Best Things About Growing Up in North Dakota
Growing up in North Dakota, I got to experience lots of things: beautiful sunsets, fresh snowfall across the open fields, small-town community, and the sights and smells of the fall harvest every year. The benefits of growing up in North Dakota are endless and have shaped me into the adult I am today.
North Dakota has been in the headlines a lot the past few years, thanks to the oil boom in the western part of the state. What you might not know from the headlines is what it’s like to be a native of the Peace Garden State, and all the great benefits that growing up there has to offer.
Below are some of my favorite things about growing up in North Dakota.
You’re Only a Few Miles Drive From Paradise
With a population of just over 723,000, North Dakota ranks 48th in the U.S. in terms of population. As you can probably imagine, the majority of people living in North Dakota reside in very rural, small towns, so the wild side of the state is typically only a short drive out of town.
Most of my childhood weekends were spent driving down gravel roads to spot deer, taking a trip to my grandma’s childhood farm in the countryside, and fishing in one of the many lakes across the eastern part of the state.
During the summertime, the wheat and sunflower fields are as familiar as the many families of whitetail deer feeding in the pastures. In fact, on almost every trip out of town you can be sure to spot wildlife, often many types of wildlife.
Most Common Wildlife You Can See in North Dakota
You Get the Best of Both Worlds
While the rural beauty of North Dakota is spectacular, you get the best of both worlds, urban and rural, growing up in North Dakota.
The population of Fargo, the state’s largest city, is nearly 114,000. Other major towns include Grand Forks, Bismarck, and Minot.
My mom had the opportunity to take us shopping or to movies or cultural events when we were younger. I also have many memories of our family traveling to nearby larger cities like Winnipeg, Canada, to the north, and Minneapolis, Minnesota, where we would visit metropolitan museums or the Mall of America.
If you are looking for a small, quiet place to raise a family, that nevertheless offers children cultural experiences in cities within driving distance, having your own children grow up in North Dakota might just be the perfect compromise.
You Learn Strength of Character
North Dakota’s harsh climate is not for the faint of heart. Extremes can go from 40 degrees below zero in the winter to over 100 degrees above in the summer. Many of us who grew up in North Dakota remember blizzards that left our doors and windows covered in snow and the excitement of getting to sleep a little later in the morning when the news announced schools were closed during the harshest of winter days.
If there is one positive thing about North Dakota’s weather, it’s that it allows you to experience the extreme challenge of winter as well as the beautiful warmth of summer. We learned how to dig our homes out after extreme snowfall, battle the flood of the Red River in the spring, play in the leaves in the fall, and spend time tailgating with our neighbors in the summer.
There is perhaps no better feeling of triumph than that first warm day of spring, when the snow melts and everyone breaks out their shorts and sandals when it's barely 60 degrees!
Overcoming the harsh weather builds strength of character. Including:
Have you ever visited North Dakota?
Everybody Knows Your Name
I grew up in a town of about 600 people. It was so small that we had to cooperate with other smaller surrounding towns for sports and school activities. Yet this small-town charm, I believe, allowed me to develop empathy for others and build close relationships with many people who I am still in contact with today.
In fact, growing up in a small North Dakota town, everybody really does know your name—the pastors, the business owners, all your teachers, your neighbors, and even the nosy ladies down the street who will be sure to tell your parents if they see you misbehave!
That sense of community is what made my childhood charming. You always felt like someone was looking out for you. The community watched you grow up, came to your school concerts, and showed up at your graduation party.
As an adult, I miss the feeling of community from my childhood in North Dakota that is so woven into the culture.
Safe and Sound
That close-knit sense of community also allowed me to grow up in an environment that kept me safe and sound. As kids, we all played outside. After our moms gave us an after-school snack, we were free to play with our friends and neighborhood kids until dinner time.
No one worried about crime or kidnappings. For the most part, kids didn’t really get into trouble because there wasn’t much to get into trouble with! We used our creativity to make up games in the backyard or invited our friends over to play a game in the house or ride bikes around the block.
Moms and dads didn’t worry about the safety of their children after school, because for the most part, North Dakota communities are great places to raise a family and neighbors watch out for one another.
You Can Step Back Into Time
To a kid, North Dakota offered a plethora of fun family vacation locales that allowed you to feel as though you were stepping back into time. Whether viewing the wild bison in the sestern part of the state, or visiting the Old West town of Medora, we let our imaginations run wild as we explored our state’s history.
Some favorite vacation spots that offer the opportunity to step back into time:
Visiting the T-Rex and other history at the Dickinson Museum.
Frontier Village, a recreated prairie town near Jamestown.
Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.
The majestic buttes of the Badlands in western North Dakota.
The Skills You Learn Last a Lifetime
One of the great things about my North Dakota upbringing is that it allowed me to make mistakes in a safe, loving environment, and build skills that I still rely on today as an adult and as a professional.
The long winters teach you survival skills (see above!) while the realities of living in a rural, agricultural community instill qualities like a good work ethic in young people. Having a great work ethic is something that you can boast about on your resume long after your childhood has ended.
Thanks to my childhood, I learned how to tap into my creativity. While rural communities offer a safe, stable environment, you often have to get very creative to keep busy, as commercial entertainment, shopping, and movies are quite a long drive away. Creativity is a highly valued skill in my current profession and one I am grateful to have developed at a young age.
I also learned to be versatile, adaptable, and flexible. Going to a small school and graduating in a class of only 15 students, kids were able to participate in everything from band and choir to speech, the school play, and any sport they were interested in.
The Land of Opportunity
Growing up in North Dakota gave me an appreciation for the little things: driving to the slightly larger town 30 miles away to have pizza night, or watching our favorite movie as a family on TV during the weekend. The harsh climate, beautiful terrain, and small-town life instilled in me a sense of gratitude for everything I have today.
Today, with the oil boom, North Dakota truly is the land of opportunity. Raising children in the state today is sure to open up a world of opportunities for them and their families, as it did for me.
North Dakota Nice
"North Dakota nice" is not just an expression; it truly is a way of life for the folks who live across the Peace Garden State. I may be biased, but I’m not sure you can find nicer people anywhere else in the U.S. of A.
In fact, you can’t drive down a dirt road or small town in North Dakota today without seeing the oh-so-familiar one-finger wave that almost every driver offers to their fellow passer-by on the road. A small gesture, saying hi to people on the road even if you do not know them, is just one example of the friendly folks I grew up with who still make the state a great place to live today.
Are you a fellow North Dakotan who grew up in the state of the wild prairie rose? Share your own childhood experiences in the comments!