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What to Do in North Dakota

Updated on July 18, 2016

North Dakota

A Map of the US with North Dakota Highlighted
A Map of the US with North Dakota Highlighted | Source

What to Do in North Dakota?

Many people wonder what in the world there is to do in North Dakota, other than freeze, that is. When thinking of North Dakota, people frequently think of frozen lakes with ice fishermen trying to get the biggest catch. They think of major roads closed because of the frequent blizzards that cripple the state for months on end. They think of -40 degree weather.

All of these are definitely a part of living in North Dakota, but they are not all that the state has to offer. North Dakota is filled with very friendly and generally happy people who like to help their neighbor. There are fertile plains on the eastern side of the state that are contrasted with hilly badlands in the western part of North Dakota.

The state is relatively arid, but is also home to some of the best farmland in the United States. Those looking for a unique vacation experience should spend some time thinking about visiting the great state of North Dakota on their next trip.

Getting to North Dakota

When looking to go on vacation, the decision must be made of whether to drive to the state or to fly in. While it is relatively remote from much of the United States, North Dakota is still fairly accessible, especially when looked at in comparison with places like Alaska and Hawaii (or any of the territories held by the US).

There are two major interstate highways that run through the state. Interstate 29 is a major north-south artery that runs the entire length of the state from the South Dakota border in the south to the border with Manitoba, Canada in the north. Fargo and Grand Forks are the major centers that lie along this route. Interstate 94 runs from east to west about 1/3 of the way up from the southern border of the state. Those traveling from the east will enter the state in Fargo and then pass though towns like Valley City, Jamestown, Bismark/Mandan, and Dickinson.

US Highway 2 is a major highway that runs across the state in a line that is roughly 1/3 of the way from the northern border. Major towns along this route are Grand Forks, Devil's Lake, Minot, and Williston. US Highway 83 is another major US route that basically bisects the state in a north-south orientation. This highway crosses I-94 in Bismarck and Highway 2 in Minot.

Those who want to fly into North Dakota have a variety of options, depending upon where they want to spend their time. There are several commercial airports that operate throughout the state. The busiest is by far Hector International Airport in Fargo. The Minot International Airport is second in terms of traffic because of the oil boom in the Bakken Shale, while Bismarck Municipal Airport and Grand Forks International Airport are other busy options. Williston, Dickinson, Jamestown, and Devil's Lake also provide a more limited air service for those who are residents of or visitors to North Dakota.

North Dakota Badlands

The Badlands in Theodore Roosevelt National Park
The Badlands in Theodore Roosevelt National Park | Source

Theodore Roosevelt National Park and Medora

One of the leading tourist attractions in North Dakota is the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, which is located just west of Dickinson near the Montana border. The area actually has a connection to the former president, as he came to the Dakotas to mourn the loss of his first wife while living in a cabin and roughing it before his return to New York. The park itself is one of the cheaper national parks to visit, with an entrance fee of a mere $10.

Those who visit Theodore Roosevelt National Park can enjoy the wonderful scenery of the North Dakota badlands and a number of elk, bison, and feral horses that live in the wild under the protection of the park. Guided tours of the park are available.

Another famous resident of the area was the Marquis de Mores, who attempted to set up a major cattle ranch that would supply the United States with beef. The town of Medora is named for the Marquis' wife and is a tourist attraction in its own right. The Medora Musical celebrates the area's rich history on a seasonal basis and can be enjoyed by adults and children alike.

The North Dakota Capitol

The North Dakota State Capitol Building, AKA "The Skyscraper on the Prairie"
The North Dakota State Capitol Building, AKA "The Skyscraper on the Prairie" | Source

State Capitol and Heritage Center, Bismarck

There are a great number of fun things that families can do in the Bismark area. This small city of just over 50,000 serves as the capital of the state. The state capitol building is a 1930s era art deco design that sits on a hill that overlooks the downtown area of town.

Those who visit the capitol complex should stop in at the North Dakota Heritage Center that is just down the hill from the main capitol building (PLEASE NOTE: The Heritage Center is closed until Fall 2013 for renovation). There is also a North Dakota gift shop and the state archives in this building.

Just 38 miles to the North of Bismarck off of Highway 83 is the Lewis and Clark and Mandan Interpretive Centers. These historical centers hearken back to the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The famous explorers wintered at Mandan during their important trip in 1804-1805.

Those with children will enjoy the Dakota Zoo, which is probably the best zoo in the state. This animal refuge sits on 90 acres and has over 600 species from the animal kingdom for people of all ages to learn about.

Buffalo Sculpture at the North Dakota State Capitol
Buffalo Sculpture at the North Dakota State Capitol | Source

What to Do in Fargo

The biggest city in the State of North Dakota, with a population that just surpassed 100,000, is Fargo. In addition to having the busiest airport in the state, there are also a number of cultural and historical attractions that visitors can check out while in the Fargo area.

One of the best options for those who have a historical interest is Bonanzaville, USA. This museum has 47 building stretched out over 12 acres. Included in the small town are some of the original log cabins in the Fargo area, a church, and a hotel/saloon, among other attractions. People of all ages can find parts of the museum property interesting.

Visitors to the Fargo area will also enjoy the Fargo Air Museum and a couple of museums dedicated to famous baseball players. One is dedicated to former Los Angeles Dodger Maury Wills. The other is dedicated to former home run king Roger Maris. The Maris Museum is a free museum located within the confines of the West Acres Mall, which is one of the best shopping centers in the area.

Children will enjoy the Red River Zoo, which sits on 30 acres and has a number of animal species on display.

There Is Much More to See and Do in North Dakota

This brief overview listed just a few fun sites in the major centers of North Dakota. There are many other fun things to see and do in the state. Some of these attractions lie well off the beaten path, but they will provide a great road trip opportunity in one of the more remote sections of the United States.

Of course, those who decide to venture to the state during the winter will find their preconceived notions largely affirmed. Winter sports are a big deal in North Dakota, just come with plenty of clothes.


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