Midwest Living Review
Divided by the Missouri River, Bismarck (population: 80,000) and Mandan (population: 20,000) have a history that dates to hundreds of years before William Clark and Meriwhether Lewis arrived here in 1804. The Mandan tribal natives who lived here outnumbered the population of Washington, D.C., and their way of life is preserved at the On-A-Slant earthen mound village, a replica of what once stood along the river. Guides who have carefully studied Mandan culture lead tours through the village and explain how the Mandans lived, how they adapted to survive harsh prairie winters and how they died following exposure to smallpox. Another tour at Fort Abraham Lincoln gives lively interpretive guides a chance to tell first-person stories about how Lt. Col. George Custer and his wife lived there during 1875. And next to the capitol, the Dakota Heritage Center, already an impressive attraction, is slated to open a major expansion in 2014. Visitors will find a handful of vibrant restaurants and shops throughout the city, but the downtown could benefit from some redevelopment efforts to fill the many vacant storefronts.