On our way to TRNP (Theodore Roosevelt National Park) we drove through Jamestown, ND to see the World’s Largest Buffalo and after that making our way to Zap, ND for the night. We found fields of sunflowers on our drive, and stopped for a photo. As we were walking down to the field, Jason said “watch out for snakes” and not even 5 seconds later one slithered by me. A scream, a jump, and a few quick pictures then it was back to the van. I finally decided to drive the van, it wasn’t terrible but, after about 60 miles I handed the keys back to Jason. From Zap, ND we were up early the next morning to head to TRNP. We stopped in a town along the way that had a Napa Auto Parts to get a new gas cap for the van (1st van repair of the trip). As we pulled up Jason asks where the other set of keys are (we have a set of keys that we keep our cargo bag lock on, along with other keys are on that set). I said, “The last time you used those was in Valley City when we rearranged the cargo bag to get my bike to fit on top of the car.” Jason said, “Well, I bet they’re on the ground in Valley City then.” Jason is notorious for losing/misplacing/forgetting things, so much so that in our wedding vows I vowed to help him find everything that he loses and he vowed to keep losing things. But, I wasn’t happy as my favorite and irreplaceable key chains were on that set of keys. At the Napa store I hopped onto the top of the van to see if Jason had at least put the lock back on the cargo bag or if we needed to buy a new one. I couldn’t believe it, the entire set of keys, with the cargo lock were sitting on top of the van. I yelled down to Jason and showed him the keys with the lock, he was also stunned. That set of keys had been on top of the van for 319 miles! We aren’t sure how they never fell off between wind, hills and curves, they probably should have.
Primarily, we use Google Maps for navigation and put on “avoid highways” mode to get around. The only thing that is frustrating is “avoid highways” mode won’t tell you when the road will turn into gravel (or for how long you will be on gravel). Google Maps lead us on a lot of gravel to get to TRNP and one mile of it was through a private road with a “No Trespassing” sign. I told Jason we should turn around and find a different way but, he didn’t want to as we had already been driving on gravel for 9 miles. So, we (Jason) decided to ignore the “No Trespassing” sign and drive through anyway. Luckily, we made it to the park’s South entrance with no issues. We went to the visitor center to get our sticker for the van and a park patch and we overheard a guy asking the park ranger the best way to do “the loop.” TRNP has a South Scenic Loop Drive that is 36 miles. There is a part where the loop splits and the park ranger told the guy “go left because everyone goes right.” With that overheard information we decided to do the same. We walked out to the van and happened to be parked next to this guy and his entire family who were decked out in bucket hats. Jason referred to them as the “Hat Clan” the rest of the trip.
We started the South Loop Drive but made a stop at the Cottonwood Campground in the park that we were staying at because half of the campsites are “first come, first serve.” We have yet to make any reservations this trip for lodging due to the fact that we rarely know where we’re going to be until the day of. We got to the campground at 11:00 a.m. and the park ranger said it is a good thing we came early as the campsites always fill up. A few spots were left so we picked one out, set up our tent to hold our spot, and continued on the scenic loop drive.
WE WENT LEFT, best decision ever! We passed a scenic overlook where the “Hat Clan” was looking at buffalo that were pretty far away. We have yet to buy binoculars on this trip so we decided to keep going. Just around the corner we had a herd of buffalo coming toward us! There were no cars in front of us, so we got a front row seat to buffalo walking right next to us. The other side of the road was a line of at least 10 cars (they went right) and they were stuck with the ass-end view of the buffalo. After the buffalo passed, we kept driving and around the other corner was another herd of buffalo coming toward us! Once again we were first in line and damn, it was cool.
The south loop currently has two parts that are under construction. You sit for quite awhile as it turns into a one lane road. Luckily, the stopping points are around prairie dog towns so it makes the stop very entertaining.
After we finished the 36 mile loop we headed out of the South Entrance to the town of Medora, which is where the park is located. Medora is a small cowboy town complete with restaurants, shops and the Cowboy Hall of Fame museum. It is definitely catered to tourists but, we got a recommendation from a fellow camper in Valley City, ND to have a drink at Little Missouri Saloon. We stopped in to the saloon and the entire ceiling is covered in cowboy hats and dollar bills. We ordered our beers and decided we needed pizza too (it had been a long time since we’ve had pizza). Great little place and I would definitely recommend stopping in for a drink. Eventually, we made it back to our campsite in TRNP and fell asleep to the sounds of coyote howls.
The next morning we woke up early and headed to the Big Plateau trailhead to embark on a 5.4 mile “difficult” loop hike. At the beginning of the hike, you forge the Little Missouri River. It’s pretty rocky on your bare feet but the water was below your knees and it felt good. After we made it across the river, we scaled the side of the butte aka “butt(e) burner”. That was the hardest part of the hike as it was pretty vertical. Once at the top you were on the “Big Plateau,” walking through prairie dog town after prairie dog town hearing the chirps and screams of the quirky little rodents. Off in the distance was a herd of bison and a few wild horses. It was beautiful but, we were glad they were far away as we didn’t have a vehicle to protect us. After we made it across the plateau we were hiking up a cliff and Jason saw a buffalo up on the ridge. He said, “I think he’s coming right toward us.” Sure enough, the buffalo turned off the ridge and headed down the trail we were on. We didn’t have a lot of room but, we were able to step down to a small ridge below. The buffalo sauntered his way down the trail scratching his
head on tree branches and a large boulder. We were a few feet away from this gigantic beast! After our hearts stopped racing and the buffalo was a ways behind us, we kept on hiking.
We passed through a meadow with 3 wild horses, more prairie dog towns, and had to forge another small river that was VERY muddy. We didn’t bring any towels for our feet so we just had to wipe them in the grass. We made it back to the beginning, forging the Little Missouri one more time. It got pretty warm on our hike so the water felt even better at the end. We made it back to the car and drove to Medora Campground (right outside the park) for the night. For a non-electrical site it was $24. A little pricey but, it included flushable toilets, showers, a laundry facility, and free wifi! We needed to do laundry and we desperately needed showers so we decided to bite the bullet.
Oh my goodness, I think I’m in love with TRNP. Definitely recommend this gem of a park for you to visit.
P.S. I really miss ice, specifically for ice cold water and cocktails. I miss it more than showers.