5 Hikes You Can’t Miss at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Escape into the Badlands 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a visceral and expansive park located in the Badlands of North Dakota. The park was established in 1978 and named for President Theodore Roosevelt, who invested a lot of time and money in the area building ranches. 

Soon after Roosevelt passed away, plans were set in motion to protect the rugged lands he loved so much.

Well known for its scenic landscapes of vast open prairies, winding rivers, and rugged North Dakota Badlands, the park is home to a diverse array of wildlife, including bison, wild horses, elk, bighorn sheep, and prairie dogs. Bison have come dangerously close to extinction but have made a comeback thanks to the park’s conservation efforts.

While the 70,000+ acres of protected land offer beautiful scenic views for drivers on the park’s main road, the hiking trails enable visitors to truly immerse themselves in the natural beauty of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Here are Parks and Landmark's top five must-take hikes in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Just keep in mind that to use any of these trails, you’ll have to pay a park fee to enter.

Boicourt Overlook Trail

From the South Unit scenic drive, it can be easy to miss the short Boicourt Overlook Trail. But be sure to find this one, since it’s well worth the effort.

With an incredible look at the badlands, you’ll enjoy views from two different overlooks while on this trail. 

First, enjoy a gorgeous 270-degree view of the park's lands. Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for roaming bison herds and majestic wild horses that frequent this area. 

The second overlook isn’t exactly easy to find, but you’ll know when you’re coming close since the paved trail ends just before you get there.

Total Distance: 0.80 miles

Elevation Gain: 29.5 feet

Difficulty: Easy - Hiking, Walking

Route Type: Out & Back

Other Info:

  • This trail is wheelchair and stroller accessible.
  • This trail is child friendly.
  • No dogs allowed on this trail.

Petrified Forest Trail

If you love both history, nature, and are up for an adventure, the Petrified Forest Trail in the North Unit is a must-do hike. 

The trail itself is mostly grassland. But don’t be fooled. There is plenty to see.

In fact, because bison sometimes feed here, hikers have been known to find hundreds of bison blocking the path. 

Plus, fossilized trees dating back millions of years stand tall in the forest with their ancient roots exposed. 

Total Distance: 10.1 miles

Elevation Gain: 833 feet

Difficulty: Moderate - Hiking, Walking

Route Type: Loop

Other Info:

  • Bison herds are frequently seen on this trail and can block the trail crossing.
  • No dogs allowed on this trail.
  • Bug spray is recommended on this trail.
  • During the colder months, this trail can become very icy.

Lower Paddock Creek Trail

Want to go for a longer hike but without the strain of elevation? Lower Paddock Creek provides the perfect hike for those looking for a long distance but without the difficulty of going uphill and is easily the flattest of all the moderate trails in the park. 

You’ll get fantastic views of the badlands and the winding Paddock Creek. Be sure to keep an eye out for herds of roaming bison, wild horses, and prairie dogs as you make your way. 

There are a few small creek crossings on this trail, so be sure to bring waterproof shoes!

Total Distance: 7.2 miles

Elevation Gain: 419 feet

Difficulty: Moderate - Hiking, Walking

Route Type: Out & Back

Other Info:

  • No dogs allowed on this trail.
  • Bison herds are frequently seen on this trail and can block the trail crossing.
  • Water crossing on this trail — bring proper footwear.
  • Rattlesnakes are common on this trail, so watch where you step.

Wind Canyon Trail

Looking to snap a few shots of the Little Missouri River? Wind Canyon Trail is the ideal place to snag some.

This short, family-friendly walk provides beautiful views of the Little Missouri River and the surrounding canyons. Just a few steps off the trail is an overlook where you’ll get a stunning panoramic view of the river flowing below. 

Many hikers say this is the best place in the park to watch the sun rise or set, so be sure to plan accordingly.

Total Distance: 0.49 miles

Elevation Gain: 55.7 feet

Difficulty: Easy - Walking

Route Type: Loop

Other Info:

  • This trail is child friendly.
  • No dogs allowed.
  • There are some stairs.
  • Little to no shade on this trail.

Caprock Coulee Loop

For those looking for a more challenging hike, Caprock Coulee Loop Trail is the way to go.  

Located in the South Unit, this trail features steep climbs, beautiful vistas of the badlands, and a wide variety of wildlife. You’ll pass by an old ranch site where Theodore Roosevelt is rumored to have stayed during his time in North Dakota.

While relatively short in length, the elevation gain on this trail can make it a strenuous hike for some. Be sure to bring plenty of water and enjoy this hike at a leisurely pace.

Total Distance: 4.41 miles

Elevation Gain: 583 feet

Difficulty: Moderate - Hiking

Route Type: Loop

Other Info:

  • Dogs must be leashed.
  • There are some steep drops on this trail so watch your step.
  • Little to no shade on this trail.
  • Rattlesnakes are common, so watch where you step.

Outdoor adventures in Theodore Roosevelt National Park wouldn’t be complete without trying at least one of these spectacular hikes. So lace up your hiking boots, pack some snacks and water, and prepare for an unforgettable experience in the beautiful North Dakota Badlands.

Happy hiking!