Best Free Midwest Attractions: North Dakota
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Play and learn
North Dakota Heritage Center, Bismarck This free, kid-friendly history museum (left) has exhibits ranging from Corridor of Time, showing what life was like millions of years ago in present-day North Dakota, to Bright Dreams and Hard Times, chronicling how North Dakota dealt with the Great Depression. Young visitors can play with old-fashioned games and toys at the Dakota Kids area.
Skyscraper on the prairie
North Dakota State Capitol Building and Grounds, Bismarck Nicknamed "The Skyscraper on the Prairie," North Dakota's 1934-era capitol building (left) is the tallest man-made 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 (previous slide).
Native American history
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, Stanton Explore a reconstructed, furnished Hidatsa earth lodge (left), 15 miles of trails and a museum. One trail passes the remains of the village where Sakakawea lived when Lewis and Clark arrived.
A suburban mansion, pioneer-style
Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site, Williston 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 (left), 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.
See where governors lived
Former Governors' Mansion State Historic Site, Bismarck The Victorian house, built in 1884, was home to 21 chief executives between 1893 and 1960. The State Historical Society of North Dakota has restored it to its 1893 appearance. Visitors learn about the restoration process as well as Victorian lifestyles. The 1903 Carriage House has been restored as well.
Dam tours and lake recreation
Garrison Dam and Lake Sakakawea On the Missouri River 75 miles upstream from Bismarck, Garrison Dam, built from 1947 to 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.
Lake Sakakawea (left) stretches 178 miles from the dam northwest to Williston, North Dakota, 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.
Know of other free things to enjoy in North Dakota? Add them in the Comments section below!