Theodore Roosevelt National Park (South Unit)

Theodrore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit

Theodore Roosevelt National Park may be the most recognizable location on the list of North Dakota extraordinary places. The park includes three separate geographic locations: the south unit, the north unit, and Elkhorn Ranch. The south unit, located just north on I 94 at Medora is visited by thousands each year.

The 36-mile scenic loop trail is a main attraction in the south unit. The loop travels through a variety of badlands habitats, providing a good introduction to the geology and ecology of the region. At some times of hte year, there can be significant traffic and limited opportunities to stop to explore and photograph along this road (only the pull-outs and overlooks make it possible to get safely out of traffic). Construction on the road to the scenic loop also meant 30+ minute delays during our visit. Similar scenery can be found outside the park, where it is more accessible and there is less traffic (for example, see East River Road).

Highlights along the scenic loop are Buck Hill and Wind Canyon. There are 360-degree views from Buck Hill, including a different view of the often photographed Painted Canyon. At Wind Canyon trail, a high ridge overlooks the Little Missouri River and some fantastic wind-sculpted sand and rock.

Theodrore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit

The south unit sits among very active oil development:  the pale yellow area in the following map is the approximate location of the park.  (Legend to GIS Maps)

Wells - TRNP South

Development surrounds and threatens the park.  Oil wells are visible just outside the park on the ridges to the east of Painted Canyon (from Buck Hill) and to the northeast of the park from the scenic loop near the Boicourt Overlook (following picture).

Theodrore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit


Little Missouri River

The list of extraordinary places includes the entire length of the Little Missouri River. Our path came near the river in a number of places on this first trip, but we did not make an explicit effort to locate as many documentation locations as possible. Here are two representative locations for this trip.

Bend in the river north of Logging Camp Ranch Road (a few miles west of Burning Coal Vein Campground).


A spectacular view of the river from the Wind Canyon Overlook in the south unit of Thodore Roocevelt National Park.

Theodrore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit

We did not see evidence of oil development close to the river in the areas we visited on this first trip. Analysis of GIS data on oil activities will be included with efforts to document the river more thoroughly on a future trip.


Camel’s Hump Butte

Camel's hump Butte

This cone-shaped butte is located just north of I 94, only a few miles west of Medora. Unpaved roads provide good views of the butte from the south, east, and northeast (photo above). Roads to south and east are narrow and unimproved and may be difficult after rain fall.

There is no visible evidence of oil development in the vicinity although GIS data indicate there are several dry holes in the township.

Sentinel Butte

Sentinel Butte is an irregularly-shaped, flat-topped butte located less than 20 miles west of Medora and a few miles south of I 94. Some sources suggest that it is possible to drive to the top of the butte, but the most likely road was posted with several No Trespassing signs at the time of my visit.

A small active oil field is located 5-10 miles to the east near Square Butte, but there is little evidence of oil development in the immediate area (only one dry hole recorded within several miles). However, much of the potential scenic value of the area is already lost due to the presence of cell phone and communications towers on the flat top of the butte. It is difficult to take a photograph of the area that does not include these man-made structures. There are a few locations on the closest roads to the south east and east where it was possible to find an angle where the towers are not (or are only slightly) visible.

Tracy Mountain

Tracy Mountain is a little difficult to view from the road, particularly if one is looking for an angle that does not include evidence of oil development.  This “butte” is about a mile from the nearest road and oil development is common to the south and southwest of the location along much of Tracy Mountain Road from its west end where it meets East River Road to the point of the photograph.

Tracy Mountain

The best location I found during this trip was to the south east, just past the point that Tracy Mountain Road crosses Merrifield Creek.  An aside:  Merrifield Creek was the site of a pipeline (saltwater) leak earlier this year.  The soil where the road crosses the creek had recently been replaced when we visited.

An oil well south of Tracy Mountain.  Several wells are visible along Tracy Mountain Road, some of them back right up to the hills just south of the butte.


Here is a map of oil development in the area.  Tracy Mountain is located roughly at T138N  R101w, section 10, near the northeast end of the Tracy Mountain oil field.  Active wells (the dark circles; see for map legend) are located to the south and south west of Tracy Mountain field.  The active Medora and Fryburg oil fields are located to the northwest and northeast, respectively.