Nestled on I-94 between Dickinson and Belfield on the east and the Montana border on the west is a traveler’s oasis, North Dakota’s best known and most revered vacation destination: Medora.
To visit Medora is to breathe fresh air, see spectacular views — and step back in time to the Dakota Territory and the days of the Wild West. To a time when a young New Yorker revived his soul and, in his words, lived a life that prepared him for the presidency.
Theodore Roosevelt, who spent part of his 20s ranching near Medora, put it this way: “I must say that here, in this country of hills and plateaus, the romance of my life began...“
Today, you can’t escape Teddy Roosevelt in Medora. Nor do you want to. His name and presence are everywhere. He roams the streets, warms the hearts, and is featured in the Old Town Hall Theater and the Medora Musical, thanks to the actors who bring him to life daily.
And that connection to TR (as he is affectionately referred to) is only growing. A presidential library to be located in Medora is moving forward, thanks to champion Gov. Doug Burgum and the North Dakota Legislature, which helped clear a funding hurdle.
So what can you do in family-friendly Medora, fit for all ages? Well, what’s your pleasure — golfing, camping, hiking, biking, horseback riding, sightseeing? Shopping for gifts? A visit to a saloon or a stroll downtown with ice cream cones and old-fashioned candy? Dinner and a show? It is all here. And more.
Here is just a taste:
Bully Pulpit Golf Course
Ranked one of America's Top 100 Public Golf Courses, Bully Pulpit has to be one of the most scenic. Sculpted from the North Dakota Badlands, it complements the scenery and gives golfers an opportunity to experience meadows, woodlands and the Little Missouri River. Golfers praise the 18-hole course for its design and its beauty, especially "The Badlands Holes," numbers 14, 15, and 16.
Chateau de Morès
Roosevelt found a kindred spirit in Medora: Antoine-Amédée-Marie-Vincent Manca Amat de Vallombrosa, Marquis de Morès et de Montemaggiore. The French nobleman founded the town in 1882 and named it Medora — after his wife. A railroad pioneer in Vietnam, the Marquis de Morès was ahead of his time in Medora. His idea was to butcher cows and send the beef by rail to Chicago. But refrigerated cars had not been perfected. After seven years he sold his land and moved to Europe. His house, the Chataeu de Morès, still stands as one of the city’s top attractions.
Maah Daah Hey Trail
Think Grand Canyon. Now downsize that image but keep the geographic complexity. Now imagine a hiking and biking trail series that cuts across it for 107 miles, jogging up and down the spectacularly jagged terrain. Now you have a sense of the impressive and challenging Maah Daah Hey Trail. It is not for the squeamish. But the eight segments of the Maah Daah Hey Trail, each with its own topography, and 10 campgrounds give hikers and bikers an up-close and personal look at the beauty of the Badlands.
Tempted? The Maah Daah Hey 100 Race for bikers, all 107 miles, is Aug. 3. But fair warning: in a 2018 New York Times article, writer John O’Connor described it as “the longest and arguably most grueling single-track mountain biking route in the United States.”
In 1965, North Dakota entrepreneur and legend Harold Schafer purchased the languishing open-air Burning Hills Amphitheater. The man who introduced the nation to Snowy Bleach, Mr. Bubble, and Glass Wax used his marketing acumen and gold seal reputation to breathe life into Medora — and the Medora Musical was born.
Now a top attraction, particularly when combined with the unique pitchfork fondue (beef so tender you can cut it with a plastic knife), the Medora Musical is performed each night. Featuring co-hosts Chet Wollan and Bill Sorensen and the Burning Hills Singers, it tells the story of the Wild West days of Medora and the region, with plenty of mentions of Theodore Roosevelt.
The entertainment is lively and wholesome, a true family-oriented variety act, a Schafer requirement that has been continued by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, now chaired by Schafer’s son, Ed Schafer -- former U.S. secretary of agriculture, governor of North Dakota, and interim president of the University of North Dakota.
And Grand Forks-area residents take note: a highlight is a saxophone solo by Grand Forks’ own Burning Hills Singer Misti Koop, who sings her heart out and dances up a storm.
N.D. Cowboy Hall of Fame
Founded in 1995, the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame Center of Western Heritage & Cultures brings the West to life. The 15,000-square-foot interpretive center features permanent and traveling western culture exhibits, a Hall of Honorees, theater, gift shop, archives, 1,400 square feet of multipurpose meeting space and a 5,000-square-foot open-air patio.
Here you can learn about the North Dakota Six Pack: six cowboys who dominated the national rodeo circuit in the 1950s and 1960s.
On I-94 just east of Medora is one of the prettiest lookouts in the United States. The Painted Canyon gives an easy-to-access panoramic view of the majesty of the Badlands. Wild horses, bison and other wildlife often roam through the landscape and a variety of birds soar and flit and sing.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Medora is located at the southern tip of the North Dakota Badlands, where it serves as the gateway to picturesque Theodore Roosevelt National Park — South Unit. The North Unit, with its own personality near Watford City, is equally impressive.
The North Dakota Department of Tourism is right: named for America’s conservation president, the park is an outdoor enthusiast's dream. You’ll find beautiful biking and hiking trails, places to camp, and abundant wildlife: bison, Nokota wild horses, deer, elk, prairie dog towns, and plenty of feathered friends for birders. A loop ride by car or bike in the South Unit gets you close to it all.
Just behind the Visitors Center is Roosevelt’s cabin. His experiences in the Badlands began in 1883, when he arrived to hunt bison. Before he left, he invested in the Maltese Cross Ranch (technically the Chimney Butte Ranch) about 35 miles north of Medora and had the cabin built. It now houses a writing desk from the cabin he had at the Elkhorn Ranch, which he established on a return visit.