In my dreams I ride into Medora on my palomino pony, hot and dusty from the trail.
The second part is true but I actually drove into town on a road trip through the Great American West, not knowing what to expect.
Medora North Dakota lives up to my ideal of an authentic western town, so much so, that I’ve made my way back there several times, proving it’s not that hard to get to, even from Australia.
I’ve distilled my several visits into one, to share my top best things to do and see in Medora when you’re lucky enough to get there. But don’t leave it too long; even the best little town in the west can change. Here are my top nine reasons to go:
The natural western scenic beauty of Medora North Dakota
Medora is set on the outskirts of the badlands, a scenically stark but aridly beautiful and naturally eroded landscape, formed over many centuries. Medora has the geographic formations of canyons and mesas but is also surrounded by trees and grasslands that herald the entrance to North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the only park named for a person. Teddy Roosevelt’s legacy was to appreciate and preserve this tract of land in its pristine state for future generations to enjoy.
Medora is a cool looking western town
When you say you are a western town you have to look like a western town and Medora does just that. It even has wide roads ( some still packed earth where horses are often still the main form of traffic), wooden sidewalks, swing-door saloons and a sheriff with a badge ( even if he now drives a pickup). There are two main choices of hotels in which to soak up the western vibe; the Badlands Motel; a 50s-style drive-up basic but hospitable and the more genteel Roughriders Hotel, serving the wealthy landowners come to town.
There is a local outfitters
Dakota Cyclery for those intrepid adventurers setting out on the 120-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail on foot, horses, camping or on mountain bikes, a general store of all your ‘vittles’ and, fabulously, a bookstore, Western Edge Books which houses a treasure trove of western literature, local authors, historical accounts and colourful local stories. Easy to send a day browsing, lost in its delights.
It has the South Unit, Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Moments outside town and announced by a historic log cabin built for and lived in by Teddy Roosevelt on his many visits, is the entrance to the South Unit of the park. Stop in at the ranger-run Medora Visitor’s Centre at the park entrance for excellent info and to tour the President’s original cabin. Take the loop road and enjoy the scenic vistas, natural beauty and the wildlife that will accompany you along the way. Buffalo, wild horses & donkeys, prairie dog cities, antelope and deer, and an astonishing variety of birdlife are common to see on a visit in spring-summer and autumn. The park closes for the winter around mid-September to late May.
The North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame is in Medora
Of course, it is. Where else would it be? Preserving the culture, traditions and history of ranchers and rodeo stars, Native Americans and cowboys and girls in North Dakota. Half history lesson, half museum and 100% a tribute to the State’s colourful western heritage. Check the website for regular induction events, National Days of the Cowboy and Plains Indians and don’t miss Medora’s Old Fashion Cowboy Christmas.
Chateau de Mores State Historic Site
See how the ‘other half’ lived. This two-storey, 26 room frame building is now a historic house museum and was built in 1883 as the summer residence of Antoine de Vallombrosa, the Marquis de Mores and his family. The Marquis was a businessman with interest in many of the key essential products and service so the time including a beef packing plant, a stagecoach line, a freighting company, refrigerated railway cars, cattle and sheep raising, land ownership, and a new town which he called Medora, in honour of his wife. The Chateau is a fascinating glimpse into the past and contains many of the original furnishings and personal effects of the de Mores family.
Horse around or play golf?
Medora Riding Stables or Bully Pulpit Golf Course. Just kidding. For the cowboys and gals among us, there is of course no contest! Get into the spirit and up on a horse for a safe group trail ride tour with great views over the town. Great for any level of rider, particularly good for families.
But if horses are not your thing, well, you can opt out and play golf on one of the best public courses in the State and country. The Bully Pit course offers bedazzling scenery that will most certainly distract you from your swing or putt.
A double dose of Americana
The Old Townhall Theater and Medora Musical for pure Americana- style entertainment charged with patriotism, sprinkled with song and served with a dose of the local history, both shows are highly recommended. The one-man show at the restored, intimate and cosy, live theater will have you spellbound as you hear ‘first-hand’ Teddy Roosevelt’s life story and story-telling. It’s a great introduction prior to visiting his namesake national park. The Medora Musical, held nightly throughout summer in a stunning natural outdoor amphitheatre setting, will have you keen to join in the irresistible, if over-the-top, ‘Oklahoma’-style musical fun.
If you wanna be a cowboy you’re going to have to eat like one! Outsize steaks skewered on actual pitchforks and broiled in oil- yep with all the trimmin’s: baked potatoes. Corn on the cob, slaw and plenty of sides, served in a breathtaking setting. But saloons, cowboy cafes and even an icecream parlour are to be had in Medora, along of course with the usual suspects of pizza and beer. No cowboy or girl need fear going hungry and if there’s a special occasion Theodore’s Dining Room at the Roughrider Hotel is worth putting on your Sunday best for.