North Unit Scenic Drive In Theodore Roosevelt National Park Still Partially Closed

Slumping of asphalt along sections of the North Unit Scenic Drive in Theodore Roosevelt National Park should be repaired later this year. Kurt Repanshek photos.

Repairs should allow the reopening later this year of the entire North Unit Scenic Drive in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, but until then you'll be limited to only about a 7-mile stretch of the drive.

Fortunately, though, there's a nice hike or two you can take from trailheads along that open stretch, so don't write off a visit to this unit of the national park if you're heading that way this summer.

Asphalt slumps along portions of the scenic drive first appeared last year, and eventually forced park officials to close the last 7 miles of the drive -- from Caprock Coulee to the Oxbow Overlook -- in August. The first 7 miles of the road, from the Visitor Center to the Caprock Coulee pullout, have no restrictions, and access to and from the Juniper Campground are not affected.

The slumps were caused by the underyling bentonite clay soils, which have a tendency to slip and slide when they get overly wet, which was the situation a year ago. The soils were formed from volcanic ashes that drifted down to earth here from volcanoes in South Dakota, Montana, Idaho, and elsewhere in the West.

"The formation of the badlands is a constant and ongoing natural process," Superintendent Valerie Naylor said last August when the stretch of drive was first closed."The erosional processes that have given us our beautiful scenery, in combination with the wet conditions of the last two years, have led to the current condition of the park road. We regret the necessity of closing any part of the scenic drive, but the safety of visitors and park staff is paramount."

Earlier this week the superintendent said work on repairing the slumps is expected to get under way later this summer.

Hikes still open for you to explore include the 1.6-mile-long Caprock Coulee Nature Trail, the Upper Caprock Coulee Trail, and the Buckhorn Trail. Their trailheads can be found at the end of the 7 miles of drive still open.

The North Unit is located 15 miles south of Watford City off Highway 85.The park is open every day. For further information, including current road conditions, you can call the North Unit Visitor Center at 701-842-2333 or visit the park's website.

Traveler footnote: We'll soon have a post up on a portion of the Upper Caprock Coulee Trail.