We first visited North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park back in 2012. We spent a couple of days exploring the park but really didn’t give its hometown of Medora a second thought. I’m not sure why we didn’t spend time exploring the town back then but I’m glad we found it on our second visit. With a population of about 125 people, it’s not a big city but there are more things to do in Medora, ND than you might expect for such a small town.
Not only is Medora full of historic charm but it’s also home to the unique Medora Musical and Pitchfork Fondue. Plus, you’ll find several good restaurants and bars, the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame and plenty of outdoor fun.
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History of Medora
The French nobleman Antoine de Vallombrosa, the Marquis de Mores, founded the town of Medora, ND in 1883, naming the city after his wife. The Marquis had several business ventures, including raising cattle. He even built a slaughterhouse and had refrigerated rail cars. His plan was to ship refrigerated meat instead of cattle, thus bypassing the Chicago stockyards.
Unfortunately, the Marquis was not successful with his many businesses. He also was arrested for murder several times, though he was never found guilty. Still, his time in North Dakota was short-lived; they left in 1886 and returned to France.
Since then, Medora has continued on as a small town surrounded by ranching. In fact, it was in this area that President Theodore Roosevelt owned two ranches. It didn’t take long for the residents of Medora to offer their support to Roosevelt when he became President. And, Roosevelt certainly credited his time North Dakota as the foundation for his love of nature, which led to his preservation efforts. As President, Roosevelt preserved over 230 million acres of land.
Today, you’ll find MANY references to Roosevelt in Medora, including several stage shows about the president, the Rough Riders Inn and Theodore’s Dining Room (one of the best restaurants in town).
Things to Do in Medora, ND
For a small town made up of only a few blocks, a couple of hotels and a handful of restaurants, there actually are enough things to do in Medora to keep you busy for a few days. In fact, we managed to stay busy for the better part of five days. At the very least, you can spend a long weekend enjoying the western culture and charm of Medora.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
By far, the biggest attraction in Medora is Theodore Roosevelt National Park. While there are plenty of things to do in Medora other than visit the park, you simply must spend at least a day or two enjoying the scenery and wildlife found just outside of town.
Theodore Roosevelt NP preserves the badlands and prairies that the president loved and called home, if only for a short time. The park actually consists of three separate units, with the South Unit located right in Medora. Yes, you can easily walk to the entrance and Visitor Center from downtown Medora. You’ll need a car to explore more than that but, still, the entrance is right in town.
You can easily spend a half-day driving the scenic loop road of the South Unit. Along the way, there are several overlooks you should stop at to enjoy the scenic beauty of the badlands formations. Also, be sure to look for bison, wild horses and prairie dogs.
If you’re up for some hiking, there are both short and long trails to choose from. If you do plan to do any hiking, you’ll need at least a full day or two in the South Unit.
The North Unit is located about 50 miles north of Medora. Here, you’ll find more scenic overlooks, bison and plenty more hiking trails. While it’s a bit of a drive, the North Unit is well worth it. There’s just something about the remoteness, unique cannonball formations and river overlooks that can’t be beat.
Finally, the Elkhorn Ranch Unit preserves the site of President Roosevelt’s second ranch. While there is nothing more than the remnants of the foundation now, it is still interesting to see the land that Roosevelt fell in love with. It’s especially significant when you consider it was Roosevelt’s love of this land that prompted his extensive land preservation efforts across the country.
North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame
If inside activities are more your thing, stop by the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame for a fun history lesson. This small museum does a fabulous job of showcasing the history and culture of cowboys, cowgirls, ranching and Native Americans.
Start your visit by watching a short film to learn more about the history of Medora and the surrounding area. Then follow the exhibits on Native Americans and the cowboy life. Finally, check out rodeo highlights and memorabilia from around the state.
The museum is open 9:00-6:00 daily, in the summer. Admission is $9 for adults, $7 for seniors, $6 for students. We spent about an hour at the museum but you can move through at your own pace.
Chateau de Mores State Historic Site
Want to know more about the infamous Marquis de Mores that founded Medora? If so, the Chateau de Mores State Historic Site is where you need to visit. The 26-room building served as the summer residence of the Marquis’ family. Today, it serves as a museum containing many of the original furnishings and personal effects.
In downtown Medora, you can visit De Mores Memorial Park. This lovely little park is home to a bronze statue of the Marquis that was donated by his sons in 1926.
Finally, on the western edge of town, near the entrance to the National Park, you can visit Packing Plant/Chimney Park. This is the site that once housed the slaughterhouse, a packing plant, three icehouses and a corral. The building burned in 1907, but the brick chimney still stands today. There are also some small exhibits on this failed attempt to bring change to the cattle industry by the Marquis.
The biggest and, perhaps, most unique thing to do in Medora is the Medora Musical. No, a musical is not all that different. A musical on an outdoor stage with live horses, though? That’s a bit more unique!
The Medora web site says it perfectly: “The Medora Musical is the rootin’-tootinest, boot-scootinest show in all the Midwest. There no other show quite like it. It’s an ode to patriotism, Theodore Roosevelt, and the Great American West!”
I have to admit, this variety show really was a blast and we thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment. The presenters told the history of Medora and life of Theodore Roosevelt with pizzazz and enthusiasm.
And the outdoor theatre was absolutely perfect during the summer of COVID-19!
Where to Eat in Medora
Again, for such a small town, there really are several great places to eat in Medora. You’ll find a few bars, several cafes and even an upscale restaurant.
When it comes to timing for dinner, pay attention to the Medora Musical showtimes, which is generally at 7:30 pm. We found that most of the restaurants were busy a couple of hours before showtime and really cleared out once it was time to head to the amphitheater.
For breakfast, we headed over to the Farmhouse Cafe. If you’re visiting over the weekend, arrive early as there likely will be a bit of a wait. We waited about 30 minutes when we arrived mid-morning on a Sunday. The weekdays appeared to be quieter… I suppose we should have planned better! Hopefully, you can learn from our mistakes.
The menu consists of fairly traditional breakfast fare, including eggs, bacon, pancakes, French toast and omelets.
I couldn’t resist the most unique dish, though… the Badlands Nachos. I mean, who has ever heard of breakfast nachos? The Badlands Nachos was sweet potato waffle fries topped with scrambled eggs, onions and sausage. I asked for the syrup on the side as I generally prefer to keep the sweet and savory separate at breakfast. I am happy to say that the meal was quite tasty and definitely something that I would order again!
Grant opted for the more traditional Farmhouse Breakfast, which came with two eggs, hashbrowns, bacon and French toast. Everything was fairly traditional but tasted great.
To say we were stuffed after finishing our meal would be an understatement!
Boots Bar & Grill
On our first night in Medora, we could tell from the parking lot that Boots Bar & Grill is popular. We opted to stop in for after-dinner drinks one night. Sometimes getting anything more than a beer at a bar is a difficult thing. Thankfully, though, Boots Bar & Grill had some nice specialty drinks along with several local beers.
Grant chose the Rusty Beaver Wheat from Beaver Creek Brewery from just down the road in Wibaux, MT. It was a nice, easy to drink beer, which is exactly what he wanted after a big dinner. I opted for the Montana Mule, made with Huckleberry Vodka, ginger beer, lime and mint. The huckleberry was a nice twist on the traditional Moscow Mule.
For dessert, we got a piece of Strawberry Rhubarb Kuchen. If you’re not familiar with kuchen, it is a German pie-like cake that is popular in North Dakota, South Dakota and a few other German settlement areas around the United States. The texture was a bit more like a pastry, with a soft, gooey filling in various fruit flavors. That was the first time we had tried kuchen, so we can’t compare it to anything else but we enjoyed it.
Boots Bar & Grill serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and is open late.
Pitchfork Steak Fondue
For a truly unique dining experience, check out the Pitchfork Fondue. Since it’s located right next to the Medora Musical, it’s a great option for dinner and a show.
The Pitchfork Fondue is kind of like a big chuckwagon cookout, but they fondue the steak on a huge pitchfork instead of cooking it on a grill. And, no, they don’t put it in a vat of cheese or chocolate, which are popular fondue “dips.” I’m not sure exactly what kind of oil the steak is cooked in, but it was tasty!
Along with your steak you’ll get a baked potato, coleslaw, baked beans, carrots, fruit and garlic toast. Yes, it really is a huge plate of food! For dessert, there are brownies and cinnamon-sugar donuts. A limited selection of beer and wine is available to purchase (cash only).
I have to say, for a large buffet dinner, the Pitchfork Steak Fondue did a great job during the summer of COVID-19. Reservations were required to stagger the number of folks entering at one time, food was dished out by servers instead of a traditional serve yourself buffet and there was plenty of outdoor seating. Hopefully, these precautions won’t be necessary for long. Still, we think how a facility handled the COVID-19 pandemic speaks volumes.
Theodore’s Dining Room
If you’re looking for something a little nicer, check out Theodore’s Dining Room, which is located at the Rough Riders Inn. We chose this restaurant for our 10th anniversary meal and were very pleased.
We started with the Charcuterie Board of meats and cheese, which is always one of my favorite appetizers (or meals!). For entrees, I chose the Bison Osso Bucco and Grant went with the Prime Rib. Both were well-seasoned and prepared exactly as we expected.
Grant enjoyed several local beers and I had a specialty martini followed by a nice glass of wine. The beer and wine lists and cocktail menu were all fairly extensive.
I have to say, we’ve had some interesting anniversary meals and this one did not disappoint.
Where to Stay in Medora
There are only a few hotels and a couple of campgrounds in Medora. Additionally, it’s important to know that the town is quite popular on the weekends. This certainly seems like the place to go to enjoy a long weekend in the summer. For that reason, you may want to plan ahead if you’re visiting on a summer weekend.
Red Trail Campground
We camped at the Red Trail Campground which is just a couple of blocks outside of the main drag. I’ll admit, from some of the reviews I found online I did not have high expectations for this campground. Unfortunately, the reviews for the “other” campground in town were about the same.
Thankfully, we were pleasantly surprised by our stay. That just goes to show that you really need to take reviews with a grain of salt. Everyone’s expectations are different, so what one person hates another person might love.
Now, this campground wasn’t anything fancy. Sites were fairly close together but still far enough apart for everyone to have their own space. Our site was level and the owner helped us back in, likely saving us a fight (backing in is always stressful in a tight space). The bathrooms were clean enough, though we didn’t use the showers.
Our biggest complaint about the campground was an overall lack of shade. Honestly, though, some sites had great shade so that is hit or miss.
Final Thoughts on Things to Do in Medora, ND
For many folks, the real draw here is Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Don’t skip over the actual town, though. Medora really is a cute little town with a lot of charm and plenty of things to do.
Yes, it’s a touristy town. It kind of felt a bit like Gatlinburg, TN, which is just outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but on a MUCH smaller scale. This is definitely where folks in the region go for a weekend getaway. For that reason, if you can avoid the weekends, you might enjoy it more.
Whether you are focused on visiting the National Park, want to experience the Medora Musical or are just looking for a small town to enjoy for a few days, Medora, ND has a lot to offer.