This is a continuation of a travel series to The Great West. To start at the beginning, go HERE, HERE, and
I am so excited to reach Day 4 of my "Exploring the Great West Travel Series" because I can finally share the highlight of my trip, Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Now most people have never heard of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and you know what? Neither did I! 😀. I found this park by googling "National Parks that aren't busy". Isn't that hysterical? See, because of Covid I had to change my vacation plans twice (I know, whine, whine. If the worst thing that has happened to me in the past two years is simply altering my vacation plans, I am blessed and I know it). In 2020 we were suppose to go to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons. Well, we decided to cancel those plans because things weren't quite up and running to par due to Covid and we knew it would be a very expensive vacation and we didn't want to waste the $$$ if we couldn't have the full experience. Well, fast forward to 2021 and I go to make my vacation plans in the middle of winter for the fall of 2021 and everything is booked! I couldn't believe it! Normally, I don't make hotel reservations till a few months before. I've since read that Yellowstone experienced a record-breaking year for tourists.
So, I'm upset. It's now the second year in a row I could not go to Yellowstone. But, I still want to take a vacation out west. I read that all the National Parks were busy and experiencing huge numbers of visitors. Many parks even went to a reservation system. Never in my life have I seen anything like this before. We've always been able to get into any park with no problems and no reservations. So I get on my computer and find out that there is a little known park within a days drive of my house. Who knew? I started looking at pictures and videos of the park, and I wasn't impressed. I wasn't sure I wanted to go based on the photos. But it was when I started reading reviews of the park that my mindset had changed. Everyone said how "peaceful" the park was. How you would never see another human soul. How the vistas were so tranquil. How the wildlife was so abundant. Usually photos are what draw me to a vacation spot, but for the first time ever, it was words. You see, for our spring vacation to Smokey Mountains National Park, I was constantly annoyed with all the crowds. The idea of going to a peaceful place where I have more chance of running into a buffalo than another human being really intrigued me. So, off we went!
The park is divided into two units separated by an hours drive. We planned on spending two full days in the park, one day in the south unit and one day in the north unit. We never made it to the north unit because there was so much to explore in the south unit (oh well, maybe next year?) The first full day we spent in the park was driving the 36 mile scenic loop drive (although it is no longer 36 miles and no longer a loop because they closed a portion of it indefinitely due to erosion), The scenic loop has multiple short trails and scenic overlooks to pull over and admire the landscape and learn of it's history. Today's post will cover just three of those trails/look-outs and hopefully next week I can show all the rest.
The first scenic lookout is the "Skyline Vista". It is an accessible 0.2 miles roundtrip trail that shows wonderful views of the western horizon.
Here you are introduced to a unique land formation the area is known for: the butte. Unlike mountains, they don't peak but have flat tops. You can read how these are formed in the sign below.
I had read that there was a lot of wildlife in this park, but I didn't quite believe it until I saw it for myself. This park is FULL of wildlife, especially BUFFALO. The buffalo are as common as robins. They are everywhere and their little "patties" are everywhere too. There is not a spot in this park where the buffalo are not allowed to freely roam. We found buffalo patties near the visitor center, the bathroom, and on every single trail. There are signs everywhere warning you to stay away from the buffalo. I found that laughable as there wasn't anywhere I could go where there wasn't a buffalo. If there is only one bad thing I could say about the park, it would be that I couldn't hike anywhere without fear of running into a buffalo. In fact, my husband and I had to turn back on a trail because there was one buffalo sitting right on the trail and another one on the side. They advise "giving a wide berth" if you run into a buffalo, but there was no where to go if there are two of them one on the trail and one to the side of the trail.
Another little guy this park is full of is prairie dogs. There are many "Prairie Dog Towns" located in the park. They have benches so you can just sit and enjoy these funny little creatures for hours.
In the photo below, the "Prairie Dog Town" is in front of the bench, but as you see there are also buffalo right behind me and in front of the bench. I was nervous to just sit there and watch the prairie dogs knowing that there were buffalo directly behind me. And in case you're wondering, yes, buffalo do attack, but it is rare. They have had buffalo attacks as recently as 2019 and 2020. In both attacks, the tourists were not doing anything wrong. They were simply hiking, rounded a bend, and came across a buffalo and it attacked. So now you understand my fear. We ended up doing very little long distance hiking while in this park because of all the buffalo.
Wind Canyon Trail
The next stop on the scenic loop road was Wind Canyon Trail. I think this was my favorite short trail from the road. It is a 0.4 mile loop that follows a cliff edge overlooking the Little Missouri River. This is a favorite spot in the park to watch the sunset.
The trail is a dirt trail that once again, is frequented by the buffalo as evidenced by all the patties they leave behind. I found we always had to be careful before heading out on one of these short trails to look ahead to see if there were any buffalo on them.
The area was experiencing a drought while we were there, so the water level was quite low and no where near as wide as it should have been.
But we were awestruck by the beauty and how peaceful it was.
My husband found this interesting little sand dune area he wanted to explore. It was off-trail so I hung back to take pictures of him. Notice the "trail" heading to the sand dune? That is actually not a hiking trail but a "buffalo trail". These are everywhere in the park and they actually make it very difficult for the hiker not to get lost. We've learned not to look for worn paths, but to keep an eye out for trail markers, but like I said, it can be very tricky.
From the top of the cliff we could see the scenic road and noticed cars stopped due to buffalo on the road. This is a common occurrence in the park. Be prepared to always drive very slow and see animals blocking the road.
Our next stop on the scenic loop road was Boicourt Overlook. This is a paved 0.3 mile round trip trail that looks out across the park to the south. You can see four famous buttes from this overlook.
It was here that we saw our first herd of wild horses and I almost cried. Little did I know I would be seeing hundreds more of them before the trip was over! It's so funny, because I see horses all the time where I live, but seeing them running and living free in the wild is a whole different experience.
The Boicourt Overlook is considered to be one of the best views in the park.
When the pavement stops, you can take one of the many buffalo trails to other high points of interest. You don't need to worry about getting lost or running into a buffalo because you can see for quite a long distance ahead of you.
We hiked this buffalo trail all the way out to the peak.
I hope you can get a glimpse of the beauty of this park through my photos, but believe me, the photos do not do this park justice. It is so much more breath-taking in person, and because it is not over-populated with tourists, the peace and quiet makes it even more beautiful to me.
Next week I will share more overlooks and trails we took from the Scenic Loop Road.
Have a Great Day! Amy
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