Posted July 12, 2017 – Narrated by Carmen
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.
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 …
And finally, after a few one-day stops in some parking lots here and there …
…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 …
…vibes so intense we didn’t have to pick-up on them – we could actually see them…
… even touch them.
These hills don’t “call” or “sing.” No. They scream and lay open their veins to the very bone.
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 …
…or the boneyard of the gods.
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.
Are they trying to tell us something …?
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
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.
Every day 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, bighorn sheep, elk – and often, in herds.
So, we kept our speed down and our camera up. We wondered how the cyclists and bikers on the loop were dealing with their encounters!
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 …
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 America, which 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 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.
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.
There are several ways to view the park: Drive the 37-mile loop, ride the bridle paths, cycle the loop and hike the trails.
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.
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.
We loved them all, but our favorite hike was the Petrified Loop Hiking 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
If you want to see our exact route, click here.
*photos in this post (unless otherwise noted) were taken and copyrighted by Living In Beauty.
|Our “BAMBI” rating system explained:
– One Bambi: Should’a boondocked.
– Two Bambi’s: Better than a Cracker Barrel or Walmart.
– Three Bambi’s: Adequate for a short stay.
– 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 (hiking, 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!
Click here to see our other campground reviews.
19 thoughts on “Campground Review: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Cottonwood Campground – Medora, North Dakota”
I am really enjoying your travels through your blog and all the gorgeous photos!! Makes me feel like I am right along with you!!
You made me want to go!!!! Thanks!
Love that place
We spent 4 days last August 2016. Most mornings the buffalo would graze just a few feet from our camper. Great place to visit!
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
Last one was 1978
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!
We spent a week at each of the TRNP campgrounds. They’re both wonderful!
Amazing blog of your visit there!! What an experience to share!! Thanks!
Yes! We’ve been there twice, it’s just beautiful. Then there is the picturesque little town outside the gates!
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.
Thanks for the great write up! Planning to go there in a few weeks!
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.
The northern unit campground is all first come first served and was equally beautiful!
Finally a reason to visit N. Dakota! Definitely will be going there soon!
Thanks, you sold me.
Glad you are so happy here — hike once for me since I’ll never go there
Rita, glad you enjoyed the review. If you go to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, please come back here and leave your reflections and comments. Hope to see you on the road someday!