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  • Writer's pictureDavid and Jennifer Cook

North Dakota’s National Park (Yes- they have one!)

This past weekend my husband took us north to visit the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It shames me to admit that I wasn’t aware there was a National park in North Dakota! As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, a side goal for me is that I would like to see as many national parks as possible. With that said, it seems like I should at least know where the parks are before making a blanket statement such as that, but I digress- David knew and had already planned our trip long before we even got to South Dakota! (Thank goodness for my hero!)

In fairness, I will say that neither one of us knew what to expect with this particular park as it is definitely not one of the more talked about destinations. We generally try to visit as many parks as we can outside of the summer months to avoid the crowds. So far, that approach has worked great for us. This time we chanced it and went to the park the first weekend in June. We were betting (hoping) that most people do not plan early summer trips to North Dakota and that we would be safe to hit this one during the summer season. It worked out perfectly, and we had a delightful time in the park. Frodo even got to cross off another state on his list. He has been to 20 states so far during the first four years of his busy little life. After our next location he should have another four or five states knocked out as well!

This particular park actually has three sections. They are spread out, so if you plan to visit all three you will need to budget a couple of days. However, we planned a day trip and had A really nice visit. As a side note - near the entrance to the southern part of the park there is a wonderful town to explore called Medora. We strongly advise walking around the town, grabbing a bite to eat and doing a little shopping. It is one of the few towns that I think works well with the park next to it. It is unassuming, has an old west feel to it, and gives you some options if you need to leave the park for any reason.

Anyway- The best way to describe TRNP is that it is North Dakota’s version of the South Dakota Badlands. Of course there is more to this park than just a “badlands” feel to it. One nice aspect of this park is the 30 mile loop road that will let you explore numerous peaks, valleys, the Missouri River, and more hiking trails than you can imagine. We cruised at a very slow speed so Frodo could hang his head out the window. He was living his best life during that drive.

Along with all the hikes there are some amazing views. This park does not get as many visitors as some of the more well known parks, so it is easy to find a spot to be all alone and to soak up all the beauty around you. In my opinion, that is definitely one of the best reasons to make the drive to North Dakota to visit this park.

Despite taking the scenic drive, it is important to recognize that you are visiting a remote area. Essentially you are “in the wild” all alone. The hikes and the views are amazing, but there are wild animals all around, including many “fluffy cows” (aka bison 🦬). In fact, we had a close encounter with a couple of bison that could have ended badly. As dogs are not allowed on several If the trails, we decided to explore a few areas separately. David went on a short half mile hike to the Missouri River while I stayed back to explore a ranch with Frodo. Apparently, as David was taking pictures along the banks of the river he turned a corner and came face to face with a bison. The bison was not happy to see David. He said it was snorting and shaking its’ head and was clearly agitated. They ended up about 20 feet apart and my husband realized he was in a bad spot with the river behind him. He also left his hunting knife in our car, so other than the rocks scattered around him he was defenseless.

Luckily, David quickly assessed his situation and backed up quickly keeping eyes on the bison. The bison continued to grunt and snort, but as David put more and more distance between the two of them the situation de-escalated and the Bison calmed down. I’m just thankful that the Bison was resting when David came upon him. I do believe that the Bison would have been more aggressive if he wasn‘t sunning himself by the river at the time. Regardless, even after backing away David still had the half mile hike back to the parking lot with other bison in the area. He had texted me as he made his way back to let me know about the situation. Eventually I saw him walking up the path where I was anxiously waiting for him. Ironically, when David got to the parking lot we both realized there was another bison about 20 feet behind me. I never knew it was there. The second bison was happily munching on some grass, and did not seem concerned about us at all. Of course once we got in the car the bison decided to walk in the road blocking our path. It was certainly an interesting afternoon, but a valuable lesson as well.

All in all this was an amazing trip and experience in North Dakota. We loved the surrounding prairies, and cute little towns. Plus TRNP is truly stunning! If you are ever in the general area definitely make plans to visit this part of the country.

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