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The Complete Guide to Camping in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The Complete Guide to Camping in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Camping in Theodore Roosevelt National Park is my favorite way to explore this stunning part of western North Dakota.

An often overlooked and definitely underrated gem, this national park is known for its expansive stretches of rugged, stark, and spectacularly-colored badlands as well as ample wildlife viewing opportunities, especially bison and wild horses.

Spread out across three separate units, the entire park is connected by the Little Missouri River as well as the Maah Daah Hey Trail (possibly North Dakota’s best kept secret). Most visitors simply explore the park by taking a scenic drive, but we urge you to camp for at least a night or two (if not much longer) to truly experience this magical badlands region of North Dakota.

Use our ultimate visitor’s guide to help plan the best Theodore Roosevelt National Park camping trip.

Index

  1. Best Campgrounds
  2. Backcountry Camping
  3. Nearby Campgrounds
  4. Best Things to Do
  5. Plan Your Visit

Best Campgrounds in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Bison in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Whether you arrive in an RV or plan to pitch a tent, Theodore Roosevelt National Park campgrounds have you covered.

Camping within the park is limited to just two campgrounds: Cottonwood Campground in the South Unit and Juniper Campground in the North Unit. Both campgrounds are primitive with no RV hookups or shower facilities, although flush toilets are available at both in the summer. A single additional primitive group horse camp is available for horse campers. 

Here are the best campgrounds in Theodore Roosevelt National Park:

Cottonwood Campground

Dates Open: Year-Round

# of Sites: 72

RV Hookups: None

Beautiful Cottonwood Campground is located in the park’s South Unit.

It sits just 5 miles from Medora for easy access off I-95. Because of its easy accessibility, advance reservations (available for about half the campsites) are strongly recommended during the peak season (roughly mid-May to mid-September). No reservations? Arrive in the morning to secure a first-come, first-served campsite.

The lazy Little Missouri River winds its way past Cottonwood Campground. Plentiful cottonwood trees provide some shade – although afternoons still get quite hot on summer days. RVs are welcome but no RV hookups or dump station are available. Additional amenities include flush toilets and running water (available in peak season only).

Cottonwood Campground is a good spot for winter camping in Theodore Roosevelt National Park but know that winters here are very cold.

Learn more about Cottonwood Campground.

Juniper Campground

Dates Open: Year-Round

# of Sites: 48

RV Hookups:
No

Peaceful Juniper Campground is located in the park’s North Unit.

It’s roughly 5 miles off US-85 near Watford City. All campsites are first-come, first-served, even during the peak season. Although less busy than Cottonwood Campground, it typically fills up by late afternoon during the peak season.

This quiet Theodore Roosevelt National Park campground sits on the banks of the Little Missouri River. Rocky Mountain juniper and cottonwood trees abound but don’t expect much shade. Most sites can accommodate RVs, although no hookups are available. However, there is a seasonal RV dump station as well as seasonal flush toilets and running water.

Juniper Campground is home to the trailheads for several popular hiking trails, including the Little Mo Trail and the Achenbach Trail. The unique “cannonball concretions” are located nearby.

Learn more about Juniper Campground.

Roundup Group Horse Camp

Dates Open: May 1 – October 31

Another option, for those planning on horse camping in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, is Roundup Group Horse Camp.

Located in the South Unit, roughly 12 miles from Medora, this horse campground consists of a single group campsite with space for up to 20 people and 20 horses. Alternatively, it can be used by a group of 30 people without horses. It can only be used by one group at a time. It’s the only place for horse camping in the national park. Camping here provides access to over 70 miles of horse trails.

You must make advance reservations to stay at Roundup Group Horse Camp. Running water and vault toilets are available.

Learn more about Roundup Group Horse Camp.

Backcountry Camping in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Maah Daah Hey Trail in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Another option for camping in Theodore Roosevelt National Park is to hit the backcountry.

Although there are no developed backcountry campsites, backpackers and horseback riders are welcome to stay overnight for up to 14 days in the park’s backcountry with a free backcountry permit all year-round. Some backcountry camping is also available for those boating on the Little Missouri River.

In addition to following all normal backcountry rules and regulations as well as the Leave No Trace principles, know that weather conditions in the park can change rapidly. Summer temperatures are usually very hot and thunderstorms can occur at a moment’s notice. Always consider the possibility of flash floods when selecting a campsite. Winter weather is extremely cold often with severe winds. Be prepared to encounter sudden severe winter storms.

Learn more about backcountry camping in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Other Camping Near Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Horse in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Several additional camping options are available near the national park. These range from primitive free campsites to traditional tent campgrounds to full-blown RV parks and more.

Here are a few of the best campgrounds near Theodore Roosevelt National Park:

  • Sully Creek State ParkJust south of Medora, Sully Creek State Park is open to tent and RV camping, although no hookups are available. It sits on the banks of the Little Missouri River making it a popular location for canoeing. As the start of the Maah Daah Hey Trail, it’s ideal for horseback riding, hiking, and bicycling.
  • Buffalo Gap CampgroundA hidden gem, this small primitive campground is located in the Little Missouri National Grassland. The sites are level and paved. Flush toilets, hot showers, and an RV dump station are available during the peak season. It costs just $6 per night to stay here. The Buffalo Gap Trail starts nearby.  
  • Camels Hump Lake WMANear Sentinel Butte, Camels Hump Lake is a small lake just off I-94. Free camping is welcome Thursday through Monday. The setting is stunning although there is some highway noise. Most sites are large enough for RVs and trailers as well as tents.
  • Medora CampgroundSmackdab in the middle of Medora, Medora Campground is the best campground near Theodore Roosevelt National Park for those that prefer to be close to town. It boasts 150 campsites, some with electric hookups. Free Wi-Fi, bathroom and shower facilities, a laundry room, and RV dump station are all located on-site.
  • Wannagan CampgroundThis small remote campground, part of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands, is just past Camels Hump Lake. It’s best suited for tent and van campers but might fit small RVs and trailers. The remote campground is a popular overnight stopping point for those on the ever-popular Maah Daah Hey Trail.

These five campgrounds are only the tip of the iceberg for campgrounds and RV parks near Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Best Things to Do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Little Missouri River Near Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Camping is just one of many ways to enjoy visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Here are some additional activities to consider: 

  • Scenic Drive – Taking a scenic drive is the most popular way to explore the park. Most visitors opt for the 36-mile loop in the South Unit although there’s also a 28-mile loop in the North Unit.
  • Backpacking – Expansive backcountry and an extensive network of hiking trails make for excellent backpacking in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Check out the 18.2-mile Achenbach Trail loop and the 12.2-mile Buckhorn Trail loop.
  • Wildlife Viewing – Aside from taking in the memorizing badlands terrain, wildlife viewing is perhaps the most popular activity in the park. Bison, wild horses, and prairie dogs are chief among the most notable animals you’ll see.
  • Stargazing – Thanks to its remote location and lack of light pollution, Theodore Roosevelt is home to world-class stargazing. Very dark night skies and excellent air quality enable you to gaze at the Milky Way in wonder.
  • Horseback Riding – This national park and horseback riding go hand in hand. In fact, the park’s namesake Theodore Roosevelt spent much of his time galloping across these lands. Horseback riding is allowed on all backcountry trails.
  • Fishing – Although it’s not exactly known for top-notch fishing, angling is certainly possible in the Little Missouri River. Most common are channel catfish, goldeyes, and sauger.
  • Boating – The Little Missouri River offers ample boating opportunities, especially in May and June. Canoeing and kayaking are recommended as low water levels, even during the prime season, require boaters to drag their craft in shallow areas. The trip between the North Unit and the South Unit is roughly 107.5 miles and takes about 5 days of canoe camping.
  • Snowshoeing & Cross-Country Skiing – The park is open year-round and receives about 30 inches of snowfall per year. Snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are both popular winter activities, although they can be difficult and dangerous because of the nature of the park’s terrain.
  • Ranger Programs – Both children and adults alike will enjoy the park’s many ranger programs, including Junior Rangers, guided hikes, campfire talks, and more.

For even more ways to spend your time, here are some additional things to do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

How to Plan Your Theodore Roosevelt National Park Camping Trip

Hoodoos in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Here are some additional tips and tricks to help plan your Theodore Roosevelt National Park camping trip:

  • When to Visit – May through September is the peak season. Not only are spring and fall a little less busy than summer, but they are also a little cooler. Summertime temperatures often exceed 100°F while winter conditions are very cold, icy, and windy.
  • How to Get There – The South Unit is easily accessible off I-94 near Medora. The North Unit is roughly 50 miles north of I-94 via US-85. Almost all visitors drive to the park (rent an RV here).
  • Entrance Fees – It costs $30 per vehicle, $25 per motorcycle, or $15 per non-motorized individual (biking, walking, etc) to enter the park for 7 days.
  • Getting Around – Most visitors explore the park in a car, although bicycling is also possible. The South Unit and North Unit are roughly 50 miles apart with the Elkhorn Ranch Unit in between them.
  • Dining & Groceries – No dining is located within the park. For food, dining, and groceries, the closest options are Medora near the South Unit and Watford City near the North Unit. Dickinson about 35 miles away from the South Unit has larger stores to stock up on supplies.  
  • Lodging – Not interested in camping? A selection of cabins, motels, and hotels are available in the towns of Medora, Belfield, Beach, Dickinson, and Watford City.
  • Bringing a Pet – Theodore Roosevelt National Park welcomes pets, although they are restricted to developed areas only. Pets are not allowed on hiking trails.
  • RV Camping – RVs are welcome at both Cottonwood Campground and Juniper Campground. No hookups are available. A number of RV parks and campgrounds with RV hookups are available just outside the park’s boundaries.
  • Visiting in Winter – Winter camping in Theodore Roosevelt National Park is brutal yet doable. The best winter camping gear and ample cold weather camping experience is a must.

Let us know – in the comments below – if you have any additional questions about camping in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

What Next?

Maltese Cross Cabin in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Plan your next family camping trip by checking out our best state camping guides and our other national park camping guides.

For additional camping tricks and tips, check out our camping how-to resources, such as how to go camping in the rain and our beginner’s guide to hammock camping.

If you’re in the market for new gear, our camping gear guides (with reviews!) can help point you in the right direction for tents, sleeping bags, portable power devices, camping stoves, and so much more!

Finally, our many camping food resources break down everything you need to build the perfect camping kitchen as well as make our favorite camping recipes, including 47 camping meals that require no refrigeration.

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