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For many travelers, a trip to North Dakota conjures up images of snow, cold, and wide-open spaces. Yet this is a place to unleash your inner explorer with exciting outdoor activities, history, culture, special events, and a wide variety of accommodations. Adventurers like Lewis and Clark, President Theodore Roosevelt, and Sakakawea have traveled these rugged lands before you and may even inspire you to make a mark on history too.
This is a land of bison, wild horses, Native American heritage, and sparsely populated small towns. You can actually see the Northern Lights from here too! These days, North Dakota isn’t just known for the American shale boom, but also its growing technology industry and aircraft testing sites.
So if you’re looking to experience a truly unique part of America that often gets overlooked, here are some of the most interesting places to visit in North Dakota to help you plan your trip.
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Fargo is an exciting small city that is emerging as a hot spot for entrepreneurs and creative types. This is the most well-known city in North Dakota made world-famous by the movie and television show of the same name. Spend some time here to bike along the city streets and visit the local coffee shops. There are also lots of quirky boutiques that are worth browsing for some authentic North Dakota souvenirs. You can often find festivals and art events here and restaurants that run the gamut from local delis to upscale establishments. Sports fans will enjoy catching a university football game, and there are also some great golf courses in Fargo.
The other well-known city in North Dakota is Bismarck, which became famous when the legendary explorers Lewis and Clark paddled here up the Missouri River. Bismarck is the capital city, and there are a lot of places to experience local art and culture. For example, you can visit the Dakota Zoo, the North Dakota Heritage Center, and the Fort Abraham Lincoln on a day trip to Bismarck.
Lisbon is a very small city with only a couple thousand people but a quaint one with a high quality of life and nice weather. The longest continuously running moving theater in the U.S. is located here, and one of the best parts of town is Sandanger Park. There’s a mini-golf course here, skate park, and campground. Lisbon is located in southeastern North Dakota and got its start as a railroad town for the Northern Pacific Railroad. Take a walk around town to see historic homes and the Lisbon Opera House, which hosts many concerts and plays.
Jamestown is a mid-sized town in North Dakota that is best known for being home to the world’s largest buffalo statue in the world. It’s affectionately called Buffalo City and also has a huge disc golf course and a civic center with concerts and events. Make sure to visit the National Buffalo Museum while in this area to see and learn about bison herds.
A must-see destination in North Dakota is the Theodore Roosevelt National Park, a short distance from the tiny town of Medora. Chateau de Mores is the summer home of Medora’s founder, and the Burning Hills Amphitheater is an open-air amphitheater that hosts a western-themed musical that’s a tribute to Theodore Roosevelt and his dedication to this area. Definitely check out the Maah Daah Hey Trail, which was designed by the International Mountain Biking Association and is also used by horseback riders and hikers in some sections. There are 97 miles of trail here to explore, starting from Medora and going into the Dakota Badlands.
The town of Bottineau is surrounded by natural beauty and is the outdoor playground for people in North Dakota. You can spend time having fun outdoors during all four seasons, and it’s between two wildlife refuges that are home to moose, deer, ducks, and geese. In the summer, come here for water skiing and fishing on Lake Metigoshe, and skiing and snowmobiling are popular sports in the winter. Once you get to know towns in North Dakota a bit better, you’ll see that they pride themselves on having the “biggest” of lots of random things. Bottineau is the town with the world’s largest snowmobile in Bottineau Winter Park.
Minot is a North Dakota town rich in Scandinavian Heritage, which is best witnessed at the area’s Norsk Hostfest. This town is also famous for being the site of the yearly North Dakota State Fair in July. Other attractions here are Roosevelt Park Zoo, the Dakota Territory Air Museum, and the Scandinavian Heritage Park.
Grand Forks is another great destination for outdoors lovers because you can go camping, biking, and boating all summer long. When the temperatures turn chilly and the snow begins to fall, head outside for some of the best cross-country skiing and sledding in the area. The University of North Dakota hockey team’s games is also played here.
Anyone who enjoys seeing historic bridges when traveling must come to Valley City, North Dakota. There are 11 historic bridges here, including the Highline Bridge, which is a high single-track rail bridge and a National Civil Engineering Landmark. To experience the surrounding area, take a 63-mile drive on the Sheyenne River Valley National Scenic Byway from Baldhill Dam to Lisbon. This is a great drive to make in the autumn to see the changing colorful leaves.
Hillsboro is another small town worth visiting in North Dakota. It’s not far from Fargo and Grand Fork and known for its friendly hospitality. Make sure to visit Woodland Park while in this area and snap some photos of the historic buildings.
Williston’s town culture is based around the water since it’s situated along Lake Sakakawea. This is a great place to go fishing and boating. You can also learn a bit about history here when you visit the Fort Union Trading Post and Fort Buford. Another popular thing to do in the Williston area is to take an Oil Country tour. There are many restaurants in Williston that serve pretty much every type of food you can think of. Compared to other parts of the state, it also has pretty nice weather.
Another lovely town along Lake Sakakawea is Garrison, and this area is well known for its prime fishing opportunities. This is a manmade lake that’s a favorite among anglers looking to catch walleye and smallmouth bass fish. In the winter, Garrison prides itself on being the Christmas capital of North Dakota. If visiting between Thanksgiving and Christmas, make sure to check out the Dickens Village Festival, which is a time when this small community of 1,500 people turns their town into a Victoria-era village, reminiscent of the tales of Charles Dickens. Here you can ride the Queen Elizabeth or a horse-drawn carriage, watch a lighted parade, shop from street vendors, watch a fruit cake toss, or take in Charles Dickens play performance to get in the holiday spirit.
You’ll almost reach the Canadian border before you reach Walhalla, which is a town founded in 1845 during the region’s fur-trading boom. Kittson Trading Post, North Dakota’s oldest building, is located here, and the Gingras Trading Post State Historic Site is worth a visit as well if you’re into American history. To get out of town and a bit active, head to Pembina Gorge State Recreation to go horseback riding.
Another town just on the outskirts of the Theodore Roosevelt National Park is Dickinson. This is a great home base to explore the North Dakotas Badlands region. This is a fast-growing city that has lots to do year-round. A couple of top attractions are the Badlands Dinosaur Museum and the Ukrainian Festival, which couldn’t be more different, but just goes to show how interesting North Dakota really is!