If there was any bucket list item for me in 2018, it was Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the neighboring town of Medora, North Dakota.
Theodore Roosevelt is one of my favorite historical figures. A beloved high school teacher sparked my interest, which led me to start picking up biographies. While I don’t necessarily agree with every policy decision Roosevelt ever made, I deeply admire his personality and embrace of challenges.
My Theodore Roosevelt obsession is what led me to bison love, which led us to our RV Wanderlust logo. And years afterwards, I named my child after him (Caspian Theodore Highland).
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is the only national park named after a person. The most visited section is located in Medora, a town Roosevelt personally frequented. He owned a ranch north of the town, which he fled to when his wife and mother died on the same day (Feb. 14, 1884).
I’ve visited Theodore Roosevelt’s childhood home in New York City and Sagamore Hill, his home on Long Island where he died and was buried. The missing piece for me was Medora and Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
After cancelling this leg of our trip in 2016, we finally made it.
We stayed in Medora from August 11-16, 2018.
Changing Campground Plans Due to Insane Heat
After spending one night dry camping in Circle, MT, we pulled into Medora on a Saturday. I was so excited!
Our campground plan was to pull into Medora Campground first, then scout out dry camping at Scoria Pit. Nothing was quite like what we expected.
Per Campendium, Medora Campground was a city park. I read that it was free for three nights. But when we arrived, the campground was $45/night and it was full anyway. I’m still not entirely clear on whether there was a free dry camping area or not. Either way, there was no room for us.
We drove over to Sully Creek State Park. There was room there. Problem was, the temperature was forecasted to be over 100 degrees that weekend, and we really felt we needed to have air conditioning. And Sully Creek is dry camping.
On the way back towards Medora, we swung into a campground that wasn’t listed on Campendium at the time. Boots Campground didn’t have any amenities beyond the RV sites themselves, but it did have full hookups. Plus, it was practically empty and only a few minutes from the main part of town.
There was no office or camp host, so we called the phone number on the sign. It seemed the person on the other end had to be reminded he owned an RV park. He told us the price was $30/night. To pay, we were to go into Boots Bar & Grill and tell the waitress we had to pay for camping.
I got such a hoot out of that whole thing.
By the way, dry camping at Scoria Pit was a no-go. It’s a teeny tiny loop, filled up by one Class A/fifth wheel, or maybe two vans/Class Cs. When we scouted it out, there was already a fifth wheel in there. Unless we knew them, it would’ve been hella awkward to pull in. We would’ve been at each other’s doorsteps.
Also, I’ve taken Meriwether some crazy places (Upper Teton View). But I’m not sure I would’ve wanted to drive him up here. Just an FYI.
Activities Around Medora (Theodore Roosevelt National Park!)
Even with 50 amp service and two AC units, we couldn’t keep the RV even remotely cool. So we spent our first couple of days out of the house.
Not surpringly, we spent a lot of our free time at Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The national park is comprised of several units:
- South Unit (by Medora)
- Painted Canyon (technically part of the South Unit, but you can’t get there by car from Medora)
- Elkhorn Ranch Unit
- North Unit
We spent a lot of time at the South Unit. The visitor’s center has a wonderful museum and video. We saw @ralphie_the_newf_and_the_boss’s Class C in the parking lot. I may have yelled at Eric when I saw it. I had chatted with them a few times and knew they had literally just started their big trip!
Bee and Josh Fisher’s three sons are just adorable. We enjoyed getting to know them better outside social media. So much respect for the community they’ve built and the lightning fast RV adventure they’re on!
Beyond the visitor’s center, we took the 36-mile Scenic Loop Drive around the south unit. Hiding in the Jeep was the perfect way to spend a day that climbed to 109 degrees. 😳
We went back on a cooler day and hiked Wind Canyon Trail and Buck Hill.
We did a lot of walking around Medora. There are lots of little shops and a couple of playgrounds. My favorite stop was Rough Riders Hotel, where the largest private collection of Theodore Roosevelt books is shelved in the lobby. Visitors are welcome to read any of the books, as long as they keep them in the area.
Though the national park is open year-round, Medora’s main tourist season is fairly short: usually June through the first week of September. All the summer events were in full swing during our visit, so we pulled the trigger on the Pitchfork Steak Fondue dinner, Medora Musical, and “A Teddy Roosevelt Salute to Medora.”
Pitchfork Steak Fondue was fun. We got to sit right by the live music stage; there was an overwhelming amount of food available in the buffet; and we met cool people at our community table.
Hard pass on Medora Musical, but that’s just us. It didn’t appeal to our sense of humor or musical interests, and we had an impossible time keeping Caspian occupied in the stadium seating. Taking him was a long shot to begin with. We ended up leaving half-way through the show. I’ll always be grateful to every person sitting around us, as they fed him popcorn and let him kick their seats.
And oh, “A Teddy Roosevelt Salute to Medora.” Words cannot express my love for this show. Joe Wiegand is known as the world’s best Theodore Roosevelt repriser and I believe it 100%. I sat front and center, captivated.
When you’ve read as many TR biographies as I have, you’ll appreciate Wiegand more than ever. But if you don’t know Roosevelt well, then you’ll still be absolutely taken by these tales shared in first person. Because Theodore Roosevelt is the boss.
Please, please. If you do nothing else in Medora, then go see Joe Wiegand as Theodore Roosevelt.
Bummer Food Options in Medora
Our intended two-week stay turned into six nights, and it was mostly because we thought we might starve to death. The nearest grocery store is about half an hour away in Dickinson. There’s a convenience store with a few things like milk, but it’s expensive with limited selection and questionable shelf time.
“Who are you to worry about groceries?” you might be thinking to yourself. Good point. Unfortunately, the restaurant options were limited, too. Medora is super touristy, so eateries can charge a premium for mediocre food. It was even harder with Eric’s keto diet.
Badlands Pizza Parlor was packed, though people were being seated quickly. I liked the pizza, but there wasn’t enough for Eric to eat on keto. The biggest issue was the acoustics. We could barely hear ourselves think, not to mention hear each other. I was totally overstimulated by the time we left.
At Boots Bar & Grill (where we paid for the campground), we had absolutely horrendous service. Our first interaction with our server was when she shortly told us we couldn’t move our table (it was connected to two other tables when we arrived) before quickly walking away.
It went downhill from there. Eric’s food was wrong. There were swarms of flies. The sweet family next to us (sharing our table that we couldn’t move) left because the server said she wouldn’t help them. I don’t know the full story, but the manager ended up coming out. Yipes.
On the upside, the live music was fun. I think this might be a decent place to come for drinks and appetizers at the bar. I’d give it another chance for that, but I wouldn’t go back for a meal.
After striking out those two times, we were done trying restaurants in Medora. We did have ice cream at Marquis de Mores Ice Cream Parlor while we were walking around town in 103-degree heat or whatever it was. There was a line out the door. I had low expectations because #touristtown, but it was good.
It was amazing, especially with coffee, but way too much sugar for 1.5 people. (This is new Brittany talking. Old Brittany wouldn’t have cared about the sugar and maybe you don’t either!) Pro tip: cash only. ATM is right around the corner.
Our only foodie win was Blue 42 Sports Grille & Bar in Dickinson, ND. We ate there twice, and once drove all the way to Dickinson just to eat there.
Feeling Pushed Out of Medora
At the end of the day, we felt pushed out of Medora. The distance to groceries + poor restaurant quality was the deal-breaker. Because we like our food.
But honestly, once you’ve done the national parks and whatever Medora events you want to, there really isn’t much else to do in this super touristy town.
We were thrilled to meet Mark and Hiliary of @fantasiasunplugged. They pulled into Boots Campground and we had a nice dinner at their place one night. Love our tribe.
Bottom line: go to Medora. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is awesome and some of the events are really cool. Just do your grocery shopping before you get there, and don’t expect to be entertained for too long.
What do you think? Fair assessment?