LITTLE MISSOURI (ND)
|U.S. National Park Service||70,000||28,000|
|U.S. Forest Service||890,000||360,000|
|U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service||2,000||1,000|
These wild public lands include wind-swept plateaus, sheer canyons, and stark buttes rising from undulating seas of grass. Here, eagles soar in an endless sky, pronghorn antelope stand watchful on the horizon while prairie dogs, mule and whitetail deer, sharp-tailed grouse and bighorn sheep remind us of the days when Lewis and Clark first journeyed through North Dakota. A window to our past, the grasslands are a geologic treasure, with ancient fossils found throughout the region.
Most public land in the region is managed by Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Little Missouri National Grassland.
These lands are rich in history. American Indians, cowboys, and homesteaders willingly embraced all that this harsh but alluring land had to offer. Tragic battles took place here. Important cultural and sacred sites, rock art, tipi rings and buffalo jumps are found across the landscape. Failed homesteads sink back into the prairie soils Ð reminders of the grasslandÕs heritage.
Theodore Roosevelt came to the Badlands in the 1880’s, a young New York politician broken by the tragic deaths of his wife and mother. Seeking solace, he embraced the strenuous life of a cowhand, horseman, hunter and outdoorsman. It was here in the midst of the Badlands that Roosevelt developed a deep and lasting bond with the land. That bond fostered a conservation ethic that he carried throughout his presidency.
Today, these breathtaking places stand wild and free. Tomorrow they may not - unless we stand together to defend and protect them.
Landscape - spectacular badland topography
Vegetation - mixed grass prairie, with green ash in valleys, and major stands of plains cottonwood along the river.
Wildlife - bison, elk, bighorn sheep, wild horses (south unit), prairie dogs, rattlesnakes
This site has more detailed information about recreation in Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP).
Road access - The park is easily accessible by paved highway: the South Unit via Interstate 94 at Medora, and the North Unit off Hwy. 85 fifteen miles south of Watford City. The Elkhorn Unit is accessible by gravel road from the east, south and west.
Hwy 85 hugs the entire east side of the Little Missouri National Grasslands along its north-south axis. The minor Hwy 16 does likewise through the portion west of the Little Missouri River. Gravel roads offer access to the interior with East River Road of particular scenic note.
Hiking - TRNP has over one hundred miles of well-maintained designated trails, much of it in Wilderness. Backcountry camping is allowed and requires a permit.
The Forest Service allows random hiking on public lands. Private and public land is intermingled, so ownership should be determined. USFS maps are available at District offices in Dickinson and Watford City and at the TRNP Visitor Center in Medora. Of particular note is the 96-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail from Sully Creek State Park south of Medora to the FS ÒCCCÓ Campground just south of the North Unit of TRNP. This world-class trail is open to mountain bikes, hikers, and equestrian travel.
Cycling - Private bike rentals, repairs and a shuttle service are available in Medora. The Maah Daah Hey Trail is for serious “mountain” bikers, but frequent off-and-on points allow for a range of expertise. Cycling in TRNP is limited to maintained roads which offer a diversity of scenic and wildlife opportunities. Locally used gravel roads exist within Grassland boundaries.
Horseback riding - Several commercial stables give guided horseback tours. Increasing numbers of private establishments offer boarding and trails. Check out ÒDakota West AdventuresÓ online for a variety of accommodations. Further information is available at local and state tourist centers.
Several public horse facilities are available, including both the North and South Units of TRNP, Sully Creek State Park, and multiple FS campgrounds along the Maah Daah Hey Trail.
Canoeing - A limited amount of canoeing or tubing can be done along the Little Missouri River. Much of the river bottom is in private ownership so overnights must be planned accordingly. Late spring and early summer is preferred, before the stream level gets too low. Regional rains cause dramatic rise in the river in all seasons.
Wildlife viewing - Bison, elk, bighorn sheep and prairie dog towns can be seen in the national park. They are also viewable in the grasslands but populations are dispersed. Elk are present but limited on the Grasslands and bison are seen only as commercial livestock. Mountain lion sightings are increasing, but uncommon. Golden eagles, Baird sparrows, and a wide variety of migratory and grassland birds make for good watching. Rattlesnakes inhabit the rougher terrain. Butterflies abound. Species of biological concern include the interior (least) tern, sage grouse and prairie dog. Focal species include Baird’s sparrow, chestnut-collared longspur and lark bunting.
Camping - Commercial campgrounds are operated in surrounding communities including Medora, Watford City and Grassy Butte. Full service campgrounds are located in both the North and South Units of TRNP. Sully Creek State Park is a primitive campground, as is Camel Hump Management Area just outside the Grasslands’ west boundary. Multiple Forest Service facilities include: CCC Camp, Sather Lake, Summit, Magpie, Bennett, Elkhorn, Wannagan, and Buffalo Gap.
Historic sites - The area holds Theodore Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch and Maltese Cross Ranch sites. His Maltese cabin may be seen at the TRNP Visitor Center in Medora. Early open-range days are evident in the Chateau DeMores State Historic Site outside Medora and in the remaining chimney from the Marquis’ beef-processing plant. Multiple campsites of the Custer and Sully expeditions are marked. Native archeological and sacred sites are protected, but can be viewed with some local knowledge.
Modern culture - Many small communities surrounding the Grasslands boast excellent local museums. An open-air musical theatre in Medora attracts summer crowds. Groundbreaking on a Cowboy Hall of Fame is slated for Medora in the summer of 2004.
Lead agency - US Forest Service, Dakota Prairie Grasslands offices in Bismarck with Little Missouri Grasslands offices in Dickinson (Medora Ranger District) and Watford City (McKenzie Ranger District).
Bureau of Land Management in Dickinson.
North Dakota Game and Fish Department with offices in Bismarck, Dickinson and Williston.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park administrative offices in Medora.
Watford City at the north extent has small town full service capabilities, including an outdoor swimming pool. In the south, Bowman has similar services with the gateway village of Medora serving lesser tourist needs (no large grocery or auto repair, but plenty of gas, cafes and lodging). Medora has an excellent bookstore with an extensive collection of local history and nature books. Dickinson (30 miles east) is a small city with a notable dinosaur museum and Dickinson State University.
The Record of Decision (ROD) for the Dakota Prairie Grasslands Land and Management Plan was signed July 2002. It is an interim ROD with the Grazing Portion of the Plan under special assessment by an appointed eight-member Scientific Review Team. A two-year process is scheduled.
Expansion of the Elkhorn Ranch Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park through acquisition of private ranch lands is under consideration. Willing sellers approached the Park Service. The State of North Dakota has intervened suggesting joint federal and state interest.
Extensive oil and gas development threatens wild qualities and wildlife habitat. There is potential concern that coalbed methane development in neighboring Montana and Wyoming may reach into this spectacular landscape, affecting traditional ranching practices, wildlife and recreation.