Medora, North Dakota – North Of Extraordinary
By E. Nolan
I’ve heard it said that no town or city in America packs more per person pleasure punch (in terms of amenities and activities) than Medora. It’s hard to argue against that accurate alliteration, considering Medora’s year-round population is only 128 and the number of things/places to see, do, hear and eat almost exceed that. But, if I WERE to make a case to balance out its greatness, it would be that in peak season (May – September) when the daily population surges into the thousands the per person punch average becomes much more equal to the other great cities in North Dakota, the Midwest and the rest of the country.
What’s that saying? It says that no matter the number of people here, and no matter the amount of time you schedule for a visit, you’ll always find fun and always wish you had more time for that fun. That’s what America’s Greatest Tourist Destinations are made of.
Where is Medora? The North Dakota tourism hotspot is about as far west in the state as you can go – less than 30 minutes from the Montana state line and only a couple miles south of Interstate 94. That said, it’s only two hours from Bismarck and 4.5 all-interstate-driving hours from Fargo (plus only 4 hours from Mt. Rushmore), so it’s not uncommon for in-state locals and road trip vacationers to boomerang over-and-back or for vacationers from the bigger metros of neighboring states to make multistate loops. How “not uncommon?” Medora is an ideal host site and launching point for those looking to explore Theodore Roosevelt National Park – some 600,000 human visitors each year… and lots of buffalo. So, how is a place seemingly so out in the middle of nowhere somehow in the middle of so many people’s vacation maps? Let’s dig into that.
North Dakota is cool, even when it’s hot. South Dakota may be more famous for its Badlands than its northern twin territory, but North Dakota’s Badlands are “just as bad” – just as brawny, bold and awe-inspiring. Medora gives you several opportunities to get right in the middle of all that badness through the National Park (and its 70,400 acres), the famed Medora Musical / Pitchfork Fondue experience and the golf course where golfers are able to play up and down its dramatically chiseled corridors.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a vast and extraordinary playground for all sorts of “players.” Visitors young and old can take wildlife tours on Jeeps and horses from the Medora Riding Stables, bikers have 150-miles of trekking purposefully plotted out on the Maah Daah Hay Trail, and hikers can meander along rivers and through canyons on well-worn trails, including the new point-to-point Pancratz Trail (game), with Medora’s Theodore Roosevelt repriser, Joe Wiegand (new this summer). Then, when all that meandering is done for the day, campers are treated to the brightest of stars on the darkest of nights.
Speaking of nights, if you have heard of Medora before (or been here) it’s likely you know of their famous theatrical presentation – the Medora Musical. People flock from all over to witness the singing and dancing professionals who even welcome visiting kids up onto the stage for various numbers. It is an interactive and enjoyable experience (again) for all ages with an “Old West” stage and a “Real West” badland backdrop. Don’t be surprised if you hear actual coyote howls, see real wildlife passing by and suddenly find your car ride home full of kids with Broadway ambitions. But before the show, and before you go, make sure you find out the times and make reservations for the incredible Pitchfork Fondue – an award-winning prairie BBQ fest unlike anything you’ve likely experienced or imagined. Also served above and around that Badland amphitheater, the appetizers, main courses (meat on pitchforks), salads and desserts make for the most satisfying meal with the greatest of tableside views.
As for that Badland golf experience… Bully Pulpit Golf Club isn’t just a course built in a gorge-ous Badland valley along the Little Missouri River. It is annually ranked as one of America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses and consistently lauded for its unique “National Park” playing experience. Those of you active on social media, check out Bully Pulpit’s Instagram account for an insanely deep portfolio of pictures from thousands who have addressed and been impressed by the massive canyon walls, great diversity of holes and assortment of absurdly fun tee shots. (Bonus: Kids 17 and under can golf free after 3:00 PM six days a week!) The front nine and back nine are radically different. You’ll face greens with false fronts, gorges and butte-headed tee boxes surrounded by meadows, forest, hills and ponds.
I’ve tried and failed many times to think of a course that compares closely to Bully Pulpit, both iconically and prestigiously. Suffice it to say, it’s an unusual but epic round.
There are many great places to stay in town, each appealing to a different audience. There’s the historic Rough Riders Hotel in downtown Medora, the comfortable Hyde House, the western-themed Badlands Motel, the all-suite Wooly Boys Inn, the newer AmericInn by Wyndham and the brand-new-to-Medora “Tiny House” efficiency option with single bed and family units available (well worth checking out). Breaking away from downtown a bit, you can stay at the Spirit of the Badlands Lodge with private suites for up to six people out in the remote ruggedness of the Badlands.
And speaking of remote ruggedness… you can “rough it” at the newly expanded Medora Campground along the Little Missouri River, rough it a little less at the “Cabins at Medora Campground” and “glamp-up” your overnights at the same campground in Conestoga Wagons – “luxury camping, old-world experience, world-class views.”
An assortment of dining options are available for those pre-crash, post-wakeup and hungry lunchers. Theodore’s Dining Room is inside the historic Rough Riders Hotel with the supplemental TR’s Tavern adjacent for chilling with refreshments and/or a perfect nightcap. Pizza is always a popular choice for traveling families, and Medora has a great one at the Badlands Pizza & Saloon. Medora Uncork’d is a Tuesday through Sunday wine bar and small-plate eatery. Sweet tooth’s can be satisfied at the Medora Fudge & Ice Cream Depot and/or the Marquis De More. I love the Farmhouse Café, and if the Food Network-lauded Pitchfork Fondue wasn’t entertainment enough, there’s always the Medora Gospel Brunch Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sundays at 9:30. Great food mixed with a lively mix of gospel songs and stories.
If you’ve read both pages, then you’re definitely the kind of person who should take the next step and visit Medora.com to see pictures and for further descriptions of many of the activities listed above (and I didn’t even mention the Zipline adventure, awesome mini-golf course, shopping, big-name concerts and entertainers, commemorative shows, museums and parks). Pull Medora up on a map. Figure out how you can get here and what else you can fit into your trip (in terms of other stops, if necessary). It should be quite evident by now that there is something for everyone of every age to enjoy here.
I said before that North Dakota is a cool place, even when it’s hot, but I should have said, “especially when it’s hot.” Late April through early October you’ll find consistently great weather, comfortable accommodations, a wide assortment of food and activities and more…WAY more. Everything is open, safety is emphasized and the fun goes on even when the sun goes down. Yee haw!