The Peace Garden State. Roughrider Country. The Flickertail State. Though most people know it has North Dakota, this state has many nicknames. One of the most sparsely populated states in the country, with just about 800,000 people living there, North Dakota is truly an escape from heavy civilization.
Located in the upper midwest region of the country and running up against the southern Canadian border, this state is certainly one of the most underrated locations in terms of tourism. Unfortunately for many travelers, they are missing out on a gem of a state that is rich in history, culture, national parks, and beautiful landscapes.
When it comes to size, the total land makes it rank 19th out of all 50 states, but with the 4th smallest population, it has one of the lowest population densities in the country. That means if you really want to immerse yourself in the culture, history, and natural wonder of North Dakota, you can do so very easily without a ton of obstacles getting in the way like bustling metropolitans. That isn’t to say that there are no cities, as Fargo, Bismarck, and Grand Forks represent significant civilian populations, but there are certainly no New Yorks or Bostons or San Franciscos.
Plan a Trip Through North Dakota
From an outsider’s perspective, it may not seem like North Dakota has much to offer outside of well-known spots like Theodore Roosevelt National Park. But you only think that because no one has ever told you anything else. How many people talk about their trip to North Dakota? Unfortunately, it is not nearly as many as in other states. But North Dakota is the perfect location to plan a trip, especially if you love historic sites, heritage, and sweeping plains.
Not sure if you are convinced? Then let’s go into some more detail about what this incredible state can offer travelers.
The Beauty of North Dakota Nature
The upper midwest houses a unique ecosystem that encompasses many species of flora and fauna, as well as landscapes that are dying to be photographed or painted. For those of you who love to experience the natural world, there are plenty of ways to do so in North Dakota.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park
Perhaps the most well-known location in the state is the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This region is the home of the badlands in North Dakota, a close cousin to the famous badlands of South Dakota. A man who started out hunting bison in the Dakota territory soon learned the importance of the conservation of nature as he explored this area. Eventually, President Theodore Roosevelt led a conservation effort to preserve lands and wildlife across the country, inspired by his time in this region. There are three sections of this vast park; the North Unit, the Elkohar Ranch Unit, and the South Unit. The South Unit is the more popular area due to the tourism aspects of Medora, while the North Unit is a little more secluded.
Theodore Roosevelt National Park contains many attractions, including Junior Ranger programs for kids, vast rugged landscapes, incredible rocky formations, and animals like prairie dogs and bison. Head to the national park store and visitor center for some mementos and more information about the history of the area. Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a must-see for all travelers, but especially those who can easily fall in love with the natural world.
National Buffalo Museum
Once a vibrant species centuries ago, the American bison dwindled to near extinction in the late 1800s, with the most documented cause being hunting. The National Buffalo Museum focuses on the story of this iconic animal and the work being done to preserve the species today. Interactive exhibits, outdoor museum tours, and informational displays can teach you about this large mammal. However, you can also view protected herds during your visit to the National Buffalo Museum. If you are a wildlife fanatic and care about conservation, then the National Buffalo Museum tells a compelling story of a species that was on the brink of disappearing but has managed to make a small resurgence.
Lake Sakakawea State Park
Head to western North Dakota to find Lake Sakakawea State Park. Surrounding this beautiful lake are multiple swim beaches that are open for public use, campaign areas, cabins for rent, and plenty of hiking trails. If you want to be out on the water, it is a popular spot for paddleboarders and windsurfers as well. Lake Sakawakea is the third-largest man-made reservoir in the country, but it offers compelling views and is perfect for travelers looking for a spot to spend a night or a day.
A beautiful lake located in the northeastern area of the state, Devils Lake is the largest natural body of water in North Dakota. This is another location that is perfect for avid hikers, as many trails can be found around the lake. Head into the town of Devils Lake to find a visitor center, dining, accommodation, and more. Multiple museums can be found in town as well to reveal the history of the area.
Do you have an afternoon free and are looking for a fun family activity to keep the kids entertained? Then plan a trip to Bismarck, ND where you will find the Dakota Zoo. This facility is home to many incredible species, including the golden-headed lion tamarin, miniature horses, reindeer, and black swans. The Dakota Zoo houses over 600 animals representing 125+ species, so make sure to include this attraction on your itinerary to check out some amazing wildlife from the region.
The Turtle Mountain plateau straddles the Canadian-North Dakota border near the city of Bottineau. This region offers scenic byways, forested hills, hiking trails, and multiple small lakes. The stunning scenery can be taken in with an all-day visit or simply by driving through the many roads that are open to motorized vehicles.
The longest river in the United States splits the state of North Dakota in half from the northwest corner down to the eastern portion of the border with South Dakota. All along the upper Missouri River, you can find locations to view this critical water source in North Dakota. This crucial waterway also birthed many communities and other attractions in North Dakota that are worth noting, such as the Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center, and the Fort Union Trading Post National Historical Site, (we will get to those later). With hundreds of tributaries including the Little Missouri River which flows in from South Dakota, you will learn just how important this waterway is to the history and culture of North Dakota.
International Peace Garden
A collaborative effort between the Canadian and US citizens, the International Peace Garden in the Turtle Mountain region represents friendship and unity between the two countries. If you are a flora fanatic, then you will love the various types of gardens that are tended year-round at this site. Plus, there are incredibly-designed buildings to admire, the floral clock, and the Dedication Cairn. You can also enjoy cross-country skiing or walks through the forests nearby, as well as a trip to the gift shop.
North Dakota is home to many diverse cultures, particularly Native American and Scandinavian. There are many attractions in North Dakota where you can discover more about these cultures during your travels through the state.
North Dakota Heritage Center
For a more holistic perspective on the heritage and history of this state, you can check out the North Dakota Heritage Center located in the city of Bismarck. Dedicated to preserving the past while looking ahead to the future, the North Dakota Heritage Center features interactive storytelling and multiple displays to honor the natural history of the state as well as the heritage of its people. With plenty of events year-round, fun activities for the kids, specimens to admire, and artifacts ready for discovery, making the North Dakota Heritage Center part of your travel plans is a great way to fill up your itinerary.
Scandinavian Heritage Park
Immigrants from the five Nordic and Scandinavian countries of Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, and Iceland made up a large percentage of the original European settlers in North Dakota. Many of these populations wanted to preserve their culture as they adapted to life in the New World. Centuries later, this led to the birth of the Scandinavian Heritage Association in 1989. Scandinavian Heritage Park in Minot, ND commemorates the efforts of these original immigrants and celebrates their accomplishments as well as their culture.
Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site
The Hidatsa and Mandan Native American tribes were a large part of the heritage of North Dakota. The Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site is protected by the federal government as the location of an ancient Indian village. During your visit, you can view the depressions in the ground left by these earthlodge dwellings. Knife river Indian Villages National Historic Site offers a window into the history of Native American culture in North Dakota and the entire country. Learn more about these northern plains Indians and discover the heritage of the state during your visit.
Unique Historical Locations
The history of North Dakota is full of exploration, trade, and well-known figures. There is also a unique military history. Here are a few locations that you should check out if you are a history buff.
Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park
A piece of military history combined with a state historic site, Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park is a key element in the story of North Dakota. Come check out two forts with reconstructed military buildings and discover what it was like to be a frontier soldier in the midwest. Scenic trail networks that overlook the Heart and Missouri rivers can turn this historic site into an all-day adventure for travelers. You can also visit the historic Custer House while you are here.
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center
A stretch of the Missouri River in North Dakota became a central hub of trade and exploration in the northern plains region centuries ago. The Lewis and Clark Expedition led them to this area, where you can now find the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center. This facility in Washburn, ND excellently portrays the history of the area through enthusiastic interpreters, augmented reality, interactive displays, and the gift shop.
Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site
In the mid-1800s, Fort Union was one of the most important trading posts on the upper Missouri River. Seven Northern Plains tribes gathered here to trade furs for other goods from around the world. The Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site is one of the top North Dakota attractions, and the museum features a rich history of this vital midwestern hub.
Other Must-See Locations
Even if you are not particularly interested in history or heritage, there are still many locations throughout the state of North Dakota that are worth visiting. Some satisfy that yearning for true western culture while others stoke the creative juices of artistic personalities.
Minot is a small city most known for two things; the Minot Air Force Base and the North Dakota State Fair. Every summer, the North Dakota State Fairgrounds fills up with vendors and exhibits to host thousands of visitors who want to experience a taste of the culture, history, entertainment, and food that makes this state amazing. If you are here during the summer, see if the Fair is happening during your visit. Minot is also the location of the Scandinavian Heritage Park, as well as the Gol Stave Church Museum.
This extremely touristy old west town in North Dakota contains many attractions that can pique the interest of different personality types. Plus, Theodore Roosevelt National Park is just a short drive away, so this town can act as a home base from which to visit many cool attractions in this area, including De Mores Memorial Park in this frontier village.
North Dakota Hall of Fame
A premier museum complex dedicated to western culture, particularly the rise of the cowboy, is an incredibly fun experience for anyone. Some extremely engaging activities that detail the life of a western cowboy can stoke the imagination and leave you with an unforgettable experience.
Wind Canyon Trail
If you are looking for a bit of a thrill, (think uneven footing on paths with big falls), then Wind Canyon Trail is a great path for hiking and getting amazing views of the Little Missouri River.
This popular event in Medora is a perfect opportunity for a family outing in the afternoon or evening. Singing, dancing, and charming set designs make the Medora Musical a fantastic experience.
The largest city in North Dakota, both in terms of size and population, is Fargo. This hub of civilization contains many attractions for both residents and travelers to consider.
Fargo Air Museum
Have a passion for aviation? Then you should check out the Fargo Air Museum. With the first hangar opening in 2001, this young museum features several older plane models and exhibits that tell the rich history of aviation in North Dakota.
Plains Art Museum
Another official history museum that you should check out while in Fargo is the Plains Art Museum. View some of the incredible artifacts and exhibits from regional and national artists that tell the story of the diverse Northern Plains tribes that play a significant role in the history of the state. Then, take home some memorabilia from the Plains Art Museum store.
Want to witness a memorable live entertainment event? Then you may want to see what is coming up at the Fargodome. Monster Jams, rodeos, and concerts are common occurrences at this indoor venue and you never know what act is coming to town during your stay.
Not far from West Fargo are multiple horseback riding academies where you can engage in this classic western activity
Another city in North Dakota is Grand Forks, located right on the eastern border of the state. There are multiple attractions worth noting in this city.
Downtown Grand Forks Historic District
The downtown area of Grand Forks is certainly a site to behold. Some of the structures date back to the 1880s, and a recent revitalization project makes this area a great place to visit.
Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge
Not far from the city of Grand Forks is the Kellys Slough National Wildlife Refuge. this preserve protects wetlands and grasslands. It is also a crucial migration stopover for many geese, ducks, and swans.
Perhaps you want to enjoy a live entertainment event while taking in the crowds. From monster truck tours to concerts, you can check out what types of entertainment are coming up at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.
North Dakota’s History, Culture, and Natural Wonders Make it Worth the Trip
Now that you know a lot more about what this state has to offer, wouldn’t you agree that there is probably something for everyone to enjoy? Whether you are a permanent resident of this state, a traveler passing through on your way across the country, or a vacationer who has chosen North Dakota as your main destination, there are plenty of North Dakota attractions to fill up your day and make your time in this state extremely memorable.
If you love to experience nature, then you can immerse yourself in sweeping landscapes by visiting Theodore Roosevelt National Park or hiking along a prairie trail across the plains. With plenty of other national park options to choose from, there is no limit to how you can experience the natural world in North Dakota.
Maybe you prefer to learn about the history and heritage of the state. Then you can check out Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site or the North Dakota Heritage Center. Fort Abraham Lincoln State Historic Site and the Custer House are other options. You can learn about the rich European immigrant cultures present in the state at the Scandinavian Heritage Park. Or, look for a frontier village with a tourist information center to immerse yourself in North Dakota’s western culture.
Even fans of live entertainment can find something to enjoy in North Dakota, with regular rodeos, monster truck shows, and concerts throughout the state.
Plan Your North Dakota Journey Today
Armed with this guide, it is a lot easier to map out a journey through North Dakota that will allow you and your fellow travelers to get a full experience of the state.
As you can see, there is no shortage of attractions in North Dakota, from historic sites to live event venues to sweeping landscapes to incredible wildlife like prairie dogs. You can truly escape from civilization into the past when you visit a museum store or heritage center that immerses you in western culture or the history of the fur trade. Check out Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, see the south unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, admire the exhibits at the Plains Art Museum, witness the wonder of a prairie dog town in the wild, experience the Northern Plains tribes at the Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site, or find fantastic accommodations in Fargo, ND.
The state of North Dakota looks forward to your visit.