Stay Warm and Take a Drive 

Now I know why I seem to see bison more often in the north unit than in the south unit of the Theodore National Park. It’s more intimate. Since the north unit is much smaller and more intimate than the south unit, the odds of roller skating in a buffalo herd are greater in the north unit. But don’t roller skate. Take a drive. In a vehicle. Stay warm. It’s cold out there, ya know.

bison with snow on face

What a snowmask! It’s how these big beasts find forage in the winter. They sweep the snow out of the way with their face and dig down for grass.

It seems bison are always fascinating. No matter how often I see them they still make me slow down and stop. They can be quite photogenic and are always impressive. Most of the time, they’re very cooperative for me to get that day’s souvenir snapshot.

Social distance? More than 6 feet from bison!

When it’s bitterly cold, they don’t mind if I stay in the car. So, it’s a win-win. They stay in their space and I stay in mine.

It took a blizzard to start restoring the nation’s herd of the National Mammal

bison at national park

1962 unloading the first bison at the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National park near Watford City.

Until bison caught my attention, I had no idea of their history in the west. They just always seemed like a flashback to early days.  That’s kind of what the purpose is to have them at the National Park. Bison at the north unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park came from a herd that started here in 1962.

Until about 1880, millions of bison grazed from Canada to Mexico – apparently having migrated here from southern Asia.

They were part of a restoration project that began in the late 1800s. That’s when Theodore Roosevelt and others woke up to the fact that the 60-million bison roaming the plains were nearly gone – down to just a couple thousand.

After supporting mass hunting of bison, Congress did an about face. In 1894, Congress enacted legislation to protect the remaining animals with a $1,000 fine and or prison.

Bison don’t mind blizzards — they stay warm

Click here to see how, a blizzard prompted ranchers to get behind the effort to save the bison.  They thrive in bad winter weather when domestic cows do not.

That’s why you can hop in your car and you can drive to the national park, stay warm and watch bison in their perfectly suitable climate.  That heavy hide is one of the best natural insulators you can find.  In fact, it once again is becoming a popular commercial item.

Today, most bison in America are raised commercially for their very healthy meat. There are several bison ranches in North Dakota, but they’re not as accessible to the public as the bison at the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.  They are raised for their meat and their hide.

You can also find them roaming wild in state and national parks such as Custer State Park in South Dakota and the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota.  Their history makes them suitable to represent America as the national mammal.

Your Turn

Go ahead, visit the Park.

We’re fortunate to have a National Park that’s so easy to visit, and critters snoozing in the sun who are willing models — from a distance, of course.


The north unit, the smaller of the units, is about 15 miles south of Watford City on Highway 85.  The south unit is along Interstate 94.

Getting to the south unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park:  

From the west, use Exit 23. From the east, use Exit 27.

To drive through the park, stop and pay your entrance fee at the visitor center. The entry kiosk is closed in the winter, so you must go into the Visitor Center.  But that’s a good thing. That’s when you can ask the rangers where to find the national mammal. 

You’ll see one or two along the way – loners.  And a small herd or two off in the distance. However, if you are fortunate, you’ll be able to drive along side of a herd like we did in this fun little 50-second video.

YouTube player

In about three or four months, new calves are born. So, that’s something to plan for.  This winter, though, when the weather is nice and the roads are open, take a drive through the park to visit the national mammal.

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