Theodore Roosevelt National Park and how Bison make a hike more interesting

Off season is a great time to travel to popular tourist sites.  The Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota attracts about 600,000 people a year.  Not a tremendous amount for the huge size of the park, but we like to avoid crowds.  Early May is still off season, however the park office is open to get park maps, pay an access fee of $25 and get hiking information.  Because it is not ‘high season’,  you self check at the campground, the water is not turned on, and a lone vault toilet was open.

View after climbing to top of butte

View after climbing to top of butte

We really wanted to go to the North unit of the park since it is more remote and the rock structure is more dramatic, however we didn’t want to drive the extra 100 miles to get there since we only had a couple of days.  The south unit is right off I94, has a large campground (Cottonwood), and the Missouri River runs through this part of the park.  We were one of four people in the campground -perfect for us.  This is not a ‘big rig’ friendly park – even the pull thru’s are small.  The back-in sites were short too, but our truck camper fit right in.  Most of the sites have some cottonwoods around the site for some shade in the summer months.  We woke up one morning to find a bison next to the camper rubbing his head on a tree he stayed for about 20 minutes and left a ‘bison patty’ for us.  A tent camper told us he had to wait 30 minutes to get out because one was right next to the door flap.

We had a beautiful warm day to enjoy a long hike so struck out to find a bridge that went over the river to a set of several trails.  We weren’t the only ones enjoying the beautiful day — the bison, prairie dogs, wild horses, elk, deer, and birds were all out as well.  The prairie dogs are always entertaining to watch as they chip, chatter and dive into their dens.

Prairie Dog town

Prairie Dog town

We walked about eleven miles and never did find the bridge or a trail so we had fun blazing our own path after a wet river crossing.  You are warned by the rangers and by plenty of signage to NOT get close to the bison — they are huge and fast and there is mostly open areas with no trees to climb if you needed to.

Give the bison LOTS of clearance

Give the bison LOTS of clearance

 

We had to detour several times to get around a bison standing in our path.  Fun for the first few times, but then like anything, it did get tiring slogging through sagebrush to avoid a standoff.

 

Very hiking friendly

Very hiking friendly

 

Coal vein in sandstone - it gets hot

Coal vein in sandstone – it gets hot

 

Bison blocking our path

Bison blocking our path

 

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