I love the state of North Dakota, and it is not too far from my home state of Iowa. My husband and I have been doing a fairly good job practicing social distancing at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. When we realized he had a week of vacation in June, we jumped at the opportunity to plan a road trip to North Dakota. We really enjoy the more popular national parks and states, but it made no sense to us to travel to crowded areas during a pandemic.
The North Dakota state tourism office partnered with me, and I shared my experience through their Instagram Stories account while in Medora. While traveling during a pandemic brought a few new challenges, our overall experience was fantastic.
Preparing For The Journey
My husband and I love to travel, and we particularly love to cruise. It was quite evident when March arrived, however, that it would be a while before either of us boarded a cruise ship. We had owned several campers over the years, and this seemed like the perfect time to jump back in.
Within a couple of weeks of beginning our search, we found a travel trailer that met our needs. It felt wonderful towing it home, as we knew this was how we would continue to travel during the pandemic. We loaded up the camper and headed to North Dakota with a mission of enjoying the great outdoors. After all, we had our bed, kitchen, and restroom in tow, which made for an ideal travel situation.
Exploring Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
North Dakota functioned a lot like Iowa during April and May. The same kinds of places that were shut down in Iowa were shut down in North Dakota. Things also opened up at the same pace, which made for good timing for this June trip.
We drove to Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park in the Bismarck area on the first night of our trip. Our campsite was level and offered a terrific view of the river. On our first full day in the park, we rode our bicycles more than 9 miles through the park. There were other people in the park, but with so many wide-open spaces, we never came into close contact with them.
The sunset was extraordinary, and the bonus was that our truck was the only truck in the parking lot. It was at that point that we realized we had made the right choice to road trip to North Dakota. During our stay, we never used the public restrooms, but they were open. Our trailer offered a warm shower at the end of the day, along with a private restroom.
Horseback Riding And Golfing In Medora
Medora was our final destination, and it was approximately 2 hours from Bismarck. We arrived at the Medora Campground to a level camping site. We had hoped to camp in the national park, but it was closed during the season due to the pandemic. The campsites here were closer than we preferred, but in the grand scheme of things, we were not at our campsite for any length of time.
We went horseback riding at the Medora Riding Stables, which offered stunning views of the town of Medora and the Badlands. On our second day, we golfed at Bully Pulpit, one of the top 100 golf courses in the United States.
We chose both of these activities because they were outdoors. When you are on a horse or on a golf course, you have control over how close you get to other people. Horseback riding was ideal, as the experience was beautiful and fun at the same time. All 18 holes on the golf course offered something special, including deer and snakes. Most importantly, we enjoyed the beauty that both of these activities brought, and we had zero contact with other people. We brought masks with us on our road trip, but neither of these activities required a mask, which was appealing to us.
Visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The South Unit entrance to Theodore Roosevelt National Park is in the town of Medora, while the North Unit is located about an hour north. We visited both areas of the park on our trip. The bison roamed freely in both parks and offered plenty of magical moments. The wild horses and prairie dogs were active in the South Unit and provided hours of entertainment. We hiked in both units, and our truck was the only vehicle in many of the parking lots. Social distancing was easy to maintain in every area of the park we visited. We also hiked several trails and never encountered anyone along the way. The beauty and the wildlife viewing made this park one of my all-time favorites.
The main visitor center was not open in either unit, but the park rangers were available to answer questions in the main parking lots at the entrances. The South Unit even offered an outdoor store. The national park employees told me, "If you can't come to see us, we'll bring our merchandise out to you." I thought this was clever. There were portable restrooms in the parking lot of the South Unit in addition to the store and the park employee table. The vault toilets throughout the park were open for public use as well.
Traveling During A Pandemic
Every person has a different comfort level when it comes to traveling during a pandemic. We knew that we were ready to travel, but we had to figure out how to make it work for us. Our travel trailer eliminated the need to use hotels or public restrooms. We packed hand sanitizer, alcohol wipes, masks, bottled water, and plenty of snacks for our road trip. The great American road trip is back, as is the picnic. We saw more people using picnic tables on this trip than we have in years during our travels. We packed plenty of food, since we knew that restaurants can close unexpectedly during a pandemic.
I recommend being overprepared so that you can look back and say you had a great road trip. Before you leave home, be sure you understand your home state’s rules; some states require travelers to self-quarantine after returning home. Plan ahead and expect the unexpected, and your road trip --even during this time of social distancing -- should be a great one.
My husband and I are counting down the days to our next big road trip, which we plan on taking in October with our trailer. Before then, however, I plan to make some solo road trips, spending up to one night away from home with a tent in tow.