5 National Parks and Historic Sites in North Dakota

March 10, 2023

national parks in North Dakota

North Dakota is home to a number of national parks and historic sites that make it a wonderful destination for visitors. Whether you’re looking for a quiet escape or a cultural immersion, North Dakota is the perfect place to visit.

The state is home to three national park service units, including the beautiful Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Plus, there’s the Little Missouri National Grassland and the Badlands National Park.

1. Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is an excellent destination for nature lovers and history buffs alike. It offers incredible wildlife-viewing, fewer people and a more remote feel than most other national parks.

President Theodore Roosevelt came to North Dakota as a young man to hunt bison (buffalo). He instantly fell in love with the land and its rugged beauty.

As a conservationist, Roosevelt helped establish five national parks and protect 230 million acres of public land. He also created the U.S. Forest Service, signed the 1906 Antiquities Act and created numerous wildlife refuges.

The North Unit is centered around a 14-mile loop road that takes visitors to scenic overlooks and hiking trails. Many of these trails can be short, so you can spend the day enjoying them.

2. The Little Missouri National Grassland

The Little Missouri National Grassland is located in western North Dakota, encompassing about 1 million acres of land. The largest grassland in the United States, it encircles Theodore Roosevelt National Park and is managed by the U.S. Forest Service as part of the Dakota Prairie Grasslands unit.

The area is known for its scenic badlands and rough terrain, extensively eroded by wind and water. There are a number of trails in the grassland, and visitors can hike, horseback ride and mountain bike on them.

Floating down the Little Missouri River is another popular activity. It takes about five days to canoe the 107.5 miles from Medora near Theodore Roosevelt National Park to Long X Bridge on U.S. Highway 85 near the park’s North Unit.

The national grasslands are a conservation success story, providing for clean water and wildlife habitat. But there is a tension between the conservation of natural resources and the development of human needs, such as energy. There is a plan for oil and gas development in the grasslands, but it will only be open within quarter-miles on either side of existing roads.

3. Badlands National Park

The Badlands are a geologic marvel, a sculpted landscape of strange shapes, colorful bands, and layered formations that tell a story over millions of years. Sand, silt, clay, mud, volcanic ash, and limestone were deposited into the Badlands over time by shallow inland seas, rivers, and wind.

The park is a great place to see a wide variety of wildlife including bison, bighorn sheep and prairie dogs. The area is also home to a number of ghost towns, where visitors can explore the lives of early settlers and learn about their settlement days.

If you are planning to visit Badlands National Park, consider spending at least two days and one night. That will allow you to explore the park's backcountry and enjoy a sunset and sunrise over the rocky arena.

4. Custer State Park

With 71,000 scenic acres and first-rate visitor facilities, Custer State Park is a great destination for families with kids. From camping to hiking, biking and swimming to birdwatching, you can have a memorable experience here.

One of the most unique attractions is the park’s world-famous needle rock formations that project out of the mountains. The Needles Highway is a favorite scenic drive where you can take photos of this incredible landscape.

The park’s 114 square miles also have a huge population of animals, including bison, pronghorn antelope, sure-footed mountain goats, whitetail deer and elk. Keep in mind that all wildlife is wild and it is illegal to feed or disturb them.

Another attraction is the park’s annual Buffalo Roundup that attracts thousands of visitors. This event is held on the last weekend of September and you can see nearly 1,300 buffalo stampeding across the open lands.


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