Best Free Midwest Attractions: North Dakota | Midwest Living

Best Free Midwest Attractions: North Dakota

North Dakota's history is showcased in its free attractions, from a heritage center in Bismarck to the reconstructed Fort Union fur-trading post at Williston.
  • Photo: North Dakota Tourism/David Lee

    Play and learn

    North Dakota Heritage Center, Bismarck The recently expanded center traces North Dakota history from dinosaur days to the present. Exhibits include fossils and casts of sea creatures that lived in the area 80 million years ago and artifacts used by Native American peoples who inhabited North Dakota from about 13,000 years ago to 1860s.

    North Dakota Heritage Center


  • 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).

    North Dakota State Capitol Building

  • 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.

    Knife River Indian Villages

  • 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.

    Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site

  • Photo:

    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.

    Former Governors' Mansion State Historic Site

  • 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.

    Garrison Dam and Lake Sakakawea

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