Wild West Travel: Elkhorn Ranch, North Dakota

Where the Frontier Shaped a Nation’s Destiny
By Reagan Johnson

Nestled in the rugged badlands of western North Dakota, Elkhorn Ranch evokes the enduring spirit of one of America’s most dynamic figures, Theodore Roosevelt. This remote haven, once the heart of Roosevelt’s life as a rancher and hunter, played a pivotal role in shaping the conservation policies that are his most enduring legacy. Today, Elkhorn Ranch invites adventurers and history buffs alike to explore the wild landscapes that inspired this peerless president, and to step back into an era in which the west was still a vast, untamed frontier.

Why You Know It: Roosevelt’s Refuge

At times referred to as the “cradle of conservation,” Elkhorn Ranch served as Theodore Roosevelt’s sanctuary—a place where he sought solace and redemption amid a series of profound personal tragedies. It was here, surrounded by the stark beauty of the North Dakota wilderness that Roosevelt developed his deep convictions toward conservation and the stewardship of America’s natural resources.

The tales of Roosevelt’s rough and rugged adventures—from cattle ranching to dramatic encounters with bandits and more—have been immortalized in history books for generations. These tales spring to life in vivid color in Elkhorn, on Thursdays at 9 pm ET. The all-new, original series depicts the wild life of T.R. himself, focusing on his formative years amid the beckoning call of the American West.

What It’s Like Today: Preserving History and Nature

The Elkhorn Ranch site remains largely as Roosevelt would have known it: a tranquil oasis in the midst of the rugged North Dakota landscape. Managed by the National Park Service as part of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the ranch site does not boast grand monuments nor highfalutin’ visitor centers. Instead, visitors are treated to an authentic slice of history, with the remains of Roosevelt’s ranch and unspoiled natural surroundings offering a tangible connection to America’s past. The surrounding area is a haven for wildlife, including bison, elk, and prairie dogs, giving visitors a glimpse into the wilderness that Roosevelt worked so hard to preserve.

Why You Should Go Now: A Legacy Springs to Life

With the premiere of Elkhorn sparking renewed interest in Roosevelt’s formative years, there’s a palpable excitement surrounding the ranch that once nurtured one of America’s most influential figures. Visiting the 218-acre site gives visitors the unique opportunity to step into the boots of one of America’s greatest conservationists.

While the ranch structures no longer stand, the foundation stones mark the footprint of Roosevelt’s cabin, and near the park’s South Unit, the Maltese Cross Cabin provides a tangible glimpse into his life and times. Hiking enthusiasts can venture on trails that meander through the same rugged terrain T.R. once roamed, with the Petrified Forest Trail and the Painted Canyon Nature Trail being particular highlights, offering breathtaking views of the region’s geological formations and abundant wildlife. Birdwatchers and nature photographers will be spoiled here, from witnessing the flight of a golden eagle to spotting a bison herd in the distance.

The call to explore Elkhorn Ranch isn’t just about witnessing the beauty of the North Dakota badlands or flipping back to a pivotal chapter of Wild West history—it’s a chance to walk the same grounds that Roosevelt once did, and to see what he saw. That’s because Elkhorn is more than a Wild West destination—it’s a living symbol of what it means to protect both nature and nation. As the days grow longer and warmer, and the anticipation for Elkhorn bulbs, now may be the perfect time to embark on this one-of-a-kind Western voyage.

Saddle Up and Go

For those inspired by Roosevelt’s spirit of adventure and his passion for the great outdoors, a trip to Elkhorn Ranch is a pilgrimage to the roots of American conservation.

Getting There

Elkhorn Ranch is located within Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota. The nearest town is Medora, which provides access to the park’s South Unit. From there, the ranch site is accessible via gravel roads, with signs marking the final turnoff. It’s a remote location, so come prepared for the adventure.

Best Time to Visit

Summer and early fall provide the most accessible conditions for visiting Elkhorn Ranch, with warmer weather and less risk of impassable roads. Winter visits can be magical, too, with the landscape blanketed in snow—but be prepared for frigid temperatures and limited access.

Must-Try Experiences

Walk the grounds of Roosevelt’s Elkhorn Ranch, imagining life as it was over a century ago. Make time to delve into Roosevelt’s legacy at the visitor center in Medora, where exhibits bring to life the story of a president transformed by the West.