Most people might not know much, making the Dakotas perhaps the most underrated parts of the country. Located in the heart of the Great Plains, these two states are critical to the agricultural industry today – and represented much more for the Indigenous peoples who called them home, and pioneers and explorers who came later. Today, the National Park Service seeks to protect the most important parts of Dakota history, and there are four national parks in North Dakota alone. These range from the rolling plains to historic trails that connect culturally significant locations.
Even with only four national park units, North Dakota is home to one of the 63 places with National Park designation. This is the highest tier of conservation reserved for locations across the country with special historic and natural significance. As you’ll learn, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a special place – but so are the other three national park units protected in North Dakota.
After reading this post, you’ll know more about each of the national park units in North Dakota. By the end, don’t be surprised if you’re eager to visit these ones along with other National Parks in the Great Plains.
In this post, I promote travel to destinations that are the traditional lands of the Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara, Niitsítpiis-stahkoii ᖹᐟᒧᐧᐨᑯᐧ ᓴᐦᖾᐟ (Blackfoot / Niitsítapi ᖹᐟᒧᐧᒣᑯ), Michif Piyii (Métis), Assiniboine, Cheyenne, Očhéthi Šakówiŋ, Hunkpapa peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
National Parks in North Dakota List & Map
Before jumping into each national park in North Dakota in greater detail, it helps to take a high-level look at the map and list of national park units in North Dakota.
The 4 national parks in North Dakota are:
- Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
- Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site
- Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Above, you’ll see a map I made of the national park units (including the trails in blue). It’s worth noting that the trails aren’t exactly accurate on the map. Many of these original trails and the stops and landmarks have been somewhat lost to the sands of time.
Now let’s dive into each of the national parks in North Dakota. Then, you can decide which one(s) you want to visit!
Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
Located about 2 miles from the Missouri River’s confluence, Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site used to be the most important fur trading post in the region. Trade exchanges of buffalo robes, guns, beads and blankets covered up to $100,000 annually.
This historic site preserves portions of the original Fort based on ancient drawings and excavations.
Details of Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site:
- Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site is open year-round but hours vary by season.
- Admission to Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site is free.
- Click here to visit the NPS page for Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site.
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site
Knife River Indian Villages was originally a major trade center for Native Americans; in 1750, this location became a vital marketplace used by fur traders. Established in 1974 by the United States Congress, the national monument in the Great Plains stands to preserve and interpret the rich history and culture of the ancient Knife River Indians.
Details of Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site:
- Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site is open year-round but hours vary by season.
- Admission to Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site is free.
- Click here to visit the NPS page for Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site.
Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail
Many people know the basics of the Lewis & Clark Expedition. It took place from 1803 to 1806, which explored historical, natural, and cultural resources in the U.S. The trail they took – now a national historic trail – is about 8,000 miles long. It runs through Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon.
In North Dakota, the trail follows the path of the Missouri River north before turning west. It would take quite a while to traverse the entire path, but there are visitor centers and points of interest along the way.
Details of Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail:
- Visitor centers and museums along the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail vary in opening hours and seasons.
- Admission fees for these sites and museums also vary.
- Click here to visit the NPS page for Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
North Dakota‘s only national park, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is named after the president who visited this part of the Dakota Territory in 1883. His experiences here, living on the frontier, helped inspire his personal passion for environmental preservation and the eventual National Par Service created by his successor, President Woodrow Wilson.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is home to rugged scenery – rolling grasslands, hills, and rock formations, cut through by the Little Missouri River.
One of the most popular things to do is drive one of the two scenic park roads (there’s one in each part of the park, north and south), but you can certainly strike out one of the park’s 19 designated trails. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for wildlife, especially the bison that drew young Teddy to this region almost 150 years ago.
Details of Theodore Roosevelt National Park:
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park is open year-round.
- Admission is $30 per vehicle and is good for 7 days. (You can also use an America the Beautiful Pass instead.)
- There are two campgrounds inside the park: Cottonwood Campground & Juniper Campground. Half the sites in the southern unit campground (Cottonwood) are available for reservation; the rest are first-come, first-serve.
- For hotels, there is an AmericInn in the town of Medora, ND, as well as the locally-owned Rough Riders Hotel and Badlands Motel, and a few others in town.
While there are only four national parks in North Dakota, they are a surprisingly diverse set covering the range from natural wonders to cultural relics. The only question is: which one(s) do you want to visit?
If you have questions about these national parks in North Dakota, let me know in the comments!