By Alicia Underlee Nelson
Medora advertises a classic trio of experiences—Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the Medora Musical and casual blufftop dining at the Pitchfork Steak Fondue. So if you haven't been to North Dakota's top tourist attraction since before the pandemic, you might think there's nothing new out west for you.
But you'd be mistaken. Medora has added several hotly anticipated amenities and attractions and a few new shops and restaurants that make a weekend getaway or a last-minute family vacation just a little bit sweeter. Here’s a snapshot of what’s new out west.
The most exciting addition to the Medora entertainment scene is the recently completed Point to Point Park. It offers much-needed spaces to gather and play in the shadow of the bluffs on the eastern edge of town. The attractions are fun to try individually, but together they pack a punch. Visitors can easily spend a full day here.
The splash pad, pickleball courts and jumping pad give guests a place to cool down or blow off steam for free. There are shaded benches for resting and bathrooms and a concession stand just steps away, so it's convenient for overnight guests, day trippers and even travelers just passing through. It’s all located near Wood Park, a wooden playground that’s a tried-and-true favorite with the under 10 set.
If it's really scorching outside, spring for a pool pass to the Lazy Lil’ Mo and Wade-In Pool. Spend the day chilling on a tube in the lazy river, splashing in the shallows, or relaxing in a deck chair in the shadow of the bluff.
Little Bully Pulpit Mini Golf, an 18-hole course mini golf course steeped in North Dakota symbolism, has been completely revamped. The back 9 sit right up against the bluff, which makes for a surprisingly scenic conclusion to a low-key round of mini golf.
Adventurous types can climb up the bluff itself on the new Point to Point Trails system. The trailhead is located just above the mini golf course. Some routes are steep (and occasionally a bit strenuous), but the sweeping views of the town and the badlands beyond are absolutely worth the effort. Admission is free.
Medora’s own Theodore Roosevelt reenactor, Joe Weigand, leads guided hikes (in character, of course) mid-May through the end of August. They depart from the first bench along the trail (about 200 yards up) Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 a.m. The guided hikes are free as well.
Thrill seekers can get the same view (and an adrenaline rush) from a seat on the Manitou Zipline. Zooming high over everyone’s head is a blast.
Each of the attractions with an admission fee can be purchased individually. Guests on a budget can also get a discount by purchasing a pool pass, mini golf session, and a zipline ticket all at once.
If it’s hot or rainy, check out one of the region’s newest attractions—a family-friendly escape room. Escape Medora gives groups a chance to solve a challenging but fun series of puzzles to solve before the time runs out. It takes about an hour and can accommodate up to six people at once.
Perception opened in 2019, but many visitors don’t know that the tilted house perched against a bluff is a portal to a world of optical illusions and weird and wacky photo opportunities. Family vacation photos show kids towering over their parents, teens climbing the walls, and everybody hanging from the ceiling.
Expanded dining options
Since Medora is located in cattle country, most of the go-to meals are decidedly meat-focused. (Think tender bison osso buco at Theodore’s Dining Room, big burgers at Boots Bar and Grill, and North Dakota ribeye at Little Missouri Saloon.)
But new dining options make it easier than ever to choose plant-based options and lighter fare. There are also more quick serve spots than ever, which makes life easier for hikers, picnickers, and anyone who doesn’t want to commit to a sit-down meal.
Medora Uncork’d offers sandwiches, tapas style nibbles, a better than average wine list, and North Dakota cider in a western bistro atmosphere. The vibe is elevated, but never fussy. It’s been a hit with visitors since before the pandemic, but many regional travelers (and even some Medora regulars) miss it.
Pick up a picnic at Bread + Butter. Pair sandwiches, wraps, salads, and grilled panini with a fizzy flavored soda. Choose from a signature creation (most have fun, western themed names) or craft your own customized creation.
Point to Point Provisions (the concession stand at Point to Point Park) is Medora’s answer to fast food. It serves up kid-friendly options (like sandwiches, wraps, walking tacos, and edible cookie dough) that appeal to adults too.
The new grab-and-go section at Badlands Pizza is a great choice for lighter appetites. Choose from a variety of ready-made wraps, veggie-packed salads and sliced, fresh fruit—a rare sight in a tourist town.
Bar Diamond Bar Boutique & Gallery is one of the newer retail outlets in Medora. It stocks a colorful assortment of upscale apparel and home goods. Shop for Pendleton blankets, clothing and accessories or purchase a stack of turquoise bracelets, delicate Navajo pearl necklaces, or leather earrings and handbags.
Little ones can make their own stuffed animal at Teddy’s Bears. A classic Teddy Bear is a historically appropriate choice for a shop located just steps from Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (President Roosevelt inspired the name, after all.) But kids can create their own dinosaurs, dogs, unicorns, and more. Select a custom scent, sound, or a completely new wardrobe.
A fall show debuts
Million Dollar Quartet is new to Medora, but it’s been a favorite of Broadway fans since its debut in 2010. This fun (and occasionally poignant) show is a musical look at how four legendary entertainers—Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley—all ended up at Sun Records in Memphis on one December day back in 1956.
The production will run from September 14-October 29. Catch it at the Old Town Hall Theatre.
When to go:
High season in Medora runs now through September 9, when the Medora Musical closes. Shoulder season extends into October, but some shops, restaurants, and attractions shut down (or observe abbreviated hours) as soon as September 1, so research before you go.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is open year-round. Admission is free on National Public Lands Day (September 23) and Veterans Day (November 11).
Students going into fourth grade (and everyone in their vehicle) can score free admission through the Every Kid Outdoors Program. Apply in advance to obtain the free voucher.
Where to stay:
There are a variety of lodging options in and around Medora. Try a locally-run spot next to the bookstore (Amble Inn), a familiar chain (AmericInn), a family room at Elkhorn Quarters, western-themed accommodations at Badlands Motel, or luxe digs at the stately Rough Riders Hotel.
Visitors can bunk in a rustic shepherd’s wagon (book through Custer’s Cottage) or a Conestoga covered wagon (reserve through The Medora Campground). Some properties close in early September, so do your research and book before you go.
Hotel inventory is tight late in the season, especially on weekends. Last minute travelers might have better luck camping in town (The Medora Campground, open through October 1), at Cottonwood Campground inside Theodore Roosevelt National Park or at Sully Creek State Park, a beautiful but often-overlooked spot just a few minutes south of Medora.
Or look further afield. Wannagan CreekCabins just outside of the city limits and Buffalo Gap Guest Ranch in Sentinel Butte offer a western vibe and plenty of peace and quiet.
Travelers can also stay in Dickinson, about a half an hour drive east on I-94. There are many hotels to choose from and they are often both cheaper and more readily available on short notice.
Alicia Underlee Nelson is the author of North Dakota Beer: A Heady History and 100 Things To Do In Fargo Before You Die, which will be published this fall. She also co-authored two anthologies, Midwest Road Trip Adventures and Midwest State Park Adventures, with colleagues.
You can read her work (and see her photos) in Lonely Planet, Thomson Reuters, USA Today, Food Network, AAA Living, Midwest Living, Matador Network, craftbeer.com and many other publications. Follow her adventures across the Midwest, the prairie provinces of Canada, and around the world at prairiestylefile.com.
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