Nobody thinks there is much to see in North Dakota. In fact, many people who have only seen 49 of the 50 states, have done so because they missed seeing North Dakota when they had the chance on a South Dakota vacation. So if you plan to go to South Dakota anyway, fly into Bismarck, North Dakota first and stay at the Rough Riders Hotel in nearly Medora, about two hours away by car. From there it is just steps to Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
The Rough Riders Hotel was where Teddy Roosevelt stayed when he used to go hunting In the North Dakota Badlands. It was of course a totally different hotel back then, and the nearby parkland became the first of the national parks thanks to his efforts. This area is in a more historically interesting part of the Dakotas than most people think. It is in fact, filled with history and is practically a presidential museum, with the whole of Medora filled with Presidential and Indian history. The Presidential papers have been digitized in nearby Dickenson.
The South Unit of the park land itself is right by the hotel. A smaller North unit is about 80 miles away. TR built his Elkhorn Ranch between the two units.The North unit is not always open to visitors depending on weather and road conditions, but both offer up great wildlife viewing experiences and wonderfully scenic drives.The South Unit is home to bison, feral horses, big horn sheep, deer, and prairie dogs to name just some of the animals that delight tourists.TR had a small cabin at the mouth of the South Unit that is open for visitors as well. Hiking is permitted, and many camp in nearby camping areas near the actual park. The Medora Musical is the big event in the summer, which is a truly Western, cowboy inspired experience close to the park.
A drive around the South Unit takes about an hour, but it depends on which animals appear and slows down drivers. A road full of bison for instance, will slow cars down since they cannot get through these slow animals, as will seeing elk horn sheep or prairie dogs near by. Everybody wants to get out and take pictures when they can. Road construction and park maintenance may slow things down as well. Plan on at least two hours to see the basics of the park and the wildlife. A visit to the cabin at the entrance is is included in the entrance fee, and takes about an hour. For more information on the park and North Dakota, contact North Dakota Tourism. They are very helpful and answer questions on Trip Advisor as well.