Desolate and wild, yet scenic and beautiful, underpopulated North Dakota is one of the least-visited states in the whole country, although it certainly has a lot to offer visitors. While much of the state is covered in endless wheat fields, the badlands in the west are simply stunning, with the Theodore Roosevelt National Park an undoubted highlight.
Exploring the great outdoors in North Dakota is a rewarding experience, and horseback riding through the wilderness is truly unforgettable, as is camping under the stars. With some lovely cities and towns for you to explore, the local events and festivals on offer are fun and entertaining ways to learn more about the rich culture, heritage, and history of the people who live here.
Located on the border with Montana and lying next to the Upper Missouri River, the Fort Union Trading Post is a reconstructed version of one that used to exist here in 1828. An important historical site, the post is where various Indian tribes came to exchange furs and buffalo skins for guns, beads, and blankets. Visiting the Fort is an interesting experience; you gain insights into the culture, history, and importance of the site. Every June, the Rendezvous gathering allows visitors to watch actors bring the trading post’s past to life. With educational and engaging year-round exhibitions, Fort Union is the perfect place for history lovers to learn more about North Dakota’s fascinating past.
Nestled amidst the Turtle Mountains, the International Peace Garden lies right on the border with Canada and straddles the frontier between North Dakota and Manitoba. The garden is absolutely huge and is a tribute to the longstanding friendship and peace that exists between Americans and Canadians. A beautiful place to visit, there are over 2,300 acres of gardens, lakes, wildflowers, and waterfalls that are home to many different species of birds and animals. With over 155,000 flowers planted in delightful displays, wandering around the International Peace Garden is a peaceful and relaxing affair. Two floral flags of both nations chime every fifteen minutes and the lovely chimes perfectly complement the soothing trickle of water that you can hear in various parts of the garden.
While many people simply use Medora as a gateway to the South Unit of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, there is much about the historic town that makes it a place worth visiting on its own. Located in the badlands, Medora is blessed with breathtaking scenery and there are loads of great outdoor activities for you to enjoy, whether it’s horseback riding, hiking or camping. For a small, laidback place, there are quite a few good restaurants that serve up hearty and delicious food – you will definitely notice a cowboy theme about town! Head to the nearby Chateau de Mores for an interesting look at the life of the former Marquis who lived here. There is also a great museum which looks at what life in the area used to be like. In summer, Medora comes alive for the fun and festive Medora Musical – a Western-style musical that celebrates Roosevelt’s legacy.
Linking the North Unit to the South Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park, the 144-mile Maah Daah Hey Trail is one of the best mountain biking trails in the country and is simply a delight to travel along. Whether by foot, bike or horseback, the stunning badlands all around you are mesmerizing; wandering through the wilderness alone with your thoughts is a rewarding experience. Camping the night in the rugged terrain under the twinkling stars is magical, and you are really following in the footsteps of Teddy Roosevelt himself, who did the same journey all those years ago. Well signposted and with amenities every twenty miles, visitors can either stay in one of the nearby towns or attempt to complete the whole trail in one go, camping along the way. With some breathtaking scenery on offer, the Maah Daah Hey Trail is a lovely outdoor adventure that will make you fall in love with the badlands.
Since it was founded in 1886, Minot has become known as ‘Magic City,’ due to its rapid growth and expansion – which accounts for the somewhat haphazard sprawl of its outskirts. Although slightly grimy and run-down, the downtown is slowly being rejuvenated; new businesses, shops, and restaurants have been springing up of late. While Minot is a laidback town, the city really comes alive during the fantastic North Dakota State Fair that takes place every July. Worth checking out are the nice museums around town, as well as Roosevelt Zoo. The Scandinavian Heritage Park is particularly fascinating, with Gol Stave Church the undoubted highlight. Well worth stopping by, Minot is a great break when driving through the bleak landscape that surrounds it.
The third largest city in North Dakota, Grand Forks lies on the banks of the spectacularly named Red River of the North but is unfortunately prone to flooding. A lively college town, its cosmopolitan downtown is a bustling place, full of life; it has been rebuilt and revitalized since a tragic fire and flood in 1997. With a vibrant art and culture scene, as well as some great restaurants on offer, Grand Forks is a happening place with a lot going on. Home to some interesting and educational museums, the city’s green spaces and riverside location mean there are loads of fun outdoor activities and watersports for visitors and locals alike to enjoy.
While Bismarck’s continuing expansion means that the urban sprawl is slightly soulless and unattractive, the capital of the state’s small downtown is a great place to hang out; there are lots of nice restaurants, cafes, and shops, as well as the city’s main shopping mall. Surrounded by wheat fields and situated in the Great Plains, summers in the state capital are lovely, while winters can drag on a bit. Although Bismarck is not blessed with attractions, it has lots of great parks and trails for visitors to explore. Sertoma Park, which lies along the banks of the Missouri River, is particularly nice. From here, many people visit the nearby Fort Abraham Lincoln State Park with its interesting historical sites.
The Theodore Roosevelt National Park is a beautiful place to visit due to the spectacular scenery and amazing wildlife. The park is divided into two sections. The North Unit is a great entry point for tourists to the Badlands; the visitor’s center has exhibits, short films and displays on the park’s history, animals and geography. There are some great paths and trails that snake away from the center, and a short drive away is the Oxbow Overlook, which offers some fantastic views of the park. Walking amidst the fauna and flora is a revitalizing feeling – you may even catch a glimpse of some of the majestic animals that roam freely around the stunning scenery.
The largest and most populated city in the state, Fargo is the cultural and economic hub of North Dakota and was named after the founder of Wells Fargo Bank. Once known as the Gateway to the West, the city has undergone many identity changes since its founding. At one time or another, it has been a fur-trading post, a ‘divorce capital,’ and a frontier town. Famed for the Coen Brother’s film of the same name, the city itself has little going for it in the way of attractions, although it is a great place to live. It boasts some interesting museums as well as numerous theatres, restaurants, coffee shops and lots of pretty green spaces. Well worth stopping by if you’re traveling around the state, the Fargodome is your best bet if you’re looking to enjoy a Broadway musical or large sporting event.
Set in the North Dakota ‘Badlands,’ the Theodore Roosevelt National Park South Unit is the perfect place to stop by when visiting the fantastic wild landscapes of the region. With amazing rock formations that are a stunning mixture of red, yellow, black and silver, and tufts of green springing up here and there, the Badlands make for memorable viewing. Named after the former President who liked to hunt bison here, the park commemorates his work in preserving the United States’ natural resources. The South Unit welcomes visitors to explore Roosevelt’s old cabin that is located next to it, and there is a nice museum which looks at the history and nature of the park. Lying next to Interstate 94, the park is easily accessed and the wildlife viewing on offer is brilliant, with bison, coyotes, cougars and more residing within its boundaries. A wonderful place to visit, from the South Unit you can hike or horse trek amidst the stunning scenery of the park – you can even camp under the beautiful stars.