WHY VISIT NORTH DAKOTA
Badlands and bison, offbeat cities and spectacular scenery, Old West tales, and Native American heritage: North Dakota inspires adventure.
Humongous elk, furry bison, wild horses, poisonous rattlesnakes, and packs of coyotes are among the assorted inhabitants of the state’s crown jewel, Theodore Roosevelt National Park. This remarkable badlands landscape is made up of three distinct areas, accessible by scenic roads, but more fun to discover on foot, horseback or canoe. You can encounter petrified forests, wind-carved canyons, and prairie dog towns, or float through the remote wilderness on the Little Missouri River.
The adventures don’t stop there. Lake Sakakawea is ripe for messing about on boats, while Devils Lake is one of the finest spots to hook walleye, northern pike, and crappie. Bumping over badlands and prairies, the 225km (140mile) Maah Daah Hey Trail is a mountain biker’s paradise. And if you’re looking for hardcore action, there’s the so-called ENDracing phenomenon, a series of endurance tests ranging from a winter triathlon to a 58km (36mile) river swim.
North Dakota may not be the first place you think of when it comes to teeing off, but it claims more golf courses per capita than any other state (not such an impressive record given its sparse population). You can follow in the footsteps of 19th-century explorers Lewis and Clark on a golf trail named in their honor, although whether the two pioneers bothered to pack their clubs is questionable.
Grab an urban hit in Fargo, home to the terrific Plains Art Museum, or discover dinosaurs, a homestead shack, and a 1950s soda shop at the North Dakota Heritage Center in Bismarck.
WHAT TO SEE IN NORTH DAKOTA
- Theodore Roosevelt National Park: There is a wide diversity of landscape in North Dakota but nothing is quite like the Badlands. This region of rugged lunar geology and cool rock formations covers the entire southwest corner of the state, and the amazing Theodore Roosevelt National Park makes exploration easy. The highlight here is the quantity of wildlife, from bison to bighorn sheep, all roaming free. Hiking trails run throughout both the North and South Units of the park, where campsites allow for overnight stays. If you just want to cruise through, there is a 36-mile and a 14-mile scenic drive to choose from.
- Bonanzaville USA: if you want to experience life as the first pioneers did in North Dakota spend an afternoon at this fascinating living history museum outside of Fargo. Both village and museum, this attraction has over 400,000 artifacts in its handful of museums and 40 relocated historic buildings from the Midwest prairie. Walking around this recreated town gives a real sense of what things were like in the Dakota Territory during the late 19th century.
- Medora: this wonderfully restored cow town from 1883 is North Dakota’s top tourist attraction for visitors in search of the Dakota Territory of old. This slick little town oozes western ambiance, with highlights such as the historic Von Hoffman House and Chateau de Mores Historic Site (the original home of the town’s founder). Catch the Medora Musical at the Burning Hills Badlands Amphitheater in summer or simply stroll around the main street and imagine you are back in the wild 19th century. The town’s Badlands Museum has a great little exhibition of the area’s frontier and Native American heritage.
- North Dakota Heritage Center: the state’s largest museum is one of the country’s top sites for Native American culture and tradition. North Dakota is one of the most important regions for Native American tribes, and this impressive museum showcases the heritage, art, and craftsmanship of the Plains Indians. In addition, there are nice interpretive exhibits of the state’s interesting military legacy and its farming industry.
- Bismarck: North Dakota’s capital isn’t the state’s biggest city but it’s arguably its most engaging. There are a number of interesting cultural attractions like the North Dakota Heritage Center, Camp Hancock, and Chief Looking’s Village. If you can’t make it to the Badlands, the Dakota Zoo is the next best thing, while the Missouri River cuts right through the city offering scenic boat rides on the Lewis and Clark Riverboat. The capital makes a good base for day trips to sites like Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park, Medora, and the Badlands. Bismarck is considered one of America’s safest and friendliest cities. Come see for yourself.
- Fargo: the largest city in North Dakota is also one of its most interesting. It’s a tiny place of just 100,000 people, but Fargo is heavy on friendliness and an ideal base for exploring the scenic Red River Valley region of southeastern North Dakota. A couple of museums and North Dakota State University provide the bulk of cultural entertainment here. Nightlife is sedate in Fargo, but its historic downtown district offers a great range of relaxing bars, hearty restaurants, and pleasant brick architecture. This is a place to come and experience the unique environment and society that underpins North Dakota.
- Devils Lake: more than a few residents of North Dakota will argue that Devils Lake is the prettiest body of water in the state. Its jagged 350-mile shoreline creates a stunning picture against a backdrop of rolling prairie, giving boaters, fishermen, and casual visitors plenty of inspiration. Whether you choose to indulge in the superb outdoor recreation on land and water within the park, or simply hang around and enjoy the scenery this is one natural attraction well worth a visit. A small town and several lodges surround the lake, which is famous for its huge waterfowl population and photogenic landscape.
WHEN TO GO TO NORTH DAKOTA
The best period to visit North Dakota is from June to September.
Winters can be bitterly cold, with adequate snow for winter sports. Summers are warm, with enough rainfall for crop growth, and are conducive to summer sports. Temperatures average -14°C (7°F) in January to 21°C (69°F) in July.
WHAT TO DO IN NORTH DAKOTA
Eat steak fondue at the Medora Musical
Just outside Theodore Roosevelt National Park sits the little town of Medora, which most of the year is a Western-themed gateway to the park. But for a couple of months each summer, the town of 142 hosts the Medora Musical, a good old-fashioned star-spangled revue about the life of Teddy Roosevelt. It’s set in the Burning Hills Amphitheater, a sort of Hollywood Bowl in the Badlands with panoramic views of the park behind the show’s stage. Each night starts with a pre-show pitchfork steak fondue dinner where New York strips are dipped in vats of boiling oil. It’s a classic North Dakota cookout.
Following is a list of typical festivals and celebrations of North Dakota.
- Cabin Fever Days: should you happen to be in North Dakota in the dead of winter there is a glimmer of relief at Jamestown’s fun winter festival called Cabin Fever Days. For the first week, each February the town gets outside for sledding, ice sports, sleigh rides, and anything else you can do involving snow and ice. It’s a lot of fun both for families and for partiers who roam the town’s bars after dark.
- Buggies-n-Blues: music and cars are the focus of this popular festival held each June in the historic town of Mandan. On an average year around 500 vintage automobiles drive to Mandan’s Northern Park to show off their goods. This impressive assembly of horsepower is accompanied by a nice schedule of live music, a beer garden, and lots of good festival food during this long weekend celebration.
- Ribfest: nearly everyone in North Dakota eats meat, and many favor the finger-licking variety of ribs served up throughout the state. For a long weekend at the start of June, the city of Fargo puts on Ribfest. The best rib cookers from around America come here to see who is the most skilled on the grill. But there’s also great live music, entertainment, kid’s activities, and of course other kinds of food to enjoy at this big fun street fair in downtown Fargo.
- Rough Rider Days Fair and Expo: harking back to the wild frontier era of the state, the town of Dickinson hosts one of the more interesting North Dakota holidays over two weeks at the end of June and early July. A full PRCA rodeo is at the heart of the event, backed up by livestock shows, a demolition derby, fun foot races, stock car races, a carnival, and fireworks displays. This is a big event, and well worth planning a trip around if you want to see how the residents of this state like to kick up their heels.
- North Dakota State Fair: a real highlight of North Dakota’s summer is its annual state fair, held every July in the town of Minot. There’s a fantastic mix of events, activities, and edibles on hand that appeals to everyone from families to young folks. Parades, rodeo events, live music, a car show, and loads of tasty fair food attract thousands of visitors from around the state to this big event.
- United Tribes International Pow Wow: every weekend just after Labor Day in September the capital Bismarck hosts one of the world’s largest gatherings of Native American people. This massive pow-wow attracts representatives from over 70 different tribes, who come to either perform their own traditional dances and music or simply enjoy the amazing culture on show. More than 1,500 drummers and dancers perform during this major festival at performances every day.
HOW TO REACH AND TRAVEL THROUGH NORTH DAKOTA
Without a car, you might find that your trip to North Dakota quickly turns a bit dull and lonely. Even within a single city like Fargo or Bismarck, you’ll find that a car is extremely convenient to get between your hotel and restaurants, shopping, and attractions. Interstate 94 runs straight across the state from east to west, passing through Bismarck, Medora, and Fargo. It’s very easy to drive around North Dakota thanks to flat wide open roads and virtually no traffic. The beautiful natural scenery is just a bonus of driving around this state. Travelers will find several major car hire companies right at the state’s airports or located within the downtown centers of larger towns.
Taxis are only found in the biggest cities like Fargo, Bismarck, and Grand Forks. They use a meter to determine fares, which are very reasonable for short trips around these small cities.
If you have the time to spare, traveling to North Dakota by train is an amazing experience. Amtrak’s beautifully scenic Empire Builder line passes through six cities in the state on its way between Seattle and Chicago. This train route stops in Grand Forks, Devils Lake, Fargo, Rugby, Minot, Williston, and Stanley. The seats on the train are very comfortable, and services include a dining car, lounge car, and scenic car. The fares on Amtrak are comparable to regional air flights.
Budget travelers will find the bus a good option to move between major towns in North Dakota. The nationwide Greyhound bus line travels mainly along the Interstate 94 corridor from west to east. Jefferson Bus Line has a route that runs north to south along Interstate 29, while New Town Bus Line runs along the back roads to several smaller towns in the southern part of the state. Bus fares are very cheap, and the seats are comfortable enough for a short journey.
main airports are:
GENERAL INFORMATION ON NORTH DAKOTA
health tips & vaccination: none
local currency: US Dollar
local time zone: GMT-7,-6, (-6,-5,)
electricity: type A and type B (120V – 60 Hz)
WHAT TO DO IN NORTH DAKOTA
Typical food in North Dakota
Souvenirs from North Dakota