Tenting in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

An unforgettable camping adventure awaits in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The bison roaming, the elk bugling, and the star gazing. Absolutely breathtaking.

For an unforgettable, wild experience right in a campground, check out Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s Cottonwood Campground. Tent camping in a National Park was on the bucket list, Teddy Roosevelt was the perfect park to start in.


We stayed at the Cottonwood Campground in the South Unit of TRNP. This campground is on the left side of the entrance road, there was a lone bison on a hillside to greet us as we drove in. A wonderful welcome.

Space: The sites are quite close together and do not offer much in the way of privacy. This wasn’t too much of a deterrent for us as we were only at the site for sleeping and much too busy exploring to be in the campground anyhow.

Tent sites

The tent pad was a good size for our medium sized tent. The tent site distances range from being able to touch your vehicle to a short walk down a dirt path, but still within sight of the parking area. These are not remote campsites by any means, but there is still plenty of wildlife to be experienced.

Invest in some good quality tent stakes. We had just upgraded our tent stakes for thicker, more durable stakes. These proved to be no match for North Dakota’s tough soil. We bent just one stake, but were more careful about where and how we drove the rest into the ground.

While the sites are fairly close together, we didn’t get any feelings of being smothered or crowded. Likely due to the open, wild spaces that surround the campground. Tree cover in not in short supply at the campground. Beyond the outskirts of the sites, there is open spaces to see the bison and wild horses that frequent the area.

Wildlife & Nature

The wildlife is abundant in this National Park. Prairie dogs, bison, wild horses, elk, and so much more. Never have I experienced so much wildlife in a single park experience. Not only are these animals roaming the park in great number, but you can also experience their presence right from the campground. Check out these Short Hikes and Overlooks in Theodore Roosevelt NP for more chances to see the wildlife.

Natural Noise Machine: Leave your noise machines at home folks, you have all the nature sounds you need right here in this park. It was amazing. I’ve had many nights sleeping in the BWCA in Minnesota listening to the loons call. This park might have that experience matched. The elk bugling in the late September rut was amazing. The sense of wild that comes from sitting up late at the campfire with the majestic elk calls sounding in the distance the pinnacle of camp experiences.

Starry Nights: Turn out the lights and gaze up at the universe. The stars in this park are brilliant. After the kids went to bed, we sat by the small fire and took in the clear star speckled sky. The peace is infinite… until the kids wake up that is.

Do Not Pet The Fluffy Cows: The bison can and will roam wherever they please. This does include the campground. This is not an invitation to approach them. Don’t do this, they will toss you. Bison have been known to walk right through camp and enjoy the shade this grove has to offer. We didn’t see any bison in camp during our stay, but we did hear shuffling on the ground near our site during the night.

Breathtaking Sunrise: Looking to the east early in the morning gives campers views of the most breathtaking sunrise over North Dakota’s badlands. The crisp September mornings are perfect for enjoying the a cup of camp coffee and a link of breakfast sausage.

Bison Poo

Watch your step, droppings abound! All around the campground there is sign of bison, watch your step. Our 2 year old was all about the poop and let us know when we passed some more. It’s everywhere. So even if you don’t see bison in the campground, you’ll see just how comfortable they are when they roam in the area based on the location of their droppings. From the middle of your campsite to the doorway of the bathroom, watch your step.


We arrived after park hours, so we needed a different solution for firewood. We were able to find firewood for sale at a gas station/convenience store in Medora. It burned well, you never know with purchased firewood. Gathering dead and down wood is allowed in the campground, but nowhere else in the park. It is rather picked over, though.

There is a lack of firepits, but this makes sense as it’s prairie grassland in the surrounding area. A high risk for wildfire. However, there are raised BBQ grills that can accommodate a fire large enough to successfully roast marshmallows for s’mores.


The bathrooms were still open in September, so we did bathrooms available during our stay. The bathrooms are open seasonal, flush toilets close during the winter with vault toilets available year-round. It was a treat to have running water to wash hands, we are accustomed to a more rugged setting so this was a nice.

There are no showers available at this campground. We know this ahead of time but with our cooler weather camping, we weren’t too concerned with becoming too pungent.

There is so much to see in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It’s a wonderful park to spend a couple of days exploring


The city of Medora is settled right at the parks entrance. Take time to visit this neat town. Rumor has it that there is a great musical to attend with a pitch fork steak grill. If you’re interested in this event, make sure your visit is between June and early September. The show schedule can help you plan your time to visit.

Little Missouri Saloon & Dining Room: We had dinner a great dinner at this restaurant. I highly recommend the elk burger, that was amazing. Scott ordered the Bison Steak, I snuck a piece and it was amazing. For an appetizer, we had an order of the Steak and Cheese bites. The kids had burgers, even the kids menu items were delicious. All around, this was a fantastic place to stop in after a day of adventuring around the National Park.

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