Theodore Roosevelt National Park – North Unit

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota.

In mid-September 2020, on our first major park stop as we progressed westbound toward Washington state, we headed to the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The park has three units, North, South, and Elkhorn Ranch. We’d planned to visit all three but found that Elkhorn Ranch requires a high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle and more stamina for bumpy roads than we cared to exercise. We settled for the paved highways and pull-offs in the other two units.

TRNP North Unit-18

At the visitor center, we met a woman who had just come from her first tour of the north unit. She commented that there is much more wildlife to see in the north unit than in the south. She didn’t speak from expertise, but from her own experience traveling through the two units. I will say that we, also, felt we encountered more wildlife than on our trip through the south unit. In the future, I’ll be focusing on wildlife photos captured in the park, but for this post, it will be a mix of scenery and wildlife.

TRNP North Unit Pano-1

Our first views of the park’s north unit came as we stopped along the highway into the park. We stopped to look for the cattle that we had heard were in the area. Indeed, we could hear them among the trees, but we never saw them. The image above is one of several panoramic images that I created for this post. The expansive views of the park are best seen in panoramic images. Click on the image above to view an enlarged image in 2K resolution.

TRNP North Unit - A cannonball concretion

One stop in the park features these unusual rock formations. Known as Cannonball Concretions, for obvious reasons, they are created by mineral water depositing minerals in the gaps in the sedimentary layers, creating large concrete-like “cannonballs.” If you click on the image above to take a closer look in 2KHD, you’ll see many more of these cannonballs that were formed on the cliff behind the cannonball in the foreground.

TRNP North Unit-9

On this mid-September day, the leaves were just starting to show their autumn colors all over the park. The only factor that marred the images captured on this day was the ever-present hazy skies from the wildfires burning hundreds of miles west of the park.

TRNP North Unit-10

I don’t know the relative populations of bison in the two larger park units, it sure appeared from our viewpoint that the north unit had many more bison, at least near our vantage points.

TRNP North Unit-12

More than once we were stopped because a small herd of bison decided to cross the highway. Bison present great photo opportunities, but be like these people and keep your distance. Bison, especially cows with newborn calves can attack if they feel their calf is in danger.

TRNP North Unit-13

I found this photo to be one of my favorites that, in one image, shows the prairie grasslands, trees, badlands, and bison that define the park.

TRNP North Unit-15

Mother is keeping a careful eye on the youngster. There were many calves in the small groups of bison we saw that day. There are also wild horses in the park, but we ended up waiting until getting to the South Unit before we saw any.

TRNP North Unit-19

There are plenty of hiking opportunities in the park from 10-minute easy hikes like Skyline Vista, a 0.1 mile (0.16 km) trail in the south unit to the 18-mile (30 km) Achenbach trail in the North Unit. Allow 10-12 hours for the park’s most strenuous hike. As it says in the online Hiking and Trail Guide, “Steep climbs and descents and two river crossings await you on a trail that leads deep into the heart of the Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness. Cross the Little Missouri River at daybreak and climb the buttes to greet the rising sun.”

TRNP North Unit-23

Bison have their run of the park and are often on or near the edge of the roads through the park. On most of our trip, I was in the back seat behind the driver so it was easy for me to take photos this close without leaving the safety of my vehicle, or even needing to stop which could have attracted undue attention. We didn’t need to deal with punctures in the vehicle’s doors or fenders.

TRNP Pano-1

I conclude this post with one more panoramic image and again invite you to click on it, or any of the other images to view in 2KHD resolution… and to see additional images that are only posted in my Flickr album.

John Steiner


  1. Thanks for the great photos. We have stopped there at least twice and always impressed with the landscape but nice to see such panoramic views preserved in photos

    • Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment! Both units of the park are stunning. If we had a 4WD high clearance vehicle, I’d love to visit the Elkhorn Ranch section.

  2. Such beautiful scenery!
    Those bison are imposing creatures – seems unwise for those visitors to exit their vehicles to take pictures of them.
    And the cannonball rocks are very interesting!

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