Everyone loves to get outside to go on a hike or a walk, to enjoy nature and relax for a little while. At Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we love to see people hiking in the rugged badlands that it is our privilege to steward. So, in honor of June 6 being National Trails Day, we thought we would share some of the best safety tips for hiking in Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Preparing for a hike is important. You want to make sure that you have a plan; knowing where you want to go and sharing your itinerary with a friend or family member not only improves your hiking trip, it gives you the peace of mind that someone knows where you are. Always wear proper footwear and carry a map and first aid kit; you shouldn’t just throw on flip-flops and head out on the trail.
The most important thing to have with you on a hike in the North Dakota badlands is water. There is very little shade in the park and during the summer months temperatures can reach into the 90s and above. One water bottle isn’t enough; we recommend around 1 liter of water per person per hour. If you’re planning on a backcountry camping trip, you should try to pack in all the water you’ll need, as sources of water in the backcountry are few and far between.
Sadly, we haven’t yet trained our bison to social distance so the responsibly for safety falls on visitors. Be aware while hiking; headphones can prevent you from hearing approaching wildlife. Pay attention when coming around blind curves. By stopping to listen or swinging wide, you may avoid startling an animal. You don’t have to make as much noise in TRNP as you do in a park that has bears, but occasionally making a little noise as you walk isn’t a bad idea.
If you do see a bison or horse approaching, get off the trail and try to give them at least 25 yards. A great trick is to employ the “rule of thumb.” Hold up a thumb and if it completely covers the animal, you are far enough away for safe observation. Wait until they pass, and then continue your hike.
Even if you’ve hiked in other parks, Theodore Roosevelt National Park can present some unique challenges. By definition, a badlands landscape is one that is constantly changing; the badlands were formed by erosion over the course of millions of years. Even today, you can see the effects of that ongoing erosion in the park. Watch your footing when hiking. Sinkholes or ravines may not be noticeable until you’re right on top of them.
And if it’s been raining? Be very careful. Bentonite clay is a type of clay common in Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It is formed from ancient volcanic ash and is extremely absorbent. During a rainstorm, this clay soaks up a lot of water, and can make trails slippery for days at a time. It can also build up on shoes, negating some of your traction. If there has been a rainstorm, be careful when hiking on slopes, and consider asking a ranger about your route; certain trails are all but impassable when wet.
If you’re planning a hiking trip in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we hope that you’ll find these tips helpful. Hiking is one of those wonderful things that you can do almost anywhere, and these tips can make your trip to your National Park a safer and better experience. Enjoy your visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park!