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.
We recommend starting your experience in Williston, taking time to explore the sites that will introduce you to life on the frontier in western North Dakota and the Lewis and Clark Expedition that opened the United States from East to West.
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.