One of the most spectacular vistas of the badlands in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is from the Painted Canyon Overlook and Rest Area on I 94 located east of Medora. Scattered storms moving across the landscape created some dramatic lighting during our stop for a picnic dinner.
No oil development is allowed in the park, but Painted Canyon is at risk because very active oil fields are just outside the park boundaries. Some of these developments are visible on the east rim of the canyon from the overlook (out of frame to the right, in this case).
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.
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)
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).