Touring the Byway
14 Miles | 3 Days/2 Nights/Optional Day 4 | Gateway City: Williston, North Dakota
A quintessential “Wild West” setting, this park was established in 1947 to memorialize President Theodore Roosevelt’s time in North Dakota Badlands. A nod to the president’s conservation ethic, it serves as a living reminder of the dramatic beauty found within unspoiled wilderness. That beauty along the Byway and scenic drive inside the park includes majestic herds of bison and deer roaming lush meadows and breathtaking backdrops of brilliantly colored rock formations against an endless sky. The byway begins 15 miles south of Watford City from U.S. Highway 85 and proceeds west through the North Unit of the park. The drive promises scenic views and opportunities for spotting bison, wild horses, prairie dogs, bighorn sheep, coyotes and even an occasional moose.
After an overnight in Williston, head for Theodore Roosevelt National Park on US Route 85. Transforming into a scenic road at Watford City, this is the gateway to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park North Unit and its Byway. The first half of the North Unit Scenic Byway tracks at the bottom of the colorful badlands, before climbing out of the canyon toward the spectacular River Bend Overlook, the drive’s most dramatic view. From there, you’re driving the rim of the badlands to the end, where you need to reverse your route and travel back. At the Longhorn pull-off, you can expect to see the small herd of longhorn steers, and in other locations, bison, mule deer and bighorn sheep.
After enjoying the North Unit Byway, you’ll be heading south to the Old West town of Medora where you can walk in the footsteps of Theodore Roosevelt, on the Footsteps in Medora’s Past historic walking tour. A stop at the Chateau De Mores Interpretive Center allows you to learn about the founding of Medora, one of the more unique towns in America.
After a night exploring Medora, head out to travel the South Unit’s 36-mile stunning scenic loop drive. Take an optional Day Four to head out on the Old Red Old Ten Scenic Byway to Bismarck. The North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum includes the Theodore Roosevelt Rough River Hall of Fame. From there, we wish you a pleasant journey home, or on another of North Dakota’s Scenic Byways.
Download the detailed itinerary for the full tour of the Byway which includes the highlighted attractions below and much more!
In Medora, the rugged Badlands western town, it appears time has stood still. Founded just before Roosevelt arrived and just after the Badlands military encampment was abandoned, it was named for the daughter of a wealthy New York banker. The Marquis de Mores built a meat packing plant, hotel, stores, and started a ranch, stagecoach line, freight company and refrigerated rail cars, all of which ended in failure. Today, Medora is filled with historic buildings, museums, and nostalgia galore.
Enjoy, as they say, the rootin’-tootinest, boot-scootinest show in all the Midwest, an ode to Theodore Roosevelt’s time in the Badlands, and the Great American West. The musical features a reenactment of Theodore Roosevelt’s charge of the Battle of San Juan Hill, the Burning Hills Singers, country music by Coal Diggers Band, live horses on stage, and a finale with fireworks!
The stunning 36-mile scenic loop in the South Unit, meanders around the rolling, jumbled Badlands, delivering an expanse of fantastic scenery in every direction. Along the way, you will see a herd of wild horses, scenic overlooks and trailheads, punctuated every so often with hoodoos – otherworldly rock formations that look like they may have dropped off the moon.
Start your visit with Refuge of the American Spirit, a film which explains more about Roosevelt’s life here in the Dakotas and explore the museum which houses artifacts from the Roosevelt presidency and his time in the Badlands. Ranger led tours of Maltese Cross Cabin, restored to appear in Roosevelt’s lifetime and holding some of his possessions, offers an authentic glimpse into Theodore Roosevelt’s life here.
This magnificent 26-room two story mansion was built by Antoine de Vallombrosa, the Marquis de Mores, still holds many of the original furnishings and items used by the family. If convenient when you are there, start your visit with the History Alive! Program, 20-minute explorations of the life and times of locals from days gone by. The monologues are based on original letters, diaries, and documents obtained from the State Historical Society. After his financial failures, the Marquis and his family left Medora to return to France and continue his visionary and adventurous lifestyle around the world.
Nearly 325 acres was deeded by the Northern Pacific Railroad to North Dakota in 1883, to erect a state capitol, which was consumed by fire in 1930. The state sold 160 acres of the grounds to help pay for a second building. Today, the tall, 1934, art deco North Dakota State Capitol is set on landscaped grounds that also hosts the North Dakota Heritage Center and State Museum, featuring four museum galleries tracing the state’s rich history from its earliest geologic formation 600 million years ago. In 2008, the museum, called a “Smithsonian on the plains,” became home to a rare mummified Edmontosaurus with fossilized skin.
The Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Hall of Fame features oil portraits of recipients of the state’s highest honor, the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award, given to outstanding North Dakotans who have attained accomplishments bringing honor to the state.