My favorite stop on my road trip to Montana was in Medora, ND. The Badlands. What I didn’t expect was the breadth and expanse and beauty of this area. I’ve driven through once or twice in my life, but to stop and take it all in was well worth it!
After driving across most of North Dakota from Minnesota, this was a very welcome visual vista. For those who don’t know, most of North Dakota is FLAT plains and fields. Not much for the eye to enjoy. Approaching Medora’s hills is exciting, especially with the anticipation of what is soon to come around the bend.
Where to Stop
Stop at the Painted Canyon Visitor Center, and if you have time (MAKE time), drive through Theodore Roosevelt National Park. The wayside stop was well-populated but did not feel crowded. There was plenty of room to soak in the view and pause for a photo-op. The great news is that leashed dogs are welcome to enjoy the view with you! Wildlife occasionally visit the area, so keep your eyes open!
I do not recommend crossing the fence to get a closer look; for one thing, the rangers on site discourage it. It’s also dangerous! We spent about a half hour here, stretching our legs, taking pictures, and meeting new people. I met a young woman who was on her way back from Yellowstone, and we had a great conversation about National Parks. With vistas like this, it’s hard not to strike up conversation with those around you. You have to share it with someone!
Check out my quick video of the panoramic view:
From here, there are several options. I went down into the town of Medora for some incredible hiking in the valley. This is also where you can find the entrance to Theodore Roosevelt National Park. For $20, you can get a pass and explore as much as you like! Be advised, though, dogs are not allowed on trails in the park.
I chose to hike the Maah Daah Hey Trail just south of Medora. The trailhead is located just inside a state park, so you can use the resources of water and pit-style restrooms before hitting the trail. There is specific parking for the Trail, so be sure to park there to avoid state park fees. You can read all the juicy details about my experience on this adventurous trail in my Trail Guide.
The town of Medora itself is quite small, and it was nearly impossible to find a gas station, but it is beyond quaint. It is modeled after a traditional western town, and if you want to make a vacation out of it, be sure to check out the Medora Musical. I hear it is not to be missed! Take some time to wander through the shops and eat some great food. You definitely want to try steak or buffalo burgers here! There are a variety of outdoor activities to try in the surrounding area; hiking and horseback riding are both great options for exploring the Badlands.
Overall, Medora was definitely a memorable experience. It is unlike the sweeping plains or North Dakota or the hills of South Dakota; it is a unique location all to itself. You won’t see this kind of terrain anywhere else in the Midwest. Let the views inspire your imagination and the trails create lasting memories.
Enjoy some of the pictures below!