Medora is the little town that built Theodore Roosevelt.
The destination, with a population of fewer than 200, is located in southwest North Dakota, where the Badlands meet the Great Plains. An 1800s cattle tycoon, the French Marquis de Morès, founded Medora to serve as the headquarters of his many businesses. At the same time, a young New Yorker named Roosevelt journeyed to North Dakota on a hunting expedition to escape personal tragedy. The two men’s friendship and, later, animosity marked the town then and still define Medora today.
Medora immerses groups in cowboy experiences from eating steaks cooked on pitchforks to riding horseback among wild bison. Travelers will taste the Wild West with Medora’s live entertainment, food, stunning wild places and historical attractions.
Roosevelt credited his strenuous Medora ranching experience with the leadership and talent growth he needed to later secure the presidency. Of Medora, Roosevelt said, “Here, in this country of hills and plateaus, the romance of my life began.”
“Medora is the Disney World of the North,” said Jim Bridger, chairman of the Medora Convention and Visitors Bureau, “and a cowboy heaven all in one.” The entertainment in North Dakota’s top visitor destination centers around multiple live performances. The most famous among these productions is the world-renowned Medora Musical.
Patriotic musical acts, horses onstage, Roosevelt himself — at least, the kids will think so — and an incredible fireworks display are just some of the many rootin’, tootin’ and boot-scootin’ elements of the Medora Musical. The show celebrating TR, the West and the American cowboy awes audiences of up to 3,000 a night in the Burning Hills Amphitheater. Performances are daily from June to September.
Tour groups will leave the Medora Musical singing and wanting more — and more they shall get the following morning. The Gospel Brunch provides audience members with a breakfast buffet and a musical show. This indoor revue features a full band, a gospel quartet and an inspiring message that will grace the audience with a warm gospel glow all day long.
Right next door to the Medora Musical, on a bluff at Tjarden Terrace overlooking the Badlands, is the Pitchfork Steak Fondue. This famous eatery does not serve the typical French-inspired and melted fare. Instead, chefs in chaps and cowboy hats skewer steaks by the half-dozen on pitchforks and fry them in a colossal vat over an open fire. “Just like the cowboys used to do,” Bridger said. Accompanied by a full salad buffet, dinner is served on a tin tray, evoking firelit meals in front of a covered wagon. The Pitchfork Fondue is the best restaurant for larger groups seeking an experience with a view. For busy visitors with full agendas, Bridger said, “it’s the fastest place in town.”
Medora visitors have multiple restaurants to choose from for a new taste of the Old West. Among the dining options are the Little Missouri Saloon, the Boots Bar and Grill, TR’s Tavern and Theodore’s Dining Room inside the Historic Rough Riders Hotel.
The chiseled landscape around Medora plays as much a role in the town’s atmosphere as any of the historic characters featured in its multiple shows. The Badlands, the beautiful and sometimes bizarre rock forms rising out of the prairie, captivate visitors all year long. Visiting Medora in all four seasons is possible thanks to the town’s location in a unique weather area called a banana belt. That means Medora experiences much milder winters than the rest of the state.
Nestled in towering buttes and rocky gorges, Medora is the southern gateway to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. Here visitors can hike, bike, horseback ride, camp, birdwatch and observe wildlife throughout the park. Winter travelers will also find cross-country snowshoeing and skiing, exciting ways to experience the park.
Access to Bully Pulpit, North Dakota’s peerless golf course, is available year-round. Visitors play golf in the spring, summer and fall. In the winter, travelers can explore the course on fat bikes. “You’ll never find a golf course anywhere else with such stunning views,” Bridger said.
If there’s anything in the outdoors that brings to life the nostalgia of bygone cowboy days, it’s the image of a starry night and a warm campfire. “One of Roosevelt’s simple pleasures was to sit in his cabin and look at the stars at night and the blue by day,” Bridger said. With no light pollution from any nearby towns, travelers can see falling stars in all directions as far as the eye can see. The national park puts on stargazing activities and festivals in the summertime. Additionally, Medora event organizers plan kite festivals and hot air balloon rallies each year.
Whether it’s exploring the Badlands, teeing off from Bully Pulpit or viewing the skies, visitors will experience the wild places that changed Roosevelt for life and inspired him to create the national park system.
History buffs and leisure travelers alike will enjoy all the experiences highlighting the past that Medora has to offer.
For example, downtown’s North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame pays homage to the state’s Western heritage and culture. Groups can enjoy an interactive visitors center, activities, annual events and permanent and temporary displays honoring the area’s Native American, ranching and rodeo history,
While the town’s character hearkens back to the past, a significant new development is on the horizon. The little town that could has grandiose plans for a new project in 2025: the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library. Construction will integrate the library within the town’s rugged landscape in the same way that Roosevelt understood man as an inseparable part of nature. Architects have chosen Medora’s multiuse Maah Daah Hey Trail for the build, an appropriate location considering that the trail’s name means “an area that will be around for a long time” and that it forms the same backdrop that Roosevelt so deeply loved.
Library planners are developing a space that will embody a world-class visitor experience. Their aim is to inspire travelers to dare greatly, think boldly, live passionately and care deeply, just as Teddy Roosevelt did.