Short Hikes & Overlooks in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Whether passing through the area or camping for a while, these short hikes and overlooks give visitors a great experience and grand adventure in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is often a single day or two day stop for those passing through to larger, more popular parks, like Glacier or Yellowstone. Yet, there is much to see in this park. See more of the highlights in this park with shorter hikes along the Scenic Drive.

This park is broken up into 3 sections of park. The South Unit, North Unit, and Elk Horn Ranch. The South and North Units feature quite a number of hikes and overlooks. Some are quite long, up to 18 miles. We stuck to some shorter hikes in the interest of keeping our younger hikers happy and seeing more of the park by car. These were great during our stay at TRNP.

South Unit

TRNP’s South Unit is the most visited section of the park. Sitting right off of Interstate 94, it’s a passing through kind of stop for those on their way to more popular destinations like Glacier. For those passing through, these quick hikes a great way to stretch your legs and get a feel for the park without spending too much of your travel time. These stops are also great for those traveling with kids and seeking shorter hikes to please shorter legs. All of these hikes are just off of the scenic drive through the park.

Wind Canyon: Wind Canyon is a measly 2/5 of a mile, however, in that 2/5 of a mile there is much to see in the distant horizon and close up to the trail. We took this hike in the early morning and were able see far down the winding river and across prairie where bison fed on the slowly toughening grasses of fall. Wind Canyon obtained it’s name from the process in which it became a canyon. Most canyons are formed from water erosion, this canyon was actually formed from the wind erosion. The smoothness of the surfaces in the canyon wall are unlike the canyons formed from rivers.

Note: Stop to smell the sage, it’s so fresh and fragrant! I was wondering what we were smelling, then I realized that we were walking through sage brush.

Skyline Vista: A very short hike indeed, just 1/10 of a mile of paved path leads to an overlook of TRNP. The wind atop this ridge can be gusty, but the view is quite neat. This overlook is a great spot to stretch the legs briefly and check out some of the parks views.

Buck Hill: Our kids seemed to have the most fun on this trail. There are so many rock ledges and overhangs for them to explore and jump on. It felt as though we had brought a pair of baby goats along with us. The views stretched far and wide.

Coal Vein Trail: At just over half a mile, this hike is relatively easy with some inclines and rough trail. The coal veins are not burning here anymore, but there is some small remanent of the burn and the nature along this trail is quite neat. There may be bison in the area, be watchful and keep your distance.

North Unit

The North Unit of TRNP is an hour north of the South Unit on Hwy 85. It is about half the size of the Southern Unit but features a more rugged terrain and even more beautiful scenery. The trails in the North Unit are longer but there are a few spots for a short jaunt.

Little Missouri Nature Trail: This short trail is about a 3/4 to 1 mile of river bottom wildlife. The length depends on which route you take. Little MO is located at the Juniper campground. The trail loops down to the riverbed and crosses the Buckhorn Trail. There is information at the trailhead so hikers can learn about the ecosystem as they hike.

Cannonball Concretions: Situated just across the road from Little Missouri Nature Trail, this is actually a wayside exhibit and a Buckhorn Trailhead. This area features cannonball like structures protruding out of the slowly eroding rock. The cannonballs are sediment being held together by minerals that adhere them. We spent so much time here exploring the formations, the kids had a blast. It wasn’t technically a hike, but I think we got more out of this stop than we did from other hikes, it was their favorite stop at the North Unit.

Riverbend Overlook: Riverbend Overlook is absolutely the best overlook in the entire park, including the South Unit. I was in awe at this overlook. It didn’t seem real, the amount of time we spent here was unreal. I would go back to this park just for this view. There is a short hike from the parking area that leads to an open cabinlike gazebo. Be mindful of the edge beyond the gazebo and keep kids in hand.

Oxbow Overlook: This is the end of the Scenic Drive in the North Unit. It’s amazing to step out at of the vehicle and walk to the overlook. The overlook expands beyond the reaches of the park and makes a person feel very small. It’s a grand climax for this beautiful scenic drive.

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