Campground Review – Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Cottonwood Campground, Medora, North Dakota

Posted July 12, 2017

If you’d rather listen to the podcast, click the play button.

 

bambi-4    *see our 5-Bambi rating legend at the end of this review.

“Leave it as it is. The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it” – Theodore Roosevelt

We’re moving too fast – still trying to find our pace.

Entering Yellowstone National Park

Since April 29th it’s been a succession of quick stays across the continental United States with a few important objectives shaping our trajectory which included our happy family reunion in Big Sky, Montana

… and our upcoming appointment at the Airstream Factory in Ohio on the 18th of July.

Our 4-3-2 Rule has taken a back seat to expedience. Ten days in the Grand Tetons National Park, four cold and snowy days in Yellowstone National Park, and four days in Big Sky, Montana …

Adjacent to the Gallatin River in Big Sky, Montana at the Red Cliff Campground.

And finally, after a few one-day stops in some parking lots here and there …

Overnight parking at the Miles City North Dakota Walmart

…we carved out the opportunity for a full week stay somewhere – if we could find a place. From our research, it looked doubtful we’d have success, but we decided to grab the golden ring and gamble on Theodore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit in Medora, North Dakota

We turned into TRNP at 11 AM on Monday with the goal of snagging a coveted first-come-first-serve primitive RV site at Cottonwood Campground. If we couldn’t secure a site, we’d just spend the day driving the loop and move on.

But the moment we passed the ranger station our hearts skipped a beat.

Pardon the hippie vernacular, but this place is far-out

Boicourt Overlook Trail

…vibes so intense we didn’t have to pick-up on them – we could actually see them…

Old Entrance Trail

… even touch them.

Petrified Forest

These hills don’t “call” or “sing.”  No. They scream and lay open their veins to the very bone.

Coal Vein Trail

The landscape is indescribable – even the film on view at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park Visitor Center didn’t capture the complexity. I think, if Salvadore Dali saw The Badlands, he’d paint them as they are – melting mountains …

Coal Vein Trail
Petrified Forest

…or the boneyard of the gods.

Hoodoos

The geologic processes that continue to shape this region have a virtual reality schema that cracks a whip over the brain. The constant double-takes – as faces and figures and human-like sounds emerge from the phenomenal hoodoos is exhausting, chilling … compelling.

Buck Hill Trail

Are they trying to tell us something …?

Petrified Forest
Petrified Forest
Boicourt Overlook Trail
Wind Canyon Trail
A 3 ft chunk of petrified wood. Cool, huh!?

We are so hip with Teddy now.

“I grow very fond of this place, and it certainly has a desolate, grim beauty of its own, that has a curious fascination for me.”   – Theodore Roosevelt

Maltese Cross Cabin – Teddy’s house
Tree, climbing.

We would never pit park against park – every U. S. National Park is a treasure to be protected – but, man … It’d be a bummer to miss Teddy’s place! Yes, tourist concessions and creature comforts are minimal to nonexistent, but now that we are properly equipped, it will be a while before we return to the traffic jams, crowded camping and trails we experienced in Yellowstone the previous week. Let’s just call it a trade-off.

Everyday at Teddy’s (South Unit) we viewed more free-roaming wildlife than in all our time in the Tetons and Yellowstone. We quickly learned to stay at or below the 25 mph speed limit. At least once a day we drove the 37-mile loop and every single time we had to slow down or brake for wildlife. Large animals cross these roads – bison, wild horses, big horn sheep, elk – and often, in herds. So, we kept our speed down and our camera ready. We wondered how the cyclists and bikers on the loop were dealing with their encounters!

Gorgeous Buffalo/Bison in repose

We took special care while driving through prairie dog towns. This region is their only home and these intelligent and hardworking little citizens are losing ground every day.

And when we got home, we couldn’t help but admire our spacious woodland campsite. Sweet digs …

Space #14 Cottonwood campground

Bird watching is another reward in Cottonwood. I must get a telephoto lens for my iPhone!
Dogs are not allowed on the trails, but Cottonwood has a network of walking paths where leashed pets can have a taste of wilderness. Pico loved his walks!

All sites at Cottonwood (the only campground within the South Unit park) are “primitive” meaning no hook-ups at all. That means, no water, no electricity, no sewer, no WiFi, no cell service, no laundry, no camp store. You are on your own here!

Water stations and toilets (no showers) are placed throughout the park. The even-numbered campsites are only available through Reserve Americawhich means they were mostly empty. The uneven-numbered sites are reserved on a first-come-first-served basis through the camp host with a fourteen day maximum stay at $14 a night and half price, $7 with a senior card.

When we arrived to search for a space, the camp host advised us to take – sight unseen – the only available site that would accommodate our rig. So rather than hope for something better and lose the space to fierce competition, we immediately secured #14 for a full week.

Most of the sites are huge and fortunately ours was not under a canopy of shady cottonwoods. In a primitive situation like this we need all the solar energy we can harvest, and were delighted that even with an overcast day or two, our batteries remained charged throughout our stay.

When we arrived there was fresh evidence of bison in our campsite, but they had moved to the far end of Cottonwood. Ever wonder what a bison would do if he saw his reflection on an Airstream?
Catching rays at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

After a full day and night of camping nirvana, we woke with an itch to explore. Since we’d be out for hours, Jim whomped up big plates of his divine huevos rancheros verdes.

LIB is the best Mexican restaurant on the road!

There are several ways to view the park: Drive the 37-mile loop, ride the bridle paths, cycle the loop and hike the trails.

37-mile driving loop through the Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Each day we drove to selected trailheads and hiked from there. Traffic was always light and only rarely did we encounter fellow hikers.

The trails range from five minute nature walks to 7-9 mile treks. All are well signed from the road and  marked – and trail guides are provided at many of the pull-outs along the loop. Whatever time we had, there was a trail. This park is so easy to visit. Even a single drive-through experience will blow you away. TRNP is the perfect place to introduce new hikers to a proper trail experience.

Ridgeline Trail
The original – now abandoned – entrance to the park.
Coal Vein Trail
Boicourt Overlook – That’s me up there – need a drone …
Boicourt Overlook trail
Wind Canyon Trail – The Little Missouri River

We loved them all, but our favorite hike was the Petrified Loop Hiking Trail.

Petrified Forest Trail
Petrified Forest Trail

Oh, and another great thing about Theodore Roosevelt National Park! At the end of every trail they have free beer!

Sorry. Must have been the hoodoos talking. You have to drive a few miles to Medora for a cold one but it’s worth it – only puts you back a few bucks.

But as long as it’s Happy Hour, let’s make a wish …

… that Teddy’s reality will endure. Conservation doesn’t have to be a wild-fantasy, flower-child dream.

Land conservation makes good economic sense. Publicly protected lands have already passed the test of logic, so that legacy … has legs. Let’s keep moving forward.

“it is also vandalism wantonly to destroy or to permit the destruction of what is beautiful in nature, whether it be a cliff, a forest, or a species of mammal or bird. Here in the United States we turn our rivers and streams into sewers and dumping-grounds, we pollute the air, we destroy forests, and exterminate fishes, birds and mammals — not to speak of vulgarizing charming landscapes with hideous advertisements. But at last it looks as if our people were awakening.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Our “BAMBI” rating system for Public and Private campgrounds and resorts explained:

bambi-1 – One Bambi: Should’a boondocked.

bambi-2 – Two Bambi’s: Better than a Cracker Barrel or Walmart.

bambi-3 – Three Bambi’s: Adequate for a short stay.

bambi-4 – Four Bambi’s: Great place! Met our expectations for an extended stay. Needs minor improvements or is not ideally situated for all our preferred recreation (walking, cycling, swimming, kayaking) without driving.

 – Five Bambi’s: Destination Camping at it’s best! Critical as we are, there’s nothing we’d improve, and you can bet your sweet Bambi we’re going back!

 

 

17 thoughts on “Campground Review – Theodore Roosevelt National Park – Cottonwood Campground, Medora, North Dakota

  1. First, welcome to the Mitten. Hope we made you feel welcomed. I enjoy every step of your adventure and appreciate you sharing it with us. I am going to add TRNP to the “bucket list.” My only concern is no cell service. We have elderly folks and kids (although grown) and I don’t think I could truly appreciate the beauty if I’m concerned about an emergency back home. So, for now, I will enjoy your story and beautiful photos.

  2. We thought about stopping there while we were on our epic adventure last summer but you can only stop and see so much in a given amount of time.

  3. Yes! We’ve been there twice, it’s just beautiful. Then there is the picturesque little town outside the gates!

  4. Been tracking you two since pre-retirement.
    Going to try the coffee procedure and see if it makes a difference.
    Just had a friend stay in TRNP last month
    They loved it too
    Me & the Minions are heading out next week for Cape Cod then down to SC coast to witness the Solar Eclispe.
    Make sure you find a place it it’s travels to see it
    Aug 21st.
    Last one was 1978
    Happy trails
    Neuman

    1. Definitely try his coffee procedure; mine was the same except for covering the coffee with water and waiting 30 seconds before filling the FP carafe and brewing 4:30 instead of 4:00. Big difference; DW says best coffee on earth!

  5. We spent 4 days last August 2016. Most mornings the buffalo would graze just a few feet from our camper. Great place to visit!

  6. I am really enjoying your travels through your blog and all the gorgeous photos!! Makes me feel like I am right along with you!!

Leave a Reply