See the rugged land that helped inspire Teddy Roosevelt create the national park system
Located in western North Dakota off Interstate 94, the plucky town of Medora offers sweeping badlands vistas, lumbering bison herds, scenic wilderness trails and a remarkable glimpse of the Wild West cowboy lifestyle.
At Theodore Roosevelt National Park (TRNP), you can step inside the rough-hewn log cabin where Theodore Roosevelt lived while he hunted bison on North Dakota's open range—long before he became one of the USA's most conservation-minded presidents. In fact, historians maintain that Roosevelt's outdoorsy experiences in North Dakota's rugged badlands helped inspire him to designate a whopping 230 million pristine acres as National Forests, National Parks and Monuments (including the Grand Canyon), Federal Bird Reservations, National Game Preserves and Reclamation Projects—all during his tenure as America's 26th president. Two fascinating local species that likely prompted Roosevelt to become a champion of conservation were the massive bison herds and wild horses whose ancestors still roam TRNP acreage today.
The South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park near Medora shelters 300 head of bison, and the North Unit contains 150 head. Imposing bison bulls tip the scales at 2,000 pounds, boast a six-foot-wide humped shoulder span, and enormous, coarse-haired heads with menacing horns. In the mid to late 1800's, bison hides were highly valued, and the species was so over-hunted that bison were nearly forced into extinction. Thanks to protective federal legislation enacted in the late 1800s, game preserves were established and the bison count has since surged to today's estimated 250,000 roaming bison on the North American continent.
Just as views of free-ranging bison invoke thoughts of the Wild West, so do sightings of galloping wild horses. At TRNP, such high-spirited horses move freely over the Billings County Badlands. TRNP's present-day feral horse herd was descended from mixed-breed ranch horses that were set free two centuries ago to fend for themselves during icy winter months. Mobile bands of horses with stallions, mares and foals may be viewed readily by observant visitors. Elk, pronghorn and prairie dogs may also be spotted at the park.
Maah Daah Hey Trail, a rough and ready U.S. Forest Service playground for bikers, hikers, birders and horseback riders, has its southernmost access point at Sully Creek State Park, just three miles south of Medora. The ultra-scenic trail snakes for almost 100 miles through the hills, ravines, bluffs and prairies of North Dakota's badlands. In some spots, it even skirts the Little Missouri River.
The Maah Daah Hey's iconic turtle symbol, borrowed from the Lakota Sioux Indian tribe, signifies enduring qualities such as patience, determination and loyalty. The turtle shell displayed on signposts throughout the trail represents protection.
If you're planning to get into the swing of things when you visit Medora, keep in mind that the Bully Pulpit Golf Course lays claim to the greatest greens in the badlands. From meadows to woodlands to the Little Missouri River, Bully Pulpit's views are awesome. Open from May through mid-October, the course offers a good range of golfing challenges, interesting geology and an occasional mule deer sighting.
Almost half-a-century running, the Medora Musical promises patrons memorable outdoor performances of song, dance and comedy served with a side dish of Medora's colorful past. Presented seasonally from June through September at the Burning Hills Amphitheater, the patriotic musical features lively stage routines by the Burning Hills Singers and the Coal Diggers Band. The historic show pays tribute to the Wild West way of life, including nods to legendary local folks such as town founder Marquis de Mores and longtime Medora booster Harold Schaefer, as well as President Theodore Roosevelt and the iconic American cowboy. In addition to enthusiastic singers and dancers, you will see real horses onstage, and the toe-tapping musical mix includes western, country, patriotic and gospel tunes.
Explore Medora Indoors
When you're ready to learn about Medora's earliest residents, you can begin your indoor explorations with a tour of the Billings County Museum. Housed in the former County Courthouse, it's listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Museum exhibits include everything from vintage farm tools, commemorative rifles and assorted military memorabilia to western saddles, chaps and original furnishings from the old Medora courtroom, bunkhouse, general store and jail.
Just southwest of Medora, the Chateau de Mores State Historic Site is located on the grounds where French town founder Marquis de Mores built a 26-room home for his American wife Medora Van Hoffman. (In fact, he named the town in her honor.) The chateau site contains many of the family's late-1800's artifacts and furnishings. Before leaving the grounds, be sure to board the stagecoach for a 30-minute scenic ride that retraces the circa 1880's stagecoach route along the Little Missouri River to Deadwood. The Van Hoffman House, built in 1884 for Medora Van Hoffman's parents, also contains authentic period furniture as well as the town's official Antique Doll Collection.
Whatever you choose to do in Medora, don't miss visiting the North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame. The award-winning center is devoted to preserving and depicting American cowboy culture themes, and its galleries display vibrant stories about western homesteaders, ranchers, rodeo riders and American Indian heritage.
If you work up an appetite while touring Medora and surroundings, the small town's restaurants cater to all kinds of tastes. You can try the buffalo burger at Cowboy Cafe, enjoy an upscale meal with all the trimmings at Theodore's Dining Room or opt for a freshly baked pizza at Badlands Pizza Parlor.
For More Information:
North Dakota Tourism Division