Looking back, it's funny to admit: I was a little nervous about our family trip to Medora—would this top tourist destination live up to the hype? And the dreaded question that every mom considers: will my kids be bored?
What is it about Medora that makes it North Dakota's top travel destination?
Just a quick two-hour drive from Bismarck, ND, we arrived to charming Medora. This historic town is immaculate and has every charm of a wild west town—my kids loved the rustic wood boardwalks.
In our first few minutes in town I was surprised to find such a wide assortment of out-of-state car license plates from states like California, Maine, and Louisiana. Medora is a destination worth driving thousands of miles to ... how lucky we are to have it so close.
First things first. Treats abound with old fashioned ice cream shops on almost every block, and (my favorite!) Cowboy Lyle's Candy a classic barrel candy store.
My husband only golfs a few times a year but would never miss an opportunity to golf at the one-of-a-kind ruggedly scenic and challenging Bully Pulpit Golf Course.
Tip: My husband recommends golfing all 18 holes, but says the 'back 9' are the best.
According to my kids, this is the coolest playground—EVER! And I agree. The Medora Children's Park is unlike any playground I've been to. Themed as a huge Old West false-front town and fort, the wooden playground also has a stagecoach and train engine, and a special area for toddlers to play. The playground is just north across the street from Medora Mini Golf.
Gotta love the Medora morning commute. With surprises like this around every corner, Medora easily kept us entertained and smiling.
Tip: We visited Medora over Memorial Day weekend, in the pre-season just a few days before the Medora Musical and Pitchfork Steak Fondue summer schedule starts. It's important to note that many other businesses and restaurants are also closed in the off-season (but there's a benefit of discounted hotel rates). While we had plenty of things to see and do, it would be a huge highlight to be in Medora during the summer season. I guess we'll just have to plan another Medora trip!
Rough Riders Hotel & Theodore's Dining Room
We stayed two nights in the Rough Riders Hotel in the historic wing (eight rooms original to the 1884 hotel) but all the rooms in the entire hotel have the signature oak and red velvet furnishings.
The lobby is a destination in itself with a massive library of books on, and by, Theodore Roosevelt.
The Rough Rider Hotel is incredibly family-friendly and the rooms are exceptionally large and very clean, with just the right amount of luxury. In the summer months, hotel guests also receive a free continental breakfast.
Oh and did I mention historic? Request a room in the historic wing and you just might get this extra special room.
Theodore's Dining Room is conveniently located inside the Rough Riders Hotel.
Shown here are appetizer coconut shrimp and liver paté—both delicious.
This upscale restaurant would make a great date night but Theodore's Dining Room is also incredibly family-friendly with a kid's menu, kid's cups with lids, and crayons and color pages.
The menu offers many local flavors including this panko breaded walleye, and our other table favorite, the bison osso bucco.
Good eats in Medora
Our future visits to Medora won't be complete without a meal at Badlands Pizza. Open seasonally, this recently remodeled casual restaurant has great service and delicious pizza. Seating is available indoors and on the covered outdoor boardwalk.
Boots Bar and Grill is one of a few restaurants in Medora that is open year-round. This bar and grill is kid-friendly until 10 pm, and has a phenomenal casual menu with local specialties like bison burgers, and locally-raised Wagyu beef (try the Wagyu burger and onion rings).
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
As if the sights in Medora weren't enough too keep us busy, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is literally right next door. This year is the perfect time to visit too—the National Park Service turns 100 on August 25, 2016.
Ahhh. Those majestic badlands.
We toured and hiked in the park's South Unit, known for its 36-mile scenic drive loop with great views of painted canyons and grasslands.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is (pleasantly) the least crowded national park I've been to and its probably no coincidence that we also see many more wild animals than at other national parks.
Among the animals we saw, bison are my all-time favorite.
While viewing a prairie dog town in the park, I learned my kids make eerily accurate prairie dog barking sounds. Such fun memories!
We also saw wild horses, mule deer, many kinds of birds, and elk and bison poop (my two year old was very entertained in spotting and identifying all kinds of animal droppings).
The 36-mile scenic drive is a must, but if you can manage it, you just gotta get out and hike.
Pregnant and hiking with little kids? Yes, it's totally doable (and so much fun!).
Theodore Roosevelt National Park has many easy and short (less than 2 miles) scenic walks and hikes that show give you amazing views of grasslands and badlands not viewable by road.
This hike was especially great as we got to watch a thunderstorm sweep across the badlands.
Tip: Except for the visitor center and campground, there are no restroom facilities in the park. There are also no food services in Theodore Roosevelt National Park, so be prepared and pack plenty of water and snacks/sandwiches so your exploring won't be limited by hungry tummies. Just remember, if you pack it in, pack it out.
What is it about Medora?
It's the memories we make there.
I can't wait to go back and create more moments like this:
This post is sponsored by a grant from North Dakota Tourism. All opinions are my own.