Divided into three units along the Little Missouri River, Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness encompasses the heart of the scenic North Dakota badlands. Eons ago, when the Rocky Mountains emerged, material washed off the range and was deposited here, forming a plain. Centuries of wind and rain carved the badlands into the broken, colorful splendor of today's badlands. Theodore Roosevelt himself had a cattle ranch here in the 1880s, and the ranch headquarters is preserved in the small Elkhorn Ranch Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The Wilderness and park bears the former president's name in honor of his experiences in the badlands and his conservation legacy.
The Wilderness preserves outstanding badlands geology, a petrified forest, mixed-grass prairie, and a wide variety of wildlife species. Much of the South Unit west of the river and most of the North Unit is Congressionally designated Wilderness, and these areas provide a home for a multitude of wildlife including bison, elk, mule deer, whitetail deer, pronghorn, bighorn sheep, coyotes, prairie dogs, sharp-tailed grouse and eagles.
Ninety-five miles of trails offer ample opportunity for solitude, as most visitors stay on park roads and in established campgrounds.
In spring, when snowmelt fills the river, paddling can be excellent, although water levels vary and it is sometimes difficult to plan ahead.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
Please visit the park's website, or stop in or call one of the park's three visitor centers to get trip planning information and learn about current trail, weather, and river conditions.
The park is a great place for scenic touring, hiking, backpacking, wildlife watching, bird watching, and canoeing (depending on the season.) There are limited opportunities for cross country skiing in winter.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
Weather is often harsh in winter, with temperatures below -30 and fierce winds. However, some winter days are pleasant and wildlife viewing can be outstanding. Summers are warm with occasional thunderstorms. Spring tends to be rainy, while fall is often warm and sunny.
Safety and Current Conditions
There are no approved drinking water sources in the backcountry. There are springs and wells, which supply water for wildlife, but none are certified safe for human consumption. Plan to carry in all your drinking and cooking water.
Want to Volunteer for Wilderness?
Citizens who volunteer their time to steward our wilderness areas are an essential part of wilderness management. Contact the following groups to inquire about volunteer opportunities.