MEDORA, North Dakota – Explore It. Adore It.
By E. Nolan
It’s a trip you have to take… at least once. At least twice. It’s a place you have to spend a night… at least one. Okay, at least two. Really, at least three. Medora may geographically, for all intents and purposes, be in Montana, but it’s also a lot closer than you would think to the Twin Cities, given that the entire drive is interstate. In fact, there may be no better Medora trip to make than an extended weekend getaway… (the perfect allotment of time and resources)… four days, three nights, two easy (roll with it), one incredibly memorable vacation.
Day 1: Leave home by 8:00 AM (8 hours, 550 miles from Minneapolis) and even with a couple stops in there for gas and too much convenience store sugar you’ll get there by 5:00 PM… easily. (Speaking from experience.) There are a few lodging options to choose from, but I (and 400+ 5-Star TripAdvisor reviewers) enthusiastically endorse the Rough Riders Hotel – a place where you’re realistically doing anything but roughing it. This place was named for Teddy Roosevelt’s cavalry unit and is efficiently described as, “Where Luxury meets Western charm and Presidential history.” (If Historic Room 501 is available, jump on it!) Teddy Roosevelt stayed here and delivered speeches from some of these balconies, and (while they have it today) he never once requested the Wi-Fi password.
Day 2: You know how most brunch/buffet places charge adult prices for kids over the age of 6? Not in Medora. Better yet, you get a lot more than food with this deal. The famous Gospel Brunch combines sleeping in a bit with a massive amount of savory options in a 9:30 brunch and a 10:30 toe-tappin’ gospel show. And, like I said, Kids/Students ages 7 to 17 get the buffet AND show for just $17.95. (Oh, and psst… Fridays and Saturdays it’s a Bloody Mary Brunch… if you like that kind of thing!)
The Medora Riding Stables and Trail Rides are a great option on any visit, just not after that incredible brunch. Neither you nor the horses want that. (For the record, early mornings and evenings are perfect for it.) Golf, on the other hand, would be perfect for right now. Grab an 11:30 to 1:00 PM tee time at Bully Pulpit (you likely won’t be that hungry and need to save room for supper anyway) and prepare yourself for a round of golf whose most incredible attribute just might be the lack of sufficiently summative adjectives. Imagine a course with parkland trees for a stretch, with peaceful holes along the river beyond that and then with a cart path to the moon for three surreal holes (through the North Dakota Badlands). The moon or Mars, not sure which is more comparable… I just don’t know of another place in the Midwest (or most of the U.S.) with any setting/experience like it.
You’ll be done golfing by 4:00 or 5:00, and if you have time to shower you should do so, then head out to the (WAIT… STOP RIGHT HERE). Now is the time to check your most reliable weather resource and determine whether tonight or tomorrow night is the best night to catch a great sunset and sit out under the stars. If it is tonight, then you need to get to the Burning Hills Amphitheater (between 5:30 and 6:30) for the Food Network’s “Best Of” favorite – The Pitchfork Fondue – followed up by the world famous Medora Musical (starts at 7:30). The Pitchfork Fondue is one of the most memorable meals you’ll ever experience in your entire life (mark my words). Steak (on pitchforks) with fruit, salad, vegetables, toast, potatoes (not everyone counts them as vegetables), brownies (definitely not vegetables), cinnamon donuts, lemonade (and other beverages at the Tjaden Terrace Bar) and… well… let’s hope you brought your most ferocious appetite.
After that meal you’ll want to sit down, as the adjacent Burning Hills Amphitheater brings you a show described as the “rootin’-tootinest, boot-scootinest show in all the west!” Playing all summer long (except on August 20th), the stage is quite literally the rugged North Dakota Badlands and the performance is as professional as it gets, with a starry night ceiling, coyotes and bison around you (not close, don’t worry) and a phenomenal cast that does this show 100 times a season (since 1965) in front of at least 20,000 children a year (I mention them because they have the option of getting up on stage with the cast at the end). You’ll crawl into your comfortable bed tonight exhausted, and eager to tell everyone you know about the experience (just like I’m doing now).
Day 3: Don’t worry, if you didn’t bring elastic-band pants, you don’t have to do the Gospel Brunch again. You can, of course, if you’d like to, but if it’s me I’m walking across the street (following my nose) to the gooey hot perfection of Cowboy Café’s caramel rolls. (I’ll be coming back tomorrow, too.) This might be a good time for a horse ride, or for exploring the famous Maah Daah Hay Trail, or for diving deeper into the Badlands at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. I strongly recommend you stroll, caramel roll in hand, over to the Visitor Center and plot out your day. Maybe it’s a Jeep tour you want, or a tour of Chateau De Mores. Maybe you love cowboys (or cowgirls) and want to learn more about them at the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. The point is, there are plenty of options for whatever your passion. Find a morning activity, grab a quick lunch at Badlands Pizza or Maltese Burger, pick another afternoon activity (maybe even another round of golf) and then make your way back to the Rough Riders Hotel for dinner in Theodore’s Dining Room.
After dinner, if you have the kids along, Medora Mini Golf and Chimney Park are fun to explore. If you don’t have the kids with you, (or if they’re into the arts) absolutely consider one of the popular shows at the Old Town Hall Theater. There you’ll find Teddy Roosevelt’s Salute to Medora, Todd Oliver and His Talking Dog Irving, The Harold Schaffer Story (“Wonderful Work”) and other special performances from time to time. I can guarantee you that without the cinnamon donuts from the Pitchfork Fondue, my kids are going to force me to stop for ice cream at some point (likely after dinner). Fortunately, both The Ice Cream Parlor and Medora Fudge & Ice Cream are there to (over) serve. LOL.
Seriously, click the “PLAN” tab on Medora.com and check out their package deals that include lodging, the musical, Pitchfork Fondue and more. I start every trip there. You should as well. (Couples, families, friends, cowboys… check it out.)
Day 4: It pains me to say this, but all good things must come to an end. I’d encourage the avid golfers among you to grab the earliest available tee time and squeeze in one more captivating round. As long as you hit the road by 1:00 PM you’ll be back in the Twin Cities (or anywhere else within that radius) by 10:00 PM.
Negotiate your way through the weather, moving the pieces of the itinerary to fit in everything I listed where it seems most logical and this won’t be the only time you take this trip. You will (like Arnold Schwartzenegger) be back!