Medora’s AmericInn adds 26 rooms, renovates existing 55: Bigger hotel accommodates city’s growing winter tourism
MEDORA — As southwest North Dakota grows and changes, so does the state’s No. 1 tourist destination.
Medora is seeing more visitors between Labor Day and Memorial Day. Some are tourists checking out what Theodore Roosevelt National Park is like in winter, while others represent overflow traffic from the oil field.
The AmericInn in Medora is finishing up a two-year project that added 26 rooms, a conference room, an expanded breakfast area, and included renovations and modernizations of its existing rooms to help accommodate Medora’s changing face.
“It was always in our plan to expand. We just didn’t know when,” owner Jim Bridger said. “Obviously, we were kind of blessed with oil over the past couple years.”
He purchased the hotel in 2010 with the hope of expanding for the summer tourism market. Medora’s busy atmosphere in the first couple years of Bridger’s ownership led him to break ground on the addition in Nov. 2012.
“That helped the entire community, restaurants were able to stay open longer, hotels were open all year,” said Bridger, who also owns the Little Missouri Saloon and Dining Room in Medora. “This has been a historic summer tourism market, and it just kind of opened it up to a year-round market.”
Because of the housing crunch and hotel crunch in western North Dakota, the people who were staying in Medora were driving to Williston or further north each day, Bridger said. There’s less oil traffic now that more hotels and apartments have been built in Williston and Watford City.
“This has been a really great move for us,” said Bridger, who also owns the AmericInn in Dickinson. “We’ve been able to secure a lot of group business, people want to meet in Medora during the season, during the offseason. We’re always flipping this room.”
The new conference room is the only one in Medora that overlooks the Badlands, Bridger said.
“Some of the speakers actually go to close the shades to block the beautiful views of the Badlands,” Bridger said with a chuckle.
There was a Murphy bed meeting room before the addition, which had its fair share of meetings in its day, Bridger said.
“This has really given us an opportunity to secure larger groups,” Bridger said. “More group business, more weddings, more business meetings.”
The 55 existing rooms got a refresh so they match the 26 new rooms.
“Our guests aren’t requesting to stay in one side or the other because everything, when this opened up, in conjunction with the other 55 rooms being renovated, they all look the same,” Bridger said. “They all look brand new. They all smell brand new.”
Because the hotel was built in the mid-1990s, smoking was still allowed in some of the rooms, Bridger said. As part of the renovation, the rooms were steam cleaned to remove any residual cigarette smoke or smell.
The changes were made with guest suggestions that had come in throughout the years, Bridger said. The bigger, better breakfast area and the elevator were two of the biggest changes guests requested.
Medora is becoming a weekend getaway destination, Bridger said.
“Let’s say their spouse or their fiancee is coming to visit — well they don’t want to take them to Williston or Watford City and say, ‘Hey lets go to … whatever the bar is up in Watford,’” Bridger said. “So what I’m seeing here is people coming from other outlying areas that are more industrial than Medora just getting away, touring the park, going shopping in some gift shops.”
The city used to, more or less, close after the Medora Musical finished its run shortly after Labor Day each September. But more shops and restaurants are staying open every year — sometimes with limited hours — throughout the year.
“In my own case, at the Little Missouri, we’re open six days a week now where it used to close in October and open up in May with the tourism season,” Bridger said.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a big draw in the winter.
“You can go through the park, you can see the buffalo, you can see elk, you can see everything out there just like you do in the summertime with less people,” Bridger said. “They get closer to the roads when there’s less people, so a lot of people come back and say, ‘Wow, we saw this stuff that we normally — we come every summer and we don’t see half the animals that we saw in the winter time.”
Park Superintendent Valerie Naylor is always encouraging people to visit the park in the winter.
“We always plow the road through the South Unit — not the full loop, but the main road,” Naylor said. “And then, in the North Unit, we do plow the first six miles unless there’s a severe blizzard or something. There’s always a place where people can go and drive and even take hikes in the winter, if they want to.”
Bridger said Medora is no longer a winter ghost town.
“Maybe a decade ago in the winter, if I looked back at the records of this hotel 10 years ago, yeah, there was not much going on,” Bridger said. “The Rough Rider (Hotel) was closed all winter, we were the only hotel, and they were struggling. Now we’re not. We’re getting the transient business, we’re getting the freeway business, we’re getting the long-term stays, the people that are working but don’t want to live in Dickinson or Williston.”
The new AmericInn, along with the rest of Medora, is ready to welcome more winter guests.
“Come to Medora,” said Leona Odermann, CEO of the city’s Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “We always have something to offer, no matter what season it is.”