20 Top Things to Do in North Dakota | Midwest Living

20 Top Things to Do in North Dakota

Unspoiled countryside and plenty of outdoor fun await in this rugged state. Highlights include Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the International Peace Garden and the Maah Daah Hey Trail as well as museums and historic sites that commemorate the state's heritage.
  • Top attractions in North Dakota

    Some of America's most inspiring adventurers, including Lewis and Clark, Sakakawea, and President Theodore Roosevelt, left footprints in this sparsely populated state. Even today, the rugged land feels little changed since they passed.

    Traveling from sprawling Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the west to appealing Fargo in the east, visitors will find fabulously starry skies, whistling wind and vistas that stretch for miles. More than a century ago, Roosevelt called this land at the edge of the plains, "a world of beauty and color and limitless space." It still is.

    Click ahead to find out about 20 of our favorite experiences in North Dakota.

    North Dakota Tourism

  • Theodore Roosevelt National Park

    Theodore Roosevelt referred to his time in North Dakota by saying, "Here the romance of my life began." One visit to Theodore Roosevelt National Park explains his love affair. Some 70,000 acres of painted canyons and grassy hiking trails border Interstate-94 and the Little Missouri River. Bison graze along the road, and prairie dogs chatter at scenic turnouts.

    The park is separated into two large units 50 miles apart, with a small parcel for Roosevelt's Elkhorn Ranch in the middle. The southern unit, anchored by nearby Medora, is busier, but the northern is just as spectacular. From Memorial Day through September, rangers lead guided tours and nature talks, as well as evening campfire programs about Roosevelt. Horseback tours are available. (701) 623-4466; nps.gov

  • Medora Musical

    Medora Musical

    The colorful, two-hour Medora Musical raucously relives Teddy Roosevelt's cowboy days (this is no dry history lesson). The outdoor show features singing, dancing, live animals and fireworks, all against a stunning badlands backdrop. You'll come away tapping your toes—and eager to check out nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park. (800) 633-6721; medora.com

  • Dakota Cyclery Mountain Bike Adventures

    Maah Daah Hey Trail

    Fun to say and fun to ride, the Maah Daah Hey Trail packs in a lot of dramatic scenery (and some really tough climbs!). The 98-mile main trail connects the southern and northern units of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, running through rolling prairie and rocky badlands—home to mule deer, coyotes, golden eagles, bighorn sheep and bison. Loop trails and a new southern extension add another 80 miles to the trail system. mdhta.com

    Hikers and horseback riders share the trail with bicyclists. Guided mountain bike tours are offered seasonally through Dakota Cyclery Mountain Bike Adventures. (888) 321-1218; dakotacyclery.com


  • Chateau de Mores State Historic Site
    Photo Courtesy of North Dakota Tourism/Bruce Wendt

    Chateau de Mores State Historic Site

    A 26-room, 1883 hunting lodge built by the Marquis de Mores, an entrepreneurial French aristocrat who hoped to find his fortune in the Dakota Territory, overlooks Medora. His meatpacking business failed, but the town he named for his wife, Medora, prospered. The lavish home where he and his wife lived still contains many original furnishings. Eager docents stationed throughout Chateau de Mores State Historic Site offer insights and tours. (701) 623-4355; history.nd.gov

  • Bully Pulpit Golf Course

    Bully Pulpit Golf Course

    Rocky badlands provide the backdrop for this challenging, one-of-a-kind 18-hole golf course three miles south of Medora. The Bully Pulpit Golf Course takes golfers through meadows, woodlands, along the Little Missouri River and into badlands canyons. (701) 623-4653; medora.org


  • North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame

    North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame

    At the entrance to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, this interpretive center tells the stories of Native Americans, ranchers and rodeo riders on the North Dakota plains. The North Dakota Cowboy Hall of Fame patio offers sweeping Little Missouri River views. medora.com

  • International Peace Garden

    Trails and lush gardens along the U.S.-Canada border celebrate peace between the two nations. The 2,300-acre garden is half in the U.S. and half in Canada, about 110 miles northeast of Minot.

    In summer, the International Peace Garden gets big splashes of color from perennials and annuals. For visitors year-round, an Interpretive Center offers a restaurant, gift shop and conservatory with 3,000 cacti. Guided tours of the gardens are available by reservation. (888) 432-6733; peacegarden.com

  • Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

    Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

    Now reconstructed, Fort Union was the most important fur-trading site on the upper Missouri from 1828 to 1867. The imposing white house at Fort Union, where the head merchant lived, looks strangely grand against the landscape, like a suburban mansion built expressly to outshine its neighbors. That's exactly what it was; traders built it in 1828 to impress area tribes. A self-guided tour, ranger-guided tours and living history programs are available for visitors. In Williston. (701) 572-9083; nps.gov

  • Lake Metigoshe State Park
    Photo Courtesy of Clay Pettys/ Lake Metigoshe State Park

    Lake Metigoshe State Park

    On the Canadian border, 200 miles north of Bismarck, Lake Metigoshe State Park offers a well-rounded, classic lake vacation—walleye fishing, a tidy beach, clean cabins, a Fourth of July fireworks show and canoeing—with way less noise and crowds than you'll find at big, better-known Lake Sakakawea. (701) 263-4651; parkrec.nd.gov

  • Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
    Photo Courtesy of North Dakota Tourism/Jason Lindsey

    Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park

    History buffs shouldn't miss North Dakota's signature historic site, 7 miles south of Mandan. Reconstructed earth lodges at Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park make up On-A-Slant Village, occupied by the Mandan from about 1575 to 1781. Portions of the old infantry and cavalry post have been rebuilt, including the Custer House, called the Mansion on the Prairie. Two living history tours take visitors through On-A-Slant Village and the museum, as well as the Custer House and barracks. (701) 667-6380; parkrec.nd.gov

    Fort Abraham Lincoln Foundation

  • Photo Courtesy of North Dakota Heritage Center

    North Dakota Heritage Center

    New galleries almost doubled the size of the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck. Explore the dinosaur age, native tribes and modern cultural issues. Exhibits in the Treehouse, scheduled to open in 2015, will cater to tykes. (701) 328-2666; history.nd.gov

  • North Dakota Capitol Building

    North Dakota State Capitol Building and Grounds

    Nicknamed The Skyscraper on the Prairie, North Dakota's 1934-era capitol in Bismarck is the tallest structure in the area (at 241 feet). You can take a guided tour, including a visit to the 18th-floor observation deck, for free. Also on the grounds: an arboretum trail, prairie trail, and numerous statues and memorials, in addition to the North Dakota Heritage Center. (701) 328-2480; ndtourism.com

  • Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
    Photo Courtesy of North Dakota Tourism/David Borlaug

    Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center/Fort Mandan Historic Site

    Meriwether Lewis and William Clark spent more of their epic journey in North Dakota than in any other state. In Washburn, stop first at the striking Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center and take in its fascinating exhibits about the Lewis and Clark expedition and area history. Then, continue to a replica of the fort, authentically reconstructed with 800 cottonwood logs, where the explorers weathered the brutal winter of 1804-1805. (877) 462-8535; fortmandan.com

  • Knife River Indian Villages
    Photo Courtesy of North Dakota Tourism/Jason Lindsey

    Knife River Indian Villages

    Explore a reconstructed, furnished Hidatsa earth lodge, 15 miles of trails and a museum (22 miles west of Washburn). A rich culture thrived along the banks of the Missouri River in west-central North Dakota when Meriwether Lewis and William Clark arrived in 1804. Today, trails weave through the sage and wildflower-dappled prairie to the remains of villages, including one where Sakakawea lived before she joined Lewis and Clark. (701) 745-3300; nps.gov

  • National Buffalo Museum

    National Buffalo Museum

    Seeing one albino bison in a lifetime puts you among a lucky few. Find three of them—in one place—and you must be in North Dakota. The National Buffalo Museum has long been known for its albino cow White Cloud, a sacred animal in many Native American cultures. Two rare albino calves have recently been born into the herd.

    The herd and the museum (which focuses on the history and significance of bison in the Plains culture) are part of the Frontier Village complex of historic buildings in Jamestown, 100 miles west of Fargo. (800) 807-1511; buffalomuseum.com

  • Bonanzaville USA
    Photo Courtesy of North Dakota Tourism/Jason Lindsey

    Bonanzaville USA

    Interpreters and 40 buildings on 12 acres re-create life when "bonanza" farms ruled the prairies in the late 1800s. Bonanzaville USA in West Fargo includes just about every type of building and business that might have made up a small North Dakota town when the area was being settled—a log cabin, blacksmith shop, school, drug store, general store, creamery, saloon, newspaper office, bank, barbershop and more. (701) 282-2822; bonanzaville.org

  • Plains Art Museum

    Plains Art Museum

    A downtown standout in Fargo is the Plains Art Museum, in the renovated International Harvester warehouse. Beautiful inside and out, the museum houses more than 3,000 works by regional and national artists. The collection includes works by artists as varied as Impressionist Mary Cassatt and Native American contemporary artist George Morrison. (701) 232-3821; plainsart.org

  • Photo Courtesy of North Dakota Tourism

    Enchanted Highway

    Turn off I-94 at Exit 72 (90 miles west of Bismarck) to find seven enormous sculptures along a 32-mile ribbon of rural highway. The massive artworks are the quixotic tourism initiative of retired educator Gary Greff, who established Enchanted Highway to bring more travelers to his tiny hometown of Regent. (701) 563-6400; ndtourism.com

  • Killdeer Mountain Four Bears Scenic Byway

    Killdeer Mountain Four Bears Scenic Byway

    State-22 follows the Missouri River Valley through forest-capped hills and arid badlands. A highlight of Killdeer Mountain Four Bears Scenic Byway is Medicine Hole, with a moderately challenging 1-mile hike to one of North Dakota's few caves. Native American tribes attribute healing powers to the cave air. (701) 328-5357; parkrec.nd.gov

  • Lake Sakakawea and Garrison Dam
    Photo Courtesy of North Dakota Tourism/Jason Lindsey

    Lake Sakakawea and Garrison Dam

    On the Missouri River 75 miles upstream from Bismarck, Garrison Dam, built between 1947 and 1953, is one of the largest earthen dams in the world. Exhibits in the power plant lobby feature displays about the construction and operation of the Garrison Dam and recreation on Lake Sakakawea. The corps provides free tours of the power plant daily during the summer months and by appointment the rest of the year. (701) 654-7411; nwo.usace.army.mil

    Lake Sakakawea (left) stretches 178 miles from Garrison Dam northwest to Williston and averages 2 to 3 miles in width. The lake and its shoreline are popular for boating, sailing, scuba diving, sightseeing, bird-watching, camping and hunting. (701) 487-3315; parkrec.nd.gov

Add Your Comment