Theodore Roosevelt National Park lies in western North Dakota, where the Great Plains meet the rugged Badlands. It’s a spectacular landscape. But one that requires planning if you’re traveling with pets.
Western North Dakota is breathtakingly beautiful and offers a lot to see and do. Both the north and south units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park are popular, and the Bully Pulpit Golf Course – one of America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses according to Golf Digest, the Cowboy Hall of Fame, and the famous Medora Musical are all here.
Unfortunately, if you’re looking for pet friendly activities, you’ll find slim pickin’s.
None of the trails in the national park allow dogs. Even the portion of the pet friendly Maah Daah Hey Trail that runs through the south unit of the park is off-limits to dogs. (Fortunately, the Buffalo Gap spur trail allows pooches and their people to skirt around the national park.)
Chimney Park is a decent place to do a lap and read the plaques about Medora’s history.
And moseying around downtown Medora is interesting – if only a few blocks long.
To make it more challenging, North Dakota summers can get quite hot and humid. During our visit in September, temperatures were still approaching 90 degrees!
Traveling with pets means being at the mercy of Mother Nature. Weather that’s too cold, too hot, too windy, too humid, or too rainy can derail any plans you’ve made with your furry family members.
So, if you’re visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park with dogs, there’s a chance you’ll just be loading them into the air-conditioned car, driving around admiring the scenery, and keeping your eyes peeled for wildlife.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The 36-mile loop road through the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is accessed right off the main drag in Medora. Be sure to stop by the Visitor Center and check for any closures or tips for spotting wildlife.
During our visit, the last few miles of the loop was closed due to erosion. So, the route was an out-and-back rather than a loop.
Pet Policy at Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Within the Park boundaries, leashed pets can only walk along roads and road shoulders, sidewalks, parking areas, and in campgrounds and picnic areas.
On hot days, the best places to walk pets are at the campgrounds and picnic areas, where there is shade. Other areas of the park are fully exposed to the sun.
Once you’re on the road, it’s easy to spend a few hours stopping at the turn-outs, admiring the landscape, and searching the horizon for the wild horses and bison that roam within the park’s borders. You might, however, have more luck spotting the adorable prairie dogs, which must number in the tens of thousands here!
If you’re visiting on a hot day, try to go early in the morning or closer to sunset. The temps are cooler and wildlife tends to be more active.
You an also access the south unit of the Park at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center. From the Interstate, this looks like a glorified rest area, but take Exit 32 for one of the best views in the area!
The sidewalk at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center is a good place to walk dogs and has fantastic views of the badlands all along the way.
Cruising up Hwy 85 to the north unit of the park takes about an hour. Before you know it, you’re on the 14-mile out-and-back road through another spectacular landscape.
Even in the rain, the bison are out and about. Several were along the road just past the fee station and a big group was up on the hill just a little way down the road!
Bison might seem calm and slow-moving, but you never want to startle them or get too close. They can quickly stampede or even attack if they feel threatened.
Whenever hiking with dogs in places where there are bison (like Custer State Park in South Dakota), consider putting bear bells on your furry pals. Then you won’t have to worry about surprising one of these big beasts.
Some of the best views in the north unit are of the Little Missouri River from the bluffs high above. (Even if it’s raining.)
If you’re visiting Teddy Roosevelt during a rainy day, use caution around the trails. The wet clay is slippery and sticky! However, it’s the movement of this wet clay that creates some of the stunning landscapes around the park.
Pet Friendly Accommodations in Medora
Unfortunately, we don’t have good news to report on the pet friendly accommodations in Medora, either. We didn’t find a single hotel in town that welcomed pets, and the private RV Park where we stayed was rundown and dirty.
Sully Creek State Park
If you’re up for “ruffing” it, Sully Creek State Park is just 2.5 miles from town. It has campsites, showers, and great views. Some sites even have horse corrals, and you can access the previously mentioned 144-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail from here.
Buffalo Gap Campground and Trail
Buffalo Gap Campground, run by the US Forest Service, is another option close to Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The campground offers a number of shaded campsites on a first-come, first-served basis. It’s a great place to stay if you want to explore the surrounding pet friendly Little Missouri National Grasslands.
From the campground, you can also access the dog friendly Buffalo Gap spur trail mentioned earlier. Another pet friendly option is the Buffalo Gap Overlook trail, which includes a short but mighty 600-foot climb up a scoria hill. At the top, you’re treated to a grand view of the surrounding areas.
Overall, Medora has a lot to offer. But, if you’re traveling with pets, a quick 2-3 day stop is all you’ll need to fit in the highlights.
When you’re finished at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, there are many other dog friendly attractions around North Dakota, such as Lake Sakakawea. So check out some other destinations and keep exploring!