The park rangers ask you to sign all trail logs before heading out on a hike. This helps the park with government funding...informs who's using their trails. Teddy Roosevelt was right in professing the therapeutic beauty of this place. Every trail proved it!
Talk about rangers...TRNP has got to have the BEST rangers I've ever encountered. John, is the North Unit's sole back country ranger. He greets every park goer coming off or going on to the trails. Not just a hello and handshake, but in-depth conversations about the hike, what trails to hike, and what to look for on the trails. We bumped into John a third time, in the Visitors Center (M was getting her Jr. Ranger badge...as she has at every park since age 4) as we were leaving.
North Unit - Central Time Zone, sunset 10:50pm, sunrise 5:30am
Camping: Juniper Campground, running water, flush toilets, electric in bathrooms, dump station, Little Missouri River runs through the campground, first come first serve (even on the 4th of July weekend there were a few sites available), no camp fire rings...must make your fire in the provided BBQ pit
ND Badlands are beautiful! The 14-mile scenic drive is not a loop.
Hiking: Caprock Coulee (loop) Trail, a must do, spectacular views of the canyon and prairies from atop buetts, moderate 5 mile hike. If you can only hike one trail in the park, then this is the trail!
Sperati Trail, easy 2.3 in and out trail, hike through tall grass fields peppered with wild flowers, view at the end of the trail is majestic
Prairie Dog Town, easy 4.2 miles in and out, nice up close views of the badlands formations, fields of sage bush, nice easy grades to hike *never made it to see the prairie dogs because two buffalo grazing in the trail, unwilling to graze elsewhere, caused us no choice but to turn around.
Little Mo River Trail: easy 2 mile in and out, dip in the river and cool off. River was low. This region of ND gets only 15.1 inches of rain a year (learned that tid but from Ranger John). We happened to be present for one inch of rain...ground so dry it was hardly evident that it had rained.
Wild life: much more plentiful...buffalo roam freely through the park and campground, wild turkey (in the campground), Big Horn (spotted two on a ridge near the Mah De Hae Trail), deer, Boreal Chorus frogs (to small to see, but their unique sing song was unmistakable).
Let me take a moment to talk about the morning I walked out of the park bathroom and came face to face with a buffalo. It was cold outside, his warm breath expelling from his nostrils leaving puffs of white smoke; made him appear more angry than friendly. I froze in my step. He stared me down. I retreated back to the bathroom. He stayed put for a while. Then joined his herd in the field behind our camp site.
The buffalo roamed freely and often through the campground. They are an awesome beast.
Painted Canyon Visitor Center - offers an awesome view of the Painted Canyon.
South Unit - Mountain Time Zone
60 miles from the North Unit
Teddy Roosevelt's Maltese Cross cabin was moved to the South Unit, directly behind the visitors center. I loved standing in the cabin, knowing TR lived in there. A place steeped in history.
Camping: Cottonwood Campground same amenities as Juniper except you can make reservations and there is no dump station
The campground is in the touristy Medora area. Outside the park there's plenty of restaurants, gift shops, outdoor musical theater, one gas station, private full hook-up campground in the downtown area
Badlands scenic drive is a 36-mile loop
Petrified Forest - after a short distance into the hike you choose whether you want to visit the north or south side of the petrified forest. We chose the south side. Bring plenty of water. The area is open and hot on a July summer day. The 35 million year tree stumps are scattered about for a miles.
After hiking we decided to visit Boots Bar & Grill for burgers and local brew. Seat yourself. No drink menu, but a detailed board as you enter lists the plentiful regional beer selections and the alcohol percent. We chose a 7.6% wheat beer. Service was incredibly slow (employees are mostly foreign seasonal concessionaires, who speak little English). It's important to be patient. Food was good and hot. I recommend a visit!
I so wish I could drive a mile down the road at home to be in TRNP. I am in love with the park!