Camping in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

camping in theodore roosevelt national park

There are several camping options in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP)—two campgrounds, one horse camping area and backcountry camping. The campsites in all of these areas are primitive, meaning there are no hookups or showers.

Don’t let that scare you off! Teddy Roosevelt Nat’l Park is well worth a visit, and camping is the best way to immerse yourself in this rugged area of North Dakota’s badlands.

TRNP is located on the western edge of North Dakota, just over the border from Montana. It’s easily accessible from Interstate 94.

Camping Options at Teddy Roosevelt

The park is divided into two units: the more popular South Unit and the less-visited North Unit, a little over an hour’s drive north. Let’s take a look at the camping options in each unit:

South Unit Camping

The South Unit sees more visitors, partly because it’s right off the freeway with easy access to the little town of Medora.

campsite cottonwood campground
Plenty of room to park our Expedition and pop-up camper, with room to spare.

There’s a large campground with individual sites and one group camping area, plus a horse camping campground:

COTTONWOOD CAMPGROUND has 75 individual campsites. Those in the back are quite close to the banks of the Little Missouri River. This is where our family stayed on both our trips through the park, in 2011 and 2019.

Though there are no showers, electricity or RV hookups, the sites are large and private. There are plenty of mature trees for shade. There are a few bathroom buildings with a couple stalls and sinks with cold running water throughout the campground.

Just 5 miles from the main entrance to the park, this campground has easy access to the road loop through the South Unit. Be sure to take that drive! If you take it both evening and morning you’re sure to see lots of wildlife. It also gives you access to the hiking trailheads.

Reservations recommended for this campground during the summer.

campsite cottonwood campground in the south unit
You can barely see some badlands formations in the background at this site in Cottonwood Campground

ROUNDUP GROUP HORSE CAMP can hold up to 20 people and 20 horses, including trucks and trailers. The park only allows one group at a time in this camping area, so reservations are recommended here, too.

While we didn’t see any horseback riders during our short stays in the park, I can see how it would be popular with riders. There are no trail rides offered within the park, so you need your own horses. Here’s more info on riding in the park.

If it’s just you or a couple of you with your horses, you’re also free to camp in the backcountry with them. You’ll need a permit, which is free (see below).

BACKCOUNTRY CAMPING is also an option in the South Unit. There are no designated backcountry campsites, so you make your own using Leave No Trace principles.

It’s free to camp in the backcountry in the park, but you’ll need a permit before you head out. You can get one at the South Unit Visitor Center in Medora. Here’s info on that.

bull bison and prairie dog
This big bull and his prairie dog buddy weren’t far from Cottonwood Campground

North Unit Camping

JUNIPER CAMPGROUND has 50 campsites, also primitive. Nine of them are walk-in tent-only sites if you’d like to have more solitude. Several sites are along the Little Missouri River.

None of the sites are reservable, so it’s first-come, first-served. The campground rarely fills up, though, so you’re likely to get a site if you make the hour’s drive north.

We haven’t stayed there or even seen this campground…but the couple reviews on Trip Advisor gives it 5 stars for its beauty, wildlife and quietness. We’ll have to try it next time! Here are the details.

BACKCOUNTRY CAMPING is allowed in the North Unit, too. You’ll have to get your (free) permit down in the South Unit at the Medora Visitor Center, though.

As in the South Unit, horse camping is also allowed in the backcountry. You’ll need the same permit as the backpackers.

Should You Bring Your Dog?

We always suggest you leave your dog(s) at home when you’re in the national parks. They’re not allowed on the trails or in the backcountry. And they can’t be left at your campsite unattended.

wild horses, south unit teddy roosevelt national park
Some of the park’s wild horses grazing on a hillside in the early morning

Why Camp at Theodore Roosevelt National Park?

This park made a convenient half-way point for our family when traveling home from both Glacier National Park and Grand Teton National Park. We did this on a couple different family vacations (heading back to Minnesota).

It was well worth the stop, but both were too short. I’d love to go back and stay longer. We’ve not made it to the North Unit yet, and it’d be nice to do some of the longer hikes.

Here are a few of the reasons we camping here:

The Wildlife is Abundant

You have a chance to see bison, pronghorn, mule deer, bighorn sheep, coyote, fox, prairie dogs and—my favorite—wild horses. There are also rattlesnakes, so keep alert on the trails.

If you visit in the summer when the days are hot, you’re most likely to see wildlife in the earlier mornings and later evenings when it’s cooler.

On our last visit there, I got up before everyone else to drive the South Unit loop. I was on the road by 6:30 a.m. and saw a band of mares and foals grazing on a hillside. I saw a huge bull bison laying down next to the parking lot in a prairie dog town. And I saw several more bison wandering the hills in another section.

wild horses along the road, teddy roosevelt national park
There are very few places in the world you can see wild horses as easily as in Teddy Roosevelt

The People are Few

Less than a million people visit Teddy Roosevelt National Park annually. Some years it’s far less. 75 campsites in a campground is nothing compared to some of the bigger parks that have campgrounds with 200-300 sites.

That morning I was on the Loop Road by 6:30? I was the only car on the road for the first half hour. I saw 3-4 more at most. That’s solitude!

It’s Beautiful in Its Own Way

Teddy Roosevelt National Park doesn’t have the grandeur of Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, or the lushness of Great Smokies. The rock formations aren’t as cool as South Dakota’s Badlands National Park.

But it has its own form of beauty that’s uniquely western. It’s less traveled and therefore appealing to those who don’t want the huge crowds.

If you visit in late spring or early summer like we did (late June/early July) you’ll be treated with lots of wildflowers.

vista at teddy roosevelt national park
A beautiful morning in early July at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

How to Get There

Teddy Roosevelt National Park is accessed directly from Interstate 94 at Medora, North Dakota. It’s in the far west of the state.

Or if you plan to camp in the North Unit at Juniper Campground, look for Highway 85 (the Belfield exit) and head north.

The Final Word

If you’ll travel anywhere in the vicinity of western South Dakota, eastern Montana, or northeast Wyoming on a camping trip, it’s worth a stop to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

There are plenty of camping options with beautiful large sites, many of them very private.

You can bring your RV as long as you don’t expect any hookups. Your tent is welcome, too. Camping is the only way to stay in the park itself. There are no lodges or cabins within the park boundaries.

A great road trip idea: Combine stops at TRNP with camping in Badlands National Park, the Black Hills and Devil’s Tower National Monument. Some of the west’s most iconic spots within a half day’s drive or less of each other.

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