Amusement Parks
National Parks
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By Car

Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt
Getting There
By Horse
By Canoe
Southern Loop
Northern Sector
Elkhorn Ranch
Petrified Forest
Knife River Indian Village
Fort Benton
Enchanted Highway
Most of the national parks do not require a car once you arrive. You can park it at your lodging or campsite and hike, canoe, saddle up, or use park shuttles to see everything. Theodore Roosevelt isn't one of these. To fully explore the area you need a car. The "park," which includes North, South and Elkhorn Ranch sectors, a wilderness area, national grasslands and two national monuments, sprawls over much of Western Dakota. The bright side of this is that the roads are very scenic in their own right. Only Glacier and Yellowstone roads surpass TR's Southern Loop in scenery and wildlife. However, you need to keep a sharp eye on your gas gauge. In the entire area, there is one gas station : a block down from the park entrance in Medora. You should fill up every morning you set out on any of these trips. Cars come along rarely out here, cell phone reception is spotty, and there's no help from AAA.  

You must also beware of the many unpaved roads, such as the ones leading to Elkhorn Ranch, Petrified Forest and the Ice Caves. These roads contain heavy amounts of bentonite, the famous mud that when wet turns to quicksand. The state does spread gravel on some stretches, but the bentonite swallows that, too. Many is the car that has become hopelessly mired in bentonite, forcing the drivers to hike to the nearest ranchhouse or oil derrick and be towed out by high clearance, industrial strength four wheel drive vehicles. Therefore, we advise you to stay off any unpaved roads for at least 24 hours after a prolonged rain. A 15 minute afternoon shower is not a problem, but anything lasting an hour or more is. Subarus with their AWD, General Motors vehicles with their Traction Control or Stabilitrak, and Jeeps are no exception. Neither are minivans, scaled down pickup trucks or anything compact. You need wide wheelbase, high clearance, four wheel drive. Otherwise, wait for dry days.

Do not consider your vehicle a Sherman Tank. It does not intimidate a buffalo, stallion or longhorn steer. On one of our visits, a tourist found a buffalo blocking the road. He pulled right up to the animal and laid on the horn to drive it off. The 3000 pound bull took offense to that, put its head down, and rolled the car five times with the guy inside. He was wearing his seat belt and wasn't hurt beyond being shaken up, but the car took quite a beating. A lady in the same situation rolled down her window and yelled at the animal to move. It rammed her car head on and smashed in the front end, totalling the car. So be patient. You're in their backyard.

Also be careful with times and distances. These are unpaved roads navigating difficult terrain with unmarked sideroads. You can't drive fast and you'll need to stop often to check compass, map and landmarks. You are, literally, adventuring with your car. So allow plenty of time. We're going to try and help a little with our directions and photos, but you'll still need twice as much time as you think.

Do not expect to find little country stores at the crossroads. There are none. So take drinks and lunch with you from Medora.

Finally, on the morning of your departure, always stop at the Medora Visitor Center and check with the rangers for the latest maps, directions and conditions. Things out here keep changing. Buffalo try to scratch their backs on signs and knock them over. Cattle drives block roads. Oil and natural gas crews add new side roads. The mapmakers can't revise maps fast enough to keep up.

But don't let all of this discourage you. We've taken our faithful Pontiac Bonneville SSEI into all these places. We've scraped bottom, spun tires and come back caked in mud, but we made it.

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