Tiny Medora (population: 132) makes a good base to explore Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Learn about Roosevelt’s legacy at activities in town, then head out—by bike, foot, car or horse—to explore the stark beauty of the badlands.

By The editors of MidwestLiving.com
Advertisement

This story is intended to help you plan a trip after travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic have ended. Please check destinations' websites for the current status of attractions, restaurants and lodgings.

Past the bales of hay reaching the horizon along Interstate-94 stands moonlike Painted Canyon, the first glimpse of the badlands. Here in western North Dakota, endless buttes loom over Medora like watchful guardians.

On one end of town, a visitors center salutes the Mr. Bubble millionaire who rescued Medora from obscurity during the 1960s. Nearby, guests at the 1884 Rough Riders Hotel curl up in comfy chairs and read up on Roosevelt history with books borrowed from the hotel library. At the other end of town, across the Little Missouri River, the Burning Hills Amphitheatre's Medora Musical entertains audiences with a mix of country tunes, square dancing, Theodore Roosevelt history and Scripture.

But all of that falls second to the landscape. The stark beauty of the badlands-steep, multicolor canyon walls and wide vistas under a clear blue bowl of North Dakota sky-inspires visitors to follow Roosevelt's footsteps, whether by bike, foot, car or horse.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Do

Bully Pulpit Golf Course Rugged buttes rise above 18 holes that conform to the wild terrain, challenging golfers and granting picturesque views. medora.com

Chateau de Mores In 1883, a French aristocrat and entrepreneur built a two-story, 26-room mansion and established the town he named for his wife, Medora. Tours of the home give a glimpse into the town’s origins. Visitors can also buy tickets for a 2-mile carriage ride along the Little Missouri River. history.nd.gov

Dakota Cyclery Mountain Bike Adventures Outdoor enthusiasts can rent bikes and ride through the badlands with these passionate cyclists. A shuttle service moves camping gear and coolers for those who want to do overnighters. dakotacyclery.com

Maah Daah Hey Trail Rough badlands and rolling prairies await cyclists, horseback riders and hikers along these 144 miles, stretching between two U.S. Forest Service campgrounds and touching the North and South units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. mdhta.com

Maah Daah Hey Trail

Medora Musical The show—which debuted in 1965— brings singing, dancing and boot-scootin’ tunes to the Burning Hills Amphitheatre. Join the celebration of Theodore Roosevelt and the American West. For an additional charge, take a behind-the-scenes tour. medora.com

Medora Musical

North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame The tribute to Native Americans, ranchers and rodeo riders features exhibits such as clothing worn by cowboys and Native Americans, and fine art of cowboy culture. northdakotacowboy.com

Old Red Old Ten Scenic Byway Quaint towns and quirky sites along the 108-mile route (from Mandan to Dickinson, 36 miles east of Medora) offer reasons to skip the interstate and stick to Old Highway 10. oldredoldten.com

A Teddy Roosevelt Salute to Medora Joe Wiegand-the voice of Roosevelt at the long-running Medora Musical-delivers a humorous and lively hour-long show, bringing to life the 26th president as a husband, father and leader. teddyrooseveltshow.com

Theodore Roosevelt National Park The South Unit’s painted canyons and grasslands offer some of the state’s most iconic vistas; visitors can also explore a museum and Roosevelt’s first ranch. Hiking trails vary from easy to strenuous; the short (.4-mile) trail at Wind Canyon leads to dramatic views of the Little Missouri River valley. You may find it easier to spot bison herds on the 14-mile scenic drive through the North Unit (66 miles away). nps.gov/thro

Western Edge Books, Artwork, Music The frontier-focused bookstore stocks Western stories on outlaws, cowboys, women of the West and natural history. westernedgebooks.com

Perception Medora Water runs upstream and people appear to shrink or walk up walls through a series of optical illusions in Medora’s newest attraction. Tours of the slanting house depart every 30 minutes. medora.com

Eat

Boots Bar and Grill Try a buffalo or elk burger or a hearty ribeye steak, the perfect choice for dinner in North Dakota cattle country. Nearly all the beer on tap comes from Beaver Creek Brewery, just over the border in Wibaux, Montana. bootsbarmedora.com

The Brew In Dickinson, 40 minutes east of Medora, heavenly coffee drips in an 1887 church-turned-cafe with booths made from original pews. Locally inspired sandwiches include The Medora (avocado, pepper Jack, sprouts, onions and marinated black beans). thebrew.org

Cowboy Cafe A cozy, no-frills Medora diner with dozens of cowboy photos on the walls promises "home cooking at its best." Slide into a wooden booth for a hot roast beef sandwich smothered in gravy and a side of buttery mashed potatoes. Cowboy Cafe on Facebook

The Farmhouse Cafe The rustic restaurant wins raves for its brunch—hearty omelets, North Dakota sausage and chocolate-drizzled, deep-fried Croissant French Toast. The Farmhouse Cafe's Facebook page

Pitchfork Steak Fondue Cowboys plunge pitchforks of steaks into 400-degree oil, where they sizzle to doneness. Medora diners add potatoes, baked beans, slaw, garlic toast, brownies and doughnuts for a country feast that was featured on Food Network. medora.com

Pitchfork Steak Fondue

Theodore's Dining Room Diners slice into walleye, bison and other entrees reminiscent of the American West in a dining room warmed by a fire crackling under a bronze bust of Teddy Roosevelt. In this Rough Riders Hotel restaurant in Medora, bartenders at TR’s Tavern sling local beers. medora.com

Stay

Eagle Ridge Lodge Gas fireplaces and bed quilts cozy up guest rooms, and a great room with floor-to-ceiling windows looks out on the badlands. Hearty breakfasts come with each stay; buffet-style steak dinners are also available. eagleridgelodge.com

Rough Riders Hotel and Conference Center Eight rooms original to the 1884 hotel remain, but the 68 tower rooms are just as classy with oak and red-velvet furniture. medora.com

Rough Riders Hotel and Conference Center

For more information visit medora.com