NP Park Review – Cottonwood Campground, Medora, ND
A quiet, primitive campground inside beautiful Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Western North Dakota.
Link to campground here: Cottonwood Campground, TRNP, ND
Link to map location here: Cottonwood Campground, TRNP, ND
- Site Quality = 3.5/5
There are two loops here, one best-suited for smaller rigs and one that can accommodate (some) larger rigs:
- Sites 1-39 “big loop” and site 44: These are the ONLY sites that can accommodate larger rig sizes. This loop has mostly pull-through sites with a small number of back-in. Pull-throughs are by far the largest/longest sites and I’d say at least half can accommodate rigs up to 40-feet**. Back-ins are for small rigs only. All sites are hard gravel with very good separation and lovely, large, private sitting areas containing picnic tables & fire-pit. Lots of trees & pretty vegetation all-around. Biggest ding is site levelness which can vary from nicely flat to quite uneven. Also there are a many low-hanging trees & branches so be careful getting in & driving around the loop if you are “beast size” like us. Nicest sites here are sites 21 & 23, both of which have excellent views.
- Sites 45-76 “small loop”: This loop is for SMALLER rigs only (25 foot or less). Don’t even think about driving through here in a big rig (you will get into trouble!). All sites are hard gravel with very good separation and nice sitting areas containing picnic table and fire-pit. 12 of the sites (#55-66) are tent walk-ins only while the rest are short back-ins. This area is more open than the “big loop” and many sites here have a nice view of the basin. Only ding, sites can vary from level to quite uneven.
**NOTE/ Although some sites here are listed as up to 60-feet long I would not really recommend driving anything longer than 40-feet through the campground. Too many trees and tight turns. If you’re not comfortable with a “tight” drive, I’d recommend one of the other campgrounds I’ve listed below instead (see OTHER CAMPING).
- Facilities = 2/5
Very basic facilities here. On-site flush toilets, kept nicely clean, but NO showers (you can shower in nearby Medora campground for a small fee). Several on-site water spigots around camp but NO dump station.
- Location = 5/5
Camping here is worth it for the location alone. You are right in the middle of Theodore Roosevelt National Park with easy access to the scenic trail and wildlife all around (we saw buffalo and wild turkeys in camp every day!). Nights are dark and gorgeous (zero light pollution) and it’s intensely quiet and relaxing. Nearby Medora has a small grocery, coffee shop, restaurants and other attractions.
- Pet Friendliness = 4/5
Decent spot for doggie. There is lots of space to hang in camp, easy walking around camp and some very limited “unofficial” trails down to the river. Only ding is that this is a National Park so doggie cannot go on any of the official trails inside the park. For hiking I recommend the excellent Maah Daah Hey Trail which offers over 100 miles of dog-friendly hiking just outside of the park. Catch it at Sully Creek State Park.
Overall Rating = 3.6
BONUS ALERT = Camp inside gorgeous Theodore Roosevelt National Park!
Summary: This is the only campground inside the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and it’s the perfect location to explore this fabulous park. It’s primitive (no hookups), fairly small (only 76 total sites of which 12 are walk-in tent sites) arranged into 2 main loops. Sites 1-39 on right side I call the “big loop” and sites 45-76 on the left side I call the “small loop”. Only the “big loop” (1-39) can support larger rigs and only a portion of these pull-throughs are big enough for “beast size”. The other loop (45-76) is only for smaller rigs and far too tight/small for anything larger (don’t even think about driving your big rig through here!). All sites are hard-packed gravel with very nice separation and lovely, spacious sitting areas. Lots of trees and vegetation all-around which offers great privacy, but can also make for a tight squeeze with the rig (beware of branches & trees both driving through the campground and getting into your site). A few sites have nice views of the valley basin too. Biggest ding is site levelness which can vary from nicely flat to quite un-level. Also for dog-owners, since this is a National Park dogs cannot go on any of the trails so you’ll have to keep pooch in camp or on the small”unofficial” trails leading to the river. However location cannot be beat. You are right in the middle of the park and it’s wonderfully quiet and peaceful. Easy access to everything there is to see, great privacy, lots of wildlife at your doorstep (we saw bison and wild turkeys every day in camp!) and only ~6 miles from the cute little town of Medora. If you’re coming in a larger rig during summer consider reserving or coming very early (between 9-9:30AM) to get a site. Only half the sites are first-come-first-serve and they fill up FAST. We really enjoyed the campground and would certainly stay here again.
Extra Info: Limited cell signal here. Only 1 bar ATT 4G and 1 bar Verizon LTE, but Verizon was stable/usable the whole time we were here. 76 sites, half of which are reservable online, while the rest are first-come-first-serve. Sites cost $14/night in summer season (half price with Senior Pass). NO hookups (primitive camping only). On-site water spigots, but NO dump station.
Extra, Extra Info – OTHER CAMPING: There are actually several other campgrounds outside the National Park:
- Private Full Hookup Parks – There are two private parks near town Medora Campground and Red Trail Campground. Both are tightly packed, but they do provide full hookups for those who want or need them. Price $34-$40/night.
- Sully Creek State Park – This State Park just south of town provides primitive camping on a large, open field. Very basic camping here and it’s popular with horses, but it’s quiet and the views are fabulous. Also, it’s right next to the amazing Maah Daah Hey Trail and seems less busy than the NP campground. We would definitely consider staying here, especially for the easy access to dog-friendly hiking. Price $12/night.
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We LOooVE Comments, So Please Do
Rich Travels says
We just left Roosevelt NP 8/9/2016 this morning heading towards Glacier NP. We stayed 7 nights in site #9. Had a great time in this NP. When were you there?
We just left 3 days ago, so maybe we were there around the same time? Already in MN now. Glad you enjoyed the area!
We are little – 23′ – so we stayed in the little loop. It was wonderful. And a bison wandered through the park right next to us while we were there. We then moved to Sully Creek and that is where we would stay again.
Steve - Gilroy CA says
Nina and Paul, 50 miles east at exit 72 is the enchanted highway. Nice drive with interesting art work along the highway. Worth the two hours.
Annette Demel says
Really appreciate the level of detail you put into your posts. Thank you for your efforts. “Check Wheeling It” has become a regular refrain for us.
Love the detail and structured review Nina – It really looks like a beautiful place. I originate in Arizona so barren doesn’t bother me – heat bothers me and cold bothers me. Anyone ever RV in Hawaii? I Need that kind of year round weather
I also like the state/national park prices. I don’t have a seniors pass but think My national park pass might work for being a 100% disabled vet? Going to have to retread your site to look for discounts again
Did I miss the explanation of your travels up through MN? Instead of where’s Waldo, the wife and I are playing where’s Nina and Paul and WHY are they there
Anyway – happy and safe travels
We JUST arrived in MN and are just starting our exploration here. I’m a few days (3 days) behind in the blog. Been traveling pretty fast, so it’s hard to keep up w/ the writing. I’ve got one more blog post to do on ND before I get to our MN adventures.
We are not RV’ers but I have been enjoying your posts a whole lot. You are traveling in areas that we have and have enjoyed the memories they invoke. Hopefully we will get out that way next spring.
Excellent! Love that you’re following along in our journey.
This is a great post. I love that most of the places you stay are NP and Corp of Engineers spots. Do you find at most NP and COE sites that if primitive only the use of generators are allowed?
Yes most allow generators within certain hours of the day. Quiet hours (usually all night) they must be off. Some parks do have “no generator” sections, but they are not common. Also some parks have generator run time limits (= how many hours you can run them), but again it’s not common.
Tamara R says
A repeat reply: Love your blog! So much detail, and such beautiful photos. We likewise reference it frequently when traveling to new-to-us areas.
We normally are RVing somewhere wonderful at this time of year, but due to a mish mash of circumstances, had to sit this summer out here at home. Having been to Theodore Roosevelt NP in our RV in 2014, this post has me positively salivating to hit the road again in 2017. 🙂
In ND, if you didn’t have hookups, was it hot in your rv at night?
All the best,
Night time was fine. It’s dry in Medora so there’s no moisture to hold in the heat. Once the sun goes down it cools down quite nicely.
GIllian Rokosh says
My husband and I have just purchased our RV (Winnebago, Aspect) and live near Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. I love your blogs and will be using them as a guide especially when we return from Calgary, Alberta through the US back to Ottawa in September. We are seniors and have a lab who will be traveling with us.
We just missed you here by a day! We arrived on Aug. 7th and got lovely pull-through, no reservation site #34 at 11:45 am…so very lucky. We spent a good long time in Minnesota before heading west into ND and loved it so much (other than some pretty intense storms) so hope you will as well. Your photos in your main post about TRNP park are spectacular and put mine to shame! Wish we’d gotten a chance to say hello as we’ve been following your blog for a long time, and it was part of our inspiration to become full-time RVers. Perhaps another time, another park!
Yeah, we just missed each other. Sorry about that! Glad you enjoyed the area.
Nina, I meant to ask you: do you know what the two sites that have signs saying “Reserved by National Park Service” are? They are both on the “big loop” and are even-numbered (one is site #8, and I can’t recall the other). These “non-reservable” sites being reserved by the park service lowers the number of open sites even more. We’ve seen people in these sites nearly every night we’ve been there and wondered how they managed to nab them. I should just ask a ranger but thought you might know. Thanks for any intel. 🙂
So I asked about those sites. Apparently the ranger keeps them in reserve for screw-ups in the system. According to him the online reservation system has been faulty and they’ve had a lot of people come in who reserved sites that were either way too small for them, or the reservation didn’t show up. So, he keeps those 2 sites in reserve for that. He told me he DOES give them out occasionally to first-come-first-serve folks who can’t find anything else, but only if there are no system problems that day. You have to ask him specifically for them.
Thanks so much, Nina! You just saved him from having to repeat the same answer again, as I am sure he gets asked this all the time. Yeah, I think I’d be pretty unhappy if my reservation had been lost or didn’t fit my rig if it stated it would. So I guess it’s a good thing.
Tom the awning fixer says
My darling wife and I were in TeddyRNP just a few nights before you – July 29 and 30. Like you, we lucked out and drove right into site #12 with our View about noon. What we’d like to know is where you found the RV dump station. The park literature lists one, but the ranger at the entry building said there wasn’t and isn’t one. We used the facilities in Medora.
On the beauty of ND, it is a surprising thing. The summertime countryside is lush and fertile with grasslands and farms from horizon to horizon. For my DW, who had never visited before, it was wholly unexpected. And the fracking sites….Compared to the visual blight of windmills, they’re things of beauty. And we do use diesel!
Sorry…a mistake on my part. There’s water at the entrance of the campground, but no dump station. I’ll update the post.
Keith McKenna says
Hey Guys. It looks like ya’all are having the time of your life! I’m pretty jealous!
I was out to TRNP in May of this year, in my teardrop camper. I stayed in site #21 for 2 nights. Staggering views, and the bison (4 of them) and I lunched together one afternoon. All 5 of us in site 23. Got a l’il tight, but we managed.
Thanks for sharing your info from this amazing region. My visit was life changing.
I hope all is well in your world, K.
How wonderful! That site is the best in camp IMO so I’m glad you were able to snag it. Cheers for reporting back on your experience.