Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota has the third highest concentration of petrified wood in the United States. A friend who lived in Medora for awhile suggested my cousin, Susan, and I do this hike while we were there exploring the national park.
Getting There: The trailhead is on the western side of the national park. From Medora, take I-94 west to exit 23. At end of exit ramp, turn right on to Forest Service Road 730. Drive this dirt road for 2.5 miles. Turn right onto Road 730-2 then first left (only 150 yards). At next “Y” continue 0.6 miles to parking area. Stay on the road as you are driving through private ranch land. The way to parking area is well marked and its easy to find the Petrified Forest Trailhead.
Trail Stats: It’s 3 miles round trip to either the south or north sections. You can hike farther for a longer out-and-back hike. The Petrified Forest Loop is 10.4 miles and combines the North and South Petrified Forest Trails with the Maah Daah Hey Trail.
Susan and I were on the trail about 7:30am. It’s starts out fairly easy with rollers across a prairie. This area is an ancient wetland forest. Sixty million years ago it looked like the Everglades. After a few minutes, we hit our first incline through more rugged terrain. This also gave us our first views across the badlands of North Dakota as we spotted some petrified wood.
At the half mile mark there’s a junction to go either north or south. We went north across a high prairie. A mile from the junction is a short and steep descent into the north section of the Petrified Forest.
We wandered around the petrified stumps noticing an array of colors from onyx to violet to white in the wood. As we got close to the incline to head up to the next high prairie there were some petrified stumps precariously balancing on rocks and ledges.
We hiked a little ways on the high prairie. As the wind whipped, it was fun to imagine what life would have been like on these high prairies in the late 1880s and early 1900s. We were hopping to spot a bison from a distance, but no luck. We turned around at about the two mile mark and retraced our steps back to the trailhead.
Post hike we headed to Cowboy Cafe in Medora for a late breakfast. It’s a diner with home cooking that attracts locals and visitors. Around 10am it was packed! It’s one of those joints with pictures lining the walls. If you go, take cash as they only accept cash or check. I indulged with the French toast and eggs with a side of hash browns along with a great cup of diner coffee.
Jennifer Broome has traveled extensively across the American West and in national parks. She has visited over 120 National Park Service sites including 32 national parks and counting!