The view north from Peck Hill
Tucked away along the southern boundary of the southern unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, Peck Hill is generally unknown, unclimbed, unsought after and unloved. It does not have the distinction of a particularly striking appearance, an unusual peak or a commonly recognized perspective or vista. Peck Hill does, however, have the distinction of being the highest point in the park, edging out nearby Buck Hill by 10 feet. Unlike Buck Hill, there is no road leading near the summit. Reaching the top requires a scenic mile long hike and a simple climb up some badlands formations. Isolation is practically guaranteed on this trip, which makes it an attractive option in the busier southern unit of the park. Views from the plateau rim take in much of the southern unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the surrounding Dakota Badlands to the south.
Peck Hill from the west
Peck Hill was confirmed as the highest point in the park by a group of rangers. Some assumed that Buck Hill was the highest point, since Peck Hill is not named on either the park map or the USGS maps. Nonetheless, an older ranger stated that Peck Hill was higher than Buck Hill and pointed out that Peck has one more topo ring than Buck. He also noted that the high point of the northern unit of the park was the tallest point in the Achenbach Hills, which reaches 2,687 feet.
While Peck Hill is a broad plateau, lacking a distinct peak, it is nonetheless an interesting formation. The flanks are classic badlands. The eastern side is particularly attractive, having colorful sediment strata. This side is also much more dramatic, falling off swiftly into the Painted Canyon area. The western slope still has a nice escarpment but there is a steady incline leading up to the base of the badlands cliffs. Although Interstate 94 is just a short distance away, it is only briefly visible during the approach and it is usually inaudible. One interesting feature about this part of the park is the old entrance gate that remains near the base of Peck Hill. The original entrance to the park passed beneath the hill as it split off of I-94. The entrance gate itself is found in a cluster of junipers and is in excellent condition. It is a fine example of classic NPS Rustic architecture using rough beam and stone construction.
The approach route to Peck Hill
From the parking lot off of the park’s loop road, hike southeasterly along a drainage that eventually feeds into Sheep Creek. This section of trail passes through an extensive prairie dog community and they can be seen scurrying about and will watch warily from the entrances to their holes. A rough path exists, made primarily by the occasional horse-packing group, who seem to be the primary demographic that ascend Peck Hill. The use-trail leads to the old park entrance station, which makes a nice, brief stop.
From the entrance station angle easterly, towards the gap between two large egg shaped badlands formations. The use-trail, though fainter, still persists. Upon reaching the base of Peck Hill, the trail becomes more defined and begins to switchback up the side of the escarpment. Eventually the trail reaches the top of long finger extending westward from the main plateau of Peck Hill. Follow the trail along the crest of the finger and one is deposited at the north rim with excellent views to the north, including the Paddock Creek drainage and neighboring Buck Hill. One can circum navigate the rim, though it becomes slight at the southern end as one approaches I-94. From the point where one first reaches the main plateau of Peck Hill, turn south and follow the rim to a slight rise which marks the summit and highest point of Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Click to enlarge
From downtown Medora, head north on East River Road for 6.5 miles. Along the way, pass under the freeway and enter the park. Turn right (east) on Scenic Loop Road and continue for 4.5 miles. Pull out at the parking lot.
The Painted Canyon area from the east rim of Peck Hill
The Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness covers most of the northern unit of the National Park and the western half of the southern unit. Peck Hill falls outside the official wilderness boundary but it is a de facto wilderness nonetheless. Normal wilderness rules and ethics should be applied.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
315 2nd Ave
Medora, ND 58645
A bison near the Park Service Campground
The National Park Service operates the Cottonwood Campground on the Little Missouri River, along the park road in the south unit. An NPS campground (and some nearby Forest Service campgrounds) are available at the northern unit.
Sully Creek State Recreation Area
offers a nearby campground, south of Medora. Little Missouri National Grassland operates a campground at Buffalo Gap, 7 miles west of Medora.
-Theodore Roosevelt National Park