Named for the president that frequented the area in his younger days, Theodore Roosevelt National Park (www.nps.gov/thro/index.htm) offers visitors a look at an untamed wilderness — that same wilderness that inspired the future president to shape our nation’s conservation policy. As a result of that policy, bison still roam freely throughout this North Dakota national park, and the rugged landscape offers visitors a glimpse of the past in this relatively undeveloped and protected land.
The most accessible way to enjoy the park is to take the scenic loop drive that’s located near Medora. This 36-mile drive climbs over deserted plateaus and snakes through colorful canyons, as it offers visitors unlimited wildlife viewing opportunities. To find the loop, take exit 27 off of Highway 94, then follow the signs to the visitor center, which is located at the beginning of the drive.
There’s accessible parking near the visitor center with level access over to the building. Inside there’s barrier-free access to the exhibits, ranger information desk and the film about the park. Pick up a map from the ranger, turn left out of the parking lot, and get ready for some breathtaking windshield views.
Drive She Said
After the road winds under the freeway and passes the first prairie dog town you’ll see the first accessible stop along the drive — Skyline Vista. There’s accessible parking near the .15-mile paved trail out to the overlook. From there you’ll get a sweeping view of Big Plateau with Jones Creek in the foreground.
The Cottonwood Picnic Area, which is located just past Skyline Drive, makes a good lunch stop. There’s accessible parking near the accessible restroom, and a picnic shelter with an accessible table nearby. There’s a slight bump up to the shelter due to erosion, so some folks may need a little assistance.
Boicourt Overlook, which is located just up the road, also offers a nice accessible view. The nearby .3-mile Boicourt Trail is marked as accessible, but some parts of it are in ill repair due to erosion. The good news is, if you can manage the first part of the trail, you’ll probably be able to make it to the end.
Last but not least, don’t miss Badlands Overlook for some more accessible views, before the road winds back to the visitor center. All in all the scenic drive takes about two hours to complete, as the speed limit is 25 mph along the route.
One Last Look
Although it’s not part of the scenic drive, Painted Canyon Overlook is also worth a stop while you are in the park. It’s located at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center, just up Highway 94 at exit 32.
There’s accessible parking near the visitor center, with barrier-free access to the front door. Inside there’s plenty of room to maneuver a wheelchair around the exhibits and over to the ranger information desk. There’s also a good view of the adjacent badlands from inside; however there’s even a better view of Painted Canyon outside. A .2-mile paved level sidewalk follows the rim of the canyon, and offers a bird’s eye view of the aptly named feature. It’s a scenic way to end any visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Editor’s Note: At press time the scenic drive was closed at milepost 28, due to deteriorating road conditions. There is however a place to turn around and backtrack near Badlands Overlook. On the plus side, the view is totally different coming from the opposite direction. Check the park website for updated road conditions.