actually fulfilled a few of our other travel goals as well.
- We have a family travel goal of visiting all 50 states. Despite living in a neighboring state, my husband and kids had never been to North Dakota before this trip.
- We also like to see as many national parks as we can when we travel, and to add stamps to our kids’ National Park Passports. Because this national park has lower attendance than many, social distancing was easy here! And even when you’re not traveling in the middle of a pandemic, it’s great to not experience massive crowds at a national park in the summer.
Why Western North Dakota?
Shake off any preconceived notions of a visit to western North Dakota. This area of the state is not flat prairie. It is full of badlands, bison, and beauty.
And this part of North Dakota is also rich in US history. The park is named for Roosevelt because of the formative time he spent in this area as a young adult. Later in adulthood, Roosevelt came back to the badlands as a place to find solace after the death of his wife and mother…both of whom passed on the same day. Roosevelt has been quoted as saying that his time in this area helped him become president. After a visit to this area, it’s not hard to see why.
The Caprock Coulee Trail
We started our hike at the Caprock Coulee trailhead and headed north on the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail (the dotted portion of the trail on the map below ). This portion of the trail was relatively flat and less difficult. At the end of the nature trail, people have the option to head back or continue on the Caprock Coulee Trail (the dashed line that creates a loop with the nature trail).
The Caprock Coulee Trail is a bit more difficult than the nature trail, but hikers are rewarded with spectacular views of the North Dakota badlands around every corner. We like hiking on loop trails when possible, so you see different scenery on our whole hike, so we chose to continue onto the Caprock Coulee Trail.
Scenes From Our Hike on the Caprock Coulee Trail
Here are a few scenes from the Caprock Coulee trail. It was a beautiful day for a beautiful trail. Such a fun trail with varied landscapes along the way. It was hard not to include every picture we took!
Our crew definitely recommends a visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s North Unit. And as these pictures show you, there is no better way to experience its grandeur than on the Caprock Coulee Trail.
Where to Stay
There are a couple of options for home bases when exploring Theodore Roosevelt National Park:
- Medora: For the experience of staying in a small, charming western town, Medora is the place for you, with lots of lodging options. On my first trip to the area, I stayed solo in Elkhorn Quarters. Rooms there are very adequate for two people, but for a family, you might want to try other lodging options.
- Dickinson: If you prefer to stay in a larger town, choose Dickinson, which is about 30 minutes east of Medora. Because we wanted lodging with a full kitchen and a little more space to stay for two adults and two teens, we stayed at TownePlace Suites on this trip.
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