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Theodore Roosevelt

Theodore Roosevelt
Getting There
By Car
By Horse
By Canoe
Paddock Creek
Talkington Creek
Petrified Forest


Hiking in Theodore Roosevelt is quite unlike any other hiking you've ever done. This is a bizarre landscape : broken, twisted and barren. You will constantly feel like you're hiking on Mars or the Moon. Where there is enough water for vegetation, it occurs in stunted or highly adapted forms. Trees hug streams for water or hunch in bowls or depressions where they find protection from the high winds and relentless sun. The trees grow bush sized. Some, like Juniper, have evolved into spreading mats rather than upright trees. You'll find no deep forest here. Instead, you can often see the trail stretching half an hour ahead. We recommend five trails: Paddock Creek, Talkington Creek and The Petrified Forest trails in the lower park, Buckhorn and Achenbach in the upper.

These trails are not as physically demanding as most others you've hiked. You're not continually climbing and descending steep hills. Trails follow very long valleys or very long ridges or plateaus. Around you mesas, buttes, pinnacles, slumps, spires, and cones rise steeply, but you wind between them or cruise above them. The most exhausting feature will be the frequent drops into narrow gulches, where you'll cross streambeds (often dry) and immediately climb out the other side. Only after hiking from three to seven miles will you climb out of a valley or descend into one. In the Spring, the Little Missouri River is high and fast enough to stop you. By July, it is knee deep and slow and can easily be waded.

Rather than a deep green landscape, you'll be hiking in whites, blacks and pastel yellows, oranges and reds. Where there's green, it's sparse and faded. You'll hike through petrified forests, across salt flats and past coal seams, some of them on fire now or charred from having been on fire in the past, after lightning ignited them. Rocks, calcified trees and blocks of earth lay as if they were dumped from the sky. And through it all are the buffalo, wild horses, elk, antelope, mule deer, wolves, mountain lion, prairie dogs, horned toads, mountain blues and hawks. You're in their domain and they're everywhere. Keep your camera in your hand.

Shade is rare here, the air is clear and thin, and the sun is intense. Bring lots of sunblock, a good pair of sunglasses, and a wide brimmed hat with strap to hold it on in high wind. A pair of Lekkis (hiking sticks) is very helpful.

From home, bring a week's supply of munchables for lunch and hourly stops. Apples, oranges, raisens, fruit cocktail, gorp, trail mix, whatever you like to eat you should bring. You cannot buy these items in Medora. There is no grocery store and the one convenient store does not carry any fresh fruit or hiker foods.

Prepare for beautiful surroundings but terrible trails. These are the worst maintained trails in the national park system. The truth is they were never designed at all. You are hiking game trails thousands of years old. They are maintained by the buffalo, wild horses, elk, deer and antelope, which you will quickly realize as you notice all the hoofprints. More recently, these are domestic horsepacking trails. The trail riders heading out from Medora, Pleasant Valley, Buffalo Gap and Triple X Ranches use them. Hikers are just occasional visitors, which is why the animals come up so close to look at you. They find you a real curiosity. But expect to hike through muddy sections churned by thousands of hooves and on trails worn as much as four feet below the ground surface by centuries of big animals (see photo on the Paddock Creek page). You may even meet a herd of horses or buffalo, or individuals, coming down the trail toward you. And you may not have to approach them --- they may approach you. In such cases, moving slowly, you need to retreat or step aside.

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