North Dakota is a land that has seen little change since the days of Theodore Roosevelt – or even Lewis and Clark for that matter. Roosevelt, who was an avid fan of the state and who often retreated there during his presidency, said it was ‘a world of beauty and colour and limitless space.’
What’s not to love about that? If you have any interest in nature, wildlife, or outdoor adventures, North Dakota should be at the top of your list. Round that out with museums, zoos, theatre, casinos, history, and agritourism and you’ve got the makings of a great holiday.
Lets explore the best things to do in North Dakota:
1. Theodore Roosevelt National Park
This is 70,000 acres of canyons, mountains, Badlands, and the Missouri River that encapsulate what Theodore Roosevelt loved best about North Dakota.
There are two main sections of the park, about 50 miles apart, and the presidents former Elkhorn Ranch between them.
The southern part of the park tends to be the most popular, thanks to the city of Medora, but the northern area is equally spectacular.
Come to camp, hike, rock climb, horseback ride, or even just drive through.
During peak season, park rangers give guided tours and nature talks throughout the day.
In the evening, enjoy a wonderful campfire chat and learn about the parks famous namesake.
2. Bison Monument and Frontier Village
Between Fargo and Bismarck, you’ll find the famous Bison Monument and Frontier Village.
See the real thing grazing near the monument itself – including the rare albino bison.
The National Buffalo Museum is also there.
You’ll learn all about these magnificent creatures and how they made the Plains Indian way of life possible.
The Frontier Village is a complex of old pioneer buildings including an old-time barbershop, a drugstore, church, jailhouse, post office, a schoolhouse, and more.
These buildings have been moved here from various frontier spots throughout the state in order to preserve them.
You can see the writing shack of Louis L’Amour, the first railroad depot in Jamestown, and shop for handmade crafts made by local artists.
If you’re visiting during the summer, don’t miss the Saturday afternoon wild west shoot outs!
3. Three Tribes Museum and Four Bears Bridge
The Mandan, Hidatsa, and Arikara tribes have created this unique museum near the effort Berthold Reservation.
Primarily on display are native arts and crafts, many of which are for sale.
Nearby is the famous Four Bears Bridge, the longest bridge in the state.
Named for tribal leaders from the three tribes, the bridge covers almost a mile of Lake Sakakawea.
The bridge is covered in medallions from the three tribes that live on the reservation.
4. Fort Mandan Overlook State Historic Site
Lewis and Clark helped to build Fort Mandan in 1804. It was winter when they arrived and they needed a base camp.
It was during their time here that they were introduced to Sacagawea, their famed guide, and interviewed many tribal people.
Though the original fort was consumed by the river, historians and archaeologists have worked to recreate life at the time the explorers passed through.
Today, there are interactive exhibits that share the overlooks history and current conditions.
The visitors centre has artefacts found on site and allows you to walk in the footprints of these famed explorers.
5. Medora Musical
Before he was a president, Teddy Roosevelt was a raucous cowboy of the fading west.
This outdoor show in Medora, adjacent to the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, depicts his life with dancing, singing, fireworks, and live animals.
The first production took place in the 1950’s and since then has grown into a destination attractions.
The town was reconstructed and renovated and is now home to many outdoor activities and entertainment venues that are guaranteed to deliver an American Old West experience unlike any other.
6. The North Dakota Heritage Centre
From the prehistoric to the modern, the North Dakota Heritage Centre covers all the bases.
In 2014 the museum re-opened with a larger exhibit space that includes everything from dinosaurs to Norwegian bachelor farmers to nuclear silos.
Out front is a fantastic statue of Sacagawea, the famed guide for Lewis and Clark, and inside the four galleries share the history of the state and showcase its contribution to the growth of the country.
7. The Woodchipper from the Movie Fargo
If you haven’t seen the Coen Brothers film, ‘Fargo,’ prepare yourself for a cult classic.
The exact woodchipper that was used in the film to get rid of Carl’s body is now on display at the Fargo Moorhead Visitors Centre in Fargo.
Guests can re-enact the famous scene with authentic movie costumes and a fake leg.
It’s one of the most popular photo-ops in the city and will definitely give you plenty of stories to tell when you return home.
8. The State Capitol Complex
The North Dakota state capitol is unique among US capitols.
Sometimes referred to as the ‘skyscraper of the prairie,’ it is a tall Stalin-esque looking building with art deco finishing’s.
It’s possible to take the elevator to an observation deck on the 18th floor to see the city of Bismarck and the surrounding area.
It stands at 241 feet and was built in the 1930’s.
While you’re there, visit the prairie trail, government memorials, the arboretum, and the nearby North Dakota Heritage Museum.
9. Maah Daah Hey Trail
This trail is just shy of 100 miles and connects the northern and southern areas of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park.
Called the Maah Daah Hey Trail, its symbol is a turtle to symbolize determination and patience.
Which is what you’ll need if you decide to hike it.
Some stretches are quite tough and include rocky Badlands and gorgeous prairie.
You’ll see coyotes, golden eagles, deer, bighorn sheet, and even bison.
Visitors hike, bike, and horseback ride, and everyone camps out on this fantastic stretch of national park.
10. International Peace Garden
North Dakota shares a border with Canada, and there, trails and gardens celebrate the peace long shared between the two countries.
The International Peace Garden is 2,300 acres.
Half of which are in Canada and half of which are in the United States.
Open year round, the Interpretive Centre has a gift shop, conservatory with over 3,000 cacti, and a restaurant.
Located in the Turtle Mountains and the heart of Turtle Island – the original American Indian name for North America.
Created over 80 years ago, visitors can camp, hike, bike, and view wildlife in the refuge.
Be on the lookout for moose!
11. The Scandinavian Heritage Park
Minot is home to the Scandinavian Heritage Park which celebrates the many pioneers from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland.
Begun in the late 1980’s the centre has an impressive international membership and the foundation is committed to preserving the past and forging new bonds for the future.
You can see an actual home from Sigdal, Norway, which was transported to the centre.
Don’t miss the replica of the Gol Stave Church and the authentic and relaxing Finnish sauna.
The park celebrates the pioneering spirit of the many Scandinavians who left their homelands in search of a better life on the American frontier.
12. Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
Once considered the grandest fort on the Missouri River, Fort Union was arguably the most important fur-trading stop during most of the 19th century.
The large white mansion, housing the head merchant and his family, sits in stark contrast to the landscape that surrounds it.
It was built in the grandest fashion possible in order to impress the Assiniboine tribe as well as other Plains tribes.
It’s estimated that over 25,000 buffalo skins where traded here each year.
Though in use during turbulent times, the fort took pride in having peaceful relationships between all the traders who came through.
When you visit, you can tour the house on your own or with a guide.
13. National Buffalo Museum
North Dakota is the only state to have three albino buffalo.
The most famous of which is named White Cloud and is revered among many native tribes.
She was born in 1996 and lived as part of a herd on the plains near the museum for almost 20 years.
During her life, she had 11 calves, including one albino calf named Dakota Miracle.
The museum gained even more recognition when a brown buffalo gave birth to a white calf named Dakota Legend.
The museum and its grounds are sacred to many people and a visit here is truly transforming.
14. Plains Art Museum
Housed in the International Harvester warehouse, the Plains Art Museum is a popular stop in Fargo.
There, you’ll find over 3,000 pieces by both regional and national artists.
See paintings by Impressionists like Mary Cassatt and contemporary native painters like George Morrison.
With humble origins in the Moorhead post office, the museum has grown into a 50,000+ square foot facility that includes the Katherine Kilbourne Burgum Centre for Creativity.
This multipurpose building offers classes and exhibition space.
15. Lake Sakakawea and Garrison Dam
Garrison Dam is part of the Missouri River and was built in the mid-20th century.
The lobby of dam displays information about its construction and about nearby Lake Sakakawea.
You can take a tour of the power plant and then head over to the lake to enjoy some outdoor recreation.
The lake itself is almost 200 miles long and is the third largest man-made lake in the country.
Named for Sacagawea, the Shoshone woman who served as a guide for Lewis and Clark, the lake is a great spot for fishermen from far and wide.
Be on the lookout for Wally, the 26-foot fiberglass Walleye.