After five nights in Minnesota (and northern Michigan), we were ready to move on to a new state, a new landscape and, thankfully, fewer mosquitos. After making our way from Bemidji, Minnesota through a stop in Itasca State Park, home to the Mississippi headwaters, we found ourselves in Fargo, North Dakota for the night. Fargo is barely over the state line. It’s so close to Minnesota, in fact, that when we took a 40 minute bike ride through a park downtown, we found ourselves back in Minnesota for a portion of the outing. But, it still counts! New state!
Our evening in Fargo was low key. After exploring the small downtown and dining on some wood fire pizza at a cute place on the main strip, we retired to our hotel to relax and prepare for an early morning. Our next stop was Theodore Roosevelt National Park, clear on the other side of the state. If you look at a map, I-94 runs straight and flat through North Dakota, essentially bisecting the region into two long narrow strips. We got on 94 and stayed on it for 300+ miles, all the way out to the park. It wasn’t a particularly interesting or attractive ride, save for the occasional sunflower fields that were quite lovely. After nearly 200 miles we hit Bismarck, and the scenery improved a bit after that.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is divided into three very separate units. The north unit and the south unit are 68 miles apart, so it takes some time to traverse them both. We were camping in the south unit, so we opted to check out the north unit first, before getting settled. The main activity is a 14-mile scenic drive, with options to stop at scenic overlooks and take a few short walks along the way. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t with us that day, so we didn’t venture out for any long jaunts. Truth be told, I was fine with leaving the north unit behind. It was nice to drive through, but I felt I’d seen all I needed to by the time we left. The south unit, which is where we camped that night and spent the following morning, is far more appealing, in my humble opinion.
Our campsite in Cottonwood campground was a good one, situated between some lovely hills and a few shrubs and close (but not too close) to all the important facilities. Waking up there was pleasant, and we spent the morning driving the scenic loop and taking a few small hikes. One walk attempt was thwarted when we rounded a sharp bend to come nearly face to face with a giant bison. He didn’t seem interested in moving on, so we did, happy to give him some space.
Time didn’t allow for us to explore Elkhorn Ranch Unit, the third, and from what I understand the most rugged unit of the park, but I was satisfied with our time there and ready to move on. The park in total isn’t huge, and a day to a day and a half is sufficient to explore it, unless you’re taking on some more serious hikes. The scenery is interesting and has a definite beauty to it, if a harsh and unforgiving one. One highlight I would definitely recommend is Painted Canyon overlook, which affords some lovely views. I also enjoyed taking a spin around Teddy Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin at the south unit visitor center as well as a walk through Medora, the frontier town at the south entrance. It’s stylized and bit touristy, but still fun.