Looking for an affordable, low-traffic vacation this summer 2022? With inflation at record levels, and revenge travel causing congestion at seemingly every layover, that might sound like a tall tale.
But, with nearly 2/3 of summer left (the meteorological season ending on September 23), there’s still plenty of time to experience someplace wonderful. And one place where avoiding the above struggles is possible:
“Oh my gosh that’s cheap!” my New York-living friend, Tiffany, would say every time the bill came at the end of our meal. “This was so much food and so good, for THAT price! How?”
But it’s not just Manhattanites surprised by the prices. I live in America’s 16th largest metro area, Minneapolis-St. Paul, specifically because it has tons of big city amenities without big city prices, and even I was surprised at the low prices of everything in North Dakota.
From meals to hotels, and yes, even gas (lookup the North Dakota oil boom if you haven’t heard about it), were everywhere we went.
But it wasn’t the low prices that brought me to North Dakota.
I was here to experience one of my favorite National Parks: Theodore Roosevelt National Park, and the surrounding Medora area.
And I don’t give that distinction lightly. Having visited all 400+ of the U.S. National Park Service sites, I have every national park in consideration when I make that claim.
“Teddy Roosevelt” National Park, with its myriad wild animals, stunning scenery, and low-trafficked hikes + scenic drives are right up there with the Yellowstones and Yosemites of National Park visits, but without the insanity of visiting a US National Park during the summer months.
So, whether you’re traveling this summer or some future season, here’s 5 Reasons to Visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park to help you have a fantastic vacation next time you hit the open road.
1. The Town of Medora
“What a cute little western town,” Tiffany said as we walked around Medora.
Donning the cowgirl hat she’d purchased at one of their local shops, this New Yorker fell in love with the easy walkability of a non-Manhattan area.
And that’s what makes Medora so great. Situated right at the entrance to the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, you could walk from your hotel in this anchor town of the park, right across the official border and onto the scenic road.
The park is big enough that I highly recommend a car (the scenic drive is 48 miles, so unless you want to run an ultramarathon…), BUT, I also recommend a bike!
I brought my Schwinn E-Bike with me to Medora, and was able to charge it in my Badlands Motel overnightand ride it straight out my front door around the entire South Unit Scenic Drive, and back to my hotel for a quick walk to dinner.
Everything is just footsteps (or a few wheel spins) away in Medora.
2. Scenic Drives
Not one, but TWO Scenic Drives await you at Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
In the South Unit, you’ll see more animals:
- Wild Horses
- Prairie Dogs
In the North Unit, you’ll see more sweeping scenic views and dramatic heights.
Both units will treat you to low traffic though! As during my and Tiffany’s E-Bike ride around the South Unit, we only encountered 20 cars in 3 hours on the Scenic Loop, and similarly low traffic in the North Unit.
3. Bike Friendly
Speaking of bikes, one of the most fantastic ways to enjoy these Scenic Drives is on two wheels, not four.
No ceiling blocking your views.
You have complete access to unencumbered sights of the majestic, North Dakota Badlands.
And the best part?
You don’t have to worry about parking for animal sightings.
What I call a “Yellowstone Traffic Jam” is when an animal comes near the road.
On multiple occasions, Tiffany and I pulled our bikes right up to the best viewing spots. While vehicles had to park farther away and walk to the views (adding to the traffic jam).
Then once we were done, we zipped away past the parked cars and returned quickly to our epic views…
As a BONUS: Ride the Maah Daah Hey Trail that borders the park!
Rentals and shuttle service for all these destinations available via Dakota Cyclery
4. Medora The Musical
A nightly musical? In a town with a census population of 121 people?
As a professional singer (with a Masters in Voice Performance), I recommend you take an evening off of adventuring to hear the singers and instrumentalists they import from across the USA (and abroad!), and do some resting of your legs by enjoying the open-air, scenic-backdrop musical.
Every year the show changes, and every few weeks the Special Guest performers rotate as well. So even if you’re a return visitor, you’ll never see the same show!
I was lucky enough to (unbeknownst to me at first) get to watch one of my former classmates from music school play the lead of “Calamity Annie,” much to my surprise when she came out on stage and I thought, “I know that face! I know that voice!”
Get your ticket for an outdoor BBQ ahead of the show at the same amphitheater location, and turn “Dinner Theater” into something elevated by the beauty—and performing horses—of the west!
5. Incredible Hikes
I often get asked to recommend “Hidden Gem” or “Under The Radar” National Park hikes for travel magazines and park blogs, and the Caprock Coulee Trail is one of my most common answers.
The reason? It’s like the Goldilocks of hikes.
Not too long.
Not too short.
Tons of changing scenic views.
Lots of up-close beautiful nature.
You really can’t do much better than this trail.
Especially because just getting out of the car takes you out of so much park traffic (the low amount in this park anyway) that you can often feel like you’re hiking on your own private trail.
The Theodore Roosevelt Nature & History Association agrees with my love of this trail so much that they chose one of my photos from it to put in the main park visitor center display!
Six years after taking this picture, it was so cool to return and see it welcoming visitors from around the world!
So if you have vacation days to use, don’t be one of the people who lets them expire at the end of the year--plan your trip to western North Dakota now!
For official travel guides, itineraries, and more tips, visit: NDTourism.com
And see all my video highlights from this Teddy Roosevelt visit on my Instagram @mikahmey