I recently made a road trip to Medora, North Dakota to attend a travel conference. While traveling solo for a few days was a blast for this busy mom, I spent much of my time there wishing my family could have joined me in exploring this family-friendly town, located in such a beautiful part of the country. The Medora area offers significant US history, first-class entertainment, fun roadside attractions, and breathtaking views!
Medora is located in the southwestern part of North Dakota , not too far from the Montana border. I have to be honest. I live in a neighboring state (Minnesota), and while I was familiar with nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park, as our family is big on national parks, I had no idea of all that the area had to offer until I visited.
Here are some highlights from my two-day visit to the area. Because I was attending a conference, I didn’t get a chance to explore all that Medora had to offer. But I got enough of a taste of it that I was definitely left impressed and wanting more!
The Town of Medora
Medora, North Dakota has a permanent population of about 130 people. Don’t let that fact lull you into thinking this is a sleepy country town. This town’s story is that of a phoenix rising from the proverbial ashes to become a bustling destination for travelers, nature lovers and history buffs.
A Little History
Medora was founded in 1883 by the Marquis de Mores, a French nobleman who named the town after his wife. The Marquis’ vision was to create, among other things, a cattle business to ship frozen beef to Chicago. The Chateau he and Medora lived in is still just outside town, and available for tours.
Long story short, the cattle business didn’t work out. The town was eventually abandoned. In the 1960’s a businessman by the name of Harold Schafer and his wife, Sheila, fell in love with the area and saw the promise that this community had to be a first-rate destination. Sheila, a theater major from the University of Minnesota, had a vision for a family-friendly musical to be held there every summer. Harold bought a few buildings and land and formed the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation to keep the musical and many other local attractions viable.
Teddy Roosevelt’s Connection to the Area
Who else loved this area? None other then President Teddy Roosevelt. In the 1880’s, as a young man, Roosevelt spent time in the North Dakota Badlands and had ranching interests in the area. Later in life (but before his presidency), Roosevelt then sought solace in the Badlands as he grieved the loss of his wife and mother, both of whom passed away on the same day. Roosevelt credited his time in the Badlands with shaping him into the man that eventually was elected president.
Today, this quaint western town looks very much like a set from an old west movie. Much of the architecture has been restored to a consistent look and feel that makes you feel a bit like you’ve stepped back in time. Much of the credit for this consistent community feel goes to the aforementioned Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation, which owns many of the buildings and attractions, including several of the lodging options in town.
In Medora you will find many dining options and watering holes, quaint shops, and several ice cream places. I just need to call out Medora Fudge and Ice Cream Depot (which also sells ice cream, and which is also owned and operated by the Theodore Roosevelt Medora Foundation). My family loves fudge, so this was a no-brainer souvenir from my trip. We all agreed that it was hands-down the best fudge we’d ever had!
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Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Just on the western edge of Medora you will find the South Unit Visitor’s Center for Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This park is a sight to behold. The badlands there are stark and gorgeous. They seem to go on forever. The bison are fascinating to spot and watch. And the wild horses…oh, the wild horses. They have “groupies” that follow their whereabouts in the area! We were lucky to have had a guide from Chasing Horses to help us find where the bison and horses were located and to tell us about the different horses and their bands. I would definitely recommend contacting them if you are fascinated by wild horses.
Sadly, I wasn’t able to get in any hiking, but the Maah Daah Hey Trail is an extensive system located within the park. On our next trip back I’d definitely like to explore it!
Below are a few pictures from the South Unit. It was almost dark, and a storm was threatening to open up on us.
A few miles east of Medora is the Painted Canyon Visitor’s Center, which is an eastern entrance to the south unit right off I-94. At this visitor’s center you will also find beautiful scenic overlooks (which can be viewed for free…the area also serves as a rest area). The view at the top of my post is from this overlook, as is this one.
The much less-traveled North Unit of the park contains, among other things, Elkhorn Ranch, which was Teddy Roosevelt’s ranch. I had to choose between seeing this and attending the Pitchfork Fondue and Medora Musical (see below). I chose the latter, but I was definitely disappointed that I didn’t get a chance to explore the ranch.
Pitchfork Fondue and the Medora Musical
The Pitchfork Fondue and Medora Musical are two separate experiences held at the same venue just a few miles outside of Medora. You can come for one or both of these experiences. If you enjoy unique dining experiences and having your meat grilled on a pitchfork, I highly recommend you do both. More information and tickets are available here.
What on earth is a “pitchfork fondue,” you ask? Well, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. Picture a large grill/oven, with people grilling dozens of steaks skewered to an honest-to-goodness pitchfork. That, my friends is a pitchfork fondue.
If steak isn’t your thing, they do also offer bison, chicken and vegetarian options. Just know that they won’t be grilled on a pitchfork. There is also a whole buffet of fruits, veggies, and the standard sides you’d expect at a grill-out of this magnitude. And for dessert, there are brownies and mini-donuts, among other things. Alcoholic beverages are available for purchase for an additional fee.
I was so busy enjoying my dining company that I forgot to take pictures of my food. Take my word for it…you won’t go hungry!
When you think of a musical production being hosted out in the North Dakota Badlands, many visions might pop into your head. Wipe those low expectations out of your mind…unless of course you pictured a first-rate song and dance show depicting the history of the area, including musicians and cast members from across the country. I will admit, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was honestly blown away by the quality and the entertainment value!
Don’t leave the Medora area without partaking in Medora Musical, and go early in your trip if you can, as the show will tell you a lot about the history and significance of the area.
The Enchanted Highway
For the lovers of quirky roadside attractions (like we are), you will love the 32-mile stretch of highway from Gladstone to Regent, not too far east of Medora (and a few miles east of Dickinson as well). The Enchanted Highway offers large roadside sculptures that are as impressive as they are unique. Here are a few pictures from my drive.
I am excited to plan another visit to this amazing area, with my family in tow! I know they will be as charmed by it as I was.
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