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Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt
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Everyone else can enjoy a great vacation at Theodore Roosevelt, but if you're a horse lover this is your Paradise. The package of national park, wilderness area, national grassland and state park were set up for horses, are maintained for horses, and are administered by people who grew up on horseback and understand everything about the animals. Adjacent ranches, such as Buffalo Gap, Dakota Sky and the Bar X accept other guests but are really designed for those who either trailer their own horses out here to ride, or come out to rent the ranches' horses. All the trails in the national park are better on horseback than on foot, but the best evidence of the horse culture is the two magnificent long trails for riding : the Maah Daah Hey Trail and the Buffalo Gap Trail. These can be ridden in short segments or as multi day full length experiences. The ranches can shuttle you and your horse to various trailheads along the way if you want to break the trails down into day by day segments. Or there are campsites along the way for your use. And while there are enough rises, drops and river crossings to keep things interesting, the trails here are not really all that difficult. They tend to follow either stream valleys or plateaus for miles at a time.

One interesting aspect of riding your horse on the trails here is that you are almost certain to come upon wild horses grazing out in the Badlands. Watching your horse reacting to its wild cousin is grounds for all sorts of thoughts.

A very important detail needs to be considered, however. These are long trails. And they are basically centuries old game trails now being used for trail riding (and hiking). The trails are well marked but not well maintained. Therefore, as a rider, you will be a lot more active in the saddle than you might be used to on more civilized trails back home. After several hours this may begin to have its effect. Riders often find themselves very saddle sore. If you're here for a week and find yourself hurting after the first day, it will seriously reduce your enjoyment. So remember that trail riding in North Dakota is a much bigger challenge than back home, and spend your Spring months riding as many hours as possible over as rugged a terrain as possible to get your butt in condition.

If you're bringing your own horse, remember that out here you'll come face to face with wild horses, buffalo and mule deer, sometimes at very close range. You need to make sure your horse is disciplined enough to maintain its poise and dignity in such situations and does not panic, bolt or cower.

If you don't own your own horse or don't want to trailer them this long distance, you will want to rent a horse for the day from either the Peaceful Valley Ranch near Cottonwood Campground in the park's Southern Sector (Shadow Country Outfitters, 701-623-4568), at the Medora Riding Stables (800-633-6723), or for the Northern Sector from Little Knife Outfitters (701-842-2631).

You might also consider spending a night or two at Little Missouri State Park, just east of the national park's Northern Sector. Just outside of the crossroads village of Killdeer is Badlands Trail Rides & Eastview Campground 701-(764-8000), a stable and campground offering great trail rides and hiking plus beautiful tent sites and cabins.

Little Missouri State Park is where the Little Missouri empties into the main Missouri, so it was a location of great significance during Native American and frontier times. And the state park contains the same spectacular scenery as the national park. If you're not into tenting, these cabins are probably your best lodging option if you want to spend a night or two up North and avoid driving all the way back to Medora two or three times.

If you're bringing your own horses and want to camp in the park, you will want to stay at the Roundup Horse Camp, just off the Loop Drive in the South Unit. Roundup offers a loading ramp, hitch rail, corrals and water tanks for horses and drinkable water, fire pits, cooking grills and a picnic shelter for you. A key to the garte may be picked up at the Visitor Center at the park entrance in Medora. You will want to make reservations in March. Call 701-623-4466 or go to the website for the form, but it must be mailed or faxed in.

If you want to camp with your horses at the North Unit, you must stay outside the park at the CCC Campground just south of the entrance.

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