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The Ultimate Guide to Theodore Roosevelt National Park — Best Things To Do, See & Enjoy!

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Amar Hussain
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Amar Hussain

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Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications incl...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

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Theodore Roosevelt National Park has gorgeous painted canyons, buttes, peaks, and wilderness just waiting to be explored. The park has an incredible history and was named after America’s 26th president who sought peace and refuge in the area after his life was shattered when his wife and mother tragically died on the same day. Each year, nearly 600,000 visitors come to discover the history and natural beauty of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

How To Get to Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Where Is Theodore Roosevelt National Park?

Theodore Roosevelt National Park stretches across 70,000+ acres of badlands in southwestern North Dakota. This national park is divided into 3 major areas called the North Unit, South Unit, and the Elkhorn Ranch Unit, which offer 3 completely different experiences. 

Nearest Airports to Theodore Roosevelt National Park

There are 2 airports that visitors utilize when traveling to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The closest options are about 1 to 2 hours away. Other airport options are over 4 hours away. Let’s explore these 2 airport options and see which works for your travel needs. 

Bismarck Airport (BIS)

Bismarck Airport is located about 2 and a half hours from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Bismarck, North Dakota. This is the second closest airport to the park. Bismarck Airport offers direct flights to 6 destinations, including Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, and Minneapolis. This airport services popular airlines such as Allegiant, American, Delta, and United.

Choosing to fly into Bismarck Airport would be a great choice to get to the park in a relatively quick time. There are plenty of car rental kiosks to aid you in getting through the last leg of your journey to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. 

Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport (DIK)

The closest airport to Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the Dickinson Theodore Roosevelt Regional Airport. This airport is 48 miles from the park. This airport exclusively offers daily flights with United to and from Denver and is the gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Bottom Line:

While this airport is small with few flight options, it could certainly help you to maximize your travel time when flying to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. 

Driving to Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Driving to Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Image Credit: Intricate Explorer via Unsplash

There are 3 different regions Theodore Roosevelt National Park is broken into, so you should consider several different entrances when planning your park trip. The 3 entrances are at the South Unit in Medora, the North Unit, close to Watford City, and the remote Elkhorn Ranch Unit, which is located in the middle of the North and South Units.

Interstate 94 leads to the South Unit entrance from mile markers 24 and 27. The North Unit can be entered off Highway 85. 

The Elkhorn Ranch Unit is accessed by gravel roads. Since this part of the park is so remote and road conditions can cause concerns, it is always best to call ahead for a driving plan on the specific day you plan to visit. It is best to contact the park staff or use the Elkhorn Ranch Unit page for detailed instructions. 

Taking the Train to Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Taking a train to a national park is a great way to enjoy the journey to the park and let someone else take on the worry and stress of the drive. There is no train service that takes visitors directly to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but there is an option that will get you close. Amtrak has a station in Williston, North Dakota, which is a little over an hour from the park. 

Getting Around Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Driving or bicycling is the best way to get around Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There are no forms of public transportation to take throughout the park. The National Park Service offers an array of printable and interactive maps to help you plan your park outings. 

What To See and Do in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

There’s no shortage of sights and activities to explore in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. From hiking to wildlife viewing and guided programs to winter sports, this park is teeming with experiences. Take a look at the top activities and attractions in Theodore Roosevelt National Park and see which ones you want to add to your park itinerary. 

Bicycling

Bicycling through Theodore Roosevelt National Park is an amazing way to experience the beautiful scenery of the park. The park roads traverse along the badlands and offer a thrilling course for cyclists to venture.

If you plan to cycle during your visit, it is important to note that off-road cycling is prohibited. Bicycles are required to stay on paved and dirt roads and follow all of the traffic laws. Hiking trails are also closed to cyclists. 

Canoeing and Kayaking

Canoeing and kayaking are popular activities at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The Little Missouri River cuts through the park, providing visitors with excellent boating opportunities.

It is important to note that the river becomes extremely shallow throughout the year, which may cause the need to exit the boat and drag it through the shallow stretches. Canoeing and kayaking are excellent activities to discover the splendor of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. 

Fishing

The Little Missouri River runs through Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This river is an excellent place for fishing. Some of the fish that can be caught in the Little Missouri River include sauger, channel catfish, and goldeyes.

If you hope to spend time fishing in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, it is essential to have a fishing license before casting a line. Fishermen must also follow the fishing guidelines established by the park.

Guided Programs

Roosevelts Maltese Cross Cabin
Image Credit: Katherine Plessner via NPS

Theodore Roosevelt National Park offers a wide variety of guided programs for tourists to participate in during their visit. Most of the events are offered exclusively in the summer. Some popular guided programs include touring Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin, geology talks touring the Painted Canyon Overlook, and guided hikes.

Bottom Line:

These guided programs offer unique opportunities to interact with park rangers and learn about the history of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Hiking

There are nearly 100 miles of hiking trails available for visitors to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. These trails range in difficulty from easy 10-minute walks to strenuous hikes lasting up to 12 hours.

The hiking trails offer amazing overlooks with sweeping views of the park, the river, the wildlife, and the geology of the park. Some of the most popular trails include the Maah Daah Hey Trail, the Painted Canyon Nature Trail, the Wind Canyon Trail, and the Petrified Forest Loop Trail.

There’s so much to discover at Theodore Roosevelt National Park; the hiking trails provide perfect opportunities to see it all.

Horseback Riding

Horseback riding is an incredible way to experience the land and scenery of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Riding over the endless rolling prairies or the badlands gives you a glimpse of how Teddy Roosevelt spent his days in this area.

Horses are allowed in the backcountry of the North and South Units as well as at the Roundup Group Horse Camp. If you plan to ride horses during your visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a free permit is required in advance. 

Visitor Centers

There are 3 visitor centers at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Beginning your park excursions at one of these centers is an excellent way to set out for the day.

North Unit Visitor Center

The North Unit Visitor Center is located at the North Unit entrance. This small visitor center offers opportunities to obtain permits for backcountry camping, shop at the bookstore, watch the park film, and speak with a park ranger for assistance in planning your trip. 

South Unit Visitor Center

The South Unit Visitor Center is located near the town of Medora. This visitor center is located right at the beginning of the scenic loop drive through Medora and right next to Theodore Roosevelt’s Maltese Cross Cabin. This visitor center has park rangers who are eager to help visitors map out their park adventures, obtain permits, watch the park film, shop in the bookstore, and learn about the park’s namesake through an on-site museum.

Painted Canyon Visitor Center

The Painted Canyon Visitor Center is open mainly during the summer months. This visitor center has impressive panoramic views, hiking trails, opportunities for wildlife viewing, exhibits, and a gift shop. There are picnic shelters, drinking fountains, and vending machines for those who want to take a break from their park excursions. This visitor center also has a staffed information desk with excellent park rangers who are happy to help you with any of your park questions or needs.

The visitor centers contain a wealth of information for Theodore Roosevelt National Park visitors. Visiting one or all of these visitor centers will be tremendous opportunities to learn about the remarkable history of this national park.

Wildlife Viewing

Herd of Bison Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Image Credit: Alex Moliski via Unsplash

Wildlife is bountiful at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Wildlife viewing is one of the simple pleasures to be enjoyed at this national park.

Some of the wildlife that can be spotted in Theodore Roosevelt National Park include bison, mule deer, white-tailed deer, elk, golden eagles, snakes, prairie dogs, and bobcats. It is essential to consider all wildlife dangerous and observe them from a distance.

Excellent wildlife viewing locations include the Buckhorn Trail and Little Mo Nature Trail in the Squaw Creek area of the North Unit. Catching a glimpse of the fantastic animals of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is an experience to be remembered. 

Winter Activities

Theodore Roosevelt National Park has some thrilling opportunities for guests who enjoy winter recreation. This area receives about 30 inches of snow each year. Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are popular winter activities in the park. There are no groomed trails for skiing, which means you’ll blaze your own trails throughout the park. The best places to enjoy skiing and other snow sports are at Little Missouri River or on park roads that are closed. 

Best Times To Visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park

A trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park is exciting, no matter when you can visit. If there are certain events and activities you hope to participate in, there may be a better time than others to plan a trip. Take a look at the best times to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park and see which time you’d like to visit. 

Best Time To Visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park for Fall Foliage

If you love the vibrant colors of fall, you will want to visit Theodore Roosevelt during the fall months to see the bright leaves in their full glory. The best month to see these bold fall colors is in late September.

The temperatures are still relatively comfortable in September, and there are fewer crowds due to school returning to session. A fall trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park will provide spectacular views and opportunities for capturing incredible photographs. 

Best Time To Visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park To Avoid the Crowds

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Winter
Image Credit: G Poulsen via Pixabay

A solitary visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park is an experience to remember. If you are wanting to plan a trip to this national park while avoiding crowds, the best month to plan a visit is in December. The cold temperatures deter most visitors, leaving the park free of crowds.

Hot Tip:

If you can handle the cold, plan for a quiet trip in December where you can enjoy exploring the park at your own pace.

Best Time To Visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park for Wildlife

If you are hoping to get a glimpse of the wildlife that makes their home in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the best time to plan a trip is in June. Baby bison and horses are easily seen in the hills during June, making this a memorable experience.

There are lots of other animals that can be spotted during this time of year, including pronghorns, white-tail deer, and prairie dogs. Visiting when these animals are reemerging from winter offers the best sighting of the year. 

Cheapest Time To Visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park has an entry fee that remains the same throughout the year. If you are wanting to plan a trip to this national park and save money at the same time, the best time to visit is in late January. January is when lodging and flight rates are at their cheapest in the nearby towns, making this the best time to save money while traveling.

Annual Events in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Theodore Roosevelt National Park has a regular schedule of programs offered throughout the year. Still, there are also several events that take place on an annual basis at this park. Let’s explore some of the popular annual events that take place in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. You may want to plan your trip at a time when you can participate in one of them.

Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival

The Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival takes place each year in September. This event is a weekend-long event for those who love learning about the objects in the sky. There are workshops, guest speakers, stargazing, telescopes, and activities for guests of all ages.

This is an event for anyone who has an appreciation for astrology and celestial objects. Attending the Dakota Nights Astronomy Festival is a spectacular way to appreciate the natural beauty of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

Medora Sip ‘n Shop

The Medora Chamber of Commerce puts on a Sip n’ Shop Event in early November for visitors who enjoy shopping, wine, and trying new foods. This event is held in the nearest city to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Medora, which is located right at the entrance to the South Unit.

Several local businesses participate in this event, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Cowboy Hall of Fame, Mount Rushmore Taffy Shop, and many other restaurants and stores. This is a great way to get a head start on your holiday shopping and get a taste of the lovely town of Medora.

National Park Week

National Park Week is celebrated in Theodore Roosevelt National Park during the latter part of April. During this week, all entry fees are waived. There are special programs and workshops, as well as opportunities to participate in guided tours and hikes to learn about the park’s natural and cultural history.

National Park Week is a great time to visit the park. Not only can you save on the entry fee, but there are extra opportunities to discover and learn about this amazing park. 

Where To Stay in Theodore Roosevelt National Park

There are plenty of places to stay in and near Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Whether you choose to sleep under the stars at a primitive campground or set up in a luxury resort, you won’t have a problem finding the perfect solution to your accommodation needs.

Inside the Park

For visitors wanting to stay the night at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the only available option is to set up camp in the great outdoors. There are 2 campgrounds for primitive camping within the park’s boundaries.

Cottonwood Campground

Cottonwood Campground is approximately 5 miles from Medora and is the South Unit’s only option for camping. Some of the sites at this campground are available on a first-come, first-served basis, and the other part is available only by reservation. These sites are for tent camping and RVs. Amenities at this campground include picnic tables, grills, restrooms with flush toilets, and potable water. The RV sites do not have hookups.

Bottom Line:

If you would like to experience the natural beauty of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, camping at Cottonwood Campground would provide you with memories to last a lifetime.

Juniper Campground

The only campground in the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park is Juniper Campground. The sites at this campground are available on a first-come, first-served basis. These sites are ideal for tent camping, but many of them can accommodate RVs.

Each site features a picnic table, grill, potable water, and restrooms with toilets. The views at Juniper Campground are remarkable, and spending time camping during your Theodore Roosevelt National Park is an exceptional way to enjoy this beautiful park. 

Towns Near Theodore Roosevelt National Park

With camping as the only option for lodging in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, many visitors who want a more traditional lodging option choose to stay in one of the nearby towns. Several towns are near the South Unit of the park, and there’s a great option near the North Unit.

Dickinson, North Dakota

Dickinson is 35 miles east of the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This is the largest city near the park and has many options for lodging, dining, and recreation. There are 1,600+ rooms available and most of these rooms are available in budget-friendly motels or chain hotels, but there are a couple of campground options as well.

Dining is a treat — there are nearly a hundred restaurants in this town ranging from chain restaurants to locally-owned eateries. No matter what you crave, you can find a solution to your hunger in the area.

Another reason Dickinson makes a great place to set up a base camp during a trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the proximity to a variety of adventures. There are lakes, fairgrounds, state parks, museums, ATV trails, speedways, and more. Whatever adventure you seek, you will find something right up your alley.

If you are looking for a town close to Theodore Roosevelt National Park with lots of opportunities for recreation, accommodations, and dining, look no further than Dickinson. 

Medora, North Dakota

Medora
Image Credit: Samantha Gades via Unsplash

Medora is a town located right at the entrance to the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Many visitors choose to stay in this town due to its proximity to the park and variety of accommodations, restaurants, and activities. 

There are over 20 different options for lodging, ranging from guest ranches to campgrounds and rustic cabins to cottages. This town has unique options that allow the guests to experience a true midwestern experience. One of the most unique lodging opportunities is a covered wagon motel where guests sleep like the early pioneers. 

This small town has an impressive variety of dining options, each with a unique atmosphere and theme. From saloons to pizza parlors to steakhouses, there’s something for every palate in Medora. Medora is known for its Western culture, and staying in this town has plenty of opportunities for entertainment and recreation. There are amazing historical landmarks, museums, live entertainment, historic theaters, museums, and plenty of options for hiking, biking, and visiting a variety of parks. 

Medora is the ideal place to stay when visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park. There is so much to see and do, plenty of options for dining experiences, and an abundance of accommodations, all within a stone’s throw from the park entrance. Setting up a home away from home in this town is an experience of a lifetime. 

Watford City, North Dakota

Watford City is the closest town to the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This town is about 15 miles from the park and has several options for places to stay, restaurants, and recreation. There are dozens of different options for accommodations, including campgrounds, RV parks, historic hotels, and budget-friendly motels

The restaurants are amazing in Watford City are nothing short of spectacular. There is a nice blend of chain restaurants and several locally-owned eateries. Most visitors enjoy dining at one of the local bars that feature gourmet creations and signature drinks.

Adventure abounds — not only do you have the park just a few minutes from the town, but this city also has lots of places for recreation and exploring. There are incredible opportunities for hiking, biking, and kayaking. There is so much history in this town, which is awesome for those who like to explore historical sites, museums, and landmarks.

Bottom Line:

If you are looking for a place to stay near Theodore Roosevelt National Park’s North Unit, Watford City is the ideal location. You will have plenty to see and do, plus incredible access to the park.

Where To Eat Near Theodore Roosevelt National Park

There are no places for dining in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but there are plenty of options near the park. If you want to eat in the park, your best option is to pack a picnic. If picnicking isn’t your style, another option is to take a break from your park outings and grab a bite to eat nearby.

Cowboy Café

Cowboy Café is a little over a mile from the entrance of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This restaurant serves a menu filled with classic home-cooked dishes daily for breakfast and lunch. 

The menu features all the classic mom-and-pop diner dishes. Some of the favorite dishes featured on the menu include the cowboy meals, caramel rolls, and hot roast beef sandwiches. 

Not only does Cowboy Café have an amazing menu and convenience to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but the atmosphere of the restaurant is also a true Western experience. This local restaurant is loved by locals and visitors alike. 

Farmhouse Café

Farmhouse Café is just a mile and a half from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the town of Medora. The cafe is a top-ranked restaurant and has received the 2022 Tripadvisor Travelers’ Choice award. This restaurant is open daily for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

The menu at Farmhouse Café features breakfast specials like French toast, omelets, and homemade gourmet donuts. Lunch and dinner options range from American classics like pulled pork sandwiches, cheeseburgers, and southwestern chicken salads to unique specialties like Indian tacos and smoked gouda mac and cheese bites. 

Whether you are ready for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks, Farmhouse Café is ready to serve you a meal that you’ll remember for years to come. 

Medora Uncork’d

Medora Uncork’d is conveniently located a mile and a half from Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the town of Medora. This restaurant has something for every palate and features an extensive wine bar and gift shop. 

The menu offers a variety of specialty and made-to-order pizzas, juicy steaks, charcuterie boards, one-of-a-kind appetizers, and an incredible drink menu featuring amazing wines, signature cocktails, and top-shelf liquors. 

If you are looking for a wonderful meal and a place to unwind with family and friends, be sure to stop by Medora Uncork’d for a relaxing lunch or dinner. 

Theodore’s Dining Room

Theodore’s Dining Room is Medora’s top restaurant. This restaurant is a little over a mile from Theodore Roosevelt National Park and offers a historic and elegant ambiance. 

This restaurant is open daily for breakfast and Wednesday through Sunday for dinner. The breakfast menu features incredible specialties like bison Benedict, pancake stacks, and omelets. Some of the featured dinner dishes include bacon-wrapped steaks, buffalo osso bucco, and Teddy’s Burger. 

TR’s Tavern is in the restaurant and offers craft cocktails, local beers, and wines for those who want to unwind after a long day of excursions at the park. When visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you will want to make sure that you visit Theodore’s Dining Room to get the full experience.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Facts

Theodore Roosevelt National Park Sign
Image Credit: Ryan Stone via Unsplash

1. A New Park Established

Theodore Roosevelt National Park was first established as Theodore Roosevelt National Memorial Park in 1947. Thirty-one years later, the park was redesignated as Theodore Roosevelt National Park.

2. What’s in a Name?

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the only national park named after a president or any person at all. Choosing to name the park after Theodore Roosevelt was a way to commemorate all the wonderful things this man did for the National Park Service and our country’s wilderness. 

3. A River Runs Through

The Little Missouri River runs completely through Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This river makes a fantastic place for fishing and photography when visiting the park.

4. A Healing Place

Theodore Roosevelt sought refuge in this area of North Dakota when his life was turned upside down by the passing of his mother and wife on the same day. Theodore was only 25 years old, and he was shattered. He came to this area in hopes of healing from his broken heart. He left his life in the public and threw himself into cattle ranching. He fell in love with the land and later went back to ordinary life, which is when he became America’s 26th president.

5. Former Swamp?

About 65 million years ago, the land that includes Theodore Roosevelt National Park was a swamp-like wetland that was home to groves of trees, fish, and reptiles. Later, volcanic ash filled the swamps with sediment. During the ice age, glaciers began to melt and formed the river that runs through the park, the Little Missouri River. The flowing of this river caused erosion which has revealed an amazing geologic history we can now see today, the badlands. 

6. Horse Friendly

Cross-country horseback travel is allowed in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This park is one of the few parks in the West where visitors can see free-range horses roaming within the park boundaries. Wild horses can also be found in this national park. 

7. An Abundance of Animals

Theodore Roosevelt National Park has a wide diversity of animals who make their home in the park boundaries. This park is home to over 186 species of birds, many kinds of reptiles, and a large number of mammals. Some of the iconic animals that visitors love to see in the park include the American bison, the black-tailed prairie dog, bighorn sheep, elk, and wild horses.

8. Maltese Cross Cabin

The Maltese Cross Cabin is where Theodore lived during his time in the badlands. Today, visitors can tour his first ranch house and see how he lived. Several personal items are on display in this cabin.

9. Peaceful Valley Ranch

Peaceful Valley Ranch is the only ranch home still standing in the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Organized horseback riding was offered for nearly 100 years at this ranch. The Peaceful Valley Ranch is a reminder of what cattle ranching was like from the late 1800s to the 1900s. The 3 remaining buildings in this area have now been listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

10. An Influential Man

Once Theodore Roosevelt left the badlands and returned to public life, he became an American president. He did more for the National Park Service than anyone ever before or since. He established 5 national parks and 18 national monuments, as well as 150 national forests, over 50 federal bird reserves, and 4 national game preserves. His love for his country was evident in his presidency as well as in how he preserved our lands. He is remembered dearly for his contributions to our beautiful country. 

11. Petrified Wood

There is petrified wood in Theodore Roosevelt National Park which can be seen on the remote Petrified Forest Loop hike. The petrified logs in this park prove that this dry badlands area was once a humid swamp-like region. Theodore Roosevelt National Park has an impressive concentration of petrified wood, which ranks third in the U.S. 

12. The Long X Trail

The Long X Trail ran through the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This trail was essential for cattle ranching as it was how cowboys would move herds of longhorn and other kinds of cattle from as far as Texas to the fresh pastures in the Dakotas. 

Final Thoughts

Theodore Roosevelt National Park preserves a wondrous wilderness and the memory of its remarkable namesake. Book your trip to this national park and see what brings in so many visitors each year. Discover the wonder and beauty of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and leave with amazing memories that will last a lifetime.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does it cost to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park?

The entry fee to Theodore Roosevelt National Park is $30 per vehicle. This pass is valid for 7 days and covers everyone in the vehicle. 

How many days should I plan to visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park?

To experience all the highlights and participate in some guided tours at Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a 1- to 3-day trip is recommended.

What is the weather like at Theodore Roosevelt National Park?

The weather at Theodore Roosevelt National Park varies depending on the time of year. The coldest month is typically in January, with temperatures reaching near 0 degrees. The warmest month is July when daytime temperatures get up to 87 degrees. The rainiest month is in June. 

Is there Wi-Fi available at Theodore Roosevelt National Park?

Wi-Fi is available in some parts of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but visitors should not depend on cellular service as it is not always reliable due to the remoteness of the park.

Amar Hussain's image

About Amar Hussain

Amar is an avid traveler and tester of products. He has spent the last 13 years traveling all 7 continents and has put the products to the test on each of them. He has contributed to publications including Forbes, the Huffington Post, and more.

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