Southwest ND's top destination spot to visit is TRNP
When I started the top 10 places to visit in southwest North Dakota two weeks ago, there was no snow on the ground and spring temperatures were rising.
Two weeks and two snowstorms later in which Dickinson received a record-setting 16 inches of snow on Sunday to accompany a smaller blanket of snowfall on April 8, spring seems like it may never come.
Nonetheless, the list must go on.
It should be no surprise the No. 1 place to visit in southwest North Dakota is Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
"The park is open 24/7, 365 days a year, except for short periods during severe weather," said Valerie Naylor, superintendent of TRNP. "But other than that, it's always open."
The park is the one of 59 national parks in the United States. Its namesake, Roosevelt, was the nation's 26th president. He came to the Dakota Territory to hunt bison in 1883 and later became a rancher. The park is 110 square miles.
"It's a place that people from all around the world love to come to," Naylor said. "We don't have as many visitors as some parks, but the people that come very much like the park. It's a very popular park."
The park is split up into two units, North and South. The South Unit starts on the outskirts of Medora and has a bridge that crosses over Interstate 94 where the real splendor can be seen. The North Unit is located 20 miles south of Watford City on Highway 85 and offers a similar, yet somewhat different take on the North Dakota Badlands.
In between the two main units is the Elkhorn Ranch Unit, the site of Roosevelt's ranch, which a secluded attraction and not easy to access. The walk from the parking lot to Elkhorn Ranch site, which is an open field where Roosevelt's cabin once was, is about a half-mile. While the actual cabin is long gone, its foundation is still intact.
The park has wide range of wildlife including bison, wild horses, elk, bighorn sheep, white-tailed deer, mule deer and prairie dogs. It also had more than 175 species of birds including golden eagles, bald eagles and wild turkeys.
"There's so much to see in the park," Naylor said. "It's one of the very best wildlife viewing parks in the country."
Running throughout the park is the Maah Daah Hey Trail, which was ranked No. 3 on my top 10 list. It extends 97 miles, making it the longest continuous single-track mountain biking trail in the continental United States. The trail also caters to runners and horseback riders.
Visitors are able to drive along loops in the North and South Units that allow them to see the wildlife in the Badlands. There are scenic outlooks around every bend at TRNP.
"The park has something for everybody," Naylor said. "If you aren't able to hike or get out on horse, just driving around the loop or scenic drive is a good way to see a lot of scenery and wildlife.
"For those who like to get off the beaten path, there's horseback riding, hiking and mountain biking. The bird and wildlife watching is terrific."
McGregor is the outdoors reporter for The Dickinson Press. Email him at email@example.com or tweet him at SirRoyal.