July 2018 – I had never heard of TR National Park (in western North Dakota) until I started doing research for our trip to Minnesota and the Dakotas, but we consider this one of the highlights of our 8-week trip, especially for wildlife viewing.
TRNP has a North Unit and a South Unit, and the campgrounds in North and South are about 75 miles apart.
North Unit: We headed first to North Unit and camped in Juniper Campground (no hookups and no reservations), lucking out with a shaded pull-through site on the Little Missouri River.
It was very hot, so we had to stay in the RV, running the generator and AC, but finally headed out around 6:00 p.m. for a scenic drive on the only road through the park–to Oxbow Overlook. Came back for the 8:00 p.m. campground program, then drove the road again, trying to catch a sunset (only so-so). Tons of bison and prairie dogs, though, plus some nice scenic overlooks.
One bison was a bit aggressive at the Oxbow Overlook, so we quickly got back in our car. In the morning we hiked the Caprock Coulee Nature Trail (close to the campground), which was easy and not too hot yet.
We then visited the Visitor Center (in a small trailer near the entrance), explored the concretion formations across the road (weird!) and stayed inside the RV because of the heat.
The next morning we got up early to hike the Little Mo Nature Trail (starts near the picnic area in the campground), and this was the highlight of North Unit for us. We saw bison, desert cottontails, deer, and Texas longhorn cattle down by the river. We had the trail to ourselves and it was gorgeous.
South Unit: We packed up and drove down to the South Unit, surviving a horrible road into the park, but had a nice check-in process at Cottonwood Campground (no hookups, but here we did have reservations). The Visitor Center in the South Unit is well done, with an informative movie, and they have Teddy Roosevelt’s old cabin in the back.
TRNP is known for its badlands, but after being in Badlands National Park, we decided that the badlands in TRNP were not as bad, so we called them “okay-lands,” a little more green and not quite as rugged as the national park in South Dakota.
After dinner we drove the 36-mile scenic loop, running out of time before it got dark because we had so many great wildlife stops along the way. The short Wind Canyon Trail was a highlight, overlooking the Little Missouri River to watch hundreds of bison and dozens of pronghorn cross the river.
Along the road, we saw wild horses, deer, hundreds of prairie dogs, and gorgeous views, including a 360-degree view from the top of Buck Hill. We highly recommend both North and South Units of TRNP for those who love wildlife and beautiful badland formations.