Images courtesy of North Dakota Tourism and Caroline Davidson
In my dreams I ride into Medora on my Appaloosa pony, hot and dusty from the trail. The second part is true, but I actually drove into town on road trip through the Great American West, not knowing what to expect.
Medora 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.
- The natural western scenic beauty. 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. Surprisingly the only park named for 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 western town looking as it should. Complete with wide roads (some still packed earth where horses are often still the main form of traffic), wooden sidewalks and swing-door saloons. And a sheriff with a badge. Even if he now drives a pickup. Excitingly, there are two main choices of hotels in which to soak up the western vibe. Firstly, there’s the Badlands Motel. A fifties-style drive-up basic but hospitable. And the more genteel Roughriders Hotel, serving (in my mind) 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? There’s 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. So make sure to include it on your list of must see spots.
- South Unit, TRNP. Moments outside town and announced by a historic log cabin built for and lived in by Teddy Roosevelt on his many visits. Welcome to 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. What’s common to see on a visit in spring, summer and autumn? Try buffalos, wild horses and donkeys. And prairie dog cities, antelope and deer. And an astonishing variety of birdlife. To name a few. But remember, 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 colouful western heritage. Check the website for regular induction events, National Days of the Cowboy and Plains Indians and don’t miss the Medora’s Old Fashion Cowboy Christmas.
- Chateau de Mores State Historic Site; how the ‘other half’ lived. This two storey, 26 room frame building is now an 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 honor 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. Visits are currently by appointment only but check the website for updates.
- Medora Riding Stables or Bully Pulpit Golf Course. Just kidding. Undoubtedly, for the cowboys and gals among us, there is of course no contest! 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 courses in the State and country.
- The Old Townhall Theatre 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 theatre 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 amphitheater setting, will have you keen to join in the irresistible, if over-the-top, ‘Oklahoma’-style musical fun.
- Pitchfork Fondue. So you want to 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. Served in a breath-taking setting! 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.