A Dog-Friendly Trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Before you pack the dogs in the car and drive to North Dakota’s only national park, you might be interested in a little history about this area and how the person this park was named for.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park is named for the president that helped shape a conservation policy that Americans still benefit from today. Often remembered as “conservationist president” many of the nation’s national parks were formed during Roosevelt’s presidency. 

Roosevelt became president in 1901 and during his presidency, he protected approximately 230 million acres of public land. This land includes 150 national forests, 51 federal bird reserves, 4 national game preserves, and 18 national monuments. He also helped form 5 national parks, including Crater Lake National Park in 1902,  Wind Cave National Park in 1903, and Mesa Verde National Park in 1906.

When Roosevelt died in 1919, there were proposals to establish a memorial in his honor. It is fitting that this national park was created in an area that had a great influence on a young Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt first arrived in South Dakota in 1883, and his time in this region helped shape his desire for conservation. 

Originally a memorial park, on November 10th, 1978, the area was given national park status. Today, this 70,448-acre national park is home to a variety of plants, animals, and landscapes.

A Dog-Friendly Visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Like many of the United State’s national parks, pet policies are a bit restrictive at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Dog’s visiting this national park need to always be leashed when not in a vehicle or tent. Leashes 6 feet in length or shorter are required.

Dogs are not allowed on hiking trails but can be walked on roads and road shoulders, sidewalks, and in parking, campgrounds, and picnic areas. Find out more about where pets are allowed at the official nps.org website.

One of the best sidewalks to enjoy great overlooks with your dog is at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center. (An added bonus of visiting this visitor center is that there is no entrance fee). The Painted Canyon Visitor Center is located at exit 32 off of I-94. 

The badlands at this location are just as stunning as those protected by Badlands National Park to the south. And there is still good wildlife viewing here. There was even a bison right of the entrance road during our visit. 

Throughout your visit, please remember that it is important to maintain an extra distance from wildlife when enjoying the park with a dog. Dogs don’t always interact well with wildlife.

To enjoy the south unit with your pup, plan on driving the scenic park loop. You will be able to see buffalo, maybe a herd of wild horses, and hundreds of prairie dogs. There are interesting rock formations to see and a lot of prairie grass. 

The three photos below were all taken from the roadside of the South Unit scenic park loop:

Camping at Theodore Roosevelt National Park

This national park has two campgrounds (and one group site for camping with horses). All campgrounds are primitive, meaning no hook-ups and no showers.

Cottonwood Campground is located in the South Unit and is about 5 miles away from the town of Medora. Typically this campground fills to capacity each afternoon, mid-May through mid-September. About half of the campsites are reservable, while the rest are first-come, first-served. 

Juniper Campground is the only campground in the park’s North Unit and is about 5 miles away from Hwy 85. All sites at Juniper Campground are first-come, first-served and typically fill to capacity by late afternoon in the summer. Find out more about both campgrounds at nps.org.

Unfortunately for us, the Cottonwood Campground was full when we arrived. We only had plans to visit the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, so we found a nearby state park campground at Sully State Park.

One of the benefits of this state park campground was that it is located adjacent to the Maah Daah Hey Trail, which is a dog-friendly hiking option outside of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. See more about this trail in the next section of this blog post.

Here are a few photos from our campsite at Sully State Park:

Dog-Friendly Activities in the Surrounding Areas

As mentioned above, the Maah Daah Hey Trail (MDHT) is an excellent option for hiking with pets. Just be aware that this path is also open to horseback riders and mountain bikers. (Pets and bikes are not permitted on the sections that are contained within the national park). The MDHT is about 150 miles long, so there is plenty of hiking opportunity. Find out more about the Maah Daah Hey Trail at mdhta.com.

From the national park’s Medora entrance, there is a paved path that heads west along the Little Missouri River to the MDHT. This paved portion is about 1 mile long, one-way. However, there are several other areas to access the MDHT, like Sully State Park for example.

There are also a few dog-friendly hiking options near the park’s north unit. The USFS CCC campground in this area has access to both the MDHT and the Long X Trail.  The Long X Trail was one of the routes that cattlemen used to move cattle from southern parts of the country to the prairies of eastern Montan and western North Dakota. The Long X Trail is seldom used and offers solitude and great views. Just be aware that the Long X Trail is not as well marked as the Maah Daah Hey Trail. Find out more about the Long X Trail on the fs.usda.gov website.

Overall Dog-Friendliness of Theodore Roosevelt National Park

While not a particularly dog-friendly national park, Theodore Roosevelt still offers plenty to see from the sidewalks and scenic road loops. We spent a day with the dogs at Theodore Roosevelt’s South Unit and could have spent more if we had ventured to the North Unit. But a day was definitely long enough to explore the areas South Unite available to travelers with dogs. 

Of the 3 parks in North and South Dakota, the Badlands National Park is our favorite, but Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a close second. 

Looking for more blogs about visiting this national park with dogs, check out GoPetFriendly’s post about visiting Medora and Theodore Roosevelt. 

Or consider driving a little further to one of the United State’s dog-friendly national parks, like Petrified Forest or Hot Springs

If you have visited Theodore Roosevelt National Park with your dogs, let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Or let us know what questions you have about visiting this lesser-known national park.


Kate is the writer of Pawsitively Intrepid. She has spent the last 9 years working full-time as a veterinarian, treating dogs and cats. But as of June 2023, she is taking a year to travel with her dog, volunteer, and work on some passion projects.

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