Guidebook

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.

Brendon Voelker

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

Skyline Vista Trail

Skyline Vista Trail

0 - 1 hrs
0.4 km
2 m
2 m
A paved path to an impressive vista looking west over the Little Missouri River.
Easy
Private
Wind Canyon Trail

Wind Canyon Trail

0 - 1 hrs
0.8 km
18 m
18 m
A short hike to the self-proclaimed "best view of the Little Missouri River the South Unit has to offer."
Easy
Private
Buck Hill Trail

Buck Hill Trail

0 - 1 hrs
0.6 km
23 m
23 m
An easy and accessible hike to the top of Theodore Roosevelt National Park!
Easy
Private
Biocourt Trail

Biocourt Trail

0 - 1 hrs
0.6 km
8 m
8 m
An awe-inspiring overlook hike, and a ranger favorite for watching the sunset.
Easy
Private
Petrified Forest Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Petrified Forest Loop

16.6 km
270 m
270 m
A challenging 10-mile circuit through one of America's largest petrified forest.
Difficult
Private
Painted Canyon Nature Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Painted Canyon Nature Trail

0 - 1 hrs
1.5 km
76 m
76 m
A "moderate challenge with massive rewards," and the one-stop introduction to the stunning beauty seen throughout Theodore Roosevelt NP.
Moderate
Private
Caprock Coulee Nature Trail
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Caprock Coulee Nature Trail

1 - 2 hrs
6.3 km
209 m
209 m
A versatile hike showcasing the beauty of North Dakota's iconic badlands.
Moderate
Private
Coal Vein

Coal Vein

0 - 1 hrs
1.3 km
11 m
11 m
A short, self-guided loop highlighting the geological history of the badlands.
Easy
Private
Jones -> Talkington -> Paddock Loop
The best Routes on FATMAP, hand-picked by FATMAP’s Editorial team.

Jones -> Talkington -> Paddock Loop

17.7 km
230 m
230 m
A long circuit through remote badlands with multiple access points and plenty of options to shorten or lengthen your hike.
Difficult
Private
Ridgeline Nature Trail

Ridgeline Nature Trail

0 - 1 hrs
1.3 km
46 m
46 m
A short, family-friendly overlook hike with breathtaking views of the badlands and their native wildlife.
Moderate
Private