August 2nd – 5th 2017
We made the long drive all the way across North Dakota today to the Western side of the state to visit Theodore Roosevelt NP just outside the quaint old town of Medora. We found an amazing boondocking site on campendium.com (a fabulous resource we use constantly to find free camping!) just outside the town on a hill overlooking the park, called Medora Pit (it’s much nicer than it sounds). We watched a beautiful sunset and some deer grazing in our site nearby. We ended up staying here the entire time we were in Medora, it was a great site that we had to ourselves, with 4 bars of cell coverage and easily accessible on a short gravel road.
We broke in our new gravel bikes the next day and explored the entire South section of the park by biking the 36 mile scenic loop. The Park is broken into a South and North section, which are about 1.5 hours apart driving, it’s kind of crazy! We were surprised by the amount of wildlife saw, especially immediately after entering the park. Large herds of buffalo, miles of prairie dog towns, bighorn sheep, and even wild horses were everywhere, it was a delight to be on our bikes and be able to stop and take in the wildlife and the incredible scenery and rolling hills of the North Dakota badlands. We had always heard about the badlands of South Dakota, but didn’t realize that this part of North Dakota also has beautiful badlands.
It was a great ride – few cars, low speed limit and 2500 ft elevation. We didn’t bring a car along on this journey, so we’ve made it a goal to bike everywhere, and the 36 mile scenic loop of the park was a great start!
We definitely had a freak out moment with the bison on the ride…we were enjoying the views of bison grazing from the bottom of a hill next to a guardrail, when a huge grunting bison starting coming up the road towards us! We felt trapped and really didn’t want to turn around to go back uphill, so Reet flagged down a truck coming along behind us, and we rode between the truck and the bison, which had been joined by several others grunting their way up the hill. We got so close, but luckily the truck was between us – bison can get angry and cause serious damage!! I was literally shaking I was so scared they might decide to come after us!
After the ride we enjoyed a beer and some food in one of the historic saloons that dot the town of Medora, and still look (at least to our eyes) very original from the days of the Wild West!
The next day we visited the bike shop in Medora to get a trail map and some suggestions on where to ride the nearby 150 mile long singletrack IMBA Epic Maah Daah Hey trail. We learned that the Maah Daah Hey was built a while back by the state, who hired a trail builder to build a long bike trail connecting the North and South units of the Park (bikers can’t ride inside the park, but you can hike it). The trail rides over the badlands, and was a challenge to build, and the builder demanded more money to complete it. We were excited to check it out, and wished we had more time to bike more of it.
We headed up to Bennett Creek campground, which is closer to the North unit of the park (about 1.5 hours north). The bike shop recommended we ride out on the Cottonwood trail, which literally crossed right over and on top of the nearby buttes of the badlands, with incredible views across the area! We crossed meadows of grazing cows and had to move herds off the trail at times! After 8 miles, the Cottonwood trail connects to the Maah Daah Hey, which we rode for a few miles to the Bennett campground connector, bringing us back to camp and making a loop of about 16 miles. We absolutely loved the trail, it was flowy with some elevation, great scenery and amazing riding right in the middle of the badlands. We had it to ourselves- very remote and saw nothing but cows! What an incredible find. We planned to ride more of the Maah Daah Hey trail the next day, and bike up to the famous “China Wall” section very close to the campground the next morning, but it was pouring rain so unfortunately we had to skip it. We can’t wait to go back though!
We visited the North unit of the Park on our last day, which was only ~20 minutes from Bennett campground. We drove the scenic loop since it was raining, enjoying lots more bison and some amazing scenic views of the river and badlands. We highly recommend Theodore Roosevelt, it’s a bit off the beaten path but definitely a gem that shouldn’t be missed!