10 Classic Hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Wander through the vibrant layers of rock seen throughout the canyons, watch bison roam the hillside, or learn how the iconic badlands earned their name on any of these classic day hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Hiking Easy, Moderate, Difficult

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Talkington Trail
Talkington Trail Photo: Matt Zimmerman

Description

Theodore Roosevelt National Park encompasses nearly 70,000 acres spread across the remote western reaches of North Dakota. As the “only American national park named directly after a single person,” the park is divided into three units. The South Unit is the largest and most visited, thanks to nearby Interstate 94. In addition to the park’s main backcountry hiking trails, a scenic 36-mile scenic drive tours the park and is loaded with “rolling, jumbled badlands with fantastic scenery in all directions,” the park notes. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly overlook hike to stretch the legs or are leaning more towards an overnight trip in the backcountry, this guidebook showcases 10 of the park's best hikes for any occasion.

If you just arrived at the park, this guidebook highlighting 4 of the park’s best overlook hikes is an excellent place to start. All are family-friendly options that everyone in the family can enjoy – or you broaden the selection with trails like the Ridgeline Nature Trail, Coal Vein Trail, or the Painted Canyon Nature Trail. In particular, Painted Canyon is noted by the NPS as a “moderate challenge with massive rewards,” and a one-stop-shop introduction to the stunning beauty seen throughout the park’s entirety. It’s also conveniently located off Insterstate 94, making it one of the most accessible and visited trails anywhere in the park.

If you’re touring the park’s Southern Unit, don’t pass up a visit to Petrified Forest Loop, just 20 minutes from Mendora. It’s more remote than some of the other day hikes along Scenic Loop Road, but a visit to America’s 3rd largest petrified forest is a sight you absolutely cannot miss. Seen in this guidebook, a 10-mile circuit links the North and South Petrified Forest trails with the Maah Daah Hey Trail, or you could opt for an out-and-back into the northern petrified forest.

Should you find yourself in the park’s Northern Unit, the Caprock Coulee Trail is the single must-do day hike. From the eastern trailhead, enjoy a 1.6-mile self-guided trip with numbered waysides found along the trail - or grab your day pack and complete the park’s recommended 4-mile circuit showcasing a rare and densely wooded area found in few places throughout Theodore Roosevelt NP.

If an overnight trip is on your radar, then this circuit, linking the Jones, Talkington, and Paddock trails may be for you. It offers countless options to shorten or lengthen the route, plus several options for parking. Free backcountry camping permits are required to spend the night under the stars, though completing the loop during daylight is easily attainable.

Sources:

NPS Wikipedia

Routes included

Related guidebooks